16 things we learned after a cheeky 20 minute conversation with a contact tracer


Throughout this pandemic, some of the biggest myths concern our contact tracing units. Often people ask themselves questions like: How exactly do they work? Can they access your financial records or your contact list on your mobile phone? When do they call the police, if any? What do they do when someone refuses to answer their calls?

So playing myth-buster for a hot minute here, PEDESTRIAN.TV spoke to a member of a contact tracing service in Greater Sydney to debunk any myths surrounding NSW Health’s public health units. PS To protect their privacy, we have changed the name of our source to Kevin.

Here are 16 things we learned from our cheeky 20-minute chat with someone who works in contact tracing.

Contact tracers only have your bare minimum of contact details

Contact tracers are the ones that give people their results. When a swab is positive, they receive a notification with the person’s name, place of residence and a phone number, nothing more.

They contact cases within 15 to 20 minutes of receiving their results from the lab

The contact tracers collect the swabs between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. They initiate the first phone call within 15 to 20 minutes of receiving the results.

Contact tracers can know when you’re lying to them

Last month, NSW Director of Health, Dr. Song of Kerry claimed that some, not many but a few notable, gave misleading or inaccurate information to contact tracers, in part out of fear of what might happen to them if NSW Health found out they were violating stay-at-home orders.

According to our contact tracing source: “It’s normally very obvious if they’ve in fact been hiding some really essential information.

“What we’re usually looking for is the source of the infection, so if they’ve given us all of this information and they’re sort of like, ‘I’m home all the time,’ or ‘I only went to this place, “but we are looking at it and there is no case there, were very persistent in coming and going,” can you really take your time [and think if there’s anywhere else you’ve been]’. “

The number of people they seek per day depends on how much information a case will provide them

“It depends on whether you work full time or on a rotational basis, but normally per shift you would probably do three or four cases. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s because the actual workload can be quite intensive.

“In some cases we may have interviewed a case and the case said, ‘I’ve been here’, or ‘I went to work’ and they gave us their close contacts and then we would have come into contact with these. close contacts and send them to get tested.While other times you will get the ones that are more out of the blue, where we didn’t know yet they were close contact.

Often they can already tell if someone will test positive before the results even come back.

“Based on the risk assessment that we’ll do, you can guess and say, ‘We think these people, based on how much exposure they’ve had in this setting, it’s pretty much certain that they will get it, ”” Kevin said.

“You can feel that the public health unit is practically just waiting for these [results] to come back [positive]. “

Contact tracers always question contacts close to the household, even if they are all from the same house

“Even though there are four people in the same house and all of the family members, we will actually want to talk to them individually to let them know that they are close contacts.”

As an example, Kevin explained that he had recently received four positive results related to the same family and the same household. With just one phone call with the four at a time, he was able to learn that only one of them had been outside their home during their infectious period, and the places that person had been were really minimal. Unfortunately, it is not always that easy, which is why they contact each member of a household individually.

Having contact tracers who can do interviews in other languages ​​”makes all the difference”

“It makes all the difference if you can have this interview in the language, because it makes people more comfortable not just talking to someone from the government,” he said.

“We have to recognize that for some people in certain circles, getting a phone call from the government is actually quite a worrying thing. There may be no trust in health systems. “

More work needs to be done to encourage people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities (CALDs) to take a test when they do not have symptoms

“For many non-Western cultures, getting preventive health care is not a priority. You would only go to the doctor if you were sick.

“This is where a lot of the work needs to be done around that for some communities, this idea of ​​having an asymptomatic virus that they don’t yet know they have, why would they go to the doctor for talk about it if ‘you’re not sick yet.

When there is an exhibition site with a large number of close and occasional contacts, the Ministry of Health intervenes and uses what is called “prodocom messaging”.

“When you get bigger exhibits, like workplace exhibits or if we had an exhibit at a university, it escalates up to [the] Ministry [of Health] because they have a team of around 300 contact tracers.

“They do what’s called prodocom messaging, which is an automatic text messaging service that can basically get a list of 300 people who could be a close contact and send them all an automatic text message saying, ‘You are a close contact, you need to get tested immediately and you must self-isolate until that date ”.

When asked about IKEA Tempe, which was an exhibition site linked to 2,000 close contacts of casual contacts, our contact tracer source said NSW Health used a mix of prodocom messaging and direct phone calls.

Contacting the sites is their biggest problem right now

“Many sites do not have up-to-date contact details or we try to contact sites outside of business hours. You try to call them on a Sunday at 10 p.m. and they don’t pick up, but we still have to get in touch with them.

When sites do not pick up the phone, contact tracers forward the problem to the Department of Health. They will then contact the Police Operations Command, which will then send police to the scene.

“If we know the store is there but the phone number is wrong, or they just don’t answer the phone, we can actually get the police to come out and go,” you have to take this call. health telephone ‘.

When people deliberately avoid being contacted by NSW Health, they call the cops

“If we find situations where you have someone who is obviously very deliberately avoiding being contacted by health care, we involve the police. This includes if we let someone know that they are a close contact and tell them they should self-isolate and find out that they are not isolating themselves properly. “

If someone doesn’t check in to a location via a QR code or don’t know exactly when they were in a specific location, contact tracers may ask them to view their financial records, but they never get access. to your financial information

“If we interview someone and find out they’ve been to Woolworths but don’t know when and haven’t checked in via the QR code, we’ll ask them to look up their bank statements, Uber ride receipts or even a texting on a delivery, ”he explained.

“We want to be as specific as possible because if we know someone was at Woolworths precisely between 11:03 am and 11:22 am, that means we can list that time and identify the people who were there in that time slot as close to casual contact.

When you see an exhibition site where someone has been there for half an hour, it may mean that someone hasn’t checked in and can’t remember exactly when they were there.

“If we can’t be that specific, we’ll probably take it half an hour on either side. It is the difference between having 60 unknown people as close contacts and having 100 to 150 people as close contacts.

No, contact tracers do not plan to contact everyone in your contacts

Earlier this week, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian apparently claimed that contact tracers can try to contact everyone on someone’s phone. Speaking to our source in contact tracing, however, they said that probably wouldn’t happen, especially since it “would just create more work, not less”.

“Not from what I’ve heard. I know contact tracers ask cases to start messaging their contacts to tell them to go get tested immediately.

“We also collect phone numbers, but I highly doubt that sends messages to everyone in a case’s phone contact list.”

People who worked in contact tracing last year are not the same people who work now

Although every public health unit has a pool of core staff specialists and senior health experts, a decent amount of contract research staff is made up of final year Masters of Public Health students and registrars who are there for three to six months. . The good news is that this means there is a good turnover of staff, but it also means that there are new people on the job every few months.

The whole health system is more stretched this time compared to the epidemics of last year

There are a number of different factors between the current epidemic and those of 2020 that make it much more difficult for the entire healthcare system.

“This time compared to last year, we are also staffing quarantine hotels, which takes a significant amount of resources, as well as testing and vaccination centers. We did not have the vaccine rollout in March of last year.

“And also with the very first lockdown, we shut down all non-essential health services, so all health workers were redeployed in one way or another to be on COVID orientation. They came back to it, but it only happened about two weeks ago. “

All adult Australians (yes, even if those of us are under 40) are currently able to get the safe and effective treatment AstraZeneca vaccine through a general practitioner. Talk to a doctor to see if this is right for you.

Alternatively, you can triple check if you are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine here.

The best vaccine is the first you can get, and that will be our ticket out of this mess.

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