17th September 2020 Caroline Lennon-Nally – Contact Tracer (CT)
As the HSE hit the millionth COVID-19 test on Wednesday, one contact tracer (CT) has given an insight into an average day carrying out the vital work.
Caroline Lennon-Nally explained that she had requested a move to the contact tracing team from her role in the National Quality Improvement Team when the pandemic hit back in March.
“I recognised the critical importance of CT in protecting the health of the people of Ireland. I am passionate about working with people in order to help and support them and that was my primary motivation for requesting to be involved in this work,” said the contact tracer.
Virtual contact tracers (CTs) are people who work outside the standard call centres. In the case of COVID-19, most are likely working from home.
“After completing the online training and taking time to test the online CT system I felt ready to start making calls. I’ve been making phone calls to people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in order to trace and document their contacts. I also make phone calls to people’s contacts to advise them that they have been a close contact of someone who has been confirmed positive as having the coronavirus,” she said.
The day begins and ends with a huddle (teleconference) for the people rostered to work on contact tracing that particular day. Both calls are facilitated by a team member known as a ‘mobiliser’. During the morning huddle, people are provided with an update on what is happening in the broader CT team. They also receive contact information for the Public Health Specialists available to us that day. This is in case CTs have clinical concerns in relation to the people we are speaking to on the phone - people who have tested positive for the coronavirus or their contacts.
There is also a daily reminder to CTs of the role of the ‘super user’, which is a colleague with a greater level of experience in CT systems. The people involved in CT are expected to actively trace contacts for four hours each day and the individual CTs have the flexibility to complete their work between 12pm to 8pm each day.
Each day the CTs complete a call log which includes the number of successful calls, and the number of calls where contact was not possible, such as ‘number incorrect’; ‘no answer or voice mail facility on the person’s phone’; and ‘CT not required’ at the end of the day. All issues for that day are escalated to the ‘mobiliser’ who then escalates all relevant concerns to the person leading the virtual CT Team.
“The first week that I was doing this work felt a little nerve-wracking because every call tends to be different, but it was both helpful and reassuring to have easy access to a Public Health Specialist and a ‘super user’ when the need arose,” said Caroline.
“What struck me most was the diversity in people’s situations. In my experience, the people that I’ve called on the phone have been remarkably receptive to my call, and have also been forthcoming with all of the required information. Many people have also expressed their thanks and gratitude for the work being done by the health service. Overall, it’s been a really positive experience.
“When there’s true engagement with people, it isn’t unusual to hear about the difficulties that some people are experiencing in their life as a result of the coronavirus, and although that’s a wonderful privilege, it can also be emotionally tiring. However, it is a great feeling to come to the end of a day’s work with a clear sense that we’ve made a difference to at least some of the people that we were in contact with that day.”