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A day in the life of a Contact Tracer Officer

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ENFYS JAMES is a Contact Tracer Officer. She is part of a Team working within the Public Health Protection Team for Ceredigion County Council. Here you will get an insight into the day of a Contact Tracer Officer.

What were you doing before you started your work as a contact tracer?

I was born and brought up in Neuaddlwyd near Aberaeron, and attended the local school at Ciliau Parc, Ciliau Aeron, Aberaeron Secondary School and then went on to the College of Further of Education at Aberystwyth to undertake a Bilingual Secretarial/Short-Hand Course.

I have been an employee with the Local Authority since my appointment as Clerk Typist in the Public Health and Housing Department of Ceredigion District Council since September 1985. Having been re-appointed to be Divisional Administrative Officer and Personal Assistant to the Head of Lifestyle Services, in May 2018 I was appointed to the post of Community Connector for Porth y Gymuned. My role as Community Connector was to work on a 1:1 basis with individuals for up to 6 weeks to improve their social and emotional wellbeing, to promote independence and to reduce social exclusion, social isolation and loneliness.

How did you get into being a Contact Tracer?

When I read the job advert and job description for the Contact Tracing Officer posts on the Ceredigion County Council Job Vacancies page, I immediately thought to myself “I want to do this role”! I really fancied the job and a certainty that I wanted to be part of the COVID-19 team for Ceredigion County Council.

I have always had an involvement with Infectious Diseases. When I started in my first role as Clerk/Typist, I had to log details of every infectious disease in the County. During my role as Personal Assistant I followed up on Infectious Disease cases, contacting members of the public who had been identified as having diseases such as Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, and Salmonella. These telephone conversations were sensitive in nature, asking some personal questions and completing a detailed questionnaire on the Infectious Disease Database. After reading the Job Description I thought to myself the role of a Contact Tracer would be something very similar.

My interview for the Contact Tracing Officer post was through Zoom this was a totally new experience, I did dress up smartly as if I was going to walk into a room although it was a matter of sitting down at the kitchen table with just my laptop! At least nobody could see my legs shaking!

None of us will ever forget the Coronavirus Pandemic in 2020. Having been appointed as a Contact Tracer, I have established that it is a critical role. It provides the opportunity to make a valuable contribution and ensuring the health and safety of the residents of Ceredigion.

Describe a typical day as a Contact Tracer.

The Contact Tracing Service operates from 8a.m. to 8p.m. seven days a week and I work on a shift basis.

It is the NHS All Wales Contact Tracing database I work on. Ceredigion County Council has its own site and the database will immediately highlight new positive cases in the county throughout the working day and during the night.

As a Contact Tracer I am allocated a case and work on it until it has been fully completed. I will immediately telephone the positive case hoping that I’ll get an answer. If there is no answer, and there is an option to leave a message I will do so. A text message will also be sent informing the case that Ceredigion County Council Track and Trace Service need to speak to them urgently and will be contacting them again later.

In the first instance when I do the initial call to a positive case, I will ask them to confirm their full name, address, date of birth, and the date of their test just to check that I am speaking to the person who has had a test. By the time I make contact with them they have usually received their result but on some occasions I am the first person to inform them that they are COVID-19 positive. The person I contact can speak in Welsh or English – whichever language they feel comfortable.

Once I have established that I am speaking to the correct person I will ask them to confirm which symptoms they have developed e.g. cough, fever, anosmia, etc and which dates did their symptoms start. Some positive cases have been asymptomatic and we therefore only have the date of the test to go by.

I will then need to establish their exposures and locations 48 hours prior to their symptoms starting and up until the day I make contact with them on the telephone. It is vital that I gather detailed information of their household contacts, their non-household contacts, have they been to work, have they visited any shops, pubs, café’s restaurants, have they been away on holiday, etc. I have to gather all contact names, dates of birth, addresses and telephone numbers of the people they have had close contact with. Some cases have had up to 40 individual contacts which means that I will have to upload details on 40 different persons. A detailed report is also typed up and added to the record and all records are kept in the strictest of confidence in line with GDPR guidelines.

I will give them advice on self-isolating, which means staying at home and not going out even for shopping. They are advised to limit contact with other people in their household and to keep at least 2 metres apart at all times. I also inform them how important it is to practice good hygiene, to wash their hands frequently, clean down touched surfaces such as kettles, taps, door handles etc. I always check and ask them how they think they will manage and cope with day to day tasks.
Once the list of exposures and locations is completed it will automatically be forwarded through to the Contact Tracing Advisors whose responsibility will be to telephone those exposures and give them advice regarding self-isolating.

In some instances the Contact Tracing Team have identified positive cases which have formed a cluster. For example the cases have been linked through social gatherings or at a workplace and the role of the Contact Tracer becomes more of a detective role at this stage. If we have received a dozen positive cases who have all attended the same social gathering we then need to identify the accurate background information from each individual which makes it interesting but challenging.

How do you work as a team?

The Contact Tracing Team is led by 3 Operational Leads who I report to on a daily basis.

The ability to work as a team is essential, it is important to communicate on a daily basis, to share the workload, and to share any views and ideas. The whole team have never met up in person only by communicating on Microsoft Teams Sites, e-mail or telephone. Throughout my career I have never experienced anything like it!

What do you enjoy about the work?

Since the day I commenced in my Clerk/Typist role in 1985 I have always enjoyed my work and have had so many different opportunities within the County Council. I enjoy everything to do with the role of being a Contact Tracer.

The most enjoyable aspect is that every case you deal with is different. When I do my first initial call to a positive case I find that it’s so important to be asking them as soon as you have confirmed their personal details how they are, and how they are feeling. Some positive cases have been very poorly whilst others have had milder symptoms. You will speak to a young person who has just commenced in University or an elderly retired person. Each case has such a variety of different issues, from a straightforward case up to a very complex where I have to escalate to my Managers.

It is true to say that in the short period of time when speaking to a positive case on the telephone, you develop a relationship. The majority of the cases I have dealt with have co-operated and have been willing to give me a detailed account of their daily activities. This includes who they have had close contact with and if they haven’t been able to provide me with the accurate details during the initial phone call they are more than willing for me to call them back to receive those details.

What is the most challenging aspect of the work?

The most challenging aspect of the work is to collate accurate information from each positive case, and to get each positive case to provide a truthful and trustworthy account of their contacts and locations.

I depend entirely on the information that I receive from the positive cases. It’s like completing a jigsaw – in order to have the full picture you need each piece in its place. As a Contact Tracer it is important that we trace all their contacts as soon as possible. Ultimately, this will ensure that we keep the cases of the coronavirus low in the county.

I have been accused of being a Scammer. This was a very lengthy and challenging call and I had to use tact and diplomacy to reassure them I was a Contact Tracer.

Dealing with positive cases who are limited in speaking the English language can be challenging. I have to make sure that I receive the accurate information from them and also make sure that they understand the advice and information I give them.
On occasions I have had cases who have not been informed that they have tested positive and I am the first person to be telling them. Some of these cases have been very upset on the telephone and I’ve had to comfort them and after my initial call I will make it a point of ringing them up again a day later just to check on their well-being.

This highlights how challenging it is and the importance of getting the positive cases to relay the correct information at all times.

What has the reaction been? What sort of questions people ask?

Every single case I have contacted have been most helpful and have provided the information that is required.

The positive cases with symptoms have accepted that they have to self-isolate for 10 days from when their symptoms started and anyone in the household who do not display symptoms have to self-isolate for 14 days from when the first person in the household started having symptoms. Informing someone who has a busy lifestyle that they are not allowed to leave their home for 10 days can be challenging but they do accept the consequence and know how dangerous the COVID-19 pandemic is.

Why is your work important to the Council?

My role as a Contact Tracing Officer is critical in order to protect all residents and our community in Ceredigion by helping to disrupt community transmission of the virus and breaking the chain of transmission.

I take my role as a Contact Tracing Officer seriously and take pride in collating and relaying the accurate information I receive from our Ceredigion cases. If I feel that an urgent issue needs escalating I will inform my Operational Leads. Our Operational Leads report on a daily basis to the Leadership Group and if there are any issues in connection with the transmission of the virus that needs urgent attention within the County it will be dealt with immediately.

What is your main message to the people of Ceredigion?

This is a hard time for us all, this is a year like no other, and things will be different from now on. However, we’re all in this together. My main message for the people of Ceredigion is to self-isolate if they have any of the symptoms of the coronavirus. If they have a new persistent cough, loss or change of taste or smell, or a high temperature, stay at home. Further guidance can be read on the Council’s website www.ceredigion.gov.uk. Thank you for staying apart to play your part.

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Health

Give someone “the best gift” this Christmas by giving blood in West Wales

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A MOTHER who needed in-the-womb blood transfusions during her pregnancy and a man who depends on regular, lifesaving blood donations are encouraging communities across Wales to give “the best gift” this Christmas by donating blood.

The Welsh Blood Service is preparing to face Winter pressures on its services and is hoping their new Christmas campaign, “the best gift” will raise awareness about the importance of donating blood and the lifesaving difference it makes.

Last December over 900 donations of blood and blood products were needed across Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire to provide care to patients at Prince Philip, Withybush, Bronglais and Glangwili hospital. 

These donations play a vital role by supporting a range of treatments from helping recovering accident victims and patients with blood cancers to supporting mothers and new-born babies during childbirth.

Blood donations were needed during both pregnancies for mother of two, Shelley Parry. After her own life was saved during her first pregnancy, Shelley received several more blood transfusions directly into her womb to keep her youngest daughter alive.

Shelley explains: “Receiving blood is truly the best gift we have ever received. We’re forever indebted as a family to those who have taken the time to donate. Without the generosity of blood donors, quite simply, we wouldn’t be parents. Thanks to their selfless act, we can look forward to Christmas together as a family.

“It only takes one hour of your time to donate, if you can, please consider donating.”

Giggs and his daughter

Also supporting the campaign is blood recipient Giggs Kanias. Since birth, Giggs has received over 1,000 blood transfusions as part of his treatment for beta thalassaemia major, a severe blood disorder. Thanks to blood donors, Giggs is looking forward to celebrating Christmas with his family.

Giggs said: “I am so thankful to the incredible people who give blood. When I’m in hospital, I stare at the bags of blood being transfused into me and always wonder, who is the person that has helped me?

“I know the difference these people have made to my life and I’m so grateful to each and every one of them. Without their generosity, I wouldn’t be here today, I wouldn’t be a dad, or have had the opportunity to see my daughter grow up. Receiving blood is truly the best gift anyone could ever receive.”

Alan Prosser, Director of the Welsh Blood Service, said: “For patients like Giggs, receiving blood will be the best gift they receive this Christmas. It truly is the best gift you can give.

“Blood products have a short shelf life and is needed by hospitals 365 days a year, including Christmas day, to help support patients in need, which is why we can’t stop collecting.”

The Welsh Blood Service provides lifesaving blood products to 20 hospitals across Wales and four Wales Air Ambulance aircraft for use in emergencies.

Alan continues: “It is critical the service prepares. We need to build up blood stocks ahead of a potentially challenging winter, where seasonal illnesses and Covid-19 may exacerbate the usual winter pressures faced by the NHS.

“We are reaching out to communities across Wales to ask them to make a lifesaving blood donation and give “the best gift” this festive season.”

Do something amazing this Christmas. Give someone the best gift. Give blood. If you are aged 17 or over, book to give blood at: www.wbs.wales/Xmas21 or call 0800 252 266 today.

Appointments are available in Pembrokeshire on 7 December and January 6 and 20 in Tenby, 16 December and 27 January in Crymych, 20 December and 17 January in Haverfordwest, 10 January in Letterston Village Hall and 21 January in Milford Haven. 

Appointments are available in Carmarthenshire on 10 December in Pontyberum, 29 December and 13 January in Carmarthen, 28 January in Kidwelly Community Hall, 23 and 24 December and 4, 12 and 25 January in Parc Y Scarlets and 31 January in Llandeilo.

Appointments are available in Ceredigion on 14 December in Newcastle Emlyn, 14 January in Aberaeron and 18 January in Lampeter.

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The west Wales family on standby to save lives at sea this Christmas

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VOLUNTEERING with the RNLI is a real family affair for the Barbers from Cardigan, with all four family members prepared to swap turkey and tinsel for turbulent seas this Christmas.  The RNLI is calling on the public to support them and the thousands of other volunteer crew on call by giving to the charity’s Christmas appeal.

For mum Amanda and daughter Madeleine, 18, it will be their very first Christmas on call. Both have followed in the footsteps of proud dad Tony who has volunteered on the crew of Cardigan RNLI for the past 12 years and son Leo, 20, who joined the RNLI following his 17th Birthday. The family will be spending their Christmas Day at nearby ‘New Life Church’, ensuring those who are in need of a meal on 25 December have food and company. However, they will have the perfect excuse to leave the washing up should they all have to leave in a hurry to respond to an emergency at sea.

Later in the afternoon, they plan to get together and enjoy a Christmas meal at home, but with a watchful eye on their pagers.

Madeleine says: ‘I realise our Christmas may not be a traditional one and to my friends it seems strange that we may all have to dash down to the station whatever time of day or night the call may come. I don’t really give it a second thought; I’m actually looking forward to being on call for the first time this Christmas and being able to help someone in need.

‘Previously when the pager goes off, dad, Leo and I have left mum at home. She’s so proud of us all but obviously is filled with apprehension as to when we may be back. We’re thrilled she’s decided to join us too and volunteer as part of the shore crew.

‘Being part of the RNLI is something Leo and I have always wanted to do as soon as we turned 17. Hearing dad talk about successful shouts has really motivated us all to want to get involved. We’re so thankful for all the support we have from the community and it is humbling to think people give so generously to enable us to do what we do.’

I would like to thank everyone in advance who gives towards our Christmas appeal this year.

‘This year, I hope people can do what they can to support the Christmas campaign and help the RNLI to save every one.’

The family run a boat trip business not too far away from the station, which means they are all ideally placed to be close by should the pagers sound. In the winter months, Madeleine works opposite the station at a local café, Crwst, who are very supportive allowing her to leave and attend shouts whilst at work.

Amanda says: ‘With the rest of the family on the crew, I know how vital, challenging, yet rewarding volunteering with the RNLI is. After many years of watching Tony run from the house at a moment’s notice and in the years that followed Leo, then Madeleine; I no longer had a reason not to join them. Now, rather than waiting and wondering what the outcome of a shout is, I can be on hand at the station supporting them and the rest of the team together, serving the mission of saving lives at sea. This Christmas if the pagers go off at least I won’t be left home alone holding the turkey!’

Over the past decade, RNLI lifeboats have launched over 1,200 times during the festive period. But these rescues would not be possible without donations from the RNLI’s generous supporters, helping to fund the essential kit, training and equipment needed by lifeboat crews all year round.

With thousands of volunteers around the UK and Ireland, each RNLI crew member signs up to save every one from drowning – it has been the charity’s mission since 1824.

Matt Crofts, RNLI Lifesaving Manager for Wales says: ‘With the increase in staycations and more people than ever heading to the coast, it has been an exceptionally busy year for our crews.

‘Even at Christmas, our lifesavers are ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice and rush to the aid of someone in trouble on the water. At this time of year, the weather’s at its worst and lives are on the line.

‘We know that every time our crews go out they hope for a good outcome, but sadly this sometimes isn’t the case. We hope that this year’s Christmas appeal will show people just how tough it can be, but also that with their help we can get so much closer to our goal of saving every one.’

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Health

Council makes available wellbeing and mental health support for social care providers

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The programme will run until March 2022

IN RECOGNITION of the important work of the social care sector and impact of the Covid pandemic on social care providers and their staff, Ceredigion County Council has made available a programme of wellbeing and mental health support sessions.

The programme consists of Wellbeing and Mental health Awareness, Mental Health First Aid (Adults and Youth) and also offers facilitated support sessions.

The programme of events will run from December through to March 2022.

Any social care provider, carer or personal assistant can request more information or book a place on these sessions by emailing Dysgu@ceredigion.gov.uk

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