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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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Elin Jones backs calls for business rates holiday extension for independent businesses

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CEREDIGION’S Member of the Senedd, Elin Jones, has backed calls by the British Independent Retail Association for the extension of the current rates holiday for non-essential businesses in 2021/22.

Many local independent businesses have been closed for the best part of a year, and many will be in a more precarious situation now than when the initial rates holiday was announced last year. Many businesses will be looking forward to the easing of restrictions over the next few months, but Elin Jones warned that many would benefit from the continued business rates holiday.

Elin Jones said:

“Every effort must be made to secure the future of independent businesses in Ceredigion. They are such an important feature of life in Ceredigion, both as employers, and as a draw for people to our towns and villages.

“Normal trading will eventually resume, and these businesses will be able to flourish again, but local businesses owners know that this cannot be rushed. Therefore we must continue to sustain our businesses until they are once again back on an even keel.

“It will take a while for footfall to resume, and extending the business rates holiday is one way to help in this time of need.”

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MP makes Budget case for support for self-employed and small businesses in Ceredigion

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BEN LAKE MP has called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the government’s financial support package for businesses and self-employed workers in next week’s Budget as many struggle to stay afloat during continued lockdown restrictions. 

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak is to set out the UK Government’s budget on Wednesday 3 March, almost a year since the last Budget on 11 March 2020. 

To help businesses and our local high streets over coming months, the Ceredigion MP has called on the Chancellor to extend the lowered rate of VAT at 5% for hospitality and tourism for a year to March 2022 and to extend the business rates relief package. 

Mr Lake also called on the Chancellor to retain the furlough scheme for the duration of pandemic restrictions, as recent figures show more than 178,000* in Wales are still receiving government help from the CJRS. He also urged the Chancellor to expand the existing eligibility criteria for the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme in order to offer some help to the many individuals who have not received a penny in Government support thus far. 

Ben Lake MP said: “For many businesses and self-employed workers, the financial support government has offered over the last 12 months has been a lifeline. Now, as we are finally starting to see light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, we cannot remove this lifeline prematurely. Extending this help for a little longer, and expanding the criteria to help those that have been excluded thus far, would offer small businesses the support they require to ‘bounce back’ from the pandemic.” 

Many businesses who are still not open due to lockdown measures are also now expected to start repaying their Bounce Back Loans. This is despite their situation largely remaining unchanged since they took out the loan, or in some unfortunate instances, worsened as they have not yet been able to trade.  

UKHospitality has estimated that the hospitality sector lost around £72 billion in sales in 2020 and faces, frankly, a debt mountain, including £4.2 billion in state-backed loans.  

Mr Lake said:  “It is important that businesses that took out bounce back loans and CBILS are required to pay only when they are in a position to do so – once they have ‘bounced back’ from the pandemic. Affording such a level of flexibility, and thus preventing avoidable business failures, would protect jobs, the taxpayer’s investment in the recovery, and the integrity of our financial system.

“We remain in the early stages of a vaccine-led recovery, and it is likely that we will have some form of restrictions for many months to come. Having done so much to protect the economy and the workforce, we must not withdraw support prematurely, as to do so would risk throwing away the investment taxpayers have made in the last year, and potentially our economic recovery.” 

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Covid-19 vaccination venues and timeline announced for everyone locally over 50

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EVERY person in JCVI priority groups 5 to 9 will be offered a COVID-19 vaccination by 18 April, Hywel Dda University Health Board has confirmed.

While the health board’s vaccination programme has the capacity to offer a vaccine to everyone in groups 5 to 9 by the original target date of 4 April, the delivery plan has had to be adjusted based on confirmed vaccine deliveries.

Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, and Pembrokeshire residents in priority groups 5 to 9 can expect to receive their vaccine as follows:

  • Group 5, people aged 65 – 69 years – delivered by GP practices between 15 February and 12 March
  • Group 6, people aged 16 years to 64 years with underlying health conditions and unpaid carers – delivered by GP practices between 22 February and 4 April
  • Group 7, people aged 60 – 64 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 8 March
  • Group 8, people aged 55 – 59 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 22 March
  • Group 9, people aged 50 – 54 years – delivered by mass vaccination centres starting 5 April

The health board currently has mass vaccination centres located in Aberystwyth, Cardigan, Haverfordwest, Tenby, Carmarthen and Llanelli.

Group 6 is significantly the largest cohort to be vaccinated to date and we understand that many in this group will be anxious to receive a vaccine. Please do not contact your GP or the health board to ask about your appointment, you will be contacted directly when it is your turn and we thank you for your patience.

People in groups 7, 8 and 9 will receive a letter with an appointment date and time. Please arrive as close to your appointment time as possible. The letter will include a phone number to contact the health board should you need to rearrange or cancel your appointment but please make every effort to keep your allocated appointment time.

Steve Moore, Chief Executive of Hywel Dda UHB, said: “While  our programme has had to slow  due to supplies, we want to reassure everyone in groups 5 to 9 that our amazing teams of vaccinators and GP practices have the capability and flexibility to deliver our vaccine supplies as they arrive into the region.

“Vaccine supplies will start to increase again from mid-March, and we are confident that everyone living in our three counties in the top 9 priority groups will be offered a vaccine by mid-April.

“In Hywel Dda we have an older population compared to some other health boards and so over 50% of our adult population will have been offered a vaccine by milestone 2.

“To be able to say that as we approach the anniversary of the first national lockdown is nothing short of extraordinary.

“And again, I must say thank you to everyone living in our three counties who continue to come forward in substantial numbers for the vaccine. Uptake remains remarkably high and we hope to see this continue through groups 5 to 9 and into group 10.”

People are asked, wherever possible, to use their own private transport to attend an appointment. Lifts can be accepted from someone in their household or support bubble, but not from anyone else due to the risk of transmission of the virus.

The health board has put in place transport support for anyone who may have difficulty attending their vaccination appointment. If you have no other means of travel, please contact the health board on 0300 303 8322 and we will be happy to assist.

Everyone in priority groups 1 to 4 should have received an offer of a vaccination. If you have not been contacted, or have changed your mind, please contact your GP at the earliest opportunity. No one will be left behind.

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