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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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Directory of services launched by Ceredigion’s Carers Unit as part of Carers Rights Day

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WHETHER you are a new carer or have been caring for someone for a while, it’s important that you understand your rights and you’re able to access the support that is available to you as soon as you need it. Wherever you are in your caring journey.

It is more important than ever that Carers look after their own health and wellbeing as well as the people they care for. This year for Carers Rights Day, Ceredigion Carers Unit and our partners wanted to ensure Carers have the information and the knowledge that they need at their fingertips, so they can feel confident asking for what they need.

Ceredigion Carers Unit and partners have brought together a Bumper Edition of the Winter Carers Magazine. It’s a ‘Carers Rights Day Directory of services’ bursting with useful information and advice on your rights, including, where to get help and support in West Wales.

There is also a free Carers programme of talks & short training sessions online (also with access by telephone). This programme runs right through until end of March 2021.

Being a carer can take its toll on your wellbeing. Following a recent Carers UK survey, 78% of Carers in Wales said that they have been unable to take any, or a sufficient, breaks from their caring role since the outbreak of COVID-19. As a result of this, surveyed Carers also reported that their health and wellbeing had been affected, with 66% reporting that their mental health had worsened due to the pandemic.

Councillor Catherine Hughes, Carers Champion for Ceredigion County Council, said: “The magazine and the programme of talks & short courses appeals to a huge variety of unpaid Carers. There is something in there for parent Carers, dementia Carers, young Carers, those caring for someone affected by mental health or substance misuse issues and everything in between. And relevant to those caring for people of all ages. If you know of anyone with caring responsibilities who would benefit from this magazine or the free advice sessions, please pass it on.”

Catherine Moyle, Carers Support and Development Officer, Ceredigion County Council, Carers Unit said: “A warm welcome is extended to all unpaid Carers in the county and those that you care for. These are challenging times. Reaching out for support when you need it is a form of self-care and it boosts your resilience. It takes a strong person to carry on caring – it takes a stronger, more resilient person to reach out to others.”

The programme of online sessions and the magazine are available on Ceredigion County Council’s website here: http://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/resident/social-care-wellbeing/support-for-carers/carers-rights-day-2020/ and on their Facebook pages @CeredigionCC under events.

If you would prefer to request a printed copy of the magazine or would like any further information, please get in touch with the Ceredigion Carers Unit on 01970 633564 or e-mail carersunit@ceredigion.gov.uk.

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Make this week count to reduce the spread of the virus

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THE NUMBER of coronavirus cases in Ceredigion continues to increase and we ask all residents to follow the guidelines to reduce the spread of the virus. The sacrifices we make in the coming week will help to reduce the spread of the virus.

Over the last week, the County has seen 107 new cases, with 57 Ceredigion residents in the Cardigan area. But we are also seeing increasing numbers in the Lampeter area.

This sudden increase is something that we are not familiar with in Ceredigion but now is the time to work together to stop the spread even further.

We ask that you limit the number of times you leave your house and that you limit your social contact – the fewer people you mix with the less likely the virus will spread. It is better to see the same one or two people regularly than to see lots of different people. In both cases, it is safer to meet them outdoors and ensuring that you always maintain a 2m social distance.

Symptoms of coronavirus include a high temperature, a new continuous cough and a loss or change to sense of smell or taste. But be aware of other symptoms early on, such as headaches, tiredness and general aches and pains usually associated with flu. We are urging people who feel unwell to be extra cautious, especially to practice hand hygiene and distancing, and if in doubt, please book a test.

But only book a test if you have symptoms. If you don’t have symptoms and you go for a test and receive a negative result, it only tells you that you were didn’t have the virus on that day alone.

You can apply for a test online https://gov.wales/apply-coronavirus-covid-19-test or by phoning 119.

If you have come into contact with a positive case or if you or a member of your household have symptoms, you must all self-isolate immediately. This means that you cannot leave the house for any reason, except to go for a test.

If you receive a positive test, you must self-isolate for 10 days from when your symptoms started, meaning that you can leave your house on day 11. If you are a contact of a positive case, you must self-isolate for 14 days from when their symptoms started, meaning you can leave the house on day 15. It is critical that anyone needing to self-isolate completes the full number of days.

If you have been contacted by the Contact Tracing Team and been told to self-isolate, you may be entitled to Financial Support under the Self-Isolation Support Payment Scheme A £500 fixed payment will be available to people who qualify on the basis of low income, are unable to work from home and, as a consequence, will suffer a loss of income. To check if you are eligible for this payment and to make an application visit http://www.ceredigion.gov.uk/resident/coronavirus-covid-19/self-isolation-support-payment-scheme/

Over the last week, we have seen our communities pulling together to stop the spread of the virus. Businesses in Cardigan have put in place procedures to ensure the safety of their customers whilst others have closed voluntarily during this period. We have also seen community spirit with support being provided to those who are self-isolating.

Remain vigilant and remember the key messages:

Keep a 2m social distance from each other when out and about;
Wash your hands regularly;
Limit your social contact;
Work from home wherever possible;
Wear a face mask in indoor public places, shops and on public transport.

Together, we can keep Ceredigion safe.

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Development of Ceredigion’s first Wellbeing Hub approved

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THE PROPOSAL to develop a Wellbeing Centre in Lampeter was approved at a Cabinet meeting on 01 December 2020.

As part of its commitment to form an Adult Wellbeing Program, Ceredigion County Council intends to establish Wellbeing Hubs in North, Mid and South Ceredigion as well as pop-up provision in other locations in the County. Each Wellbeing Hub (area) will host a ‘Wellbeing Centre’ – a facility that enhances its core offer of Leisure provision with areas for meeting, consultation and treatment to contribute to improving the physical, mental and social well-being of the County’s residents.

Councillor Catherine Hughes said, “It is clear that residents’ support needs are changing and the Wellbeing Centre should be able to offer assistance and provide services to ensure that they respond to need and offer support to a wide range of support for people of all ages. It’s great to see this positive first step for the residents of mid Ceredigion.”

The Wellbeing Centre development concept will be presented to the Corporate Project Management Board and Development Group to ensure that it follows the agreed protocols for a project of this status. Ceredigion County Council intends to develop further Wellbeing Centres in the North and South of the County. The learning through the creation of the first Centre in Lampeter will influence the other Centres and implement the program in the future.

The Wellbeing Hub in Lampeter is being developed with the help of a grant from the Welsh Government.

In approving the application, this allows the Welfare Services to progress the project work on the development of the Wellbeing Centre in Lampeter.

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