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Contact tracing capabilities ramp up to fight COVID-19

Published: 16 April 2020

Since March the NSW Health COVID-19 Contact Tracing team has been scaling up public health resources to trace and contact people across NSW who are at risk of COVID-19 to minimise spread of the infection.
 

Man talking on phone using headset

Director of Contract Tracing Carolyn Murray said contact tracing is used to combat infectious diseases like measles, but has been scaled up to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the development of a central NSW Health Contact Tracing team.

“We’ve grown to a team of around 150 working day and night to follow up people who have been in contact with people diagnosed with COVID-19,” Ms Murray said.

“At any one time we can be working virtually across a number of workplaces, with the capability of making up to 1,300 calls to the community a day.”

Ms Murray said when someone is diagnosed with COVID-19, the first step is an in depth interview to understand their movements and who they have been in contact with while infectious.

“The contact team will call individuals identified by the COVID-19 case, provide them with instructions for self-isolation, and offer further support for the isolation period” Ms Murray said.

“The aim is to have them isolated for the full incubation period of 14 days, so that should they develop symptoms themselves, they won’t have exposed anyone else to the virus.”

The infectious period is currently defined as 24 hours prior to the patient developing symptoms, however you can be infectious without having symptoms this is why it is important if you are a close contact you follow the self-isolation advice.

Ms Murray said empathy and ongoing support were a critical part of the team’s training and ongoing duties throughout the contact tracing process.

“An incredibly significant element of this is ensuring we engage with people in a compassionate and supportive way,” Ms Murray said.

“Although our primary objective is contact tracing, we also need to support the person in question and make sure they have the information and advice they need given the experience can be very difficult for some to cope with, particularly if they live alone or have pre-existing conditions.

“We treat each case individually, for example if someone needs help with groceries, or they might need further one-on-one phone conversations with a trained mental health professional – then they get the support they need to make these obligations a bit easier.”

The NSW Government has announced a $2.3 billion stimulus package in relation to COVID-19, including $800 million for NSW Health to significantly increase capacity in NSW public hospitals, particularly within ICUs and emergency departments.

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