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COVID-19 Contact Tracing

16th June 2020

On the 27 April 2020 the Public Health Agency (PHA) launched Contact Tracing in Northern Ireland; this is a 7 day a week operation to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  To aide with the implementation of contact tracing the Clinical Education Centre (CEC) agreed to the temporary redeployment of seven Nurse Education Consultants on a part time basis to help support this vital piece of work.  Northern Ireland was the first area within the UK to roll out contact tracing of all positive cases of COVID-19.  Staff members that have been redeployed to contact tracing include; Carol McCorry, Denise Arnott-Rooney, Damian McAleer, Elaine McNally, Ellen McLaughlin, Lyn Brennan and Maria Gribben.  All staff that undertook these roles are qualified Nurses with significant years of clinical experience.  CEC staff were required to attend a full day training at the PHA headquarters in Linen Hall Street, Belfast, before commencing work as contact tracers. The comprehensive training day covered background information to contact tracing, the role of contact tracers, how to make calls to members of the public who had received a positive test result and how to conduct calls to those close contacts identified.  Staff also took part in facilitated practical and observation sessions. This training day was essential in preparing staff adequately to engage in the role as a contact tracer in Northern Ireland.

Contact tracing aims to identify people who are noted as having come into close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, then provides those individuals with necessary guidance in relation to periods of self-isolation.  A close contact is someone who has been within 2ft and for longer than 15 minutes of a person who has been tested positive for the illness.  When a phone call is made to someone who has tested positive they are asked to provide names and contact numbers for all those they have had ‘close contact’ with.  Those contacts will then be contacted by phone and potentially asked to self-isolate and provided with advice such as social distancing, handwashing and cleaning in the home to help protect people who may be at risk.

Support from the general public is considered absolutely crucial to the success of this strategy, as staff rely on the public to report their symptoms, get tested and follow self-isolation advice as provided by the PHA.  This has been an exciting opportunity for the staff from CEC that have undertaken this role, fully recognising just how crucial an aspect it is in the Health & Social Care response to COVID-19 here in Northern Ireland.