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Covid-19: How our local test and trace system is finding the right contacts

From the onset of Covid-19 a robust test and trace system been regarded as a crucial tool in the battle against the pandemic.
Covid-19: How our local test and trace system is finding the contacts

The most recent figures show that Test and Trace cases handled nationally, either online or by call centres, have only been able to reach 50% of contacts of Peterborough individuals who have tested positive for the virus. The average at the time was 62.4% , but ealier today it was revealed that this had dropped to 57.6%

However locally they have enjoyed greater success.

Since the Locally Enhanced Contact Tracing programme administered by Peterborough City Council began on August 12, the service has had 219 cases referred from the NHS test and trace system. 

Of those, officers have successfully engaged with 85% of those people and asked them to self-isolate, and in the past two weeks as a rolling average, there have been 77 cases, with an engagement rate of 81% - still above the target of 80%.

Nationally, in other figures released today, 94.8% of contacts were reached by local health protection teams and asked to self-isolate in the week to October 14, and at times the figure from the Peterborough team has been up in the high 90% mark.

The council has brought together several strands of its 'everyday' teams to run the process smoothly, including Environmental Health, Licensing and Trading Standards. The team has grown from three at first to around 15 now.

Lisa Borley is one of those who attempts to contact cases for a portion of her day, working from home around her usual role as an environmental health officer.

While the council does have a responsibility for public health and to protect the public from infectious diseases  - which might mean Norovirus in care homes or TB -  Public Health England would normally take the lead. However, in 2020, Covid-19 requires a much more widespread approach.

Lisa said: "The National Test and Trace is still in place, but they found they were struggling to get in contact with enough cases. So if they don't get in touch with someone within 24 hours of them testing positive, it then comes to us.

"Every day we get sent a list of positive cases, with telephone numbers and addresses, and we then have to get in touch with them. In the first 24 hours we will call them up to three times, and so far we have found that if we get to speak to them most people are engaging with us.

"The difference between us and the NHS/Serco version is that we are calling from a local number, while they are calling from an 0300 number. Many people might think that it will be a cold caller, and won't pick up.

"Also when we leave a message we also leave our work number, but the national caller won't."

In addition the team uses a digital communications system called Jabber, which means they can contact the target from anywhere through a PC and an 01733 747474 number will still appear - which can easily be identified by the target as the PCC number with a quick online search.

If the target has not been able to be contacted, a door knock will be required, and this process has been modified to become more streamlined by using a team already on the ground, rather than taking up Environmental Health officers' time. 

The SaferPeterborough Prevention and Enforcement Service (PES) are usually found dealing with issues such as road safety and fly-tipping, but are now approaching targets once addresses have been passed on.

Lisa said: "The PES team will be in Type Two face masks, gloves and PPE, so no-one is at an environmental risk

"They then ask the person to run through a few personal details to ensure it's them, and then they call us and we speak to them about what to do next."

One of the more complex issues has been the language barrier with different communities within Peterborough's population. 

These have been slowly overcome by building up a database of staff who speak different languages, saving on time and the financial costs of hiring interpreters. Once organised, a three-way conference call can then be set up.

Another issue is students, who may have become infected in Peterborough but then moved into halls elsewhere in the country. In that case, the team will contact parents and ask them to help.

These are two examples of a year unlike any other, where staff have had to think and adapt fast.

Lisa said: "The skills we had already from our normal jobs have helped, but things have completely changed in terms of our day-to-day roles this year.

"We were a bit apprehensive at first but it has been better than we thought it would be, because people have engaged with us."

Still though the team continues to see both people and businesses not wearing masks, or not socially distancing in an acceptable way - some targets have even admitted this during the phone calls, and also complained about what they see.

Lisa added: "On the whole most businesses are trying hard, but we have got certain areas of the city not making as much of an effort as others.

"All we can do is engage and advise, but we are getting to a point where we may need more enforcement. 

"It is also down to customers but if the business itself isn't trying, that is a real problem."