While vaccinations are the great hope for a path out of the coronavirus pandemic, the role of the Test Trace Protect team remains as important as ever.
The dedicated Pembrokeshire County Council Contact Tracing team have been at the forefront of the battle to stop the chain of infection since early in the outbreak.
From a small number of positive cases in the early days following March 2020 to several hundred cases per week at the peaks, the team has steadfastly taken on the challenge.
But unless you have direct contact with the team you may not be sure exactly how contact tracing works and how it helps to keep us all safe.
Kate Canny from Hubberston and Nicola Williams from Fishguard are Lead Tracers within the Test Trace Protect (TTP) Team at the Council.
Both moved from their roles within the Council Contact Centre to TTP to provide support during the pandemic.
From taking Contact Centre calls helping customers with queries on Council services, Kate and Nicola are now part of the TTP team that makes the calls to people who have returned a positive Covid-19 test and speak to those people they have been in close contact with.
Track and Trace operates 8am-8pm, seven days a week with staff split across shift patterns.
The TTP team use the NHS all Wales Contact Tracing database which receives details of positive Covid-19 cases throughout the day and night.
The team contact the person involved and ask them to confirm their name, address and date of birth and the date of the test to check they’re speaking to the person who’s had the test. Supporting those who have tested positive is an important part of the job.
“More often than not the person who has tested positive will know their result before we call them but sometimes they don’t,” Nicola said.
“These can be difficult calls because the person can be extremely upset or even angry and my role is to offer re-assurance to them and answer any questions that they may have.”
Support and advice is part of every conversation.
Kate said: “If the case has one of the three main symptoms, a cough, high temperature or loss/change to their taste or sense of smell we use this information, but if they are asymptomatic we use the date they took the test to calculate their required isolation period.
“Once we have completed a symptom check, we will then trace back 48 hours previous to the test or symptoms, this is because you can carry the virus with no symptoms during this time.
“We discuss any locations they’ve visited such as shops, cafes, if they’ve travelled or been on holiday. We talk to them about their family, household, friends and work place contacts over this time. This is where we create a timeline record to try to prevent the spread of the virus any further”.
Every detail is important, Nicola added. “What might seem like an unimportant piece of information to you could be the missing piece of the jigsaw to me”.
A report is added to the cases record in the TTP system. The Test Trace Protect process is governed by data protection and all records are held in the strictest of confidence. The team cannot share information about the positive case without the individuals’ consent.
Kate said: “We advise cases to isolate for 10 days, we go through hygiene and isolation advice. We can also signpost the case or contacts to support services in relation to for example shopping, receiving prescriptions, financial support and NHS guidance to help them whilst they are isolating”.
Self-isolation means staying at home, not having visitors, not going out even for shopping and if you are positive limiting contact with others in your household.
It’s a difficult time for people so it’s important to check how they will manage and provide details of services that can help them with their day to day tasks.
Kate said: “Once we have collected the contact details for people they have been in close contact with, we then pass this onto our team of Advisors. The Advisors will then contact anyone that may now be at risk.The Advisors provide them with advice regarding the need to self-isolate and talk through any support they may need to do this.
“Understandably people are worried for their family, friends and their own health. They worry that they may have spread the virus further. People are also lonely isolating, so we try and reassure people the best way we can.”
Receiving a call to isolate can also be a shock for some people.
“People don’t always believe us when they say they have been in contact with someone with Covid as we are unable to give any information about the contact,” said Kate.
“On occasion, but rarely, people refuse to isolate but we just express the importance of self-isolating and advise it is now law and they may be subject to enforcement action or fines. The vast majority understand why they need to self-isolate and are prepared to do so to keep themselves and others safe.”
Nicola added: “Understandably, some people think we are scam callers or refuse to answer or can be rude and abusive.
“But it’s so important that if you have a call from 02921961133 you answer it. It’s important to know that we will never ask for your bank details or for any type of payment.”
The TTP team has also been hugely impressed with the way Pembrokeshire residents have pulled together to support one another over the past 11 months.
Nicola said: “The strength of community that still exists in Pembrokeshire is a wonderful thing to see. Neighbours helping neighbours, communities pulling together to help wherever and whenever they can.
“Pembrokeshire is a rural county and has a lot of isolated villages but still, residents have risen to the challenge and continue to do so.”
Kate agreed: “As a team it has come to our attention how fantastic and caring neighbours, friends and family have been when they need to support someone when they are isolating.
“Everyone has been pulling together in our communities to ensure that the person isolating is cared for and has what they need in a safe manner.”
Thanks to people following the stay at home message and self-isolation rules, we are now seeing numbers of positive cases start to fall.
But it remains vital that you get tested if you have coronavirus symptoms.
Nicola added: “By working together we can help control the spread of Covid-19”.
“Getting tested and following self-isolation rules are by far the best way to help protect our loved ones and communities even though it may seem to be an inconvenience at the time.”
Anyone with coronavirus symptoms can get a test. Coronavirus symptoms are:
· a new continuous cough
· a high temperature
· loss of or change to sense of smell or taste
· If you think you have any of the symptoms of the coronavirus, stay at home and self-isolate.
You can book a test online here: https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test
You will be asked to input your postcode. The system will offer you appointments at the nearest testing sites with available slots or you can arrange to receive a home test.
You can also book a test by calling 119 (calls are free).