More than 1,000 employees across the public service will participate in the coming weeks to find contacts for people who test positive for Covid-19. It will be one of the greatest mobilization and redeployment exercises in the history of the Irish civil service.
Contact tracing is one of the essential tools available to health authorities, along with testing and isolation, to try to break the chain of coronavirus infections and reduce the numbers with Covid-19. The more staff are involved in tracing, the more contacts can be followed.
HSE General Manager Paul Reid said contact tracing will be divided into three distinct phases. About 200 people will be involved in the first element, to deal directly with people who test positive for Covid-19, while up to 1000 may be engaged in the next two phases, taking details on the contacts of the affected person and then contacting those people. people.
The trigger for contact tracing occurs when the public health authorities are officially informed by the laboratories of the identity of a person whose test for Covid-19 is positive.
A specialist in public health medicine, Dr. Sarah Doyle says that the first call to the affected person will be made by someone with a clinical history – a doctor, nurse or other health professional. Part of the staff will be HSE staff, while others will come from universities or the Hiqa watchdog.
Dr. Doyle says that the individual with a confirmed case will be followed by HSE counseling for the condition, including infection control and self-isolation. They will be asked to think of those with whom they have been in close contact since they started to develop symptoms. She says that these are defined, based on European public health councils, as people with whom there has been face-to-face contact within two meters of each other for 15 minutes, or those with whom two hours were spent in the same room.
Health care location
Dr. Doyle says that if the individual worked, for example, in a health care facility, prison or other facility involving a large number of people in secure settings, their case would be considered “complex” and would be managed directly through their local. public health department.
In other circumstances, the person will receive a second call to review the details of the contacts they have been asked to try to call back. The second caller is not necessarily a person with a clinical history. They could come from a person who had previously worked elsewhere in the public service but who had received specific training from HSE.
The second caller will record the names and contact information of the people identified by the person with the confirmed case. This information will be recorded in the health authorities’ computer system and used as the basis for the third part of the tracing exercise.
The third call will be to contact people and inform them that they have been in contact with someone who has contracted Covid-19.
If they have no symptoms, they will be asked to restrict their movements for 14 days. If they show symptoms, they will be referred for a test and asked to isolate themselves.
Last week, the HSE had trained approximately 725 people, mainly from various public services, to perform the contact tracing. The Fórsa union said that the specialist assistants it represents could be reassigned to other positions now that the schools have been closed, more likely to work on contact tracing.
Currently, the HSE is expected to have more trained contact tracing staff than it needs. However, more staff will likely be needed in the coming weeks as the coronavirus crisis worsens.
The HSE said regional public health departments have redeployed staff to support the initial outbreak. He said the operational sites included Hiqa offices in Dublin and Cork, the Curragh army barracks and UCD and DCU.
“The next organizations to be mobilized will include University College Cork, NUIG, Revenue Commissioners (Limerick) and others will follow soon after,” said HSE.