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Caseload rockets for city’s covid tracing team

Tracing team at LCC

THE TEAM charged with tracking down people who test positive for coronavirus, but who fail to respond to an automated message, has seen a huge surge in its workload.

As further evidence that coronavirus infections in Leicester are rising again, 170 cases were passed to the city council’s tracing team on New Year’s Day alone – with the team facing a race against time to track down these individuals, and gather information about their close contacts, before they pass the virus on.

The essential work to trace those who test positive, and make sure that they and their close contacts self-isolate, is being hampered by people who are not providing the information they’re required to give to the authorities.

Now, public health experts in Leicester are urging those who test positive to respond immediately to the messages they receive from the national test and trace service – and to fill out the online form they’re asked to complete so that their contacts can be swiftly traced and asked to self-isolate too.

“What we’re seeing is a growing number of people who are failing to respond to an automated message which asks them to provide details of the people they have been in contact with,” said Professor Ivan Browne, director of public health at Leicester City Council.

“This means that we don’t know if they’ve seen the automated message – and therefore don’t know that they’ve tested positive and need to self-isolate.

“But if they’re not completing the online form, and providing details of their contacts and their movements, the track and trace process can’t continue – and that means that the virus is allowed to spread unchecked.

“Our team is spending far too much time contacting these individuals and gathering information about the people they’ve been in close contact with, when that time could be better spent helping those who are genuinely unable to complete an online form.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to remind people that if you test positive for coronavirus, you are breaking the law if you don’t stay at home and self-isolate for 10 days – and it’s your duty to share information about the people you may have infected with the virus. Tracing your contacts, and getting them to self-isolate too, is essential, if we are to stop the spread of the virus.”

Of the 170 cases referred to the team on New Year’s Day, 166 have been traced, given guidance about the support that’s available, and asked to self-isolate. Information about their close contacts has been passed back to Public Health England, which is responsible for contact tracing.

Between 7 December 2020, when the pilot scheme began, and 4 January 2021, 1,849 out of 2,023 cases referred to the team have been traced – that’s a success rate of more than 90%.

Since 7 December, the city council has been empowered to contact anyone in Leicester who tests positive for the virus, if they fail to respond to an automated message within eight hours.

Leicester City Council was the first local authority in the country to be given access to this data by Public Health England.

Previously, cases would only be referred to the council after the national NHS Test & Trace service had spent up to four days trying to locate them – a time delay that increases the risk of the virus being passed on.

The pilot scheme is demonstrating that the most effective way to trace hard-to-reach people who test positive – and stop them from spreading the virus – is to use local teams equipped with local knowledge.

People prove difficult to contact for a variety of reasons, including:

  • a phone number provided is incorrect
  • the infected person is a child, and its parent must be informed
  • requests for information about contacts have not been responded to
  • a whole family has been tested, but only one member has responded to the contact tracers.

Leicester City Council’s tracing team will attempt to contact individuals remotely – by phone or by email – over a period of 24-48 hours. If this is unsuccessful, members of the ground team, in full PPE, will call at their home address.

The city council’s contact tracers are all council employees who normally work in customer-facing roles, such as in libraries and sports centres.

The team works closely with the local PHE health protection team, who provide expert advice and follow up any issues related to workplaces or other venues where the virus might have spread.