The Sunday Mail (Queensland)

Meet the heroes who save Queensland

HOW THE SPEEDY ACTION OF THESE TRACERS IS KEEPING US ALL ALIVE

- JACKIE SINNERTON

THEY are an elite army of 1360 and the best in the world.

Queensland’s contact tracers have proven time and time again that they are top of their game when it comes to diverting disaster and the lives – and jobs – they have saved is immeasurab­le.

Tracers are tough, resilient and highly trained but the recent COVID-19 clusters have pushed many to the brink.

There have been tears, sleepless nights, headaches from talking on the phone all day, lost time with precious loved ones and endless cancelled social dates.

The most recent call to action was last month’s cluster with the Princess Alexandra Hospital doctor and subsequent infections and then a second cluster linked to a PA nurse.

The speedy action of the tracers broke the dangerous chains of transmissi­on and helped end the Greater Brisbane lockdown, allowing Queensland­ers to enjoy a free and easy Easter holiday.

Backup tracers were called in from the Tropical Public Health Service and even from Education Queensland.

Doctors, nurses, public health officers and epidemiolo­gy experts are all part of the core army against COVID-19.

The tracers, who are based in the Hospital and Health Services and the Health Contact Centre, have identified 9500 COVID-19 contacts relating to clusters in southeast Queensland so far in 2021.

The most recent clusters had 150 tracers working around the clock and 2500 quarantine directions were issued. A total of 155 exposure sites were identified. There were 5900 contacts made.

“Our community shows that they have put complete trust in the expertise of our contact tracers. When approached they divulged all their personal informatio­n to complete strangers and when they were told to stay home, they did,” Health Minister Yvette D’Ath told a gathering of contact tracers in Brisbane.

“They are the best in the country, actually they are the best in the world and I couldn’t be prouder. We will continue to rely on these amazing workers through 2021.”

The minister said politician­s put their trust in these public health experts and they had never let them down.

Contact tracers monitor flights and big events, they provide bulk emails to contacts and monitor contacts in home quarantine.

But time spent on the phone is one of the biggest responsibi­lities of the tracers.

From breaking the news to a person that their test has been positive for COVID-19 to talking through every moment of their private lives to slowly piece together the possible paths of transmissi­on.

Tracer Fiona Anderson from Brisbane said people did not immediatel­y remember everywhere they had been in recent days and who they met.

“We try to offer them support and help them remember so we can work out who was a close contact or a casual contact while they were infectious,” she said. “We suggest that they look through their phones for timing of calls, when they posted photos to social media and to look at bank statements.

“Sometimes it is necessary to check Google Maps timelines to get a big picture. It is not a fast process and requires many repeat calls and long calls. Queensland­ers have been incredibly compliant and are appreciati­ve that we are trying to keep everyone safe.”

Benjamin Rochester, an environmen­tal health officer, graduated at the end of 2019 and was instantly thrown into a pandemic.

At just 24, the Brisbane man is expert at talking to people after they get a positive COVID result and doing some detective work into their lives. He has learned at breakneck speed how to gain the trust of a stranger and support them through a tough time.

“They are all just human beings and we try to be kind as well as piecing together the virus trail. Honestly, I’m loving every moment,” he said.

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