TURKEY’S CON­TACT TRAC­ERS DED­I­CATE THEIR LIVES TO PAN­DEMIC FIGHT

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - IS­TAN­BUL / DAILY SABAH WITH IHA

BE­ING a con­tact tracer is one of Turkey’s most ex­haust­ing jobs these days. Ded­i­cated to de­ter­min­ing the last con­tacts of a COVID-19 pa­tient, un­daunted crews go door-to-door ev­ery day to limit the spread of in­fec­tion for oth­ers who might come in con­tact with an in­fected per­son. Brav­ing suf­fo­cat­ing heat in head-to-toe pro­tec­tive suits, con­tact trac­ing crews are on the sec­ond front of the strug­gle against the pan­demic, af­ter health care work­ers at hos­pi­tals.

THEIR job, how­ever, is no less risky, and the slight­est er­ror can turn them into pa­tients. Work­ing un­der dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances, they do not com­plain but ask only for one thing: ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion from pa­tients and their con­tacts.

Nurse Ni­hal Yük­sel works with a con­tact-trac­ing crew in the north­west­ern prov­ince of Ko­caeli. Her shift begins early in the morn­ing with a check of the lo­cal health au­thor­ity’s data­base on new COVID-19 cases. For up to eight hours, she and oth­ers visit the houses of friends, ac­quain­tances of coro­n­avirus pa­tients or those who came into con­tact with an in­fected per­son. A night crew takes over af­ter the first shift ends. “We in­form peo­ple we visit on how to iso­late them­selves and ques­tion them if they have peo­ple with chronic ill­nesses in their house­holds. We then co­or­di­nate the hos­pi­tal trans­fer process for those at risk,” she ex­plained, sum­ming up her daily rou­tine.

It may seem like an or­di­nary task ex­cept for the bulky pro­tec­tive suits and masks they have to wear. “Ev­ery health care worker has to don them but we have ex­tra difficulty. While they work at hos­pi­tals, we have to go around out­side in hot weather. You can’t even breathe in these suits, and we ad­di­tion­ally wear more clothes un­der­neath for more pro­tec­tion,” Yük­sel said. The suits are so un­bear­able to wear that they feel their voice has “changed” af­ter they take off the suits. “When I re­move my suit and mask, I have to wait for a few minutes for my voice to re­turn to nor­mal. Yet, we have to visit peo­ple and speak to them for hours,” she lamented.

The only pro­fes­sional sat­is­fac­tion for Yük­sel is see­ing peo­ple thank­ing them and pray­ing for them. “Co­op­er­a­tive peo­ple also make our job eas­ier but this is not al­ways the case,” she said. She com­plained of peo­ple sup­ply­ing them with false in­for­ma­tion about the last peo­ple they con­tacted. “We want cor­rect in­for­ma­tion, this is all we want from them,” Yük­sel said.

Hun­dreds of con­tact-trac­ing crews have been work­ing across Turkey since the early days of the pan­demic in the coun­try. It takes an av­er­age of 13 hours for crews to de­tect the con­tacts of a pa­tient.

Con­tact trac­ers pose dur­ing door-to-door work in Ko­caeli prov­ince, in Turkey’s Mar­mara re­gion, Oct. 1, 2020. (İHA Photo)

A con­tact-trac­ing team walks on a street in Ko­caeli, north­west­ern Turkey, Oct. 1, 2020.

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