Untrained contact tracers add to risk | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 30, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 30, 2020

Untrained contact tracers add to risk

Safety measures a far cry at Rajshahi’s lone Covid-19 sample collection centre

When offices reopened at the end of May, novel coronavirus was still spreading in Rajshahi city and Ariful Amin was unwilling to join work to save his family from getting infected through him. 

Amin, a tax assessor of Rajshahi City Corporation (RCC), had to attend office for at least three days a week.

"I had no choice, all my colleagues were attending office regularly. But the problem was that none hardly cared about physical distancing. Only wearing mask was made compulsory," said the 42-year-old.

Amin had reasons to worry as the health department has been converted to the Covid-19 sample collection centre in the city since April and there were allegations that safety measures were not being maintained there properly.

Soon his fears became true and his colleagues in the health and other departments started getting infected. Eventually, Amin started to feel feverish. He was then suggested to take a test and the result came out Covid-19 positive on June 18.

Four of his eight-member family -- his mother, wife, six-year son, brother – became Covid-19 positive too. Amin and his family members are in home quarantine and asymptomatic, according to doctors.

The risk, however, persists at the health department's lone sample collection centre. In the last one week, 16 RCC officials and employees became sick and of them, 10 are health department staffers.

The corporation officials found out the department was the centre for spreading coronavirus among its staff members due to a lack of protective measures and untrained contact tracers.

Even though the volunteers working there were trained, the health department staff members have no training on how to deal with Covid-19 patients, said RCC chief health officer Dr FAM Anjumand Ara Begum. 

"Sample collection doesn't require much training. It's the people who aren't aware of physical distancing or continue to ignore the rules -- eventually cause the most damage," she said.

Supported by only one ambulance and a handful of volunteers, the health department began contact tracing in April and identified more than a thousand infected people in all the 30 wards of Rajshahi city till date, she said.

According to WHO, contact tracing is the process of identifying, assessing, and managing people who have been exposed to a disease to prevent onward transmission. Contact tracing for Covid-19 requires identifying people who may have been exposed to Covid-19 and following them up daily for 14 days from the last point of exposure. 

"Rajshahi Medical College Hospital had opened four booths for contact tracing. But those never worked (forcing the corporation to begin the process)," Dr Anjumand said.

Hundreds of people visit the corporation daily and the corporation had installed a disinfection booth at the entry, but it did not help much.

"There are more Covid-19 patients in the city. We cannot test enough. With the given support, we can test less than five people a day," she said.

Ety Rahman, who works as a health worker of the corporation, was found Covid-19 positive recently. Talking over phone, she said she cannot determine how she got infected.

Asked, she admitted that the city corporation gave her PPE, but she hardly used it. "I had to stay at work for eight hours. It is impossible to work such long hours wearing PPE during the heat," she said, adding that she did wear mask.

"People were rushing in to have them tested. I guess I was infected by one of them," she said. She mentioned that she never received any training before joining the work of contact tracing.

Contacted, Mayor AHM Khairuzzaman Liton said the corporation agreed to do the job out of its social responsibilities. He said during a divisional meeting for coordination of coronavirus care, no other institution took up the challenge.

"At first, we were going door-to-door, which turned out quite risky as some of our health workers became infected," he said. Liton said they have plans to open several centres across the city and train up staff members to deal with rising number of infections. 

At least seven people have died in Rajshahi district so far while the authorities collected around 3,000 samples and detected 513 Covid-19 patients.

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