Thursday, December 9

Covid-19: Contact Tracing System Under Pressure As Outbreak Grows

Auckland health authorities are urgently recruiting more contact trackers as the national system reaches capacity just five days into the outbreak.

A health worker analyzes a PCR test for the detection of Covid-19 in the laboratory of the University Center for Health Sciences (CUCS) in Guadalajara, Jalisco state, Mexico, on April 14, 2021. (Photo by ULISES RUIZ / AFP)

Some labs have gone from processing hundreds of tests a day to thousands
Photo: AFP

The tracers are vital to the Covid-19 response because they are able to isolate people who have been in contact with the virus before they can infect others.

Laboratories, testing sites and vaccination centers are also struggling as the health system struggles to keep up with the incursion of the Delta.

Chief Health Officer Dr. Ashley Bloomfield said the country’s contact tracing system was working 100 percent, with its Covid surge plan in full use.

Auckland, home to the vast majority of the 8,667 contacts identified so far, is now searching for more bookmarks.

University of Auckland Professor of Public Health Colin Tukuitonga is working with Auckland Regional Public Health to help find them.

It was an illustration of the pressure the system was under, he said.

Dr. Colin Tukuitonga

Dr. Colin Tukuitonga hopes to find qualified Pacific trackers for the new Samoa Assembly of God location of interest in Māngere
Photo: PMA

Before the Delta, many of those who attended large gatherings would have been considered casual contacts, but the infectious strain had taken tracking to a new level and the numbers meant everything took longer, he said.

“Each individual who is on the contact list must be contacted and their situation must be determined, explored and investigated to see what kind of risks they are at,” he said.

The work was incredibly demanding and the teams were doing a tremendous job, he said.

Tukuitonga especially hoped to find trained Pacific trackers for the new Samoa Assembly of God location of interest in Māngere..

More people needed to be trained in the long term, from all of Auckland’s diverse backgrounds, but that took time, he said.

It’s not just the contact tracers that feel the tension.

The testers have gone wild, with record numbers made in recent days and people sitting for hours in their cars.

Auckland ear, nose and throat surgeon David Grayson found himself engaging with swabs at a community testing center.

He had come to support his colleagues at the Waitematā District Board of Health by handing out cookies and water, but when they realized how well he knew his way, they recruited him to help.

It gave him extra appreciation for the evaluators and those waiting in line, he said.

“It is quite disheartening to look up thinking that you are moving forward and see the long line of cars, but I am really surprised, the public is so patient,” he said.

At the other end of all those tests, labs are under pressure.

An Auckland worker and Apex lab worker chairman Brian Raill said they were “shocked.”

They had gone from processing roughly 500 tests a day to 3,000, with batches arriving late into the night.

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Some nurses want to avoid the outbreak to protect their families, says nurses union
Photo: 123RF

Some people waited days for his results and he urged them to be patient.

They had reorganized the shifts and recruited additional helpers, but he hoped the situation would ease as the blockade came into effect.

The kaiwhakahaere nurses union Kerri Nuku said many nurses were feeling the strain throughout the healthcare system that was already plagued by a shortage of nurses.

Some vaccinated nurses were concerned after being granted an exemption to return to work even though they were case contacts.

“Certainly, for us, it indicates understaffing and maybe this is an … attempt to try and level that,” he said.

While many nurses enjoyed helping out to help keep the country safe, others felt different under Delta and wanted to wait for the outbreak to protect their families.

The country needed a better response plan for the next incursion, he said.

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