COVID-19: contact tracing pilot finds resistance in contacted health care workers

  • Community Contact Tracers
  • 27 May 2020

  • curated by Priscilla Lynch
  • UK Medical News
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A COVID-19 contact tracing pilot scheme has found that two-thirds of people contacted did not fully cooperate, many of whom worked in health and care settings.

The Sheffield Community Contact Tracers team was created by a group of retired doctors and public health experts frustrated at the government abandonment of community testing and tracing of COVID-19 in March. They designed the pilot to assess the effectiveness of volunteers in the absence of a national contact tracing programme.

In April, six contact tracing-trained volunteers tracked 58 people who had been in contact with 10 COVID-19 patients, six of whom worked for the NHS or care services.

One-third of the 58 contacts (n=19) were isolated and supported for 14 days, and one contact was found to be ill, leading to further contacts.

However, two thirds (n=39) did not fully cooperate, and most of these (n=29) worked in the NHS or social care, exposing major resistance to contact tracing in health care settings.

One in five of the initial patients only responded to phone calls after a physical message was hand delivered, suggesting calls alone will not access many of those with COVID-19. 

The pilot results demonstrate the major challenges and urgent need for contact tracing for COVID-19 in the UK, the authors of the pilot report said. However, they said the government proposal for a call centre-based national system “may be too centralised, too remote and is now too delayed to be effective at this critical moment.”

“The study demonstrates that volunteer contact tracers can be effective, supportive and make a real difference in preventing infection spread,” the authors said.

Twenty-five more volunteers have been trained to enable a second phase of the pilot, and multiple other groups have adopted this pilot’s protocols, they said.