United Kingdom

NHS worker reveals stern conversations with a businessman who refused to leave the office

As infections sharply rise and the Government puts the brake on easing lockdown, an NHS test and trace caseworker says many people are ignoring self-isolation rules – and explains why some of her underemployed colleagues call themselves the Mouse Movers’ Club...

I couldn’t quite fathom what I was hearing. 

After innumerable phone calls, I had finally traced my middle-aged businessman, but to my dismay, rather than finding him self-isolating at home (his daughter had tested Covid positive) he was at work, chatting with his secretary. 

And he didn’t want to budge.

I understand the financial hardships wrought by this pandemic and the overwhelming desire to return to normality but somehow the message has drifted. ‘You need to get your things together and go home now please,’ I told him.

As infections sharply rise and the Government puts the brake on easing lockdown, an NHS test and trace caseworker says many people are ignoring self-isolation rules – and explains why some of her underemployed colleagues call themselves the Mouse Movers’ Club

‘Oh come on, you know how it is,’ he whined. ‘I drove here in my car, I don’t come into contact with that many people...’ 

‘But you’re touching door handles and goodness knows what else – you need to go home,’ I told him sternly.

Worryingly, this man’s blasé attitude is by no means unusual. As a Tier 2 contact caseworker, I’ve come across it with alarming frequency as we’ve emerged from lockdown.

The example of the businessman highlights a mindset that the Government needs to change. 

Instead of this new kindergarten-like exhortation – ‘Hands, face, space’ – it would be better if Ministers blitzed local communities and reinforced the stay at home and social distancing messages on social media, advertising hoardings, local radio stations – everywhere!

Public information films featuring case studies would also help. Often we come across cases in multi-occupancy, multi-generational households where English is not the first language. 

So the message also needs to reach foreign language radio stations, for instance, and places of worship.

My role mainly involves calling people who have tested positive for Covid-19, getting them to talk through who they’ve come into close contact with within the two days before exhibiting symptoms and the seven days afterwards, then feeding the details into the system. 

We have to talk them through everywhere they’ve been – we are trained in techniques to jog their memories – and who they have met.

For the first few weeks I sat for hours on end staring at my computer screen. Hardly any cases were coming through. 

It has got busier post-lockdown but I often feel my skills could be better utilised (I’m an NHS sexual health adviser, well used to contact tracing).

I’m still hearing that other workers are doing DIY and watching TV as there’s so little to do. 

The NHS tracing app will alert users if someone tests positive for the virus at their local pub or restaurant, the programme’s chairman has revealed 

Some are in a WhatsApp group called ‘the Mouse Movers’ Club’ – managers tell them to set an alarm every 15 minutes so they remember to pick up their mouse and jiggle it around to prevent them being automatically logged out of the system.

Perhaps surprisingly, many cases I’ve dealt with have involved young people. 

When I walk them through their activities and contacts they’re not always willing to give up names – possibly through embarrassment – and I say: ‘Don’t worry, there won’t be any recriminations.’

I suspect I am not always getting the full picture – at times it’s like getting blood from a stone. 

The thing about the young, of course, is that they’re buzzing around meetings lots of friends and I get the strong impression that social distancing is being forgotten – that thing we did months ago before summer came along.

Speaking to someone for just a minute or more within a metre constitutes direct contact. Many people aren’t aware of this. 

One Covid- positive teenage girl I spoke to had visited a shopping centre and everywhere she went – to buy hairspray, to a cafe where she chatted to a waitress – she was coming into contact with people who weren’t wearing face masks or visors.

I escalated the case to the next level, passing on as much detail as possible to Public Health England workers to decide who might need to be contacted.

In all this, speed is of the essence. Another case last week involved a young woman who tested positive but was asymptomatic. 

As we walked through her recent contacts she disclosed that she had been out with a friend the night before – and that the friend was starting a care home shift in a couple of hours.

This was worrying. The consequences of her friend arriving for work might well prove devastating. We eventually managed to head her off though it struck me that there wasn’t really a mechanism in place for dealing with emergencies.

When I raised it with my team leader, she didn’t seem as concerned as she should have been. It had been entered into the system and, to her, that’s what mattered.

It was heartening to hear, though, that we had made a difference in Leicester, that it was the actions of Tier 2 workers flagging patterns of infection that led to the lockdown happening when it did.

I’m sure there will be more localised outbreaks. All this virus wants to do is multiply.

People should still assume everyone has it – and act accordingly.

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