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expert reaction to pilot report by Sheffield Community Contact Tracers looking at response and compliance to contact tracing for COVID-19

The Sheffield Community Contact Tracers, a group of Sheffield doctors including retired Public Health specialists, Directors of Public Health and GPs, have been conducting a pilot scheme of contact tracing and have released a report detailing their initial efforts.


Prof Rowland Kao, Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology and Data Science, University of Edinburgh, said:

“The scientific evidence thus far suggests that contact tracing will have to play a major role in curtailing outbreaks if lockdown restrictions are to be successfully eased. This report highlights the importance of ‘soft’ skills for contact tracing to successfully play this role. This includes sensitive follow-up, with an understanding of how isolation might affect different people differently, as well as the need to know the different reasons why full cooperation was not easy to achieve for individual cases. Newly trained staff are likely to require a bedding in period in order for these skills to become fully developed and therefore patience is necessary until this period is over. As well, the reluctance of many to fully cooperate also highlights potential issues with over-reliance on a digital app. Most importantly, it stresses the importance of full engagement of the public with control measures in general, and trust in their necessity.”


Dr Tom Wingfield, Senior Clinical Lecturer and Honorary Consultant Physician, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said:

“The preliminary data from Sheffield Community Contact Tracers confirms what tuberculosis (TB) contact tracing teams around the UK already know: contact tracing is not easy.

“We can learn much from TB contact tracing that we can apply to Covid-19: it requires a skilled empathetic work force, a significant investment of time and resources, and staff that are able to develop good rapport and trust with those they are contacting. Indeed, contact tracing for TB in the UK has been chronically underfunded and is only achieved due to the commitment and tenacity of TB community teams, especially in reaching underserved or marginalised people.

“If we wish to achieve high levels of uptake and engagement with Covid-19- and indeed TB – contact tracing in the UK, there are some key elements that need to be in place. We need to ensure appropriate funding, high-quality training for contact tracers, recruitment of suitable numbers of contact tracers with limited staff turnover, and understandable messaging from the government to the public about the role and importance of contact tracing.”


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