Contact tracing crews have one of the most important duties in the coronavirus pandemic: stopping the infection from spreading further. Now, a year after the pandemic first hit Turkey, contact tracers have become a staple of daily life as they go door-to-door, checking on people who may have come into contact with people with the virus, ensuring they are properly quarantined and supplying drugs.
In Istanbul, the country’s most populated city, some 5,000 contact tracers, from different branches of health care, go on an interminable patrol across the city, literally “hunting down” the virus.
Their only protection is head-to-toe, all-white protection suits, which make them unrecognizable. These anonymous heroes, however, are the ones the nation should be grateful to in stopping the spread of the virus because of the actions of reckless people.
As Turkey is embattled with an apparent third wave of the pandemic, contract tracing crews are still on the streets of Istanbul, where there are roughly 920 cases per 100,000 people according to the latest figures by the Health Ministry. Though Istanbul recorded a drop in the number of cases, the risk lingers in this city of more than 15 million people.
Burcu Gürkaya, a dentist who works as a contact tracing crew in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district, says they visit up to 150 locations every day. “People were reluctant to talk to us at home before. They were afraid that neighbors would see us. (Having infection) was something to be ashamed of for them. Nowadays, everyone got accustomed to living with the pandemic. Nobody is shy,” she says.
Though it hosts nearly 1 million people, who live in close quarters in a mishmash of tall buildings constructed on a narrow strip, Esenyurt appears to dodge the full impact of the pandemic. The district’s head of Directorate of Health Dr. Oktay Dokuz says that it currently ranks 33rd out of 39 districts in terms of the number of cases.
There are some 42 crews, each staffed by a doctor and two other health care workers. Every day, they visit nearly 1,000 houses and other locations. Sometimes, translators accompany the crews as the district hosts a sizeable population of foreigners, especially from African and Asian countries. Dr. Emre Doğan, who leads a crew, says they work until midnight and sometimes, visit up to 180 houses a day.
Dr. Selman Yakut works with a crew in Ümraniye, on the Asian side of the city. He recounts challenges they faced in the yearlong fight against the pandemic, from “dogs attacking them” during a home visit to the difficulty of braving extreme snowfall.
“We also have every kind of patient, like asymptomatic patients, who insists on not 'being infected.' We also have those who test negative but want to have multiple tests, to prove that they are positive. Some people do not take their medication,” he complained.