Being a contact tracer is one of Turkey's most exhausting jobs these days. Dedicated to determining the last contacts of a COVID-19 patient, undaunted crews go door-to-door every day to limit the spread of infection for others who might come in contact with an infected person.
Braving suffocating heat in head-to-toe protective suits, contact tracing crews are on the second front of the struggle against the pandemic, after health care workers at hospitals. Their job, however, is no less risky, and the slightest error can turn them into patients. Working under difficult circumstances, they do not complain but ask only for one thing: accurate information from patients and their contacts.
Nurse Nihal Yüksel works with a contact-tracing crew in the northwestern province of Kocaeli. Her shift begins early in the morning with a check of the local health authority's database on new COVID-19 cases. For up to eight hours, she and others visit the houses of friends, acquaintances of coronavirus patients or those who came into contact with an infected person. A night crew takes over after the first shift ends. “We inform people we visit on how to isolate themselves and question them if they have people with chronic illnesses in their households. We then coordinate the hospital transfer process for those at risk,” she explained, summing up her daily routine.
It may seem like an ordinary task except for the bulky protective suits and masks they have to wear. “Every health care worker has to don them but we have extra difficulty. While they work at hospitals, we have to go around outside in hot weather. You can’t even breathe in these suits, and we additionally wear more clothes underneath for more protection,” Yüksel said. The suits are so unbearable to wear that they feel their voice has “changed” after they take off the suits. “When I remove my suit and mask, I have to wait for a few minutes for my voice to return to normal. Yet, we have to visit people and speak to them for hours,” she lamented.
The only professional satisfaction for Yüksel is seeing people thanking them and praying for them. “Cooperative people also make our job easier but this is not always the case,” she said. She complained of people supplying them with false information about the last people they contacted. “We want correct information, this is all we want from them,” Yüksel said.
Hundreds of contact-tracing crews have been working across Turkey since the early days of the pandemic in the country. It takes an average of 13 hours for crews to detect the contacts of a patient.
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