Antalya, a popular Mediterranean Turkish city for holidaymakers, is scorched with extreme heat nowadays. Going out even with a T-shirt, a hat or umbrella is unbearable. For a dedicated team of health care professionals, it is even worse. Throughout the day, they have to wear cumbersome, suffocating protective suits covering them from head to toe. But this is a sacrifice they have to make. They are contact tracers or teams monitoring COVID-19 patients and tracking down anyone they came into contact with. These “detectives” defy high temperatures and humidity to curb the pandemic by taking in as many people as possible into isolation or for treatment.
Contact tracers, along with the staff of intensive care units at the hospitals, are at the frontline of the fight against the pandemic. In Antalya, 108 teams consisting of 226 professionals, work around the clock to decrease the number of new cases and relieve the burden on hospitals. There are three different teams for each possible case. One team is tasked with contacting positive patients’ relatives, family and any people they might have infected while another team makes house visits to inform the potential patients and ensure they are placed in self-isolation. Another team, accompanied by law enforcement officials, makes regular house visits to monitor whether isolated people remain isolated.
Feride Çekirge, a doctor in a contact tracing team in Antalya, says they first phone potential patients and then make house visits. Each patient or potential patient is informed about the disease. They are also regularly checked to see whether they have a fever, cough, respiratory problems and a loss of their sense of smell and taste. “We feel like astronauts walking around in these suits,” she says. Another difficulty they face is proper information for patient contacts. “They feel like they are 'exposed’ and do not want to admit it to us,” Çekirge says.
Ünal Hülür, head of the Antalya Directorate of Health, says contact tracing plays a key role in the fight against the outbreak. “With proper tracing, you can slow down the virus,” he says. “They help early diagnosis and faster quarantine. Currently, we don’t have any COVID-19 patients here in Antalya whose contacts are not unidentified yet,” he said.
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