COVID-19: local contact tracing case studies

A series of council case studies on local contact tracing.

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Testing and tracing is vital to the country’s efforts to tackle coronavirus.

England has set up a national team to make sure those who test positive are isolating as well as identifying their close contacts. The performance of the service though has been mixed with the Prime Minister himself acknowledging he had hoped it would be better.

However, behind the scenes councils are quietly, but confidently, stepping up to the plate, building local contact tracing teams from scratch to help improve performance.

The following examples showcase some of the work being done and the lessons that are being learned. Councils are using their local knowledge to successfully trace many “hard-to-engage” cases. By cross-checking contact data with their own records, they are able to identify better contact details in some cases.

By using local telephone numbers and local staff, councils are reporting that significant numbers of people are willing to engage where previously they did not appear to want to.

And, even where this does not happen, the local services are having some joy using their staff to knock on doors and deliver letters urging them to get in touch.

But the strength in councils delivering these services does not solely lie in their ability to reach people. They are also able to help them isolate through support networks, many of which were established in the first wave to support vulnerable groups. 

Whether it is arranging food or medicines deliveries or simply finding someone to walk the dog, councils are making it easier for people to stay at home and reduce transmission of the virus. 

Local government is just at the start of this process. Over 300 councils have local contact tracing partnerships up-and-running so far – and in many cases they are only a few weeks in. But as the examples here demonstrate, they look set to play an ever-increasing role as the battle against coronavirus intensifies.

Councillor Ian Hudspeth, Chairman of Local Government Association's Community Wellbeing Board

Local contact tracing: Top Tips
  • Having access to clinical knowledge is important, but the key skill for contact tracers is the ability to communicate and engage people
  • In two tier areas careful consideration needs to be given to how information is shared between districts and counties – bespoke IT systems may be needed
  • You will need to develop a way of capturing the information you gather for your own intelligence – the national CTAS system does not allow councils to explore the data for their own purposes
  • A mix of approaches is being taken for door-to-door tracing. Some areas use their contact tracers, while others deploy environmental health or housing officers. Some have decided simply to send letters rather than doing contact tracing on the doorstep
  • Do not overly rely on scripts – make conversations as natural as possible using scripts as prompts
  • Offer something as well as ask. Many areas are twinning the contact tracing with offers of support from food deliveries to providing information about the £500 support grants
  • Think about shift patterns – access to the information about the cases that need tracing from the national system sometimes comes later in the day
  • Don’t expect clean data. Many councils have developed systems to cross-check contact details provided with their own records
  • Sending texts or emails in advance of phoning can often help ensure a positive response
  • Ensure you have flexibility in the contact tracing team. Many councils have trained extra staff that can be called in at short notice to cope with surges in demand