On the case with Manchester’s Superbug Sleuths

On the case with Manchester’s Superbug Sleuths

Test and trace hub Team Leader Sue Brown.

Behind the scenes with the virus detectives from Manchester’s Covid test and trace hub. Team leader Sue Brown talks about the detail needed to contain – or keep outbreaks at bay –  and debunk myths

The first thing I’d say is that our staff from the test and trace team, or the contact tracing response teams have to work in partnership with the people of this city. For the work to be effective we need to trust people to be vigilant – and they need to be able to trust that we will act quickly, examine the details and help as much as possible. 

Some people may think this is a new approach – but actually it is standard public health practice for any infectious disease – like hepatitis for example. That’s also why a lot of our team are from environmental health or our sexual health services which are both underpinned by this type of approach.

When a case is passed to us, the person who has tested positive for Covid will be asked about close contacts just before or after they developed symptoms – when they would have been infectious. 

Details are kept under strict data protection law and the person who tested positive needs to stay at home for 10 days – that’s the new change brought in recently. That 10 days starts from the point where symptoms started, or the date of their Covid test if they were positive, but had not been showing symptoms. Everyone that person lives with must also stay at home and self-isolate for 14 days – because that’s how long it can take for the virus to incubate. It’s so different from person to person as to how it develops and at what speed.

Most people will always want to help and do the right thing. But sometimes, they have not realised that staying home for 10 days means that you can’t leave your house or go outside your home at any time. So, shopping for example has to be done online. Similarly, people don’t always appreciate that being a contact is defined as exposure to someone Covid-positive within 1 metre of you, or, within 1-2 metres of the person for more than 15 minutes. And, wearing a face covering makes no difference to this definition.

That’s why record-keeping is so important. Businesses in the hospitality industry are advised to know, for example where people sat as well as who they were with and what time they were there. Even if diners or visitors are not defined as contacts, the business can still send out a ‘warn and inform’ letter if there has been someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 who has been on their premises. That way those customers can watch for any symptoms and also make their own decision about plans to visit someone who may be vulnerable for example.

And, all businesses have a major role to play in making sure that their staff understand all the details. It’s a really tough financial climate, but we have to urge people to do the right thing and stay off work for 14 days if they are found to be a contact. That’s really hard if you only get minimum sick pay (depending on your organisation’s policy) – but we do have the Manchester help hub for people in need. Plus if everyone follows the rules then staff would get back to work quicker without a prolonged outbreak.

And, where we need to go into premises to contain an outbreak (which is defined as 2 positive cases or more with links in time place and person), people will be surprised at the level of detail we look at – from rotas and shift patterns, to corridor widths and people flow, job roles, cleaning regimes, common areas – right through to social distancing controls, ventilation points and delivery patterns for suppliers. We’ll even help with translations if we think there is any language barrier.

Weak points are often places like fingerprint entry, staff rooms, common areas, – or even clocking machines and smoking shelters Contaminated surfaces are a big issue and while no-one knows exact time-frames we should assume that the virus may be around for around 72 hours. 

Attention to detail and prompt action is the key to our response – but again, it works best in partnership. So I’ll end by urging the people of Manchester to keep working with us: follow the guidance about not going into other people’s houses and gardens – and above all respect social distancing.. Now is not the time to ease up or relax our guard. We all have to act now – because together we will make more impact and find a way out of the pandemic.

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