Staff member in Cath Lab in scrubsStaff in scrubs in the Cath LabStaff in scrubs in the Cath Lab


Working in 'surge mode' as a contact tracer

Ammar Haque’s message for the public is simple – at the slightest hint of any symptoms, such as a scratchy throat or a slight runny nose, go and get tested immediately.

“The moment anyone starts showing any symptoms - we consider them infectious 48 hours prior to that first day they showed symptoms,” he says.

“If someone delays it by three or four days and they continue going to work, or continuing interacting with different people, it could be almost a whole week of when they’ve been interacting while infectious. It’s quite drastic ramifications if they don’t get tested.

“Every single person with COVID, doesn’t realise they have COVID, until they get tested.”

The Bachelor of Paramedicine Graduate has been working in the North Eastern Public Health Unit (NEPHU) for the past 12 months as a contact tracer, and more recently as a Team Leader.

He was interviewed in a podcast this week by Muslim Health Professionals Australia (MHPA), a non-profit organisation which aims to advocate for the health needs of Muslims and engage in activities that promote and improve the health of the wider community.

The monthly podcasts feature interviews with the ‘quiet heroes of our healthcare system’ and are shared on the MHPA Facebook page to keep the community updated and informed during the pandemic.

Ammar says there are many aspects to his job, including calling people who are positive with COVID, calling people who have come into contact with those who are positive and then calling their contacts, to find out where they’ve been.

He says his team also liaises with positive cases and speaks with members of the public to assist with their queries.

Ammar admits his team is in ‘surge mode’ due to the rising case numbers in the state.

“We have a little slogan – go fast, stop COVID, report back to base. It involves getting people tested as soon as we can, figuring out where they’ve been and we start downstream contact tracing that process. We contact everyone they’ve been in contact with during their infectious period, then contact everyone they have been in contact with during their potential infectious period. It’s a massive amount of work for each positive case,” he says.

Ammar’s work can be impacted if people aren’t cooperative or forthcoming with their information, or they simply can’t remember where they’ve been.

“We use different strategies such as looking at bank records and your movements, and work off that information,” he says.

Ammar urges the community to use QR Codes wherever they go and says they’re the greatest tool the team has in contact tracing.

“If someone tests positive, we can see a whole picture of where they’ve been and checked in, before we’ve even spoken to them,” he says.

“But go and get tested if you have any symptoms – if you do have symptoms try and isolate from other people, it’s a personal responsibility we all need to take. There are so many organisations in the community who are ready to jump in and help people in quarantine, whether it’s providing food, supplies, or providing phone calls to check in and see how people are doing.”

NEPHU is one of nine local public health units established to provide a response to COVID outbreaks.

Led by Austin Health, NEPHU is a collaboration between Austin Health, Eastern Health and Northern Health, with staff across all three sites.