Contact tracing is one way of stopping the spread of COVID-19, and staff at Victoria’s largest not-for-profit private hospital group are using their detective skills to help the cause.
The state’s dedicated 200-strong team includes 65 employees from Epworth HealthCare, whose job is to find everyone who has been in contact with people who test positive for the coronavirus.
The group of clinicians includes enrolled nurses, associate unit managers, business development staff and hospital coordinators, and is led by Yasmine Previdi, a Nurse Unit Manager at Epworth Richmond.
“Our staff are used to working on the frontline and here they are making a big difference to society by tracing those confirmed as having COVID-19 and asking newly-diagnosed people about their activities prior to developing symptoms to identify where they possibly contracted the virus,” she said.
They then try to find everyone who has been in contact with the infected person and request they go into isolation.
Ms Previdi said the team often deal with vulnerable people trying to cope with the stress of the situation.
“We can often be the first point of contact after they have been diagnosed and there is a horrible stigma around having the virus, as it’s so contagious.
“Our team is also doing welfare and emotional checks on these patients as well; some are in isolation and not speaking to anybody,” she said.
Registered nurse Kristel Castaneda, who usually works in radiology for Epworth, is enjoying her chance to help in the battle against COVID-19. Australia has a low death toll compared to many countries – less than 100 at the start of May 2020, and only 18 of those in Victoria.
“We don’t necessarily have to be on the frontline to help lower the infection rate. We can be in the back office and still save lives,” she said.
Epworth is also taking part in a trial to test whether a tuberculosis vaccine can be used to boost immunity against COVID-19 in healthcare workers.
Some studies have shown that people inoculated with Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) have fewer viral respiratory tract infections than those without it. Other trials suggest those who get a virus after BSG vaccination have lower virus levels in their blood than those who did not receive it.
This new study, approved by the World Health Organization, has been incorporated into Epworth’s annual staff flu vaccination.
“Half of the people in the study will be randomly allocated to receive the BCG vaccine, and half will not receive the vaccine,” said Dr Niki Tan, Epworth Anaesthetist and Director of Critical Care Clinical Trials.
“Everyone will have a blood test taken, and be followed up for six months.”