How you are tracked if you have COVID-19



THEY'VE been dubbed the "disease detectives", working around the clock to track down Queenslanders in a bid to save lives amid a worldwide pandemic.

From combing through staff rosters, to ringing hotels and even doorknocking, there are many ways health authorities can find you if you've potentially been exposed to COVID-19.

Public health clinician James Smith, who works out of Metro North Hospital and Health Service, is one of Queensland's contact tracers.

Dr Smith said almost everything was done via the phone. After being notified of a confirmed case in Queensland, contact tracers will be given details to reach out to patients.

"We will make contact with them to take a history," he said.

"We want to know where they got it, we want to know who they've been in contact with and essentially we try and get as many details as we can off them.

"Try and get names and contact phone numbers, primarily of people they have been in contact with, and we ask about the level of contact."


Public health physician Dr James Smith is one of the healthcare professionals performing contact tracing. Picture: Adam Head
Public health physician Dr James Smith is one of the healthcare professionals performing contact tracing. Picture: Adam Head


In cases where someone has visited locations such as a bar, authorities can contact workplaces to obtain staff rosters.

"At times we will use other modalities; sometimes we get given a list of people to go through," Dr Smith said.

If someone was infectious on an international flight, the National Incident Room based in Canberra would obtain a passenger manifest to determine who was sitting in close proximity.

Passengers can usually then be tracked down through their landing cards.

"It takes a while," Dr Smith said.

"Once they get details of a flight, it could be as easy as a phone call."

Sometimes authorities can track people down through email addresses or even hotel phone numbers.

While it doesn't happen often, contact tracers can even visit someone's house.


Confirmed COVID-19 Cases in QLD


The 20-strong team at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital consists of doctors, nurses and environmental health officers.

The days are long, with Dr Smith saying the hours last well into the evening. "Everyone is putting their shoulder to the wheel to do the best that we can do," he said.

Asked whether it would get to the point where contact tracing would not be necessary because the number of cases were so high, Dr Smith said it was initially about "keeping it (corona) out".

"I don't think it will reach the point of doing nothing, but the usefulness of intensive contact tracing becomes much less," he said.

Dr Smith said while he did not use it, the term "disease detectives" had been touted.

"Certainly there's a lot of digging work I guess, and people have likened it to detective work," he said.

"We are doing our best, the staff are working really hard to slow this down."




Originally published as How you are tracked if you have COVID-19