An Environmental Health Officer by trade, Sinéad Hicks, is now part of the contact tracing team in Northern Ireland getting in touch with members of the public who have contracted Covid-19 and those they have come into close proximity with.

Travelling from Lisnaskea to the office in Belfast, Sinéad had previous experience in contact tracing in her former job with Derry and Strabane District Council.

“With being an Environmental Health Officer I would have had experience with contact tracing in and around infectious diseases and food poisoning,” explained Sinéad.

Now she is bringing that experience into her new role alongside others from a whole range of professions as they help to try and contain the spread of coronavirus.

And it is a job she is enjoying because she feels they are making a difference.

“I’m really, really enjoying it because it is so topical and you feel like you are helping and making a difference. It’s different to my usual job because I would usually be out and about doing inspections.”

Contact tracing involves Sinéad and her colleagues getting in touch with positive Covid-19 individuals and those whom they have come into close contact with.

“We would get the results when a person tests positive and then we would contact those people and speak to the case and speak to them and provide advice on infection control and isolation advice as well.

“And we would also identify anyone who had close contact with the positive case during the time they were infectious.”

The time a person is infectious is the 48 hours before their symptoms had started.

If they aren’t showing any symptoms and are asymptomatic it would be 48 hours before they get tested.

“What we would mean by close contact would be someone in a household or contact with some within two metres for more than 15 minutes.

“So we would get a list of those people and get their contact details and advise them that they had been in contact with someone who has tested positive.

“It’s all strictly confidential, we don’t disclose any details about the case.”

“We give them advice to self isolate for 14 days from the date of their last contact with that positive case and we’d also check that they were showing any symptoms and give them the same advice on infection control and also advise them to keep an eye on the common symptoms and advise them to get tested if they did develop any symptoms.”

When getting in touch with those who have come into close contact, Sinéad admits that many have already been advised and says this makes it easier for the team as well.

“Most of the people we have contacted would have already been advised. I haven’t got anybody that’s been really surprised to hear, they usually know because the positive case would have told them already.

“It usually tends to be someone that would be a family member or someone that they have worked with. Most of the time they are aware of who it is even obviously if we can’t tell them that.

“A lot of people are clued in to be honest.”

With previous experience of contact tracing, Sinéad is well aware of the need to act fast when it comes to containing the spread of the virus.

“It’s so important. You need to do it quite quickly to prevent the spread.

“Things need to move quickly and it is really, really important that people are aware of what they need to be doing,” added Sinéad.