Preston to get local Covid case-tracing powers when an infected person can't be found after 24 hours
People in Preston who test positive for coronavirus are set to be tracked down by a new local case tracing team - if national efforts to contact them are not successful within 24 hours of their diagnosis.
The Lancashire Post can reveal that the arrangements are due to start on 2nd September and will see infected individuals either phoned or visited by someone from Preston City Council.
So-called “case completion services” are set to be rolled out across Lancashire in the coming weeks, with hard-hit Pendle the first to go live this Tuesday (25th August).
Lancashire’s director of public health, Dr. Sakthi Karunanithi, says figures show that around 1 in 4 Covid-positive cases across the area as a whole are not spoken to by national contact tracers within a day of their test results becoming available.
The Post understands that the ultimate aim is for Lancashire to take on responsibility for all tracking and tracing from the outset, bypassing the national system altogether.
This would include following up all the contacts of a Covid case - whereas under the system starting in Preston next week, that responsibility will remain with the national team after local officials have extracted the information from those cases where the individual has proved elusive during the first vital 24 hours.
However, Dr. Karunanithi said that the priority for now was to find at least nine out of ten confirmed cases.
“If it’s a local call from local services, I think people will engage better with the system.
“Councils and the local NHS know their areas well, so we can go round and knock on the door if needs be - it is so much easier with the knowledge our existing services have.
“But this is also about providing people with extra support to enable them to self-isolate, such as food parcels - and there are also [ongoing] talks about funding to help people with their self-isolation.
“So we are trying to wrap this up into one comprehensive package of support for individuals affected by the virus or quarantine,” Dr. Karunanithi explained.
Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown told a meeting of the full council that local tracing efforts would be “more efficient” than those co-ordinated at a national level. However, he warned that people who tested positive for Covid needed to be given help to do the right thing.
“Fifty-six percent of people [nationally] who are low paid or self-employed aren’t [self-isolating] They’re going back to work and putting themselves and others at risk.
“If we’re serious about tackling this pandemic, it can’t be done on the cheap - you’ve got to give incentives for people to self isolate,” said Cllr Brown, who recently backed a call to prevent people being disadvantaged by self-isolating - either as a result of being below the income threshold for sick pay or because sick pay would be a significant drop from their normal level of income.
Dr. Karunanithi stressed that the challenge of Lancashire’s longer-term ambition for local teams to conduct all contact tracing should not not be underestimated.
“For every case, there are likely to be between seven and 10 contacts. There have been some instances of cases having as many as 30 contacts.
“Just imagine 10 cases with 30 contacts in Preston - that’s 300 people dotted around the city, which shows why we need to make sure we do contact tracing really well.
“It’s one of the central tenets of controlling the virus - so ultimately we want the whole kaboodle to be done locally, cases and contacts.”
Local teams in Lancashire already take on immediate responsibility for the most complex contact tracing cases, such as those involving school settings or healthcare staff - amounting to around 20 percent of the total.
The new local case tracing system will be funded from a £6.2m grant from the government to pay for extra testing capacity and community engagement in Lancashire.
However, Dr. Karunanithi said it will not be enough to cover the cost of the additional work and that more cash will be needed.
Cllr Brown also said that the new service in Preston would have to be “properly resourced”.
The standalone council area of Blackburn with Darwen became the first in Lancashire to start local case tracing earlier this month.
In the county council area, Pendle - whose case rate has been amongst the highest in the country - will be the first district to establish a similar system which is due to start on 25th August. That will be followed by Preston, Burnley and Hyndburn the week after, with the whole county - including Blackpool - ultimately set to follow suit.
However, Pendle Council’s deputy leader David Whipp said his hopes were “dashed” when he discovered that, for now at least, the district authority would only be tracing cases that have been outstanding for 24 hours - and not their contacts.
“Why can’t we follow things through and contact the contacts?
“Our environmental health team have made heroic efforts to get everything in place - and they regularly do this sort of tracing for things like salmonella. They also do what is called ‘backward tracing’ - so they go back to find out where people have picked things up from, which is known to be of benefit in these situations.
“I’m really keen to see effective local case and contact tracing in place - we’re up for it in Pendle, because we see that it is a way to get on top of this,” Cllr Whipp said.