The Team and Our Story
The Contact Tracing Reserves is managed by a non-profit group of volunteers. Our aim to identify & prepare a "reserve army" of self-employed health professionals ready to become contact tracers in the event of an emergency.
When COVID-19 first started sweeping around New Zealand in March 2020, it was feared that our health system could become overwhelmed.
The government acted to shut down the country and restrict activity. But while front-line health workers frantically prepared for the virus to hit, other health professionals in the community found they were not essential. This included private community rehabilitation teams, physiotherapists, dentists, and self-employed ACC treatment providers. We adapted to work remotely with our clients but some of us found we had spare capacity - could we help in some way?
Many of us signed up with the Surge Workforce and offered to help on the front lines or in contact tracing if things got out of hand. Fortunately the lockdown worked and we were not needed.
But could we have been better prepared?
Effective and fast contact tracing appears to be one component of the public health response that seems super important to “crush the curve” of any COVID-19 outbreaks that occur going forward.
During the most recent Auckland outbreak (Aug 2021), Public Health Units (PHUs) around New Zealand and the Ministry of Health re-deployed internal staff while contracted providers also swelled their ranks. However the Delta variant moved fast and hundreds of new contact tracers were employed in a very short time.
This was an impressive feat, but how do we resource the surge capacity longer term, and help the workforce to be better prepared? Most of the time you don’t need many remote contact tracers at all.
Another challenge is that remote contact tracers may lack local knowledge and relationships to identify and support people to isolate effectively in their community. Could a distributed network of volunteers be part of the surge workforce - ready to support the professionals in an outbreak?
Could private practice support public health?
The Contact Tracing Reserves has been established to build community networks of health professionals pre-trained as contact tracers. Similar voluntary systems are in place for other rare events like fire - e.g. the Rural Volunteer Fire Service.
The skills needed to be an effective contact tracer - like empathy, investigative know-how, people skills, the ability to build trust over the phone, appreciation of privacy, and local knowledge of support services and community champions – are similar to the skills that many self-employed community health professionals will have already have, or may be keen to develop.
In the event of a flare up, the Contact Tracing Reservists who are locked out of their normal practice could be brought in to support the professional public health teams on-demand.