Coronavirus contact tracing: The new Tech skill

What is not clear is just how well trained most of the people undertaking this vital task in the UK will be.

A contact tracer does the detective work of calling up people known to be infected with a disease and working out where they have been in recent days and who they might have met.

The idea is then to track down those with whom they have been in close proximity and tell them to go into quarantine.

With the government recruiting 25,000 contact tracers to be at the heart of its new test, track and trace strategy, we wanted to experience the sort of training they will receive.

Public Health England told us that was not possible – so instead I enrolled in the course offered by America’s Johns Hopkins University, in conjunction with the online training platform Coursera.

The course, which tens of thousands of people have taken, consists of a series of video lectures and multiple choice quizzes.

What is not clear is just how well trained most of the people undertaking this vital task in the UK will be.

A contact tracer does the detective work of calling up people known to be infected with a disease and working out where they have been in recent days and who they might have met.

The idea is then to track down those with whom they have been in close proximity and tell them to go into quarantine.

With the government recruiting 25,000 contact tracers to be at the heart of its new test, track and trace strategy, we wanted to experience the sort of training they will receive.

Public Health England told us that was not possible – so instead I enrolled in the course offered by America’s Johns Hopkins University, in conjunction with the online training platform Coursera.

The course, which tens of thousands of people have taken, consists of a series of video lectures and multiple choice quizzes.

Rory's certificate

It took me an intense eight hours to complete and I emerged with enormous respect for the discipline.

As the lecturer put it on the very last page: “contact tracing is a complex activity which requires attention to detail and problem-solving skills”.

You bet it does.

What became clear, is that although technology such as the Bluetooth apps being tested around the world can help, human skills are vital.

The final section – which took me two hours to complete – is all about how you talk effectively to the people you are trying to help.

So, what did I learn?

Lessons learned

I know much more about the signs and symptoms of the disease – for example, that a loss of taste and smell is reported by around a third of all patients, despite the UK only just adding this to the recognised list of symptoms.

I have learned that of all the places where the disease can spread most easily, care homes, where vulnerable people are in close contact, are right at the top of the list.

I now know more about the difference between isolation and quarantine – although the US and UK guidelines are not the same

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