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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

New contact tracing text service goes live

The Public Health Agency (PHA) has introduced a new text alert model for close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases. This will strengthen the speed of the Contact Tracing Service (CTS) as case numbers, and the number of subsequent contacts, increases.

Dr Gerry Waldron, Head of Health Protection at the PHA, said: “Contact tracing is an essential part of the Test, Trace and Protect programme. The model is kept under constant review and we have been working on developing an SMS text option to alert close contacts of confirmed cases as soon as their details are entered into our system, which means that they can immediately be told to self-isolate.

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“This will help speed up the process and enable contacts to take action quickly to reduce the risk of further spread.

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“To date, contacts have been rung by contact tracers and told to self-isolate, but with numbers increasing significantly, there was a risk of delay between contact details going into the system and contacts being alerted by a tracer, especially if they miss the calls, so we have taken the decision to switch to an automated model which means the majority of contacts will be alerted solely by text and told to self-isolate for 14 days.

“This will help ensure that our team of contact tracers, which is currently being increased in number, can focus on the priority of engaging with confirmed cases to get details of their contacts.

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“If you receive a text message from ‘HSCtracing’ instructing you to self-isolate you should follow this advice immediately and follow through until the end of the 14 day period. This is similar to the alert that contacts of positive cases receive through the StopCOVID NI app. Included in the text is a link to the HSC coronavirus symptom checker – if you subsequently develop symptoms you should get tested.

“If you don’t develop symptoms, don’t get tested – this will help ensure that the system can accommodate those who do need to be tested. It is also important to note that if you are a contact, a negative test result does not mean you can cut short your self-isolation period.”

COVID-19 symptoms

  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature); OR
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual); OR
  • a loss of or change in sense of smell or taste.
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