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Increase in ignored positive Covid tests

Evidence for the rise in coronavirus cases in Leicester has brought with it worrying figures from the teams tasked with tracking down those that test positive. Once a person tests positive for Covid-19 they are sent an automated message which they are meant to respond to. They are required to fill out and submit a form by the test and trace service to help locate and inform any close contacts they have had with others so these people can then be advised to self-isolate, preventing any risk of further spreading.

On New Year’s Day alone, 170 cases were passed on to the city council’s tracing team who then faced “a race against time” to track down these individuals and ensure they, and those they had been around, were following isolation rules.

Sadly, these efforts are being hampered due to certain people that test positive not providing the relevant information to the authorities. Now, public health experts in Leicester are urging those who test positive to respond immediately to the messages they receive from the national test and trace service, so as to prevent cases that could have been avoided.

Council Tracing Team have to race against time to track down positive cases – Image Credit: Leicester City Council

“What we’re seeing is a growing number of people who are failing to respond to an automated message which asks them to provide details of the people they have been in contact with,” said Professor Ivan Browne, director of public health at Leicester City Council. “This means that we don’t know if they’ve seen the automated message – and therefore they don’t know that they’ve tested positive and need to self-isolate.

“But if they’re not completing the online form, and providing details of their contacts and their movements, the track and trace process can’t continue – and that means that the virus is allowed to spread unchecked. Our team is spending far too much time contacting these individuals and gathering information about the people they’ve been in close contact with when that time could be better spent helping those who are genuinely unable to complete an online form.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to remind people that if you test positive for coronavirus, you are breaking the law if you don’t stay at home and self-isolate for 10 days – and it’s your duty to share information about the people you may have infected with the virus. Tracing your contacts, and getting them to self-isolate too, is essential if we are to stop the spread of the virus.”

Of the 170 cases from New Year’s Day, 166 have been traced, given guidance about the support that’s available, and asked to self-isolate. Information about their close contacts has been passed back to Public Health England, which is responsible for contact tracing.

Between 7 December 2020, when the pilot scheme began, and 4 January 2021, 1,849 out of 2,023 cases referred to the team have been traced  – that’s a success rate of more than 90%. However, that 10% is still a large number of people that could potentially be moving around the city, knowingly or unknowingly spreading the virus.

Leicester City Council was the first local authority in the country to be given access to personal data by Public Health England, and granted the authority to contact anyone who did not respond to the automated message within 8 hours. This differs from previous procedures in which cases would only be referred to the council after the NHS Test and Trace service had failed to locate someone within 4 days. This was a delay that only increases the risk of the virus being spread.

The council has said that the following reasons can make people difficult to contact:

  • The phone number provided is incorrect
  • The infected person is a child, and their parent must be informed
  • Requests for information about contacts have not been responded to
  • A whole family has been tested, but only one member has responded to the contact tracers.

The council’s tracing team will, over a period of 24-48 hours, attempt to contact individuals by phone or by email. If this method proves unsuccessful, members of the ground team will call at their home address, wearing full PPE.

These contact tracers are all council employees who normally work in customer-facing roles, such as in libraries and sports centres.


By Sam Ellison