What it’s like to be a contact tracer
Contact tracing has been at the centre of Australia’s efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, but have you ever wondered what it’s really like to do the job?
Jon Cant Browne usually worked in biosecurity at the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. But with a dramatic downturn in international traffic caused by the pandemic, he moved onto other work and eventually put his hand up to take a temporary move to NSW Health to be a contact tracer.
Jon became one of more than 70 APS employees to date that have been deployed to assist with NSW’s COVID-19 response.
In the contact tracing team at NSW Health, Jon says they would receive lists of anywhere between a handful of people to thousands identified as having been at a high-risk exposure site. His role included calling the people on these lists – many of whom might be angry, upset, stressed – to explain the next steps they would need to take.
The work called upon all the experience and skills Jon had up his sleeve, particularly in communication and conflict resolution.
'It really re-instated the need to actively listen to people,' he said. 'It doesn’t matter if it’s an internal meeting, or you’re standing in a container yard, that awareness is something I really applied on the phones.'
He said the hardest part was maintaining accurate and up-to-date information when the pandemic and the public health response was changing on a daily, and sometimes even hourly, basis.
'[It meant] being able to roll with change and just cope with it,' he said.
Luckily for Jon, he found himself in a close knit team, made up of other people willing to jump in the deep end to support the Australian community, including ex-airline staff, pilots, travel agents, and fellow state and federal public servants.
'There was a great camaraderie there and a genuine willingness to help not only one another but the public get through this period,' he said.
Jon says he has come away from the experience with a lot of new skills and a greater appreciation for the job that contact tracers do across the country.
'It was very much a reaffirmation to not be scared to try new things,' he said. 'It’s made me realise that work can be flexible. Whether that’s in terms of moulding a career path or just moving around internally to help where needed.'
'It made me revaluate not so much the end goal, but the path to get to the end goal might be a bit different to what I thought it might be.'