Covid, contact, test and trace… finding your way through the maze
This week I’m delighted to share the perspective of Naz Zaman, Chief Officer of Lancashire BME Network, on life with a pandemic.
There’s so much I could write about! But in keeping with the advice and support the Network tries to provide, I wanted to share our experience of working in the pandemic and what to do when there’s a positive test.
We deemed ourselves a COVID safe organisation and business carried on as usual from March till a just a few weeks ago. This involved us going into the office. Two members of staff fell ill and subsequently tested positive. By the time I found out it was a Sunday evening. Although I’d been diligent in reading up on workplace advice and guidance, everything I had learnt around isolating didn’t seem relevant. I was struggling as to what to advise remaining staff to do - do they return to work or should we all work from home and for how long?
After a sleepless night I made numerous calls on Monday to trustees, health professionals and really anyone I could think of who might have advice. But getting the detailed information I needed was an issue so I erred on the safe side. I took the decision that all staff work from home until further notice.
The Public Health England website guidance stated that ‘If you had more than one case you MUST report it to your local Public health team’, so I made the call. I was told that due to the number of cases organisations were no longer expected to ring in unless they had 5 or more cases. I explained to the lady on the call that I was struggling with understanding the “close contact” guidance and therefore unsure of what I had to do in terms of staff safety and reopening the premises. I was promised an information pack by email. It duly arrived, but unfortunately was the same guidance that hadn’t cleared things up for me earlier!
I was starting to wonder if it was just me, or if other people were struggling with applying the official guidance to actual life. I spent the day looking into guidance and seeking advice. I even spoke to some students studying medicine at Manchester University ( my daughter goes there).They gave me advice that made sense of everything I had read on the internet.
I was still confused about whether our office would need a deep clean and was worried about how we would afford this as it isn’t covered under grant funding. We don’t have enough unrestricted funds to be able to repeatedly deep clean the office, so I had to think of a different option.
Adding to the confusion was the Test and Trace system. Did you know that when the test and trace people call someone who has tested positive that the call recipient would be expected to know what the term “close contact” meant?
And do you know what it means? I didn’t. Nor did my staff. So the the result was that staff named colleagues who hadn’t actually been in contact with them as they understood the term ‘contact’ to mean anyone they worked with. Staff were now being called and receiving texts advising them to isolate even though they weren’t close contacts. One staff member tried to ask hat her name be removed from the isolation list as she wasn’t a close contact of the person who’d tested positive (still with me here?!), but she was told this wasn’t possible once her name had been given. So she had to isolate. I’m not criticising the best efforts that are being carried out, to help bring this pandemic under control. But it is not easy to navigate! So that was a lot of staff now working from home and also isolating.
Luckily for us no one else tested positive. We have now returned to work and introduced more stringent controls. My learning from this is that when I needed guidance there was not any centralised or localised system of support. If we as the voluntary sector and small businesses don’t understand the guidance then how can we expect communities to understand and abide by the rules?
And it’s not just an issue for the voluntary sector, it’s an issue for small businesses too or any set up that doesn’t have a legion of advisers or lawyers. When it comes to crunch time, we’re putting people at risk because we don’t understand the regulations.
It has been a huge learning curve but we have come out the other side. We’re distilled our learning into our information links for others.
As the Lancashire BME Network, after the last lockdown we developed materials that we could distribute to our members and help then with reopening their organisations.