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  • Publication
    Contact tracing during the COVID-19 outbreak: a protocol for enabling rapid learning from experiences and exploring the psychological impact on contact tracers
    Background: Given the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Irish health system required the redeployment of public sector staff and the recruitment of dedicated contact tracing staff in the effort to contain the spread of the virus. Contact tracing is crucial for effective disease control and is normally a role carried out by public health teams. Contact tracing staff are provided with rapid intensive training but are operating in a dynamic environment where processes and advice are adapting continuously. Real-time data is essential to inform strategy, coordinate interconnected processes, and respond to needs. Given that many contact tracers have been newly recruited or redeployed, they may not have significant experience in healthcare and may experience difficulties in managing the anxieties and emotional distress of members of the public. Aim: This research aims to: (i) identify emerging needs and issues and feed this information back to the Health Service Executive for updates to the COVID-19 Contact Management Programme (CMP); (ii) understand the psychological impact on contact tracers and inform the development of appropriate supports. Methods: We will use a mixed-methods approach. A brief online survey will be administered at up to three time points during 2021 to measure emotional exhaustion, anxiety, general health, and stress of contact tracing staff, identify tracing systems or processes issues, as well as issues of concern and confusion among the public. Interviews will also be conducted with a subset of participants to achieve a more in-depth understanding of these experiences. Observations may be conducted in contact tracing centres to document processes, practices, and explore any local contextual issues. Impact: Regular briefs arising from this research with data, analysis, and recommendations will aim to support the work of the CMP to identify problems and implement solutions. We will deliver regular feedback on systems issues; challenges; and the psychological well-being of contact tracing staff.
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