Meet the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD) contact tracing team keeping us safe from COVID-19

Disease detectives: Adam Capon, Eleanor Sullivan, Douglas Knox, Milica Mihajlovic, Alice Zhu, Maria Browne and Nicolas Gonzalez. Picture: Supplied
Disease detectives: Adam Capon, Eleanor Sullivan, Douglas Knox, Milica Mihajlovic, Alice Zhu, Maria Browne and Nicolas Gonzalez. Picture: Supplied

This is the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD) contact tracing team, which has been keeping us safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team has traced more than 5000 contacts since the start of the pandemic. They work across south eastern Sydney - an area which stretches from Bondi and Vaucluse in the east to Sutherland in the south. The area takes in all of St George and Sutherland Shire, as well as Sydney Airport and Sydney's CBD.

At the peak of the pandemic, there were 18 contact tracers in the team, which is scaled up and down, according to need. They work closely with colleagues at the Ministry of Health and provided assistance to Victoria in July.

There have been more than 800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the local health district since the start of the pandemic, of which 96 per cent recovered after three weeks.

SESLHD's Public Health Unit contact tracing team manager Dr Adam Capon said contact tracing was a critical tool in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

"Contact tracing is about finding people who have been in contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19. It allows us to isolate those people who may be infected with the COVID-19 virus before they spread it to someone else," he said.

People diagnosed with COVID-19 are known as 'cases' and the people they have mixed with are 'contacts'.

A 'contact' may be classified as 'casual', where the risk of contracting the virus from the case is possible but unlikely. They are asked to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.

'Close contacts' are those who have a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and must get tested straight away and self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of the result.

The important work of the team was highlighted in October when a new locally-acquired case of COVID-19 in the Kingsford area without a known source of infection was investigated.

Several venues were identified as places of potential exposure and anyone who visited those venues were asked to be aware of symptoms and immediately isolate and get tested should even the mildest symptoms occur.

The investigation included testing of contacts for antibodies, which revealed this case was linked to a person who likely had an earlier unrecognised COVID-19 infection.

With restrictions easing in October, and more easing of restrictions just announced, Dr Capon said it would be important for contact tracers to be able to quickly and effectively trace close contacts if an outbreak arises.

He asked the public not to become complacent while they are out and about in coming weeks .

"The best thing everyone can do is adhere to current recommendations regarding physical distancing and hand hygiene," he said.

"Our contact tracers are experts in disease control, but they need your help. If you are attending a venue make sure you sign in.

"While we hope the community enjoys getting out and about, please be COVID Safe and register your details with each venue you attend."

Details: For the latest information on COVID-19, including current recommendations and safe practices, click here.