In Singapore, ‘Contact Trackers’ Seek to Follow Path of Infections

    28 March 2020

    In Singapore, a group of workers has been given an important job in the fight against the new coronavirus.

    The workers are called "contact trackers." Their job is to interview infected individuals as soon as possible after the patients are confirmed to have COVID-19, the disease the virus causes.

    The contact trackers speak with hospitalized patients over telephone. They are separated from infected individuals by two glass walls.

    Shoppers wearing face masks with a cart full of food supplies wait in line to pay at a supermarket counter in Singapore, Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Ee Ming Toh)
    Shoppers wearing face masks with a cart full of food supplies wait in line to pay at a supermarket counter in Singapore, Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Ee Ming Toh)

    The information they collect is then used to find out as much as possible about the patients' movements and contacts during the two weeks before they were hospitalized.

    Conceicao Edwin Philip is one of the contact trackers. For several weeks, he has kept himself ready to get to the hospital as quickly as possible to interview new patients.

    "We have to drop everything, scramble and figure out where these patients have been," said Philip, an employee of Singapore General Hospital.

    Philip is not a medical professional. But his work has become very important in the city-state's efforts to fight the virus.

    Singapore has won international praise for taking strong and immediate measures to battle COVID-19. Early on, Singapore had one of the highest infection rates outside of China. But other nations have since reported much higher spreads.

    Philip said one way he tries to get patients to remember details about their movements is to ask them about all their meals on each day.

    "Because once they can remember who they sat down with for a meal, that would give a rough estimate of the number of people in their surroundings," Philip said. "And they can usually remember what they did."

    Philip has experience tracking patient contacts for other diseases. He says it can be very difficult to get people to remember small details. But he added that it helps to stay cheerful.

    "You have to be very, very patient with them," he added. "Don't get angry, because, just like you and me, most of us can't remember a lot of things.

    Philip usually has about two hours to interview patients about their whereabouts, travel history and contacts. He also examines their work calendars, computer records and purchase history. Philip also uses hospital records to identify which health workers have come into contact with COVID-19 patients.

    Philip gives his results to a health ministry team that then speaks with identified individuals. Sometimes, police also use video from security cameras to find those at risk. Those people are then put into quarantine and closely watched for signs of the virus.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    track v. to follow

    interview v. to ask someone questions about a particular subject

    scramble v. to move quickly

    figure out v. to finally understand something or someone after a lot of thought

    rough adj. general, not specific

    patience adj. the quality of being able to stay calm and not get angry

    quarantinen. a situation in which a person or people are kept away from others to prevent a disease from spreading