The vast majority of people contacted by Cornwall Council’s Covid-19 case tracking team claim they are abiding by the self-isolation rules during the pandemic.
But there have been some notable exceptions, including a group of colleagues holding a dinner party and a high-level professional caught nipping out for a walk.
Two members of the team have lifted the lid on some of the more astonishing discoveries made while contacting people who tested positive for coronavirus.
Public Health Practitioners Sarah Lewis and Jude Wallis hope that by sharing their experiences more people will follow the rules, self-isolate when necessary and help stop the spread of the virus.
Their stories also help shine a light on the genuine difficulties many people face when they test positive, from migrant workers who have to share cramped caravans to single mothers worried about having to go into hospital when they have children to look after.
It is the role of the Case Review Team not only to identify contacts of positive cases, but also to offer help and signpost those in need to relevant support services. This can be anything from help applying for the self-isolation support grant to receiving support with the weekly shop.
The team now also has additional responsibility for the management of priority cases that have not engaged with the national NHS Test & Trace service.
Jude said one of her most shocking calls was to a high-level professional who was ignoring the rules. “He said he was feeling much better and it was just a little walk outside the house,” she said. “I had to remind him he could be fined £10,000 for leaving his house. Some people just don’t think the rules apply to them.
“Another woman asked if I could phone her back in 15 minutes as she was about to walk the dog. I told her that she was meant to be self-isolating. Dog-walking is maybe the most common reason for breaching self-isolation.”
Sarah added: “There was a case not so long ago of a group of professional work colleagues who got together for a dinner party. There was no social distancing so they all got Covid.”
Jude said she had another case where a woman who was meant to be self-isolating answered the phone and was clearly on hands-free in the car with her children in the back. “I asked her about it and she said ‘we just wanted to go to the beach’,” she said.
“We also hear about a lot of people doing shopping on their way to the test centre in case they’re positive and have to self-isolate. They don’t realise that they need to self-isolate as soon as they get symptoms.”
She continued: “I had one man who said ‘I don’t believe in Covid; I’ve got a hospital appointment and I’m going to it’. We had to notify the hospital and the police.”
Both agreed that people generally don’t understand the impact Covid-19 will have on them and their families until one of them tests positive and has to self-isolate.
Sarah said: “I’ve had a couple of cases that have been really upsetting. One was a health worker who was mortified that she had brought it home and had put her family and young son at risk. She was crying down the phone. She felt so guilty.
“People can sometimes struggle with the 10 days of isolation, not being able to see their family, even if they’re in the same household, having meals left outside the bedroom door and not being able to hug their children. It’s tough, but achievable.”
The team had another case of a seriously ill single mother who was terrified in case she had to go into hospital as she had no one to look after her children.
They also stressed how hard it could be on elderly people because family members can’t go in to look after them if they’re isolating.
People’s living arrangements often make it very challenging to self-isolate properly, for example when family households span three or even four generations.
Sarah said: “Multi-generational homes are actually very common in Cornwall and make it very difficult to self-isolate from each other.”
Jude added: “I had a case of a migrant worker who was living in a caravan with four other males. It was impossible for him to self-isolate. I spoke to him through a translator and found out he had awful toothache so I gave him the emergency dental service number to call, for after his isolation period.
“I have personal experience of living in a foreign country and not speaking the language so I know what it is like to feel isolated and not knowing how to find relevant help.”
The team often needs to be tenacious in order to track down the positive cases that have been flagged to them, and also to then convince them to engage.
Migrant workers can also prove difficult to communicate with, and not just because of the language barrier, for which translators are available to help.
Jude said: “People are worried that they might get into trouble if they tell us the truth but we’re not there to catch people out. We want to stop the virus spreading and prevent that spider-web of cases coming from one positive case. We need people to be honest.”
She added: “We often pick up these cases that I don’t know what would happen to them if we weren’t around. “I had another case of a man who was coughing up blood but didn’t want to be a burden on the NHS. We advised him to get help and he ended up having emergency surgery.”
Sarah said: “People may get a phone call from us but they don’t need to be concerned. We are just trying to understand where the infection is and slow the spread.”
The pair said the majority of people they contact are compliant and open, even when they have broken the rules.
And they stressed how important it is to fully follow the rules of self-isolation in order to stop the virus spreading through our homes, workplaces, schools and communities.
Remember to book a test if you experience any of the three main symptoms of Covid-19 – a new cough, fever or change in smell or taste – visit the gov.uk website or calling 119. You must self-isolate for 10 days from the moment you experience symptoms. This means not leaving your home for any reason.
Check out the Council’s self-isolation guide, which includes details on the self-isolation grant.