Yeppoon mum busy helping COVID-19 contact tracing effort

IT WAS a desire to help her community stay healthy that drove Yeppoon mum Melanie Holgate to sign up to study a Public Health degree with CQUniversity.

Fast-forward eight years from her graduation and Ms Holgate is an Environmental Health Officer for Queensland Health, in the thick of tackling the COVID-19 pandemic in her role as a contact tracer, supporting the national contact-tracing program.

While it has been months since the coronavirus has been active in Central Queensland, Mrs Holgate said her team had been kept busy with contact tracing assignments from Victoria and other areas of Queensland.

"Every day our team will get a number of confirmed cases that need contact tracing, and we'll advise our capacity, then they'll send us the list," Ms Holgate said.

 

Yeppoon mum Melanie Holgate is an Environmental Health Officer at Queensland Health who has been supporting the national COVID-19 contact-tracing program.
Yeppoon mum Melanie Holgate is an Environmental Health Officer at Queensland Health who has been supporting the national COVID-19 contact-tracing program.

"The phone interview with the person who has tested positive can take two to three hours, trying to trace their steps during their contagious period, and develop a full list of possible contacts to start calling.

"It's definitely detective work."

While completing her degree, Ms Holgate juggled the study with her job as a local government environmental health officer.

"I'd been in event management and hospitality, but wanted a career change, and studying Public Health built on my experience with food safety," she said.

"Then I got the job with council while I was studying, which was great - the course was so practical, I was learning so much that was relevant to my day-to-day role."

Ms Holgate joined Queensland Health two and a half years ago and has since had to overcome a number of different challenges.

"Since then we've had bushfires and a dengue outbreak, then the coronavirus - so there's been a lot of disaster management," she said.

"Public Health courses don't have a 'Pandemic 101', but everything I learnt about legislation, and all the microbiology units, have definitely been helpful."

She said understanding and working with community members was vital.

Geelong's team of 50 contact tracers are working 7 days a week in shifts between 8am and 10pm using local knowledge to track cases. Picture: Alan Barber
Geelong's team of 50 contact tracers are working 7 days a week in shifts between 8am and 10pm using local knowledge to track cases. Picture: Alan Barber

"You need a lot of empathy. Sometimes I've been involved in calling people in quarantine every day to check how they're doing, and some days are definitely harder than others for those people," she said.

While COVID-19 has made work life busy for Mrs Holgate, she said the enforced lockdown had health benefits for the community, and for her family too.

"It did force me to take advantage of more time with children and husband, getting a veggie garden going, and building a chook pen," she said.

"It's been a confronting time, but hopefully it's helped a lot of people think about putting their health first and improving people's hygiene practices - including the importance of washing your hands."

Contact Tracer Meabh Ni Shuilleabhain on a call to a COVID-19 infected person at the DHHS COVID-19 HQ Team Control and Tracing Centre. Picture: David Caird
Contact Tracer Meabh Ni Shuilleabhain on a call to a COVID-19 infected person at the DHHS COVID-19 HQ Team Control and Tracing Centre. Picture: David Caird

This year, contact tracing was added to the curriculum of CQUniversity's Communicable Diseases unit in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senior Lecturer in Environmental Health Lisa Bricknell said students participated in disease outbreak simulations to develop their skills in outbreak control.

"All students complete a period of work-integrated learning in their third year, working side-by-side with public health professionals in industry - which has seen a lot of students gain employment even before they graduate," Dr Bricknell said.

CQU's three-year Bachelor of Public Health is available to study on campus in Rockhampton, Cairns, Bundaberg and Townsville, or online.



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