Meeting the challenges of contact tracing head-on

Meeting the challenges of contact tracing head-on

Being part of the fight against COVID-19 was difficult but deeply rewarding, according to senior statistician-turned-contact tracing lead Shanice Teo.

Meeting the challenges of contact tracing head-on
Leading contract tracing efforts has given Ms Shanice Teo a strong sense of community and pride. Photos: Mediacorp Photo Unit

Amid the unprecedented events of 2020, many Singaporeans have risen to the challenge, displaying resilience, optimism and grit in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the run up to the new year, we profile 21 individuals, who share more about their respective journeys, as well as their hopes and aspirations for 2021.

Ms Shanice Teo did not expect to be doing an entirely different job in 2020.

When the COVID-19 pandemic reached Singapore, the 32-year-old senior statistician at the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) Research and Statistics Division was roped in to spend 10 months at MOH’s Contact Tracing Centre (CTC). She started out as a contact tracer team lead, before becoming an executive officer, tasked to study the activity mapping of each confirmed COVID-19 positive individual in order to identify his or her close contacts.

“The key challenge was the race against time to find these close contacts, in the hope of ringfencing and preventing further spread of the disease,” explained Shanice.

Later on, as a CTC head, Shanice provided guidance to the CTC team in areas like policy work, case management, activity mapping and contact tracing. Having completed her stint at CTC, the statistician has returned to her original appointment.

Shanice shares more about how her time as a contact tracer gave her a strong sense of community and pride in being part of the frontline against COVID-19.

What were some challenges you faced initially when you joined the CTC, where you had to reach out to people identified as close contacts of a confirmed COVID-19 case to inform them of their Quarantine Orders?

Firstly, convincing the individuals of the authenticity of the phone call was a challenge, given the recent numerous scam calls that the public has been receiving.

Another challenge we faced was in overcoming the language barrier when contacting migrant workers, during the period when there was an influx of cases happening in the foreign worker dormitories. Some of our teammates were very creative in overcoming the language barrier when it came to asking for the date of birth of our migrant workers – they sang the “Happy Birthday” song over the phone and the workers understood immediately!

Were there any especially difficult moments?

At the peak of the outbreak, where the daily number of new cases were in the hundreds, at times exceeding a thousand, all of us at the CTC had to work long shift hours back-to-back.

The long hours meant that I had less time to spend at home with my family and especially with my two sons, aged two and four. It was tough especially during circuit breaker, when I had to travel to the CTC for work while my family was at home. That was a period when I experienced “mum guilt” for not being present when my children were at home.

Meeting the challenges of contact tracing head-on
Shanice counts collaborating with different agencies as a highlight amid challenging times.  

Besides the long hours, contact tracing is a herculean task that requires many personnel from different agencies to coordinate their efforts. What was it like working with so many people from varied backgrounds?

The stint at the CTC introduced me to many people whom I would not have met in pre-COVID times. Collaborating and engaging with people from both public and non-public services is part and parcel of the job, and this has helped me hone my communication skills.

Not only did I have the chance to see our public health colleagues in action, I also had the rare opportunity of working with the Singapore Armed Forces closely, as well as with people from the aviation and hospitality industries. It was nice to see how uniformed personnel and civilians managed to work together despite being from very different backgrounds. In fact, some of us still keep in contact today!

What kept you going throughout your stint at CTC?

My two little boys kept me going through the toughest moments. Seeing them stay safe and happy was what motivated me to press on whenever the going got tough. Knowing that I can play a part in helping make Singapore a safe environment for children makes my work even more worthwhile.

I would also like to thank my husband for doing such a marvelous job in caring for the children whenever I was on duty at the CTC. A big shout-out to all family members who have been supporting their loved ones involved in fighting COVID-19! They are truly the unsung heroes in our nation’s management of the pandemic.

Meeting the challenges of contact tracing head-on
Shanice hopes to be able to pick up new skills, and contribute more to her division in the coming new year. 

Looking back at the year, what has changed about the way you see your job and your purpose?

I’m thankful to still have a job, and to have had the opportunity to serve as a frontline worker. Helping to keep the number of COVID-19 cases low in Singapore lends frontliners like me an immense sense of satisfaction.

What are your hopes for 2021?

I hope that Singapore can successfully fight COVID-19, and that we can all return to some form of normalcy in 2021. Personally, I hope to stay healthy and exercise more!

Share your reflections, hopes and aspirations for 2021, from now till Dec 30, 11.59pm. Upload your video entries on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok with the hashtags #SGTogetherBetterTomorrow and #LetsCelebrate2021. The best 21 posts stand to win S$210 worth of vouchers. Visit mediacorp.sg/letscelebrate2021/sgtogether for more details. Terms and conditions apply.

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