“Good morning, I’m from the army, you must quarantine yourself”: military in Spain, on the trail of the coronavirus

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They are in charge of tracking the contacts of those who test positive for Covid-19. A sometimes complicated ant task.

“Good morning, I’m from the army. You are going to have to quarantine yourself.” The call is made by a Spanish military man, in charge of tracking the contacts of those infected by coronavirus in the European Union country hardest hit by the pandemic at the moment.

At the headquarters of the Spanish Navy, in the heart of the country’s capital Madrid, a poster announces the “Epidemiological surveillance section in support of the Community of Madrid.”

There, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., every day of the week, a dozen soldiers carry out between 70 and 80 calls to identify the contacts of people diagnosed positive by coronavirus.

I am “a tracker for the community of Madrid. A person who has tested positive has given me his phone number. The first thing I would like to know is where he is now. He will have to quarantine himself for 10 days,” says one of them .

Destined by the State to help the most affected regions, in a country where the lack of human resources, starting with trackers, has been one of the reasons for In the harshness of the second wave, more than 2,000 soldiers try to shape the transmission chains.

This is a thorough ant work to identify and call one by one all the people who may have been infected. They will all have to make an appointment for a diagnostic PCR test, but lThe main task of these soldiers is to convince them to isolate themselves from the rest of the world.

The idea is that “doctors have more time”, currently overwhelmed by the health crisis, explains Commander Tomás García.

Spain has registered 790,000 infections so far and more than 32,000 deaths from coronavirus. A third of those infected and dead are concentrated in Madrid, whose inhabitants have been subject to significant movement restrictions since Friday night to stop the spread of the virus.

On a rainy October morning, nine Navy soldiers, sitting at desks and protected by Plexiglass screens, speak quietly on the phone and take notes on computers.

These trackers, in operation for just two weeks, must call people who have tested positive, whose identities are provided by the regional health system, to ask for their contacts and establish a map of infections and calculate quarantine times.

Ensuring the anonymity of the infected person while talking to their contacts involves a delicate balance.

In general, “there is an average of between two and three contacts” for each contagion, but sometimes there are “seven” or many more in particular situations such as the recent cases of a teacher or an employee of a fast food restaurant.

“No, no, no, you shouldn’t go to school because your sister tested positive”, “disinfect the bathroom well if you share it with your husband.” They are phrases that can be heard in telephone exchanges.

“It is not your fault. You do not have to see it that way, you were thinking of doing your things without harming anyone”, reassures another military man.

Corporal Rafael Medel says that for some people it is a ‘shock’ to know that they have coronavirus.

Even worse, people may not want to take the call or collaborate. “If a relative responds, because the (infected) person is admitted (to the hospital) or died, it is complicated …”, says the corporal.

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