By Atanu Majumdar, T2-Intake Specialist, NYC Test & Trace Corps
From the moment a Test & Trace (T2) specialist responds to a phone call, and the Building-Response Team (BRT) member utters the words, “I have a situation…” the workflow begins. It truly is a remarkable and beautiful thing to watch here in the Situation Room. Yes, I used the word “beautiful”! There is a rhythm to how the staff works through the vastness and complexities that 1,900+ Department of Education (DOE) schools offer daily.
New York City has conducted itself in an exemplary fashion and has been in a constant battle to control the spread of COVID-19. In my eyes, the battle begins here in the Situation Room, lovingly known as the SIT room. With close to one million children going to school in-person within the DOE’s jurisdiction, this targeted approach by the SIT room has proven to be effective.
The SIT room approach works because it has been time assessed through one whole cycle of the DOE affiliated school year. Furthermore, the conglomerated effort of the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), NYC Test & Trace Corps, the Department of Education, and other city agencies have brought the contact tracing efforts of New York City to new heights. It truly is incredible to observe and learn how these powerhouses have come together to address this public health crises for 1,876 schools within the DOE as of Fall 2021, including 268 charter schools with other additional programs that have active student participation. The communication between these various departments for any case, works seamlessly and the supervisors and directors ensure completion.
Throughout the day, the objective of the SIT room workflow is to ensure the gathering and assessment of data entry of a COVID-19 positive case along with their close contacts into the system for assessment of proper next steps. There are situations which are straightforward and sometimes there are hiccups along the way in reaching the final objective. With the constant change in health policy guidelines and COVID-19 protocols, the cases can become challenging. However, as Test & Trace employees, we have seen those challenges met in a professional manner. My colleagues and I have seen them resolved through our investigative skills, extraordinary inter-personal skills, and the combined efforts of the other departments working with us in tandem.
The SIT room works like a well-oiled machine and there are several departments that address each massive requirement. A large chunk of the communication is done through phone calls and e-mails between the school administrators and the SIT room. I am proud to be a member of the Intake Team who could be the first line of communication with the DOE BRT members. The inbox is a powerful tool of communication and is constantly being monitored by the Observer Team. Additionally, there is an AfterCare /Virtual team dedicated to informing close contact persons of their exposure to COVID-19 and thus encourage them to get them tested and receive further assessments. It shakes me to my core when I recall the peak of this pandemic here in the city and these teams were extraordinary in their efforts of contacting thousands of close contacts, even though it meant burning the midnight oil.
The workflow is incomplete without mentioning the investigative capabilities of the T2 department whose work at times can put Scotland Yards and the astute Sherlock Holmes to shame. The T2 employees are the unsung heroes who must ask all the difficult questions to provide recommendations for classroom/ building closures for DOE-contracted programs. This is not an easy task as one can imagine because challenging the school principals to recall the details of how exactly a student or staff member tested positive and who their close contacts were, is daunting and at times, met with ambiguous responses.
The most remarkable aspect of the T2 team is their adaptability to change and updated guidelines. There are constant changes with the school health policies for managing the spread of the virus. This is very necessary because of the unpredictable nature of the current situation. However, the T2 staff are provided with real time information along with well-coordinated, staggered training sessions throughout the various departments that add uniformity in how the information is divulged to the DOE schools and programs. As T2 employees it is within our job description to assist school administrators with as much information as possible to help them tackle the spread within their school.
The SIT room is truly an enjoyable place to work, with resolute and hard-working employees headed by a team of Supervisors and Directors who have a genuine urge to help fellow New Yorkers see the battle against COVID-19 to the end.
I spoke to a fellow SIT room colleague of mine this past week and he put it in perspective for me by stating that there is a deep-seated satisfaction and feeling of contribution every single day working here. We are all in this together, and the SIT room plays a small albeit crucial role with the united goal of seeing New York City free of COVID-19.