How a unique Manchester scheme contacted positive cases post haste
For a former postman and a man of letters, Mark O’Pray’s recent work has been a story of numbers: 10 weeks, 500 miles and visits to 300 Manchester people who had not responded to messages from test and trace teams to tell them they had tested positive for Covid-19.
Mark, 42, has had a unique role in a pilot project in the city set up by its public health team, working with Beswick-based charity 4CT, to help trace people who were unaware of their result as phone teams had not been able to get hold of them.
These cases would then be passed to Mark – and others in the team – who set off each day to make visits and talk to the people involved, or, leave them a letter with advice on what to do next.
“In some cases people hadn’t picked up their phones because they were feeling unwell,” says Manchester-born Mark. “For others there were a variety of reasons – but most people were really grateful that we’d gone that extra mile to tell them, so that they definitely self-isolated.”
But the calls were far more than simply delivering a test result: they also involved making sure person had enough food, medicines and knew where to get help.
“I had one lady who thought she could still go out to work even though she had a positive result,” he says. “So, I explained to her that she couldn’t do that or go to see people – but then I was also able to tell her how she could do online food shopping and give her all the extra help she needed.”
The jobs were all over the city – which Mark enjoyed as it took him to previous childhood haunts and also near to his beloved Manchester City Football ground.
“I grew up in the Withington, Old Moat area but I now live in Wigan. It brought so many memories back for me visiting the area again.”
Visits could be multiple if people either weren’t in, or still not responding the letter he left on behalf of Manchester Test and Trace.
“But, I didn’t mind going back and being persistent because it was so important that people didn’t spread the virus,” he says.
“In fact, I think it made people really aware of how serious the virus is. I also think it made people want to have the vaccination because they saw how much the city was trying to look after them.”
For Mark the 10-week role was cathartic in many ways. He had been unable to continue his charity work for 4CT at Broadhurst Community Centre while lockdown was in place – and this role gave him chance to help battle the virus that had made his own Mum so ill.
“I’d not seen my Mum for months – and she had long Covid. When you know the effects of it all you want to do is make sure no-one else will get it,” he explains.
“And, for me, this took me right back to the start of my career when I was a postman – but now instead of delivering junk mail it was a life-saving letter.”
Councillor Bev Craig, Executive Member for Adult Health and Wellbeing at Manchester City Council, added: "I commend the work of Mark and fellow team members who have all joined in this work in such a dedicated way. This project is just one of the many examples of Manchester's approach in fighting the virus and supporting local communities."