Amber Krifa is currently having ‘hectic working days’. The Criminology student has been working fulltime at the corona administration department of the GGD Rotterdam-Rijnmond since the beginning of May. All results from test sites, laboratories, hospitals, general practitioners or other GGD’s are sent to her department. Her task is to process the positive results into the system. She prepares a medical file and makes sure that general practitioners are aware of the results. “We start at 8.30 am and normally work through to 5 pm. But you do notice that it is much busier than it was a few months ago now that we are in the second wave. We work long days. Yesterday I sat here until 7 pm.”

Getting busier

samuel
Samuël Verdaasdonk

The files go from Amber’s department to Samuël Verdaasdonk and Tess Zijlstra. They both study Econometrics and work at the source and contact tracing department. Amongst other things, it is up to them to inform the people who have tested positive about their results. Just like Amber, Samuël and Tess notice that the number of infections is rising. “Our workload has increased, but fortunately the GGD is mobilising more and more people,” Samuël says. Tess adds: “Still, my manager came to us yesterday at 4.30 pm to hand over new files. Normally that never happens.”

Empathy

Tess and Samuel tell us that their work calls for a lot of empathy. “Of course, we don’t just phone people up to pass on their results, but we also ask a lot of things about the person concerned, such as what their circumstances are and if they’re in the at-risk group,” Samuël goes on to say. “We find out who has been in contact with the patient and check very carefully how the patient is doing. We ask if they are able to self-isolate and what their home and health situation is like. When people are in difficult circumstances, we can put them through to the helplines.”

‘At the end of the day, I sometimes have to shed a tear because it’s only then that I realise how difficult the situation is for people who have an underlying condition’

Tess Zijlstra

Samuël finds conversations with self-employed people (ZZPers) particularly difficult. “If self-employed people get corona, all of a sudden they have no income. I really find that very distressing for them.” Tess finds it hard to break the news to people who have an underlying condition. “Like people who have just gone through chemotherapy or have not yet fully recovered from other illnesses. It really affects me because there’s nothing else you can do to help,” she says, her eyes misting over. “After a conversation like that at work, you just go on to the next case. But at home, at the end of the day, I sometimes have to shed a tear because it’s only then that I realise how difficult the situation is for these people.”

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Students take the right measures

Amber sees that people are doing their best to follow the corona measures, not only in her work environment, but also outside of it. “People are shocked at how quickly the virus can strike again.” She believes that students are also handling the corona outbreaks very seriously. “This pandemic is changing a lot for us, especially first year students are having a very different year than us. That’s a real pity, but well… there is no other way, because if we don’t follow the measures, we will be stuck in this crisis for much longer.”

Tess and Samuel regularly get students on the phone. “The conversations with students are the easiest ones, partly because as a student I can easily relate to them. But also, because I never speak to students who become very ill,” Tess explains. “Except that students do have far more contacts than anyone else,” she laughs. On a more serious note: “They may not make the most helpful decisions on a preventative level, but if they are infected, they do take the right measures straightaway.” In most cases, students know that they are infected. “They often say: ‘Yes, my housemates are infected, so we’ve actually been in quarantine for a while now and we’ll stay in it for a bit longer’.”

Doing your bit

The three students want to do their bit to combat the corona crisis. “A while ago I read in the news that the GGD Amsterdam didn’t have enough people to do source and contact tracing, so then I thought that this might be the case in Rotterdam as well,” Samuël says. He trawled the GGD website and found a vacancy in Rotterdam. “I’m doing Econometrics and don’t have a background in healthcare, but I really want to help. I’m glad that I’m able to contribute something to society with this work.”

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