The local COVID warriors
Honest Raj, 23, is one of the volunteers with the Greater Chennai Corporation as a part of their COVID-19 containment plan. These volunteers were deployed in all the 15 zones under GCC to conduct surveys every day, and to check on the residents to see if they show any symptoms of COVID-19.
A resident of Kannagi Nagar, Honest Raj has been carrying out these duties for the past 3 months. He reports to the Zonal office at 7 am for a brief meeting with the Sanitary Inspector (SI) and Sanitary Officer (SO) and kickstarts his visits after the breakfast that is provided to them.
Previously he was assigned to keep a vigil on 176 houses at Ezhil Nagar, a resettlement locality situated on OMR, and now he is surveying houses at Thoraipakkam. In the first week, the volunteers collected information like the name of the family members, age, sex, number of children and senior citizens, details of any medical conditions like BP, diabetes, and other comorbidities.
After collating all the information, they made regular visits to each house to check if they showed any symptoms of COVID-19. The volunteers assigned to the slum localities sensitised the public about the virus, encouraged them to wear masks and wash their hands regularly, apart from distributing free masks, sanitizers, kabasura kudineer, zinc and vitamin tablets to them.
Honest Raj shares, “If we detect anyone with ILI (Influenza Like Illness) symptoms during the inspection, we take them to the nearest fever camps for a check-up. If needed, they will be screened for COVID 19 in the nearest testing center. In the beginning, we escorted them to the testing centre through ambulances but these days the testing vehicle comes to the location to take swab tests of the people. We check on them regularly, till their results arrive. If they test positive, we help in the isolation process - from sticking quarantine stickers at their homes and setting up barricades outside their houses. Initially, the local people responded to our queries, however, they got tired of our visits each day and even hid if they had fever or cold. We were able to identify more cases once we started using thermal scanners.
As I am from the same locality and share a good rapport with the local people they confided in me initially. One day a middle-aged woman came forward and informed us that she was experiencing breathlessness for more than a day. Upon testing, she was positive for COVID 19. Another person was having a persistent cough but was unwilling to come to the fever camp. I somehow cajoled him to attend it and he was advised for a swab test. From then on other residents in the block hesitated to confide or report anything to me fearing compulsion to take the COVID test.
About the safety measures followed by the volunteers, he explained, “Considering the contagious nature of the virus, we were strictly instructed to wear masks and surgical gloves and advised against entering anyone’s house to check them. We are provided with a healthy and hearty breakfast and lunch and are given kabasura kudineer, and immunity-boosting, zinc, and multivitamin tablets.”
Prior to volunteering with the Corporation, Honest Raj was working as a skill development instructor with a government school at Velachery. His family members were against the idea of him volunteering as a frontline worker. But he says, “It is normal for anyone to be frightened as we are highly susceptible to the virus and the work involves visiting many people in a day, especially at a time when the city reported close to 3000 positive cases on a daily basis. I have a father with a liver disorder and by doing this work I am putting his safety at stake. Even some of my colleagues had tested positive and I had to take a COVID test when I had a fever. Thankfully, I tested negative.
Most of the front line workers’ safety is at stake but it's the nature of our job. I chose to do this as I wanted to help the people in the locality I grew up in. Most of the houses I visited were of my friends’ and I was able to be a support system for them during this crisis. I am glad that I played a role in helping Kannagi Nagar to fight against the virus.”
Speaking about the difficulties he encountered, Honest Raj explains, “I found it difficult to carry on the survey in other divisions, as people feared that I might be a carrier and so did not let me inside the premises. Also, I had to coordinate with the apartment officials for details since we were not allowed inside. This data is crucial in identifying cases early. On the bright side, I have also received love and support from the people. One day, I received a handmade greeting card from a kid with the message ‘Thank you, Superman’. Another family gifted me dry fruits and nuts as they were worried about my health. These small moments help us forget difficult moments. This work can be both physically and mentally taxing and moments like this keep us going. I am looking forward to the day when we together overcome this virus.”
Gomathy, Health Officer of Zone 15, requested people to cooperate with the volunteers and make use of the local fever camps. “With the support from our RDC, Alby John, we have made arrangements for mobile testing vans equipped with a lab technician to visit the patients at the camp, to reduce the hassle. People must not hesitate or hide it if they show any symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat, body ache, and abdominal issues and come forward to make use of the free testing for early diagnosis,” she said.
There are also volunteers called FOCUS - Friend of COVID Citizen Under Surveillance. The FOCUS volunteers monitor those under home quarantine and home isolation. These include patients as well as people who have returned from abroad. The FOCUS volunteers will visit the homes under quarantine, thrice a day to ensure that the persons are not violating quarantine protocols and that all essential items like groceries and medicines are provided to them.