With the announcement of lockdown in Jharkhand till 31st March, 2020 and the subsequent announcement of countrywide lockdown till 14th April, 2020, the district administration Simdega had sprang into action to limit the spread of COVID – 19 in the district. An emergency meeting was convened with all the concerned district officials. Subsequently various cells were formed to look after several tasks such as maintenance of law and order, procurement and provisioning of essentials, procurement and provisioning of medical supplies, monitoring of migrants in home quarantine, monitoring of food supply centers and daily reporting.
On day one itself, in order to start monitoring of the migrants, a six-member team was formed for each ward (1119 wards), consisting of ANM, Asha worker, AWW, PDS dealer, teacher and Ward member. The team was to conduct household level surveys of the migrants and laborers put under home quarantine. Each team had a responsibility of 100 households, where they were tasked to not only keep the track of home quarantined people but also to monitor the influx of migrants and immediately inform the control room. The control room would then take necessary precautionary measures to quarantine the concerned person. Despite the effort there was confusion regarding day wise tracking of all the persons in home quarantine.
On the second day of the lockdown, given all the confusion the Deputy Commissioner, Sh. Mrityunjay Kumar Baranwal IAS, suggested to have a mechanism where all the home quarantined people could be tracked directly at the district level. This was a huge challenge as around 2600 people had been home quarantined till then and the number was on the rise due to influx of migrants in the district. Various options such as ANMs, AWWs, ASHAs, MPWs were considered as the possible group to directly contact the home quarantined persons. But finally, teachers were considered as the best persons to do so as they are one of the most respected professionals in the society and people tend to talk truthfully with the teachers. Moreover, the network of teachers was very intricate and it would help reach the person even in remotest location. So, in addition to the ward level team, which also involved teachers, a group of 80 teachers were selected and finalized for this high priority task.
The team then proceeded to inform all the teachers, through telephonic conversation, of the urgent requirement at the district to support the tracking of the migrants on a daily basis. All the teachers replied positively. The next day, two separate halls were prepared with all the social distancing norms for training the volunteer teachers.
The first day was very puzzling for the volunteer teachers as everyone was quite unclear about their roles and the number of persons they had to call. The teachers were also uncertain about the data that they had to collect which included asking questions related to stamping on the wrist, people following home quarantine procedure, health issues and developing symptoms, and ration provisioning at home. But, by the end of the day, the volunteers had a good grasp of the what and why the things were being enquired. This helped in smoothening of the process. Finally, every teacher was assigned roughly 40 persons to enquire about. Further, the reporting cell, consisting of district officials and staffs, subdivided the blocks among them and teachers would then go to respective member (whose block’s data they were collecting) with the details of the persons contacted. This data would then be fed into the database and all the blocks database would be collated to form a data repository that would be updated on a daily basis.
As a team that was constituted at a ward level also involved a teacher, the district level teacher team regularly consulted with them in case of any gaps in the outreach. This helped in contacting migrants who were home quarantined in no network zones as well.
These volunteer teachers’ group has enabled the district administration to keep track of the number of migrants entering Simdega and being home quarantined on daily basis. This in turn has been immensely helpful for health department to monitor the potential suspect cases closely and conduct sample collection. More than 3000 home quarantined migrants have been successfully tracked over a period of 19 days and is likely to continue till the lockdown is lifted. Currently, around 900 migrants are in home quarantine and are being monitored daily by the teachers’ group.
Interestingly, during the monitoring phase, a few migrants confessed to the teachers that they had broken the home quarantine, and were out fishing or tending to their daily activities. Such confessions helped the district administration to track the ill-disciplined migrants and counsel them about the importance of 14-day home quarantine. A few of them were even put in the quarantine centers as they would regularly venture out of the home quarantine.
Although extremely efficient in tracking down the migrants, the whole setup has its own challenges. Some of the migrants who were home quarantined were unclear about the due process to be followed during the pandemic. This resulted in a few people coming out of their homes to attend to various activities as they deemed fit. Further, lack of awareness among the migrants coupled with lack of empathy shown towards them may have led to a distress situation among the migrants. This is where proper information dissemination lead to creating a sense of calm among the migrants and helped in maintaining a sense of control.
The motivation and perseverance of humans in these testing times has been evident. The teachers showing up day in and day out to contribute to the larger cause has been motivating even for the regular staffs of the administration. This has also built up a positive vibe among all the people who are working either in the district or directly on the field. The amazing work done by the volunteer teachers and the ground staff has been immensely important in strengthening and efficiently tracking all the migrants entering the district at the same time allowing us to stay focused on the needs of the people and effectively strategize and implement the schemes.