Pacifying conversations, heartening chit-chats, relaxed enquiries, friendly health status queries – everyone is engaged in one of these at the Corona Control Cell in Malappuram Collectorate, which has been buzzing with activity for over a month now. When each call ends, sighs of relief or smiles flash, ensuring that everything is under control. Led by 40 students of MEA Engineering College, Perinthalmanna, the Control Cell, the hub of contact tracing and monitoring of those home quarantined in the district, puts up an exemplary show in the time of crisis.
Since March 17, 40 NSS volunteers from the college are taking turns to work at the District Medical Office on the Collectorate premises, tracing primary and secondary contacts of all the people who came to the district from other countries and states since the COVID-19 outbreak. “We collect the data, trace contacts, tell to practise isolation and stay in touch with every one of them to spot any symptom and check on their health, and send them help if required,” says Mohammed Saeed, a fourth-year electrical engineering student, who has been active on the ground since Day 1.
At the Control Cell, they monitor those in quarantine, the lorry drivers who have been transporting goods from other states and those who crossed the borders with a special pass. Apart from tracing their travel routes and contact persons, these volunteers double up as helpline service staff, mitigating doubts, confusion and panic of the callers.
“One day, an NRI called us up and said that he wasn’t feeling well and had a headache and mild cold. We contacted the primary health centre near his home and delivered medicines, but two days later, he called us again and said that he wasn’t feeling better. We soon sent an ambulance and shifted him to the hospital. He was later tested positive,” recalls Saeed, explaining that even the minutest of possibility is treated with gravity to avert community spread of the disease.
Malappuram Collector Jafar Malik has, in a recent Facebook post, expressed gratitude for the selfless service of the students.
It’s not the first time these students are engaged in disaster management service. During the two bouts of devastating floods in the state, the NSS volunteers of MEA College had been active as the manpower in sorting, packing and distributing relief material, coordinating operations and attending distress calls. This time, the team started off volunteering for data analysis work at the Calicut International Airport where each passenger who arrived was screened and interviewed.
“It was a risky affair, but someone had to take the plunge. All of us had protective gears on and had safety measures in place,” says Mohammed Shafas, a third-year mechanical engineering student, who adds that though the Control Cell requires only 20 staff a day, the rest have been working at the Regional Transport Office, helping officials issue vehicle pass. “At the control room, we were given basic training by National Health Service officials on the disease symptoms, precautionary measures and advice to be given to the callers. We also have with us Dr Monica Nair, who guides us and talks to callers who need an expert opinion,” explains Shafas, who is also the volunteer secretary of the college.
He opines that this ground experience is something neither textbooks nor classrooms can offer. “The medical exposure for engineering students like us is huge, especially during an unprecedented pandemic situation like this,” Shafas adds.
The volunteers sport masks and use sanitizers while practising safety measures at the cell. All of them sanitise themselves and their phones before entering their homes after the day’s work, where they go through the online sessions and notes uploaded on Google classroom, to not miss academics.
Faisal P H, the NSS coordinator of the college, is proud of his students who multitask without giving up on their studies or responsibilities as citizens. “The students have undergone training in disaster management which has come to use at crucial hours like these. Though it’s a risk-oriented service, they are fearless and have been able to boost confidence in many. It’s evident from the public attitude which has changed from anxiety to awareness,” he hopes.