October 2020: how we are doing community test and trace

October review:

This month we’ve seen the growing second wave of coronavirus in Greece, and as a team spent time and energy restructuring our sessions and our library space accordingly. Malakasa and Oinofyta camps came out of quarantine and so we saw ourselves back on a full schedule, making things like book quarantining and disinfection in between sessions more important than ever. Together with Play-Up (previously called Kids Klub) we’ve been thinking about how to safely run our children’s library sessions. In some locations, like Lavrio town, this has meant parking outside camps to avoid contact with our younger users all together. In others, this has meant scaling back close-up hands-on teaching in favour of songs and games that can be done easily at a distance. We’ve also drawn closer with our Athens grassroots comrades to set up an effective community test-and-trace system that has seen its’ first testing this month after several members of our team developed a sore throat and a cough – which is the subject of our thinkpiece below.

Other bits from this month: Building the new library van continue:

  • we now have the insulation, floor and ceiling in!

  • We spoke with Rebel Book Club in the UK and Biblioteche Oggi in Italy

  • We restocked our Farsi and Arabic shelves following generous donations We onboarded four new librarians to our team!


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How we are doing community test and trace:

This month, new daily cases of coronavirus hit 1,000 in Greece, a country with a population of 11million. With most of the limited education and literature services, the need to run the library only grows. There’s no lockdown in our region, but there are cases in our community. We’ve been presented with a dilemma; how can we provide what people need without becoming what we jokingly refer to as a Mobile Corona Distribution unit?

The most important thing is to make the library a minimum transmission zone, as we describe above and in previous blog posts. Masks, disinfection, and distance! Following this, we also realised when speaking with our local comrades in central Athens that we can try and track the spread of the virus through our community. In Athens there is very limited free testing and no test-and-trace system in sight; so we’ve come together with the Khora collective and PlayUp to create our own.

How does it work? We’ve got a working group with representatives from many different community run spaces, from the Beehive creative workshop to the Khora Social Kitchen, who meet regularly and stay up to date with Covid info from reliable sources. Then if anyone feels ill they text one of us, who then walk them through what common symptoms are.If they have them, then we contact trace everyone they’ve been in close contact with during their infectious period, alert them to the risk, and ask them not to come into Khora or ECHO spaces. We then support the person in getting tested and inform all their close contacts of the result and what to do next. So far, we’ve been lucky; all four of this months’ traces turned out to be something other than COVID. But it’s been incredible how fast a closely knit community with trust in one another can detect and isolate a case. It allows us to keep one another safe and so important work together at the same time.

The success of our little group of volunteers, working with no funds, no pay and across language barriers, begs the question why this appears to be so difficult for some big states. The UK government has spent hitrying to create a system like this in England; but the work has been outsourced to companies with no experience, leading to allegedly little over 100 cases actually being traced in total so far in the UK.

Test and trace is possible on a wider scale; it’s been implemented well by states and local governments across the world. But what it requires is a well-trained, well-paid, dedicated workforce; and most importantly, a willingness to place public health above private profit. In communist Vietnam, effective test and tracing has been combined with aggressive public health information distribution to keep the death rate below twenty. In Kerala and China similar systems have had success. A strong correlation between states willing to put people above profit and states who have been able to implement this is undeniable.

We’re lucky to live in a close knit community whose core values are solidarity and care, not profit and dominance – and that’s what allows us to implement these measures so effectively, often going above and beyond official guidelines and measures. But we aren’t isolated from the rest of the country: we can’t stop refugees and migrants being relentlessly stigmatised in parliamentary discourse and blamed for higher rates of coronavirus. We also can’t prevent the government from implementing punitive measures. For example, the government is pursuing arbitrary detention of thousands of refugees in diabolical conditions in inside refugee camps in the name of ‘public health’, likely a distraction technique to avert eyes from the under-funded health system on the edge of collapse and unwillingness to implement anti-transmission measures in the Church.

In our community we will continue to get the library to everyone who needs it, as safely as possible. And we will shout louder than ever that this economy of love and solidarity must replace profit and exclusion everyone. Please feel free to message us if you’d like copies of our procedure and our forms, or for advice on setting up your own community system. It works best when you’ve got a densely connected community and a fast form of communication (eg big WhatsApp groups) but we’re always learning!

Keira Dignan

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