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B.C. hiring 500 contact tracers to stop spread of COVID-19

Last Updated Aug 13, 2020 at 5:54 am PDT

B.C. Premier John Horgan. (Courtesy B.C. Government, Flickr)
Summary

The province is hiring 500 more health-care professionals to increase COVID-19 contact tracing

The new hires will allow health authorities to increase the number of workers focused on COVID-19

Training more people in contact tracing will help ensure health officials are prepared in case of a surge in the fall

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — The province is hiring 500 more health-care professionals to increase COVID-19 contact tracing across B.C. and prevent further transmission.

“Although we do support the federal government’s work developing a COVID alert app for smartphones, the app can’t tell you everything. Nothing replaces person-to-person contact. Public health teams typically have staff who work on contact tracing for communicable diseases, but during a pandemic more resources are required,” Premier John Horgan said Wednesday.

“Some of these positions will help support public health and communities, as well as, of course, preparing for the fall immunization plan, which we’ll be announcing later this month. These positions will be temporary and will be recruited by the Provincial Health Services Authority. We expect many will be retired nurses and other health-care professionals, as well as recent graduates.”

The new hires will allow health authorities to increase the number of workers focused on COVID-19 and help curb community transmission. The positions will start in September.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said contact tracing is done commonly for diseases such as measles or tuberculosis.

“This is bread-and-butter work for public health. It’s how we ensure that when somebody is infected with a communicable disease something that can be transmitted between people that we do everything we can to prevent that transmission and prevent others from getting sick,” she added.

“And for COVID-19, it is exceedingly important.”

Henry said training more people in contact tracing will help ensure health officials are prepared in case of a surge in the fall, when in-class learning at schools is set to resume for most students.

“And so the new people will be joining the teams that we have and will be supporting as surge capacity with our public health teams across the province.”

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Henry also added that when people are asked to self-isolate by health officials because they have been exposed, that is a public health order.

“So that means you are required to do that. And most people, when we give them the means to do that and we support them in doing it, has been very good about that, and we will continue to support people across the province, as we go through our pandemic,” she said.

She reiterated that contact tracing is sufficient even with a recent increase in case counts.

The province announced 46 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, but no new deaths for the 11th straight day.

Many of the new cases are linked to young people and large gatherings or parties.

Horgan called on actors Ryan Reynolds and Seth Rogen to help spread the message to youth to stop partying.

“This is a callout to Deadpool right now. Ryan, we need your help up here. Get in touch with us. My number’s on the Internet. Seth Rogen, another outstanding British Columbian, we need to communicate with people who weren’t hearing us. The two of you alone could help us in that regard,” Horgan said.

“There’s a host of other options available and we’re working as hard as we can to enlist a number of prominent British Columbians and prominent Canadians to help get that message through to the demographic that clearly isn’t hearing our message.”

With the new cases, the total in B.C. rose to 4,111, including 472 that are active.

Health officials have been in contact with about 1,700 people who may have been exposed to the virus and follow up with them daily. Henry said they are focussing on completeness and timeliness of tracing.

“So we have the resources to do that,” Henry said.

She added health officials are conducting a social network analysis, linking people and locations and creating a database with that information.

Henry also said the number of contacts per COVID-19 case are creeping up, again.

“Right now we are holding our own. We’re able to contact 98 per cent of the people who are close contacts of our cases here in B.C. We’re not seeing a lot of unlinked cases. And, yes, this is the work that the teams are doing across the province. It’s hard work and a lot of us are working long hours doing this and I think the kudos go to the teams across the province,” she said.

“So this is a welcome surge capacity and will also allow some of the other important work that has been put aside necessarily to focus on the pandemic to be picked up again.”