Ontario hiring hundreds more contact tracers and case managers

As case counts grow, the Simcoe Muskoka health unit is only tracking cases deemed to be high-risk

There is no word if the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit will benefit from new hires announced at Premier Ford’s media briefing on Wednesday to help track and isolate new cases of COVID-19 in Ontario.

The province said 100 new contact tracers have been hired, with up to 500 more recruits expected to be hired by mid-November.

“With these additional hires, we will have hundreds more boots on the ground to support contact tracing throughout the province, which is an essential weapon in our fight against COVID-19,” said Premier Ford. “Thanks to the absolute pros tracking down the data, we are reaching cases and contacts faster, with 30 public health units reaching 90 per cent of cases within 24 hours. There is nowhere this virus can hide ― and that’s critical to our efforts to contain the spread of this deadly threat and flatten the curve of the second wave.”

Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner said on Oct. 6 the health unit was challenged with the ability to keep up with contact follow up.

“We have such a large volume and a rapidly increasing volume of not only cases but the number of contacts, we are unable to keep up with all of the contacts.”

He said the health unit was going to follow up with contacts that are deemed to be of particularly high-risk situations for transmission, such as outbreaks.

“Otherwise, we are going to be asking cases to follow up with their own contacts if they are willing and able to do this, and advise their own contact they need to be in isolation for a 14-day period and advise they follow up for testing.”

People unwilling to do so can still reach out to the health unit.

The province is partnering with an Ontario-based recruitment firm that has extensive experience in supplying COVID-19 staffing resources. Ontario Public Service (OPS) staff are also volunteering for redeployment to provide surge support for contact tracing this fall and winter.

The government said there are more than 2,750 case and contact management staff active across all public health units, tracing and managing COVID-19 cases–up from approximately 1,500 staff in the spring.

At the health unit’s weekly media briefing on Tuesday, Gardner said Public Health Ontario is now providing a service and is doing about 20 per cent of the health unit’s contacts.

He acknowledged that with the tremendous growth in cases and contacts it would be some time before the health unit got back to doing all the contact tracing as an agency.

Gardner has said what makes contact tracing more challenging now compared to the spring is the first wave was essentially the shutdown of the economy

“That greatly reduced the amount of movement that people particpated in, and there was a great shutdown in public gatherings and public venues, therefore the number of contacts per case is much less than it is now.”

He pointed out the health unit this time is dealing with the opening up of the economy and people going back to work and school.

Also at the premier’s briefing on Wednesday, he said at least 50 more pharmacies would start offering COVID-19 testing this week in a number of cities including Barrie.

Ford said more than 100 pharmacies in Ontario now offer testing.