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BC army of COVID-19 contact tracers being strengthened for flu season

500 new temporary contact tracers to start in September 2020

Wednesday August 12, 2020 ~ VICTORIA, BC

by Mary Brooke, editor | West Shore Voice News

The Province will hire approximately 500 additional health professionals to increase contact tracing around British Columbia, helping keep communities safe as it continues its COVID-19 restart plan.

This was the topic of an announcement by Premier John Horgan together with Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry this afternoon in Victoria.

Premier John Horgan, August 12, 2020, Victoria
Premier John Horgan on August 12, 2020 announcing the upcoming hire of 500 new contact tracers during COVID-19.

The new set of temporary hires will approximately double the current number of contact tracers, some of whom have other roles and responsibilities in the health care system, as explained by Dr Henry today.

“We want to make sure people are kept safe in any COVID-19 outbreak, and one of the ways to do that is through strong contact tracing,” said Premier John Horgan. “These new contact tracers will provide an extra layer of protection by jumping into action as soon as there is an outbreak, and will start their detective-style work to find out who may be infected in order to protect all British Columbians.”

The bread and butter of public health:

Contact tracing works by following up with each person who has tested positive for COVID-19 to understand who their contacts may be and providing appropriate followup. Dr Henry has often referred to that process as ‘the bread and butter’ of public health. Especially early on in the pandemic, she excitedly described the process as investigative work, getting on top of ‘sparks’ and stamping out each potential opportunity for COVID-19 to spread.

Provincial Health Officer, Dr Bonnie Henry, August 12 2020
Dr Bonnie Henry during media teleconference on August 12, 2020 in Victoria.

People who are contacted as potentially having been exposed to COVID-19 are then asked to self-isolate for 14 days. Today Dr Henry reiterated that the success of this process is largely dependent on public health providing “supports” for people to achieve the 14-day isolation.

Supports have never been articulated in great detail, but would include helping persons establish the ways and means for such things as grocery shopping, ensuring that any needed medications are on hand, having the capacity to have things delivered to the home or isolation location, that work arrangements are made so that financial impacts are minimized, any necessary child care arrangements, and so on.

COVID-19 requires expanded scale:

Health authorities’ public health teams typically have staff who do contact tracing of communicable diseases as part of their regular work. However, given the scale of the response needed for COVID-19, additional supports are necessary.

Health Minister Adrian Dix, August 12 2020
Health Minister Adrian Dix on August 12, 2020 during press briefing in Victoria.

“As we have seen in recent weeks, strong contact tracing is absolutely crucial when dealing with community outbreaks as we slowly and safely increase our contacts,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health.

“Our health-care workers have gone beyond the call of duty during the pandemic, and we are putting out this call to these dedicated professionals to bolster our contact tracing capacity and prepare us for a potential surge of COVID-19 in the fall.”

Some of these positions will also help to support public health services, such as providing education in communities, and possibly immunizing for influenza and other diseases. Reducing the number of people with the flu helps alleviate the burden on provincial laboratory testing infrastructure and protects acute-care capacity in B.C.’s hospitals as respiratory illness season approaches this fall.

Being prepared for outbreaks, especially in flu season:

“When there is a community outbreak, time is of the essence,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer.

how to self-isolate at home, COVID-19
How to Self-Isolate at Home when you have COVID-19 [Health Canada]

“These new contact tracers will work with existing public health teams to help track down all those who may have been exposed and support people to self-isolate when necessary,” said Dr Henry. “

This role becomes even more crucial to contain the spread as we continue to open up our schools, economy and social activities, and as we prepare for the upcoming cold and flu season this fall.”

Positions will be temporary, starting in September:

These positions will be temporary and will be recruited by the Provincial Health Services Authority and the regional health authorities. This will allow health authorities to increase their local pool of available public health professionals, while also providing a team of people that are available to be deployed throughout the province as needed. The Ministry of Health is working with Health Match BC and the health authorities to manage the recruitment process.

nursing graduates, RN
Recent nursing graduates will be among the pool of hires for temporary new contact tracers.

Today Premier Horgan said the new temporary hires would be retired nurses, other health professionals, and recent health care graduates.

Candidates will begin work in September 2020 “to deal with community transmission now and into the fall”, as Horgan put it today, very much implying a second wave of COVID-19. He also reiterated that it could be months or even years before there is an effective vaccine against the virus that has turned the economy and people’s lives upside down.

It could take 18 to 24 months for a COVID-19 vaccine to be fully available.

The new hires will be employed until the end of March 2021, with opportunity for extension if needed.

===== LINKS:

BC Centre for Disease Control – COVID data & information

BCIT – nursing training – school of health sciences

Hon John Horgan, MLA [Langford-Juan de Fuca]
Hon John Horgan, MLA [Langford-Juan de Fuca]