Manitoba steps up contact tracing and COVID-19 case monitoring
WINNIPEG -- Manitoba’s top doctor said the province is working to improve contact tracing and COVID-19 case monitoring.
Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, said Tuesday that an outbound automated calling system is coming to the province to help with case monitoring.
“The automated call will provide the quickest most efficient way to get Manitobans information they need and make informed decisions from the proper public health direction,” Roussin said. “People will be asked important information about testing, self-isolation, and other public health guidelines in a question and answer format, with answers provided via the keypad of the phone.”
The first phase will be used to determine if active cases can now be marked as recovered. If the case or contact has questions, they can request a callback from a public health nurse by pushing a key on a phone pad.
“If the case or contact is at the end of the monitoring period or has no further questions that case or contact can be marked as recovered,” Roussin said.
The second phase will be used to contact cases and their related contacts.
“This allows us to be more responsive and reach people sooner,” Roussin said, noting public health officials will continue calling individuals.
During the news conference, Roussin said the number of active COVID-19 cases may be lower than the province is reporting.
As of Tuesday, there are 8,677 active cases on the province’s website.
He said if the number excludes those in hospital and accounts for unreported recoveries – which are considered 10 days after symptom onset – then the number of active cases would be 3,363 active cases.
“We have a lot of people who are far past their incubation periods that we haven't officially taken off of our contact list, or taking off our active case list,” Roussin said. “And this is one way to make that process more efficient.”
Roussin said the automated system could be further expanded to include COVID-19 test results. He added officials will never ask for personal health information or personal information, such as banking information, social insurance numbers, credit card numbers, passport numbers, or other non-health-related identification data.
“If this is occurring share this information with your local police department as it is suspicious,” he said.
Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said in a statement on Tuesday that nurses have been working an excessive amount of overtime to deal with high case volumes and contact tracing.
“Relying on excessive overtime to handle case volumes is not a sustainable solution. The Pallister government must do more to ensure our public health system can adequately respond to the growing surge, and help reduce further spread of COVID in our communities,” Jackson said in a statement.
Jackson said nurses are typically required to stay at work until an investigation is completed, which means they sometimes must stay until close to midnight.
“Even this past weekend they were still dealing with a backlog of cases, and now with a record number on Monday, we fear that the situation will only worsen,” Jackson said. “We’ve also received reports that there have been delays getting positive results from the lab to Public Health for investigation.”
Musician Patricia Evans told CTV News that anything that can be done to help with contact tracing would be a big help.
Her husband Todd Martin found out he had COVID-19 at the beginning of October. Evans said they did not hear anything back from public health for four days following his test.
At that point, they decided to call HealthLinks to inquire about his results and learned that he was indeed was positive.
She said the nurse on the line took some information about his symptoms and his contacts and told them not to contact anyone on their own until they had heard from public health
"The problem was we were four days into this and hadn’t heard anything from public health. So he did end up contacting his work saying, ‘Look I’ve had a positive result,’" Evans explained.
The couple also contacted the few close contacts they had identified themselves as well.
Evans said they didn’t hear from a public health nurse until one week after the test was done.
"So that was a week that if he wouldn’t have called HealthLinks, he wouldn’t have known that he was positive and the people he worked with wouldn't have known he was positive and the couple of people he came in contact with wouldn’t have known," she said.
Evans does not blame the nurses for the delay and said once contact was made they were very helpful.
"I think that the system is just incredibly overwhelmed and I think they are really struggling to get on top of it."
Martin's case was very mild, said Evans and he is doing very well now. Evans herself never got sick.
During the course of Martins's illness, Evans said the couple was checked on regularly and his case has been reported as recovered.
But given recent daily case counts in Manitoba, Evans suspects the contact tracing experience hasn’t changed.
“I think anything they can do to get on top of it would be really helpful."
-With files from CTV's Danton Unger.