The growing number of COVID-19 positive tests without the likely source identified is a key sign of rapid community spread that is outpacing the growth and reach of B.C.’s contact tracing teams.
Contact tracers have been hired, transferred and trained as quickly as possible to keep up with the current surge of novel coronavirus infections, particularly in the Fraser Health region where about 70 per cent of the new cases are being identified. Public health officials have also pleaded with people to cooperate when they are contacted about their movements in likely exposure situations.
The number of “unknown” sources has been running at about 20 to 25 per cent in Fraser Health, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said, and reorganizing the reporting system has helped as the case numbers have taken off in November. Specialized teams have been assigned for workplaces, schools and health care facilities, where people are exposed in the community and then go to work or school. And test results are now being transmitted by automated text message.
“I wouldn’t say we’re losing but we’re on the edge for sure,” Henry said at a briefing for reporters in Victoria Nov. 25. “Contact tracing is something where we need to spend time with people. We’ve automated some things including the automated response so people are now getting their test results, whether positive or negative, by text with information about what to do and how to start the process of determining who they had contact with so when they are contacted, that can speed it up and there’s an online form we’re putting in place for that as well.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the original goal of adding 500 contact tracers has been revised to 1,200, and retired health care staff are stepping up to help keep up with demand. The return of the province-wide essential-only travel advisory is showing up, as people limit their movements and social contacts in a bid to get infections down before the Christmas season.
“COVID-19 everywhere in the world, the second wave is incredibly tough, and regardless of the question of resources and on top of it, we need everyone to be all-in,” Dix said. “In the last week in terms of activity in the province we’ve seen a decline in ferry traffic and other things that show how committed people are.”