Alberta aims to have 1,600 contact tracers by end of 2020 as COVID-19 cases surge

Alberta Health Services is looking for even more contact tracers than previously announced, as the number of new COVID-19 cases soars higher almost each day.

The province is aiming to have close to 1,600 contact tracers by the end of 2020, the health authority told Global News Friday. That’s several hundred more than it said it was aiming for a little more than a month ago.

Read more: Dr. Hinshaw to provide update on Alberta COVID-19 situation Friday

The increase in contact tracers comes as Alberta faces a surge of COVID-19 cases: the province has consistently been setting records for daily case numbers.

There were another 1,854 new cases on Thursday, bringing the province-wide total number of active cases to 17,743. There were 511 Albertans in hospital — 97 of whom were in ICU — and 14 more deaths.

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AHS said it had 50 contact tracers before the coronavirus pandemic began. More people were hired in the spring and by July, there were roughly 300 contact tracers.

As of late October, AHS said there were close to 800 contact tracers and it was in the process of hiring approximately 380 staff to bring the total number to more than 1,100.

The process of contact tracing involves phoning a positive case, identifying close contacts and following up with those individuals in the hopes of limiting further transmission.

Read more: AHS actively recruiting more contact tracers as COVID-19 cases in Alberta climb

Alberta has faced challenges with contact tracing in recent months, as daily case numbers have surged.

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Early in the pandemic, it took Alberta workers about six-and-a-half hours to contact trace a confirmed case, Dr. Kristin Klein, medical officer of health with the communicable disease control team at AHS, told Global News on July 24. The goal was 24 hours.

But as case numbers in the province and the number of close contacts per case rose, it took longer — sometimes several days.

On Nov. 5, AHS announced contact tracers would temporarily be shifted to focus their efforts on high-priority cases until more could be hired.

In the interim, people with COVID-19 who do not meet the high-priority classification “will be asked to notify their own contact of exposures and the need for them to self-isolate and get tested,” chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at the time.

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Read more: Alberta to address contact tracing delays with new online portal

Positive cases can now use an online portal to send a text message to their close contacts as opposed to having a contact tracer make those calls.

The province is also no longer conducting contact tracing for positive cases who have already spent 10 days in isolation.

On November 23, Hinsaw said there was a massive backlog when it came to contact tracing and said she had instructed contact tracers to work backwards through their caseloads to deal with the most recent cases first.

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Coronavirus: Alberta updates contact tracing procedure as COVID-19 spike leads to backlog – Nov 23, 2020

“We are rapidly increasing our response to the unprecedented volume of COVID-19 cases in the province,” said AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said Friday.

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“We are currently in the process of going through the offer process, onboarding, and scheduling orientation for more than 500 additional staff, and a small group have started working already in contact tracing.”

AHS said the additional contact tracers means there will soon be 36 contact tracers per 100,000 people.

— With files from Adam MacVicar and Emily Mertz, Global News

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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