Discretion, compassion part of being a COVID-19 contact tracer during 3rd wave

·2 min read
Katherine Malec is a public health nurse and health protection manager for Nova Scotia's COVID-19 response team. She is one of 148 people working to help investigate COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia. (Submitted by Brendan Elliot/Nova Scotia Health - image credit)
Katherine Malec is a public health nurse and health protection manager for Nova Scotia's COVID-19 response team. She is one of 148 people working to help investigate COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia. (Submitted by Brendan Elliot/Nova Scotia Health - image credit)

Contact tracing has been an essential part of preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, especially during the third wave.

Since April 1, there have been more than 3,000 positive cases of COVID-19, which is more than half of all cases recorded in Nova Scotia since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Each case requires contact tracing.

"It's definitely been a busier time than in recent months," Katherine Malec, a public health nurse and health protection manager for Nova Scotia's COVID-19 response team, told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Monday.

"[It's] definitely an unprecedented time currently with our public health COVID response."

Malec is just one of 148 registered nurses who are trained in contact tracing and risk assessment.

Call follows positive test

She said contact tracing begins when someone tests positive for COVID-19.

People who test positive can generally expect a phone call with a diagnosis between 8 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. daily.

"Some people may be anticipating that and may be waiting for our call," she said, adding that if someone doesn't answer, Public Health will also send a text or email with the diagnosis.

"In other times, it can be met with quite a bit of shock and concern, particularly in those instances when people may be asymptomatic ... or weren't aware that they were in close contact with somebody with COVID-19."

Malec said those situations require compassion, support and understanding by the nurse on the phone.

"We usually allow people the opportunity to process that information and then we would begin our case in contact investigation, which is really an interview over the phone," she said.

The nurse explains isolation and testing requirements, and sets the individual up with supportive services through Public Health.

'We would never name names'

Contact tracers then ask the individual where they've been, starting about 48 hours before the onset of symptoms, which sometimes requires going through bank records or location data on their phone.

"It's really handy, especially in these times, that people keep a mental note or jot down where they have been ... and keep those receipts when they've gone out for their essential items," Malec said.

Malec said some people can be reluctant to share where they have been, but it's important to note that contact tracing is fully confidential.

"We would never name names," she said.

Malec said since Nova Scotia implemented a provincewide lockdown at the end of April, she has seen a decrease in close contacts.

She hopes that trend will continue and encourages all Nova Scotians to follow the public health measures.

"How people can help is really staying home and abiding by the public health guidelines and restrictions, and we will see us come out the other side," she said.

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