Province unveils automated calling system

·4 min read

Amid heartfelt condolences to another 12 families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 and another 471 new cases announced, the province’s chief public health officer spoke of the rollout of an outbound automated calling system in the coming days.

"Today, we’re announcing Manitoba is introducing additional steps to improve case and contact investigations," Dr. Brent Roussin said.

"This will expand on current methods for case and contact monitoring."

In the first phase of the automated system, the calls will be used to determine if active cases can be shifted to the recovered category.

The automated system will ask as questions, and the person receiving the call can press a key and request a callback from public health. If the case or contact is at the end of the monitoring period, and has no further questions, the case or contact can be marked as recovered.

The second phase of system will be used to contact cases and related contacts.

"This allows us to be more responsive and reach people sooner," Roussin said.

"Individuals will continue to receive calls from public health officials. The combined automated calls and the current monitoring process will be more efficient and effective in redirecting resources."

Roussin said other provinces are safely using this method of communication. The system will help Manitobans quickly and efficiently receive information they need to make the informed decisions. Other provinces were able to make progress through the use of automated calls that offer information about testing, treatment and next steps.

"We believe that this similar system will be a valuable tool for our fight against COVID-19," he said.

"People will be asked important information about testing, self-isolation and other public health guidelines. Then a question-and-answer format with answers provided via a keypad on the phone."

Roussin advised Manitobans they will never be asked for personal health information or other 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.

Looking ahead to the next official holiday, the province has not made any specific decisions regarding a possible two-week extension to the usual school Christmas break.

"We’re at the biggest restrictions we’ve had to date. Although we’re not seeing the test positivity or case numbers climb over the last bit, we’re not seeing the numbers diminish as we would like," Roussin said.

"We are looking at taking advantage of that natural break over the holidays and possibly extending that."

He stressed again, as he does during most daily COVID-19 updates, that officials are not seeing high amounts of transmission within the schools.

"It’s more that we don’t want to go into the holiday season with a very high test positivity rate, where we know it’s going to be very challenging to limit gatherings. It’s something we’re definitely looking at right now. We haven’t landed anywhere. Hopefully, we’ll have some more definitive news on that shortly."

But even before the holiday, another important date is likely marked on many a calendar: Dec. 11, the expiry of the current critical level red public health orders. Looking ahead, what is the plan?

"When, and it is a when, we will be able to lessen these restrictions … We don’t know exactly when that will be, but, we will be loosening these restrictions at some point. We’re going to have to do it in a very cautious manner. Much like we did in the spring and early summer, in a phased approach, and follow our numbers quite closely," Roussin said.

He said the prerequisites are: diminished test positivity, diminished case numbers and a clear relief of the strain on the health-care system.

"Don’t have any specifics to look at. It’s something we’re always considering — where we would go first. At this point, we have to focus on getting these numbers down," he said.

Regardless of what mid-December brings, Manitobans will need to adjust to the idea Christmas will not be the same in 2020.

"We’re a bit of a ways away from the holiday season. It’s quite possible that we could see a good trend by then, where we might be able to provide different advice," Roussin said.

"If it’s advice that people are going to rely on, and they need it right now, that advice is to not gather outside of your household, to keep those gatherings as minimal as possible. Do look for alternative ways to celebrate, such as virtually. But we’re really going to try to get these numbers down to see if we can have some remnants of the holiday season outside of our household."

Michèle LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun