As Sask. Health Authority struggles with contact tracing demand, residents urged to step up

·3 min read
CBC

The Saskatchewan Health Authority's contact tracing system is under a lot of strain. And that means some people who test positive for COVID-19 say they are not getting a contact tracing call, period.

According to the SHA, a single positive case creates hours of work for contact tracers over the two-week time period.

As cases in Saskatchewan continue to rise, it becomes harder and harder for the health authority to keep up, according to the province.

One Regina mother experienced that strain herself recently.

"It was an unusually quiet COVID evening when I got a phone call from the principal of my son's school [saying] that he was deemed a close contact of someone in the class who had tested positive for COVID," said Tracy Thompson.

She says she was in shock when she got the news. Then she realized her son, Rhett, was at hockey practice at that very moment.

"I called my husband and was like, 'You need to get our son off of the ice stat, because he's deemed a close contact and we need to figure out what this looks like,'" Thompson said.

Thompson's son tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 25. First, she heard from the doctor that had tested Rhett, then she heard from the SHA.

"They said, 'Someone will call you to get all the pertinent information about contact tracing.' That hasn't happened."

After the doctor that tested Rhett called to check in about his mild symptoms two days later, Thompson was told to take contact tracing matters into her own hands.

"I think [the health authority] is so overwhelmed with the amount of people that they're having to try and contact trace, they're just not getting there."

According to the province, a close contact is anyone you have been within the two metres of for 15 minutes or more.

The health authority recently said that close contacts should be limited to members of your immediate household and those you eat with, hug and see without a mask.

Thompson says she worries that there is not enough communication from the provincial government about contact tracing.

"All of [Rhett's] hockey team walked around school Monday to Friday potentially positive," she said.

"Give us clear direction so we can do it ourselves. I am a very responsible adult. I am capable and I did my own contact tracing on Friday," said Thompson.

"We are for the most part a clever society. We can be able to help the government out because they're working at max capacity just like everybody else."

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is recruiting more contact tracers, including retirees, in anticipation of a potential surge in cases.

But in the meantime, medical professionals are urging the public to be vigilant in tracking who they come in contact with, just in case they have to make contact tracing calls themselves.

Dr. Dennis Kendel, a former Saskatchewan physician and current health policy consultant, says people should always prepare to do do their own contact tracing.

"It's optimally done by somebody with professional skills. But if there is delay in that, then you need to recall and actually sit down and write down the names of everybody you think you may have been in contact with during the period that you might have been infectious," said Kendel.

Health professionals are hoping as close contact numbers go down, contact tracing efforts will be more easily carried out by professionals.

"Have an awareness, a mindfulness of what sorts of contacts may put other people at risk. And if it's not essential, really try to avoid those contacts," Kendel said.