British Columbia·Video

B.C. to hire 500 more health-care workers to increase COVID-19 contact tracing

B.C. will temporarily hire 500 more health-care professionals to work as contact tracers for COVID-19, government officials announced Wednesday.

Announcement comes as numbers continue to surge

Premier John Horgan and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry give an update on COVID-19 in B.C. on Wednesday. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

B.C. will temporarily hire 500 more health-care professionals to work as contact tracers for COVID-19, government officials announced Wednesday.

Premier John Horgan made the announcement alongside Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, explaining that public health teams usually follow up on the close connections of people who've tested positive for the virus, but more resources are needed during this pandemic.

Henry said the new positions are an important part of preventing disease transmission. They allow health officials to make sure that everyone who has been exposed to the virus is in isolation and monitoring themselves for symptoms.

"This is bread and butter work for public health," she said.

Recruiting for the 500 positions will be done by public health authorities, and teams will be ready to deploy across the province if needed.

"This allows us now to get more people trained up to do this really important work, as we continue through the progression of our pandemic," Henry said.

The new contact tracers are expected to begin work in September and will be employed until at least the end of March 2021.

The news comes as new COVID-19 infections continue to surge. On Tuesday, health officials announced that another 46 cases had been confirmed, bringing the total number of cases to date to 4,111, including 472 that are still active.

A total of 195 people have died of the disease in B.C.

Good behaviour 'not consistent'

Henry said Wednesday that despite the increasing number of cases, B.C. is still "holding our own" on contact tracing, managing to reach 98 per cent of the contacts of each new positive case.

Nonetheless, Horgan said he's concerned about the rising number of cases among young people, particularly those connected to large parties.

"As we've seen over the past number of weeks, the good behaviour, the common sense of British Columbians is not consistent across the board," he said.

Horgan said he hopes B.C. can continue to enforce public health orders mainly through warnings but will escalate penalties with those who continue to flaunt the rules.

He also joked that it might be time to "call in Deadpool," making a plea for Vancouver-raised movie star Ryan Reynolds — along with comedian Seth Rogen — to publicly encourage young people to avoid large gatherings. 

Watch |  B.C.'s premier asks for superhero help in the fight against COVID-19: "This is a call out to Deadpool right now. Ryan we need your help up here."

Premier John Horgan asks Ryan Reynolds, Seth Rogen for help with COVID-19 messaging

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B.C.'s premier puts out a call out to Deadpool star to help encourage young people to avoid large gatherings.

Meanwhile, Horgan and Henry both addressed calls from some corners for a mask mandate in public spaces, saying they have no plans to make face coverings compulsory.

"We don't want people to believe that masks will be an invincibility shield for them," Horgan said.

Henry stressed again that masks are not something that can prevent transmission on their own, but she's encouraged to see them become increasingly "normalized" in communities.

Earlier Wednesday, Education Minister Rob Fleming released details of a phased plan for the return to school in September.

School staff will arrive on Sept. 8 to receive instructions on plans to prevent transmission of COVID-19 and begin adjusting to the new reality. Students are expected to return for orientation by Sept. 10.