Hamilton public health resumes full contact tracing, but not race-based data collection

Hamilton Public Health Services has resumed full contact tracing and management in the city now that COVID-19's spread has slowed. But it has yet to restart its data collection of who the pandemic has hit hardest.

No new vaccines have been administered for 2 days as Hamilton adjusts to province's schedule

A group of four people with masks on walk down James Street in Hamilton last year. The public health unit says COVID-19 cases are dropping, but are still too high to keep track of who's most affected. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Hamilton Public Health Services has resumed full contact tracing and management in the city now that COVID-19 is spreading slower. But it has yet to restart its data collection of who the pandemic has hit hardest because of fears another spike could come.

A month ago, the rate of infection was too high for public health to handle, forcing them to shed some of its effort to track down every new case.

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, the city's medical officer of health, said doing so undoubtedly affected public health's ability to support people and have accurate data.

"We're not able to contact people in as timely a way, educate them, help to get them supports. A lot of what is our case management staff do is to help people be able to stay home when they're either isolated or in quarantine," she said.

"From an information perspective ... when we're not able to keep up, we don't have the timeliness of information we would otherwise have."

A Hamilton COVID-19 contact tracer works in March 2020. The city has returned to tracing every case after being overwhelmed by the second wave. (Submitted by City of Hamilton)

But at the last board of health meeting in January, Richardson said public health also couldn't continue race-based data collection.

Previous data revealed the most likely person to get COVID-19 in Hamilton is a health-care worker or a woman of colour who lives with between two and five people in low-income housing. Another report showed lower income residents and a disproportionately larger number of people of colour work unstable jobs with low wages or face discrimination.

Anti-racism advocates also raised concerns about the paused data collection, saying it could affect public health's ability to help equity-seeking communities.

Now, Richardson says public health has discussed restarting the data collection, but says cases are still too high.

"If we are at a point where we may see cases go back up, I don't know if we want to start for a day or two and then have an inability to do that. That's something over the next little while we'll look at and make decisions about when we're able to restart," she said.

"The reality is we know a lot of this information from case data collection we've already done .... that's why supports are put in place. That's why as we're reaching out with our vaccine strategy, we're reaching out to these communities to ask them how we can help them understand about the vaccine, to understand how we can support them to be vaccinated because we know getting that vaccine out to them will be critical as well."

No new vaccines administered for 2 days straight

As of the end of day Tuesday, a total of 20,658 vaccines had been administered — 6,256 at mobile clinics and 14,402 at the fixed clinic at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS).

But that number hasn't changed since Sunday.

Jacqueline Durlov, a spokesperson for public health, said vaccination clinics have been stopping and starting to accommodate the new direction and timelines outlined by the province.

"The mobile clinics will begin again on Saturday with the remainder of the second dose for [long term care] homes and high-risk retirement homes," she said in an email. "And today, the fixed site clinic resumes to begin to complete the second dose for their clients who attended for first dose."

Staff at the fixed-site clinic vaccinate workers from long-term care and high-risk retirement homes, essential caregivers, and health-care workers from high-risk areas.

2 more lives lost in Hamilton

Hamilton Public Health Services is reporting two more deaths Wednesday of people who had COVID-19.

A person in their 60s and a person 80 or older died, according to the data. A total of 271 people who were diagnosed with the virus have died.

The city is reporting 29 new cases on Wednesday. There are 423 active cases, and there have been a total of 9,630 cases since March. The total number of resolved cases is 8,798.

Hamilton's weekly rate of new cases per 100,000 people continues to fall and is at 58, but Richardson has said that number is still too high.

Public health data shows the number of people who had COVID-19 and later died has spiked since last fall. (Hamilton Public Health Services)

There are 24 COVID-19 outbreaks after an outbreak at St. Matthew's Children's Centre was declared over. One staff member and one patron got infected.

But some outbreaks grew, including:

  • One more infected resident at Queen's Garden Long-Term Care Home.
  • Two more staff and one more patient infected in the E2 unit at Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre.

Brant awaiting colour-code designation on Friday

Brant County and Brantford expect to hear what stage they will be in if the stay-at-home order ends next week as planned.

Dr. Elizabeth Urbantke, acting medical officer of health at the Brant County Health Unit, said she's expecting a formal announcement at the end of the week.

"It cannot be stressed enough that this is not a re-opening or a 'return to normal.' It is essential to continue following public health and workplace safety measures, including staying at home as much as possible and not engaging in any social gatherings with people outside of your household," she said.

"Our community has worked hard to get to where we currently are. It's been a long, hard year for all of us, and time and time again we've proven to be resilient. We need to keep showing that resilience so we can continue to takes steps forward in our fight against this illness."

Brant County and Brantford expect to hear on Friday what restrictions they'll face after the stay-at-home order is lifted next week. (discoverbrantford.ca)

Brant and Brantford's have 23 active cases, according to data online. There was one new confirmed case in the last 24 hours.

There have been 1,383 cases since March and 12 deaths. There's no one currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

Brant's weekly rate of cases per 100,000 people is 21.61 as of Sunday. That's the level Richardson said she'd like to see Hamilton get to.

Urbantke added she wants public health to finish administering local vaccines.

"We expect that second-dose clinics for long-term care and retirement home residents will be completed by the end of next week. All others who received their first dose of vaccine are still on track to receive their second dose within the recommended time frame."

Some 2,933 vaccinations have been administered and 348 people have received two doses.

A total of 1,343 cases have been marked as resolved on Wednesday.

792 people fully vaccinated in Haldimand-Norfolk

As of Wednesday, 792 people are fully vaccinated in Haldimand and Norfolk counties, according to data online.

There have been 2,295 doses administered and the region got 2,925 doses from the province.

But COVID-19 is still in the community.

There's an outbreak at Rosa Flora Growers in Dunnville. The Haldimand-Norfolk Public Health Unit declared it on Wednesday. 

One worker has tested positive during the initial 14-day quarantine and is isolating, the health unit says. 

Haldimand and Norfolk counties are reporting three new cases of COVID-19 and 49 active cases.

There have been 1,375 cases throughout the pandemic. Of those, 1,283 are labelled as recovered.

The local public health unit has linked the virus to 38 deaths.

383 active cases in Halton

The number of COVID-19 cases in Halton rose by 31, for a total of 8,875 so far.

Data indicates 388 of those cases are active.

Four of the new cases were in Burlington, which has seen 2,319 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. There are 73 active cases in the city.

A total of 177 people across the region have died after being infected with the virus, 45 of them in Burlington.

No new deaths in Niagara

Niagara is reporting 26 new cases of COVID-19. The region has seen 8,252 cases over the course of the pandemic. That includes 535 people who have the virus right now.

A total of 353 deaths have been linked to the virus over the course of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, 7,364 cases are now marked as resolved.

There have been 7,202 doses of vaccine administered, 518 of which were new.

Six Nations

Six Nations of the Grand River has 53 active COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, Ohsweken Public Health says.

There have been 210 cases reported over the course of the pandemic and two deaths.

A total of 155 cases have been marked as resolved.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.