Winnipeggers with positive COVID-19 test results report days-long lag in contact tracing
'They're not handling it. There has been no contact tracing,' says man who tested positive last week
Three Winnipeg men who have tested positive for COVID-19 say they've lost faith in the province's ability to do contact tracing properly.
The first, who found out he tested positive last Wednesday, says he still hasn't been asked to provide his close contacts and hasn't had any follow up from public health.
"They're not handling it. There has been no contact tracing," Aaron Lund, 46, said in an interview over Zoom Monday.
"With this being at the forefront of everything you see in the news these days, I guess maybe I had an expectation that there was more of a priority to it."
He said when a public health nurse called him last Wednesday — a day after he got tested — she told him to write down everyone he had been in contact with a week prior and be prepared to share that information in a follow-up call.
Lund said he is still struggling with a cough and has no smell. But his initial symptoms of fatigue, cold sweats and fever are gone. "It's the weirdest thing," he said.
The second man, who got a call on Oct. 13 informing him he had tested positive, said he wasn't asked to provide contact tracing information until Monday — six days after a doctor told him he had the coronavirus.
"That's a long time later to be doing contact tracing. I got a phone call last Tuesday and they could have given me my reference number [for the COVID Alert app] and they just didn't," said Jordan, a pseudonym for the man who CBC News has agreed not to identify to protect his private health information.
Jordan said he was surprised when a doctor called him on Oct. 13 but didn't ask him to provide names of people he'd recently been around for contact tracing.
- Got a tip about contact tracing to share? Contact CBC reporter Austin Grabish.
Then his phone rang again on Oct. 18. It was someone calling from a blocked number to tell him he had tested positive — something he already knew.
"It kind of put some fear in me because you kind of lose hope that they know what's going on, because they had no idea that they had contacted me prior, and that makes me think — what else are they letting slip through the cracks?"
WATCH | Man living with COVID-19 talks about contact tracing frustration:
Jordan said the fact the health staffer on the other end of the phone once again didn't ask for his recent contacts — or provide him with a code to enter in the federal government's COVID Alert app — added to his fear.
He informed everyone he had been around, but wonders about others he had encounters with getting coffee, for example.
Tracing needs to be quicker: Dr. Roussin
On Monday, while Jordan was speaking with CBC News, his phone rang again.
The public health nurse appeared to have little to no information about Jordan's case and asked if someone had completed a contact tracing investigation. He told her he had already received two calls from public health but no contact tracing was done.
She replied "I apologize for that. We're trying a new system because we're backlogged." The nurse then completed the contact tracing.
After this story was first published Tuesday, a third man told CBC News he had tested positive for the virus and still hadn't been asked for his contacts.
Jotham Koslowsky, like the other two men, doesn't know how he got COVID-19.
He said he contacted the public health COVID-19 call centre last Friday because he still didn't have the result of his Oct. 11 test. A nurse told him his file may have been lost, and 45 minutes later he got a call saying he was positive.
"As soon as they confirmed that it was positive, we said … 'Our kids are at school right now. What should we do?' They said, 'Call the school, get them out of school.'"
Manitoba Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin told reporters Monday the province isn't using a new system for contact tracing.
He said there is a strain on contact tracing because of rising numbers in Winnipeg.
And while he said he wasn't aware of Jordan's case, he said he shouldn't have had to wait as long as he did.
"Definitely that's not our goal. We need to be contacting people, having them advise us of their contacts, getting contact notification much quicker than that," Roussin said.
Red Cross to help with contact tracing
Roussin couldn't say on Monday if the COVID Alert app, which went live in Manitoba on Oct. 1, has been successfully used or not in the province by someone who's tested positive.
The public health nurse on the phone told Jordan because he's been in isolation for 10 days, he no longer needs to quarantine despite the fact he still doesn't have his sense of smell or taste back.
Even though Jordan's been cleared to end his self-isolation, he doesn't plan to leave his house anytime soon and isn't sure when he'll return to work.
"There's a big stigma with this. Everybody knows through my work that I've got COVID because a lot of things got shut down, and people had to stay home while they got tested and everything like that, and they know where it came from and it's going to be hard for them to accept me back into those places."
Manitoba's Opposition NDP is calling for the hiring of more contact tracers.
The party said in a statement Monday it has freedom of information documents that show during August, four health authorities outside Winnipeg employed 140 public health workers to do COVID-19 contact tracing.
Health Minister Cameron Friesen said in a statement the province has been increasing COVID testing capacity and has selected the Red Cross to provide additional contact tracing services.
"While the opposition continues to stoke fear, our government will continue to focus on protecting Manitobans."
This story was possible in part thanks to Manitobans who filled out CBC's survey about people who've tested positive for COVID-19. In it, we asked Manitobans to share how their diagnosis impacted their life.
- An earlier version of this story quoted Dr. Brent Roussin as saying the median time between a person's positive test for COVID-19 and when they are phoned for contact tracing is 60 hours. In fact, a government spokesperson later said that Roussin was referring to the lab testing turnaround time, not contact tracing.Oct 20, 2020 7:54 PM CT