Manitoba builds its contact-tracing team while backlog lingers

The Manitoba government is adding to its roster of contact-tracers, while existing staff are still struggling to reach people who may have been exposed to the virus quickly.

134 new workers to help with contact tracing starting this week, Health Minister Cameron Friesen says

Contact tracing is starting two to five days after a COVID-19 test comes back positive, the Manitoba Nurses Union says. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The Manitoba government is adding to its roster of contact-tracers, while existing staff are still struggling to reach people who may have been exposed to the virus quickly.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen told the provincial legislature Monday that 134 new callers are joining the team in the next three days.

He added 200 workers from Statistics Canada are coming on board within a few weeks.

"It's just another set of examples about how we're adding the capacity needed to keep Manitoba safe," Friesen said in question period.

Friesen repeated an assertion Monday that Manitoba was no longer reporting any contact tracing delays, as Premier Brian Pallister told CBC's Rosemary Barton during an interview that aired Sunday.

Four-day backlog in Winnipeg

But CBC News has learned the backlog remains.

On Monday, public health nurses in Winnipeg started case investigations for patients whose tests came back positive on Thursday. That is a four-day delay. 

The Manitoba Nurses Union backs this up, stating case investigations are taking two to five days to start, on average.

The lag involves the time it takes for test results to get handed over to public health nurses.

At that point, Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer, said there is only a one-day delay or none at all.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer, said most case investigations are starting within a day of getting notified. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

"Almost all cases are being reached within 24 hours of the notification of the positive to public health and some proportion of those, just depending on the number of case and the time of day it comes in, are carried over to the next day," he said.

At question period, Friesen didn't answer NDP MP Uzoma Asagwara's repeated inquires on the number of close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case who are contacted within 24 hours. 

The province wants the vast majority of close contacts to be reached within that time span. 

Another record-breaking count of 546 cases in a single day shows Manitoba is still struggling to contain the virus, Asagwara said.

"Clearly, there's a breakdown in our ability to trace and control the spread of this virus, either through an inadequate amount of testing, or contact tracing is just not keeping up with the surge," they said. 

Opposition leaders call out delays

Opposition leaders said the government doesn't deserve a pat on the back. It takes a week, sometimes longer, for close contacts to be informed

"One of the things that led to the coronavirus spiraling out of control is that we didn't have enough testing and we didn't have enough contact tracing," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

If that preparatory work happened in the summer, Kinew said, "we would have been able to be much more targeted with our interventions rather than relying on this big lockdown that we're all going through right now."

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the province's case count might be misleading if potential exposures are not informed on time, or at all. 

"We know from schools and we know from all sorts of people that there's a huge delay in the way that test results are being reported," he said. "It's an incredibly serious situation." 

As of last week, the province reported daily staffing numbers of 170 employers helping with case investigations, 80 people reaching close contacts and 43 workers checking on those who are self-isolating.

Manitoba builds its contact-tracing team but backlog remains

CBC News Manitoba

3 months ago
The Manitoba government is adding to its roster of contact-tracers, while existing staff are still struggling to reach people who may have been exposed to the virus quickly. 1:46

About the Author

Ian Froese


Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email:

With files from Bartley Kives


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