Manitoba

Province asks junior Crown attorneys, articling students to do contact tracing

The Manitoba government has asked junior Crown attorneys, justice support staff and articling students to agree to be redeployed to conduct contact tracing, CBC News has learned.

Meanwhile, retired nurse says she was turned away because of expiring licence

A health care professional speaking with an individual arriving at the COVID-19 testing site at the Town Centre in Brandon on Aug. 11, 2020. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The Manitoba government has asked junior Crown attorneys, justice support staff and articling students to agree to be redeployed to conduct contact tracing, CBC News has learned.

Sources say staff were asked to agree to volunteer to help with the province's pandemic response but details of what roles justice employees will be filling aren't entirely clear.

One source told CBC the redeployment will focus on contact tracing investigations and the secondment will last until at least January.

The province wouldn't say how many staff are being redeployed, when secondments start and if employees will be doing case investigations, contact notifications or follow-up. 

A justice spokesperson said provincial departments were asked if they had employees who could be redeployed. 

"As departments assess their work priorities and are able to have staff redeployed, they are added to the team working on the response and filling suitable roles. This is part of a government-wide response to the COVID-19 pandemic," the spokesperson wrote in an email.

The move comes as COVID-19 case investigations in Winnipeg continue to lag days behind positive test results, contrary to the premier's claim Manitoba has eliminated contact-tracing delays.

Nurse asks why she can't help

And it comes as a surprise to Wendy Graham, a retired licensed practical nurse who recently applied to be a contact tracer. 

Graham still has her licence and earlier this year was doing casual work at a personal care home in Winkler.

She said when she applied for a contact tracing job on Shared Health's website her application wasn't accepted because her licence expires at the end of November.

"I was just frustrated because it seemed ridiculous. It did not make logical sense, if you are so behind the contact tracing, why wouldn't you open that up to anybody who wants to apply for it?" Graham said in a phone interview from Miami, Man.

"I hear about it every night on the news, but you won't let me apply for it. Ridiculous, it's just another illogical thing."

Tracing should be within 24 hours: doc

Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician in Hamilton, Ont., said contact tracing investigations should start within 24 hours of someone getting a positive test result — not a delay of four days that CBC reported on Monday was still happening.

"If I'm positive, I get tested a couple of days into my symptoms or have probably already infected a few people. I get a result, and then four days later, my contacts know about it, they're probably positive and shedding already. And again, we've already missed, you know, a potential opportunity to intervene and quarantine people," he said.

Chagla applauded the government for dedicating more resources to contact tracing but said they can't be short term deployments. 

Dr. Zain Chagla said many countries that have had less restrictions than Canada have done a better job contact tracing. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

"When you open up again you're going to need those contact tracers to make sure that, you know, (if) things get out of control again, that you're able to navigate and deal with things very quickly."

The province has said in recent days it is ramping up its contact tracing ability.

It has brought in the Canadian Red Cross to help with COVID-19 case investigations and Health Minister Cameron Friesen said earlier this week 134 new workers were being added to do the job while 200 more from Statistics Canada were expected to be working in the next few weeks.

The extra help comes as Manitoba continues to be the worst among provinces per capita for having new cases of the virus. 

About the Author

​Austin Grabish landed his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. In 2019, he was on the ground in northern Manitoba covering the manhunt for B.C. fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, which attracted international attention. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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