Nfld. & Labrador

Medical, nursing students offer to help 'detective work' of contact tracing

An influx of students could help double the capacity for contact tracing almost immediately, says Health Minister John Haggie.

Influx of students could double capacity for contact tracing overnight, says health minister

Memorial University's medical and nursing students could help double the capacity for contact tracing almost immediately, says Health Minister John Haggie. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

A small army of students could soon help bolster the province's efforts to trace a pandemic that's growing exponentially in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Health Minister John Haggie said there's been an offer from about 100 medical students in the province to jump in and start contact tracing.

He said they are also speaking with the nursing faculty at Memorial University about using fourth-year nursing students who were a few weeks away from graduation when the school year was dashed by COVID-19.

"We have a pool of skilled and educated people who we could put into that and maybe even double the capacity almost overnight," Haggie said. "We're working through some of the logistics of that."

Haggie said the boost in the number of confirmed cases in the province is due in large part to successful contact tracing.

More than 40 cases stemmed from one place — Caul's Funeral Home in St. John's.

Haggie said they are running into problems tracing more, since many people who attended the funeral home between March 15 and March 17 didn't know everyone who attended the services the same time they did.

"This is detective work," Haggie said. "[But] conventional contact tracing is running into the issue of 'Well, I'm not sure who I spent two hours with because I've never seen them before.'"

What is contact tracing?

With a larger team, they could get through more people faster.

Contact tracing involves branching out from a confirmed case and finding everyone who could have come in contact with the virus.

"It spreads out. It's like ripples in a pond. You ask the questions that are outlined and you move out to the next layer of contacts and you ask those questions, looking for symptoms as you go," Haggie said.

"At some point there is an evidence-based cutoff where you've not found any people who are symptomatic and the trail ends there."

Haggie says the province is working out logistics on getting the students to help with contact tracing. (File photo) (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Testing has ramped up in the province in the last few days.

Haggie said the population is in the midst of a second spike in influenza this year, so health authorities are now checking for COVID-19 with the same swab used for a flu test.

Western Health opened two more testing sites on Thursday. They are appointment-based, flu assessment and treatment clinics at the Corner Brook Civic Centre Studio and at the Bay St George Medical Clinic.

The aim is to divert anyone with respiratory symptoms away from hospitals.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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