Ottawa

Woman with COVID-19 still waiting for contact-tracing call

A University of Ottawa student who has been sick with COVID-19 for over a week says no public health officials have contacted her for contact tracing.

U of O student tested positive over a week ago

Kate Brown says after learning her result she let all her friends know. She prepared a list for Ottawa Public Health but they never called and she feels if she hadn’t notified people herself there may have been wider community spread. 1:16

A University of Ottawa student who has been sick with COVID-19 for over a week says no public health officials have contacted her to find out where she was and who she spent time with.

Kate Brown, a second-year health sciences student, said part of her problem may be that her lab results were initially sent by mistake to the public health unit where her parents live, not Ottawa's.

Either way, she said no one from Region of Waterloo Public Health or Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has followed up with her to get contact information for the people she's had close contact with or to identify the places she visited while she could have been contagious.

"I just think it's irresponsible that they aren't really doing what they're supposed to be doing," Brown said in an interview as she self-isolated in her student residence. 

"If I didn't let my friends know or let the restaurants know, there could have been a way bigger spread of it."

Ottawa Public Health says its ability to contact people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and their close contacts in a timely manner has been impacted by the recent surge in new cases. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Without a call from public health, Brown acted as her own contact tracer.

She disclosed her positive result to the friends she had recent close contact with and the restaurants she had visited.

"If [my friends] didn't know, I assume they probably would have just carried on going to the grocery store, going to the mall or meeting up with other friends to study," said Brown. 

Brown said nine of her friends have since tested negative for COVID-19 while at least one other is awaiting her results.

Contact tracing strained

Ottawa Public Health said in an emailed statement that the high number of cases, along with the large number of contacts emerging from school exposures, has affected its ability to contact people in a timely manner.

"We are currently prioritizing contacting school-aged children and vulnerable people living in long-term care homes and retirement homes," the statement said. 

"If contact information is missing on any lab results, OPH needs to investigate to find other means of contacting the individual, all of which can take time. And, there can be a lag time from when a patient finds out they are positive and when OPH receives the lab report."

WATCH | Provincewide contact tracing challenges:

Ontario has put a lot of effort into ramping up its COVID-19 testing, but experts say contact tracing is lagging woefully behind and it may be too late to fix the problem. 2:01

According to OPH data, contact tracers in the past week successfully contacted only 57 per cent of people who tested positive within 24 hours of receiving their lab results, well below its 90 per cent standard.

Contact tracers have reached 80 per cent of close contacts within 24 hours of learning their identities.

On Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott touted their government's plan to add 1,000 more people to manage cases and trace their contacts.

"With the increasing volumes that we're receiving of people being tested, the contact tracing has to increase as well," Elliott said.

"We have put a billion dollars into expanding both the testing [and] lab facilities, as well as the contact management."

Kate Brown says she got a call from the Ottawa Hospital confirming she had COVID-19 last week. But since then she says she didn't get a call from Ottawa Public Health for contact tracing. 10:36

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