Saskatoon

SHA ramping up contact tracing as COVID-19 case numbers rise

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says it is ramping up its resources for COVID-19 contact tracing to cope with demand as case numbers rise.

Some people who tested positive had as many as 200 contacts in days before result

Nineteen more staff are being dedicated to contact tracing, says SHA chief executive Scott Livingstone. (NIAID Integrated Research Facility/Reuters)

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says it is ramping up its resources for COVID-19 contact tracing to cope with demand as case numbers rise.

Some people who tested positive to the virus had as many as 200 contacts to trace, said chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab in an interview last week.

"That's really unacceptable. How can you have 200 contacts in this time?" he said. 

SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said Tuesday that 19 more workers are being assigned to contact tracing in order to handle a "much higher" number of cases daily, if required. 

"With the surge in cases that has been a true test on the lab and contact tracing but in both areas … we're expanding staff on an ongoing basis," said SHA chief executive Scott Livingstone during a news conference in Regina on Tuesday.

The number of new cases reported daily has ranged from around 50 to around 80 for the past 10 days.  

Shahab said Tuesday that people who do not limit their contact make contact tracing more complex.   

"We all need to look at, if I was to become a case today, how many people would I have to name as a close contact in the past few days?" he said. 

"I should not have to name more than four or five."

Contact tracing efforts

The SHA says it currently has more than 370 staff trained for contact tracing efforts.

"It's important to note that the number of staff members dedicated to that work at any given time depends on demand,"  said Dr. Johnmark Opondo, SHA medical health officer, in a statement.

"In order to continue to meet demand in a sustainable way, we are developing surge capacity supports internally and externally to support daily increases in positive cases, as well as ensuring we are responding to negative cases in a timely way."

Opondo says the SHA works together with teams across the province to support localized area surges.

Nursing students help with test result call backs

The health authority is also receiving assistance from the University of Saskatchewan College of Nursing to advise people who get negative test results. 

Brendan Neudorf, one of the fourth-year nursing students who helped set up the callback centre, said the group had one week to arrange it.

"We also had to learn from the SHA what to say during the calls," said Neudorf. 

"We had to consider the health literacy of the people we're calling, the confidentiality of their health information, and be ready to talk about disease prevention, specifically related to COVID-19."

The students will work at the Negative COVID Callback Centre (NCCC) Monday to Wednesday until mid-December. 

The number of test results being processed per day in Saskatchewan has ranged from around 1,900 to around 3,400 since last Tuesday.


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