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Rise in COVID-19 cases, contacts slowing down contact tracing in Alberta

The time to contact trace one positive case in Alberta is on the rise.
The time to contact trace one positive case in Alberta is on the rise. Global News

The time it takes to contact trace one positive case of COVID-19 in Alberta is on the rise.

The process of contact tracing involves phoning a positive case, identifying close contacts and following up with those individuals.

Read more: How does COVID-19 contact tracing work? Alberta doctor explains

The hope is quick communication with a confirmed case and their close contacts will help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Previously, it took about six-and-a-half hours to contact trace a confirmed case, according to Dr. Kristin Klein, medical officer of health with the communicable disease control team at Alberta Health Services.

But Klein said with rising case numbers in the province and the number of close contacts per case increasing, it can now sometimes take several days.

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“At one point, each individual case might have six contacts, on average. Now that number is definitely closer to 15. I think that [there’s] a couple reasons, there’s definitely more things opening up, people are being exposed to more different people and doing a lot more than they were a few months ago,” Klein said.

Read more: ‘This is not something to take lightly:’ Hinshaw pleads for better choices as Alberta’s COVID-19 cases climbs by 114

“It definitely adds a lot of workload for the [communicable disease control] team. We have our contact tracers call each of those contacts and provide some advice and ask questions about how they’re doing and recommend testing. So every additional contact that someone has is another phone call.”

The goal is to contact trace a case within 24 hours, but Klein said there are sometimes challenges meeting that target.

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“For example, if there’s a public place or business involved, sometimes we have to work through OHS [Occupational Health and Safety] to do some of that work at the worksite to figure out who was there. Sometimes people have to go away and think about who they were around,” she said.

“What helps our team is when people keep that circle small and they can easily tell us who they’ve been around.”

Click to play video '‘This needs to be a wakeup call’: Hinshaw issues warning to Albertans amid rising number of COVID-19 cases' ‘This needs to be a wakeup call’: Hinshaw issues warning to Albertans amid rising number of COVID-19 cases
‘This needs to be a wakeup call’: Hinshaw issues warning to Albertans amid rising number of COVID-19 cases

Klein is urging Albertans to limit the number of people they can come into close contact with and to continue to follow public health guidance, such as physical distancing.

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On Thursday, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health raised concerns about the recent spike in cases in the province.

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On July 9, there were 584 active cases of COVID-19 across Alberta. On Thursday, there were 1,293 active cases.

“This needs to be a wake-up call,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said. “I am very concerned by these numbers.”

Contact tracers are working from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, and Klein said an additional 75 contact tracers have been brought on to assist with the work.