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Province can’t pinpoint number of contact tracers

Unclear if it tapped into pool of volunteers

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After hiring the Red Cross to trace close contacts of Manitobans infected with COVID-19, the provincial government still hasn't revealed how many contact tracers are currently working in the province. It remains unclear whether the province tapped into hundreds of local volunteers who signed up in the spring to do contact tracing and data collection.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/10/2020 (827 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After hiring the Red Cross to trace close contacts of Manitobans infected with COVID-19, the provincial government still hasn’t revealed how many contact tracers are currently working in the province. It remains unclear whether the province tapped into hundreds of local volunteers who signed up in the spring to do contact tracing and data collection.

A concrete number of provincial contact tracers is not available, a provincial spokeswoman stated in response to repeated inquiries from the Free Press this week. Currently, public health officials do contract tracing on top of their regular duties, but the province couldn’t give the number of workers or explain their usual duties.

“This number varies depending on a number of factors, including the number of cases to be traced and available staff. In addition, staff from one region might be assigned to work with a different region to balance out caseloads,” the statement said.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle The provincial government announced it had signed a contract with the Red Cross to provide contact tracers for Manitoba.

Meanwhile, 1,153 Manitobans signed up in the spring to be part of a national volunteer program. In April, an inventory of volunteers was created for provinces and territories to use on work such as contact tracing and data collection.

The federal government said it doesn’t know if Manitoba or any other province used the volunteers.

A spokeswoman for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada said nine provincial and territorial governments took referrals for volunteers from the now-shuttered federal program, but didn’t report back to Ottawa afterward. The Canadian Red Cross used the volunteer inventory “extensively” in its recruitment efforts, the spokeswoman said.

On Friday, Manitoba Health officials didn’t answer questions about whether it used the volunteer inventory.

The province said it anticipates “daily improvements” to Manitoba’s contact-tracing capacity after hiring more staff and bringing on more volunteers at the provincial COVID-19 call centre.

Last week, the provincial government announced it had signed a contract with the Red Cross. The agency is in the process of hiring more than 50 contact tracers for Manitoba who will work remotely. The province hasn’t released the value of the contract.

“We are in discussions with the Canadian Red Cross and Statistics Canada to determine the scope of contact-tracing assistance they can provide and how many additional staff they are able to offer. We are also reviewing our current workforce needs for contact tracing,” the provincial statement said.

Contact tracing in Manitoba includes identifying close contacts of people who have come down with COVID-19, notifying contacts about their exposure, giving them self-isolation instructions and calling people who’ve tested positive, as well as their close contacts, during their isolation period to review their symptoms.

— with files from Dylan Robertson

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @thatkatiemay

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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