The province says they will give around 200 extra staff to Toronto Public Health (TPH) after the health unit said it is downsizing its contact following endeavours because of the rapid rise of COVID-19 cases.
On Sunday night, the premier’s office said additional staff will be sent to TPH in the following month, starting with onboarding on Monday.
“These staff will quickly enable TPH to connect with cases, and furthermore give contact tracing help in the coming weeks,” a spokesperson from the Ministry of Health said.
Due to soaring infections in Toronto, TPH halted contact tracing of close contacts of confirmed cases outside of outbreaks in congregate settings like schools, long-term care homes and hospitals.
TPH said on Saturday that those diagnosed with COVID-19 will now be responsible for retracing their steps and for calling their close contacts themselves.
The city’s public health unit has approximately 700 people dedicated to contact tracing, the largest in the country.
During the city’s COVID briefing on Friday, Dr. Eileen de Villa said TPH is “making a strategic shift and temporarily re-prioritize case and contact management to focus on the highest risk scenarios.”
“This is a temporary measure in response to very high case counts. The reason I am asking the province to undertake additional public health measures is to drive overall case counts down,” said de Villa, the city’s medical officer of health.
“When this happens, we will return to the previous case and contact management strategies.”
De Villa also called the province to ban indoor dining for a month and suspend indoor sports activities and fitness classes. She also urged residents to only leave home for essential trips.
Toronto reported 235 new cases on Saturday, including 10, which were added due to a “data cleaning initiative.”
Meanwhile, Ottawa Public Health will also get additional help in the upcoming weeks with 150 more staff.
On Friday, Ottawa’s medical officer of health said the health-care system is in “crisis” due to COVID-19.
“This system is nearly broken. The volume of people seeking testing is putting a strain on every part of the detection and contact tracing process,” said Dr. Vera Etches.
A significant backlog of unprocessed PCR test specimens, which reached 79,000 on Sunday, has slowed the turnaround time for most people seeking a COVID-19 test, with some now waiting a week or more for results.
Contact tracing of those found to be infected can only begin once a positive diagnosis is made, meaning the testing backlog delays the process even further.
The premier’s office said a minimum of 600 case managers and contact tracers will be supplemented to local public health units in the next five weeks.
Ontario and the federal government, through Statistics Canada, provide contact tracing support to 22 public health units across the province.
Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
News source: CP24