Health unit staff give insight into contact tracing

By Jenn Watt

While the task of COVID-19 case and contact management may be complicated and time consuming for staff at the local health unit, it’s also an emotional job, the board of health heard at their meeting on Nov. 19.
Registered dietitian Kimberly Leadbeater outlined the process of case management for the group, starting with the positive coronavirus test, through contact tracing, and monitoring the self-isolation process.

“When we’re reaching out to clients to tell them that they have tested positive for COVID-19 or they are high-risk contacts, they’re not happy to get that phone call, as you can imagine,” Leadbeater said.

She gave examples of some of the scenarios public health workers could encounter, including those worried about the virus and about coping while self-isolated; those feeling guilty for having potentially infected others with COVID-19; and those who are angry about the restrictions being placed on them, especially if they have not yet tested positive for the virus, but are someone else’s high-risk contact.

Asked by a board member how the team is faring, Leadbeater said that the work can be intense. She said she has dreamt about work and has personally had a more difficult time getting it out of her mind when she’s not at the office. Resources to deal with stress have been made available for staff.

Leadbeater said that COVID-19 case management has broken down the silos that once existed at the health unit, as staff from different departments have come together.

“It was a very steep learning curve for … a lot of people because some of the work was traditionally thought of to be just solely the work of the public health nurse and now you have dietitians, dental hygienists and health promoters and in some cases public health inspectors doing this type of work. So, a bit of a learning curve,” she said.

When someone is identified as testing positive for COVID-19, health unit staff will make contact and determine what symptoms, complications, risk factors and what supports may be required. Questions are asked to determine who they have come in contact with while infected, they are told what is expected of them by law, and what the health unit can do to assist them while isolated.

In the third quarter, the health unit staff dealt with 48 cases with 178 high-risk contacts and 49 low-risk contacts.