Some suspicious of contact tracing as Montreal works to contain COVID-19

On April 29, Marissa Campbell woke up with pink eye and a small headache. She thought it was just a cold.

“I was really surprised, because I didn’t think it was going to happen to me, obviously,” she said. “And it wasn't until day five, when I lost my sense of smell and my taste and I realized maybe it's the virus – but I didn't feel super sick, I had way worse colds than this before.” 

A test confirmed she had the COVID-19 virus. 

“I feel everybody thinks they're immune to it when they're really not,” Campbell said. “Even if you're not showing symptoms – because some people don't get symptoms – then they can be giving it to somebody, and then they'll give it to somebody, and it's just going to keep spreading.” 

That’s the problem with the virus – it sometimes manifests itself as just a cold but spreads much quicker than one. 

“Every positive case is a potential outbreak,” said Dr. Hai Nguyen, an orthopaedic surgeon at Charles Lemoyne Hospital. With most surgeries cancelled amid the pandemic, he’s now working as one of the city’s 350 contact tracers. Health officials are trying to track down people who have come into contact with COVID-19, in order to have them quarantine to limit the spread.

“If we don't get to that case, if we don't get to that patient and explain to them what they have to do, well they can infect several people and those people can infect more people,” he said. 

On average, it takes Nguyen two hours to track contacts – but people aren’t always willing to cooperate. 

“Some are suspicious,” he said. “Some view us as some type of big brother, and some have even said ‘I don't want to participate,’ which is not acceptable in a situation of social emergency like it is now.” 

Nguyen tells his patients that all the information he gathers is confidential. 

“It’s strictly to try to help out the society and contain the spread of the infection,” he said. 

Public health has repeatedly tried to reassure the public. 

“We are not using personal data, we’re not transmitting those data to partners or whatever,” said Montreal Public Health Director Mylène Drouin. 

But some patients are still reluctant, and with infection rates rising in certain Montreal neighbourhoods, the need for contact tracing will only grow. In order to limit the spread, people who've come into contact with COVID-19 will need to self-isolate. 

  Cases in Montreal by age and region
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