Sask. residents with COVID-19 asked to notify their own close contacts

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is asking residents who test positive for COVID-19 to notify their own close contacts, as part of a new modified approach to contact tracing.

The SHA said the number of positive cases, and their associated close contacts, is surging. This increase, combined with limited public health resources, means the SHA is not able to provide timely notification to individuals who may have been exposed to the virus.

“This is thought to be a good way to move forward, considering our quickly rising numbers and our capacity to respond is seriously limited because we don’t have as many people doing this work,” said Johnmark Opondo, a SHA medical health officer.

Dr. Cory Neudorf, a professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine, said prior to the July 11th lifting of restrictions, there were many more contact tracers in the healthcare system. He said the change in staffing, combined with the surge of a more-infectious variant, means its “less effective” to contact trace the same way.

“The reality is there are many more contacts for each positive case. And in many instances, they’re anonymous contacts because people were just out and about,” said Neudorf.

Saskatchewan’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases reached a new high on Tuesday, breaking the record set just one day ago.

The government reported 305 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, bringing the seven-day average to 350 – or 29.1 per 100,000 people.

Saskatchewan has recorded more than 300 new cases each day for the last five days, something that has only happened once before.

NDP leader Ryan Meili called the decision to reduce tracing capacity, “deeply damaging.” He is asking the provincial government to increase the number of contact tracers immediately.

“We know that the key things are testing, tracing and isolation, and of course having vaccines and masks and the other things that prevent transmission. But to really get things under control, we need to be doing that work,” said Meili.

CTV News reached out to the provincial government for an interview on how the SHA has changed it’s approach to contact tracing, however we did not receive a response in time for our deadline.

Going forward, the SHA will notify individuals who test positive, and provide them with education on isolation and identifying who is a close contact.

The SHA said it will continue to identify those who test positive in healthcare settings, vulnerable populations, long term care and congregate living settings, so control measures can be put in place quickly.

The SHA said it is also working with the Ministry of Health to review the protocols around school case management and contact tracing.