Toronto’s top doctor says the city is continuing to make strides but is still not able to resume full contact tracing in the city as it prepares to reopen gyms and indoor dining next week.
Last month, Toronto Public Health (TPH) halted contact tracing of close contacts of confirmed cases outside of outbreaks in congregate settings like schools, long-term care homes and hospitals.
Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa described the decision as a “temporary measure in response to very high case counts.”
At the time, she said TPH would continue to contact all people who test positive for COVID-19 but stop the practice of contacting close contacts until such time as the city is able “to drive case counts down.”
The move had a definitive impact on the quality of data coming from Toronto about virus transmission, as provincial modellers disclosed late in October that nearly two-thirds of all recent cases had no known epidemiological link.
But while speaking to reporters on Wednesday, de Villa said the city has been working on measures to bring contact tracing up to speed as case counts continue to rise in the city amid a second wave of the virus.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic we have Increased our case contact tracing team from 50 to 700, the largest in the country. And we have 200 additional staff coming on board this month,” de Villa said during a city briefing on Wednesday afternoon.
She added that TPH is in talks with three local hospitals- Sunnybrook, Michael Garron and Humber River- to add more capacity for its staff.
TPH is also using technological innovations including text messaging tools, robocalls for low-risk contacts and online surveys to broaden its contact tracing, de Villa said.
De Villa told reporters that another goal is to investigate “superspreaders” who are spreading the virus among large groups.
“We’re working on targeting contact tracing to identify superspreaders with a proactive focus on finding events that cause a big number of infections and the people who are superspreaders,” she said.
But De Villa could not confirm when contact tracing would return back to levels seen during the first wave of the pandemic.
“We’re working as hard as we can to get this done as soon as possible. Of course much rests on what the situation is, what case counts look like on an ongoing basis and how many of these new endeavours that we’re pursuing, some will pan out better I imagine than others and so we’re working hard to try and put this all together so that we can get back to that situation where we’re doing that more fulsome case in contact management as soon as possible,” she said.
On Nov. 14, Toronto will move out of its current modified version of Stage 2 into the “restrict” category under the province’s new coloured-coded system unveiled on Tuesday.
The provincial government ordered gyms, movie theatres, casinos and indoor dining to close in the city on Oct. 10 due to a rise in daily case counts.
But as of next Saturday, those venues and indoor dining can reopen in the city with some new restrictions.
On Wednesday, Toronto reported 338 new cases of the virus and 11 additional deaths.
Currently, 159 people are hospitalized with the virus in Toronto.