Major backlog prompts Toronto Public Health to shift contact tracing efforts
Toronto Public Health is temporarily scaling back its contact tracing efforts due to overwhelming demand.
The city's health agency is reportedly facing a tracing backlog of as many as 800 cases.
In an email to city staff, obtained by the Globe and Mail, TPH advises staff responsible for calling close contacts of people who test positive for the virus, to suspend their data collection efforts on where people were exposed to the virus.
“Effective [Friday,] due to the increasing number of cases of COVID-19 in the city, Toronto Public Health is no longer able to follow up with contacts. This means that TPH will only call confirmed cases. We will not call close contacts. Confirmed cases will be asked to notify their high risk/close contacts to self-isolate,” the e-mail reads.
TPH will still contact individuals who test positive for the virus about their lab results, but until further notice, the individual will be solely responsible for notifying their close contacts about possible exposure to the virus.
Toronto Public Health will carry on its contact tracing efforts within congregate settings like nursing homes, schools and homeless shelters.
In a series of tweets today, Toronto Public Health noted that on Friday Dr. Eileen de Villa shared an update on case and contact management. The tweet also made reference to the fact that since March Toronto's contact tracing team had been scaled up to include more than 700 staff - the largest such team in Canada.
Another tweet says: "Given high COVID-19 case counts, we're implementing this temporary prioritization now. This is why we asked the Province to undertake additional public health measures to drive down our case counts".
The final TPH tweet in the series advises that when cases "decrease", the team can resume their previous case and contact management strategies.
1/4: Yesterday @epdevilla shared an update on case & contact management in our #COVID19 response. Since March we've scaled up this team to be the largest in Canada w/700+ dedicated staff. In spring we created & rolled out a data system to support the team & their work.— Toronto Public Health (@TOPublicHealth) October 3, 2020
3/4: Given high COVID-19 case counts, we're implementing this temporary prioritization now. This is why we asked the Province to undertake additional public health measures to drive down our case counts.— Toronto Public Health (@TOPublicHealth) October 3, 2020
4/4: When cases decrease, we'll return to the previous case and contact management strategies. More info: https://t.co/lXJVOpn0OR— Toronto Public Health (@TOPublicHealth) October 3, 2020
The news comes as COVID-19 cases continue to soar: 653 new cases reported today in Ontario, compared to a record high 732 cases yesterday. Today's total includes 284 new cases in Toronto, 104 in Peel Region and 97 in Ottawa.
The medical community is expressing concern about the delays in testing and the shift in contact tracing.
Dr. Michael Warner with Michael Garron Hospital spoke with our media partner CP24 about the changes: "It's test, trace and isolate and if you don't have the testing and if you don't have the tracing, then of course the isolating isn't gonna happen, because no one's going to know if they have COVID, so this is how this unravels very quickly and gets out of control, and you know, Public Health has been underfunded for years and I think they're doing their best to shore up their resources, but the province has to give them a helping hand."