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Simcoe Muskoka health unit not able to keep up with contact tracing

In some cases, the health unit is asking those with COVID to reach out to their own close contacts to let them know they should isolate and get tested
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Dr. Charles Gardner speaks to the media during a teleconference and Facebook livestream on Aug. 11. Screenshot

The region’s health unit is now asking some people who test positive for COVID-19 to reach out to their own close contacts to take the pressure off health unit staff. 

Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health for Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, announced today the health unit is “not able to keep up with contacts.” 

“There is a rapidly increasing volume of not only cases, but number of contacts,” said Gardner.

In the last seven days, the health unit has received 80 positive test results for people in Simcoe-Muskoka region. The current surge in cases matches the highest numbers recorded in April and May for the region.

“The main difference is the number of contacts per case is enormously higher,” said Gardner. “With the first wave, there was essentially a shutdown of the economy … that reduced the amount of movement people participated in.” 

But the economy has, largely, reopened. People have returned to work and school. 

“With school cases, in particular, you can have 30 or more contacts per case,” said Gardner. 

In Simcoe County and Muskoka District, there have been 15 school-related cases, and those have resulted in 550 high-risk contacts being investigated by the health unit. Of those, 480 were individuals within the school environment and another 60 were home or community contacts. 

So far, there has been no evidence of transmissions within schools. 

Since Friday, the health unit has confirmed 46 new cases in Simcoe County and Muskoka (eight have yet to be listed on the health unit website). 

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is asking cases to follow up with their own contacts and advise them to self-isolate for 14 days and seek testing. 

“We’re going to have to be relying on that type of approach,” said Gardner. “If we have cases who feel they cannot or are unwilling to follow-up with contacts, we will do the follow-up.” 

Gardner said the health unit staff will still perform case and contact tracing where the situation is deemed to be “particularly high-risk” such as in outbreaks.

The health unit is getting support from Public Health Ontario for some case and contact management and is in the process of recruiting more staff. The health unit has already hired some nurses thanks to provincial funding announced within the last few months. 

“At this time, it’s insufficient and we need to embark on this alternative approach,” said Gardner. "It will be quite a while before we are able to back away from this type of approach."

He encouraged people to call the health unit with questions or concerns and promised staff would still assist the residents of Simcoe Muskoka in navigating the public health crisis and non-COVID related concerns. For more information or to contact the health unit, visit their website.