British Columbia is hiring 500 health care professionals to help with its COVID-19 contact tracing efforts ahead of the flu season and a potential surge in cases.
The new, temporary jobs will likely be filled by retired health care professionals and recent graduates, Premier John Horgan said on Wednesday.
“During a pandemic, more resources are required,” he said. “Our plan will allow health authorities to increase the number of public-health workers focused on COVID-19. It will also ensure that we have teams that we can deploy across the province as required.”
Horgan said he supports the federal “COVID Alert,” which does not yet work in B.C., but doesn’t believe it is as effective as person-to-person contact tracing.
The announcement comes on the same day the province said there were 85 new cases, the third highest number of new cases in B.C. since the pandemic began.
A joint statement from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix says the majority of the infections are young people in the Lower Mainland who were exposed to COVID-19 in the last week to 10 days.
“We are watching the cases climb, which is concerning. We need everyone to recommit to using the skills we’ve learned. Keep gatherings small, have a designated ‘contact keeper,’ limit time with others, maintain physical distance and always stay home if you’re feeling unwell,” the statement says.
There has been one new death, for a total of 196 deaths in the province. There are 531 active cases, while 3,469 people who tested positive have recovered.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the new contact-tracing jobs will also help the system cope with other public health work that has been neglected due to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This allows us, now, to get more people trained up to do this really important work as we continue through the progression of our pandemic here in B.C. and make sure we’re prepared if there’s a surge of cases in the coming months,” she said.
She called contact tracing “bread and butter work” for public health, adding that it is a common approach to combatting tuberculosis and measles, but COVID-19’s lack of cure has shown it to be an important aspect of health care.
“I really think it’s a testament to the teams we have in public health in B.C. that we have been able to manage this, and we will continue to manage this,” Henry said.
Henry said the province has been able to keep on top of its contact tracing efforts, finding 98 per cent of those who may have come into contact with COVID-19 transmissions.
Horgan reiterated the province’s stance on encouraging residents to follow COVID-19 protocols, but warned punitive measures, such as fines, would be used if people continue to ignore public health guidelines.
“We have been successful without taking a punitive approach to this pandemic and we want to keep it that way,” He said. “But if people continue to work around or try and disregard the rules the rest of the British Columbians are following, we will of course take action.”
Horgan also called on B.C. celebrities, such as Ryan Reynolds and Seth Rogen, to get in touch to help with messaging to asking young people to be more cautious.