Young Sun Peaks COVID-19 patients traced their own contacts ahead of Interior Health: Doctor | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Young Sun Peaks COVID-19 patients traced their own contacts ahead of Interior Health: Doctor

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August 22, 2020 - 7:00 AM

A Sun Peaks doctor saw first-hand the power social media can bring in staving off a pandemic when young patients who tested positive for COVID-19 did their own contact tracing — faster and therefore perhaps more effective than Interior Health.

Dr. Shane Barclay with the Sun Peaks Community Health Centre has been releasing weekly reports on the COVID-19 situation in the mountain town, particularly after a resort staffer tested positive for the virus since at the end of July. Barclay says they still have no clue yet as to how she became infected.

“That’s been the mystery because the first person that tested positive is actually a patient, but the reason she got the test was totally unrelated. She complained of something at work and so she got tested for COVID even though she didn’t have symptoms of COVID… she has no idea where she acquired it,” Barclay says.

Barclay says he was told there are four other people who tested positive, although he cannot confirm because they weren’t tested at his clinic. He believes between 15 to 20 people in Sun Peaks self-isolated from the small exposure. Nearly all of them learned through social media they were exposed and took immediate action that appears to have stopped the spread.

“These young people... good on them because as soon as they became positive they immediately went on their social media and contacted everyone they thought they may have been in contact with and it’s because of that that these people went and got tested,” Barclay says.

Doing their own contact tracing was crucial. Barclay says time is a critical factor in controlling the spread. He says potential contacts were alerted almost instantly — days sooner than Interior Health is able to do so.

Interior Health’s chief medical health officer Dr. Albert de Villiers says that contact tracing is done for every single positive COVID-19 patient. There are about 100 public health nurses who work as contact tracers in the communicable disease department, with 15 to 25 staff on each day. Still, they aren’t always successful in quickly reaching all who may be affected.

“Our contact tracers work hard to reach all contacts of a positive test case within 24 hours of getting the test result, but it is important to note that investigations take time. Delays are sometimes inevitable and often due to forces outside of our control. For example, we don’t always have the right contact information for a patient or some don’t return calls,” de Villiers says in an email statement to iNFOnews.ca.

According to de Villiers, a “best case” timeline would take a minimum of five days from symptom onset to the very beginning of contact tracing. In the ideal case, an infected person would arrange an appointment for a COVID-19 test on the first or second day of symptoms. If they are able to move right ahead with the testing, test results could be in by the fifth day since symptom onset - again, in the best-case scenario. Once they are confirmed to be COVID positive, the patient will provide a list of contacts, which is then reviewed by the medical health officer who must make a plan. Only after the plan is complete will the nurses with the communicable disease unit begin making calls.

It’s hard to say exactly how long contact tracing takes depending on each individual, so de Villiers encourages people to download the COVID Alert app on their phone to help simplify the process.

But, contract tracing is more than simply identifying those who may have been exposed, according to B.C.’s Deputy Provincial Health Officer Dr. Réka Gustafson, who spoke on that issue at a COVID-19 update earlier this week.

“Contact tracing is actually clinical care you’re providing,” she said.

While the province expects to use the COVID Alert system in the future, it’s still being tested in Ontario. Instead, B.C. is hiring 500 more people to do contract tracing.

“That’s why hiring people and training people to make sure they can provide accurate and skilled advice to people who are in that situation is such an important intervention," Dr. Gustafson said. “Expanding that capacity is something we really have to do so that people who have COVID-19 and are worried about their loved ones or people who may be told that they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 and have really important questions get those questions answered.”


To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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