Alberta has missed its goal of having 1,600 COVID-19 contact tracers in place by the end of 2020.
With surging case numbers over the last several weeks of 2020, Alberta Health Services had announced plans to have 1,600 tracers in place by the end of December, a goal that was higher than originally planned.
However, on Wednesday, AHS said it currently has approximately 1,250 contact tracers working across the province. Work continues to hire and train hundreds more people and AHS said it now hopes to have over 2,000 contact tracers in place by early February.
“With such a large volume of hires in a short period of time, AHS has experienced some delay with expediting the onboard process for staff due to various factors including available orientation spots, computer equipment availability, IT and security clearances,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said Wednesday.
“AHS is working hard to address these delays and bring additional staff onto the contact tracing team as quickly as possible while maintaining the necessary standards and safety protocols necessary.”
The process of contact tracing involves phoning a positive case, identifying close contacts and following up with those individuals in the hopes of limiting further transmission. Alberta has faced challenges with contact tracing and in early November, AHS announced contact tracers would temporarily be shifted to focus their efforts on high-priority cases until more could be hired.
In the interim, people with COVID-19 who do not meet the high-priority classification “will be asked to notify their own contact of exposures and the need for them to self-isolate and get tested,” Hinshaw said at the time.
On Nov. 23, Hinshaw said that due to a continuing surge in daily case numbers, she instructed AHS contract tracers to start with the most recently diagnosed cases and work backwards, and to prioritize the cases that would “have the greatest benefit in reducing further transmission.”
On Tuesday, Alberta announced 843 new cases of COVID-19. While the number of new daily cases has dropped in recent weeks after hitting a daily record of 1,887 new cases on Dec. 14, the province’s health minister and chief medical officer of health remain cautious.
“To be clear, they’re still too high. We need them a lot lower and I don’t want to jump the gun,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said.
“The numbers from the holidays have some uncertainty in them because of the low number of tests and there’s a real risk of an increase due to the holidays.”
Shandro said hospitalizations are also “still too high” but added they are flattening. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 919 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, 140 of whom were being treated in intensive care.
“Our health-care system remains under significant pressure,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday.
“Overall, new case numbers, hospitalizations and ICU admissions for COVID-19 are still very high in our province.”
Once Alberta hits its goal of 1,600 contact tracers, it will have 36 contact tracers per 100,000 people, according to AHS, which it says is on par or better than other provinces.
With files from Julia Wong, Global News.
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