Race to Track the Spread of COVID-19 in Canada Using Disease Trackers | LethbridgeNewsNOW | Lethbridge, Alberta


“Every country had to go through this first before they knew how serious it was,” said Wu, a prominent research professor whose work includes analyzing epidemic data in Wuhan, China, where the virus has first detected at the end of last year.

The argument for more stringent contact tracing was set out this week in a directive from the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario. Dr. David Williams has asked provincial public health units to use their authority to isolate cases of COVID-19 and anyone with whom these infected people have come into close contact.

Williams reiterated that at a press conference, it was also necessary to trace and contain the social contacts of those infected if we were ever to bring the virus to its knees.

“Even if we were able to flatten the curve, the real work of grumbling in public health really gets going even more,” said Williams, referring to the famous line graph that represents the exponential increase in cases that would result without intervention .

“(With) all these cases, you will have to make a lot more contacts, more phone calls, more investigations. “

Williams said his office is considering how to add more staff, volunteers and the use of technology to this effort.

This work will need to continue throughout the spring and summer to ensure that infections do not trigger “flares”.

“We are quickly considering how to accelerate this – not only for today, but tomorrow and in the future, as it will be very important in the days and weeks to come,” said Williams.

It is “very intensive” work, he added, and this is where technology can help. Whether this includes using mobile tracking tools to keep an eye on infected people is an open question, and he is not ready to rule out.

“We have many proposals to come, and nothing is definitively rejected,” said Williams.

Canada’s biggest obstacle to technology-assisted tracking is public and policy aversion to measures that threaten individuals’ privacy, said Wu, but argued that public safety concerns should prevail on these concerns here.

For now, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott has hinted that the emphasis is still on people’s power. She said Thursday that she hoped medical students could help carry the load.

Such a strategy is already in use in Alberta, where approximately 300 medical students at the University of Calgary have strengthened the province’s ability to contact infected people and ensure that they and their contacts are self-sufficient. isolate.

Dr. Richelle Schindler, medical resident at U of C specializing in public health and preventive medicine, said nursing students could be added to the monumental task, in which trackers chase individuals over the phone but can send paramedics to check on those they can’t reach.

Albertans violating segregation orders face $ 1,000 fine, but courts have been empowered to administer fines of up to $ 100,000 for first offense and up to 500,000 $ for more serious subsequent offenses.

Student trackers must have clinical experience but also follow two days of training before touching the phone. They also get program credits for their time.

Although the importance of contact tracing has received less attention than testing in Canada, Wu stressed that this is a crucial step in suppressing an epidemic.

He noted that the test results provide a snapshot of infections that are several days or even weeks old. But tracking contacts can tell where the virus is when it passes from person to person.

“The public needs to know that if you want to get back to normal, you need to know who’s exposed,” said Wu, pointing to areas of Asia where mobile data usage is supposed to enable schools and busy markets. to stay open.

Contact tracing usually involves notifying infected people and their close contacts, but really effective tracing would also notify contacts of these close contacts, said Wu.

By the time you have identified people infected with the virus, their close contacts may already be infected and pass it on to others.

“Then you can say the community is safe – we know who is affected or exposed, who is infected, so you can start resuming some social activities again,” said Wu.

Toronto assistant public health officer of health said Thursday that his unit was “rolling out” tracking efforts by developing a web-based system that would allow more front-line staff to join the effort from home.

The rapid case and contact management system for coronaviruses would allow trackers to capture essential case information that could be shared with the province.

Dr. Michael Finkelstein said Toronto currently has more than 100 staff working with infected people and their contacts, and acknowledged that keeping pace with the cases is becoming more and more difficult.

But right now, mobile citizen tracking is not part of Toronto’s strategy.

“TPH is aware that some jurisdictions have used this technology and is investigating its use,” said Finkelstein by email.

Wu described a synergistic relationship between three pillars of disease suppression: screening, tracing, and social distancing. Where one wobbles, the others have to compensate, he said.

Even if contact tracing becomes less effective as the spread in the community increases, people still need to know the level of infections and the level of exposure.

“It is never too late, so you can never give up,” said Wu.

“But I think we are at a stage where we really need to integrate technologies and you really need to have public participation. “

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 2, 2020.

– With files from Allison Jones

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press


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