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‘The entire situation could fall apart’: Doctors want better contact tracing system for Alberta

Last Updated Jul 19, 2021 at 6:31 am MDT

CALGARY (CityNews) — As Alberta continues to loosen COVID-19 health restrictions, some doctors are noting a worrisome trend in how the province is falling behind when it comes to contact tracing.

In Alberta, a recent sample of new COVID-19 cases shows more than 50 per cent of them cannot be traced back to a source.

With the additional threat of the Delta and Lambda variants, doctors say the inefficacy of contact tracing — more than one year into the pandemic — is a serious cause for concern.

“These variants of concern can spread incredibly rapidly, even within people who have partial vaccination, and children,” said family physician Christine Gibson. “So if we don’t have significant contact tracing, which at this point is a very minimal resource for us to continue expanding our efforts into, the entire situation could fall apart. And we don’t want to see that happen. We want to continue to see the great numbers that we have been seeing.

“Something as simple as contact tracing, that we should certainly have adequate resources for at this point, would help us mitigate any spread that would come in the future.”

According to data from Alberta Health Services, contact tracing has been unable to pinpoint a source of transmission for more than 50 per cent of COVID-19 cases identified between July 9 and July 15 — 143 of 279 cases.

Some doctors fear that with Alberta fully reopening and Stampede wrapping up, an increase in daily cases would complicate matters.

“It really becomes a risk if those daily cases begin to rise,” said Dr. Craig Jenne, associate professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary. “How do we address it? Unfortunately, there is no way to do that through conventional means. We have enough contract tracers in place, case numbers are low so it’s clearly not a backlog of cases.

Jenne is a strong advocate for the use of contact tracing apps to help improve the situation.

“We need tools that allow us to identify those anonymous contacts,” he said. “And very much at the beginning of the pandemic, we introduced some of the tools, with contact tracing apps for example. Unfortunately, they really were not well advocated for.

“As we move forward and want to have fully open economies, more people using these apps, we can very quickly respond to individual outbreaks, isolate them and completely prevent these waves of virus, allowing businesses to stay open.”