COVID-19 case investigations in Winnipeg are lagging days behind positive test results, contrary to the premier’s claim Manitoba has no more contact-tracing delays.
On Friday, Premier Brian Pallister said tracing delays are a thing of the past in this province.
“There’s zero backlogs on tracking and tracing right now in our province,” Pallister said during an interview that aired on Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday.
Backlogs, however, remain. CBC News has learned public health nurses in the Winnipeg health region started investigating COVID-19 cases on Monday that were identified as positive on Nov. 19 — a delay of four days — and are still working overtime to catch up on caseloads.
This four-day delay represents a vast improvement from October, when COVID-19 patients reported contact-tracing investigations lagging behind positive test results by as much as a week.
It nonetheless remains well behind the 24-hour timeframe epidemiologists have recommended for starting contact-tracing investigations in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“A twenty-four hour delay in getting a hold of somebody in a shelter, that’s a disaster,” said a public health nurse who CBC News is not identifying due to fears of repercussions.
WATCH | Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister insists his province’s restrictions are the most stringent in the country:
Delays are particularly important to avoid in Winnipeg, where people living in homeless shelters are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, the nurse said.
“When you get somebody on the phone that’s living on the street and you’re telling them they have COVID, it’s a lot different than calling somebody who’s living at home and have three people in their house.”
Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said the four-day lag reported by the public health nurse is in line with what she’s hearing from her members.
“We’re hearing that there is a lag — anywhere from a couple of days, to five days,” said Jackson, adding some public health nurses are required to work evenings and weekends in order to catch up on caseloads.
“We know that public health nurses are still working excessive amounts of overtime. They’re being mandated frequently. They’re working through weekends. They’re not allowed to go home until they finish contact tracing on cases. It’s been it’s been months like this, with no end in sight,” Jackson said.
“I just find it very frustrating. We’re already eight months into a pandemic and it just feels like we’re just trying to get caught up now.”
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, made it clear on Monday the lag involves the time between the identification of a positive case in a laboratory and the handover of information about that case to public health.
“Almost all cases are reached within 24 hours of the report being reported to public health,” said Roussin, adding some case investigations do not begin until the next day after that.
Province adding contact tracers
Case investigations are one aspect of contact-tracing in Manitoba. The province employs an average of 170 people per day — public health nurses and contractors with the Canadian Red Cross — to conduct these investigations.
The province also pays for an average of 80 people a day to notify contacts of known COVID-19 cases. Statistics Canada has been enlisted for this task.
The third aspect of contact tracing involves follow-up calls to infected patients. These are conducted by 43 staff and volunteers at the COVID-19 Contact Centre, jointly run out of the Deer Lodge Centre by Shared Health and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
On Monday, Health Minister Cameron Friesen promised to bolster these 203 positions with 143 more workers.
The public health nurse who spoke to CBC News said that won’t help unless the reinforcements have specialized training.
“We need people who have the knowledge and the education to do proper contact-case investigations. It’s more than just calling people and telling them they have COVID,” the nurse said.
“We’re doing health assessments and directing people where to go if their symptoms exacerbate. We’re dealing with people who are structurally disadvantaged, who don’t have home. I mean, those are things that public health nurses know, not somebody answering the phone at a call centre.”
Contact tracers not allowed to work from home
The Manitoba Nurses Union also chastised the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority for not allowing COVID-19 case investigators to work from home.
Public health nurses are being subjected to unnecessary risks at the office — while some are unable to work because they are sick, isolating or caring for children, the union said.
“I do not understand why public health nurses are not allowed to access their files that they need at home and to work from home,” Jackson said.
Roussin, who has urged all employers to allow employees to work remotely, encouraged the WRHA to consider doing the same.
“If you can make it feasible, if you can get the work done by being at home, then I would encourage all employers to to look at that,” he said.
COVID-19: Canadian tech companies pledge to give staff time to get vaccinations – CollingwoodToday
TORONTO — A growing number of Canadian tech businesses are promising to allow their staff to get vaccinated against COVID-19 on company time.
At least 35 tech companies in the country, including SkipTheDishes, Borrowell, and FreshBooks, have signed a new pledge from the Council of Canadian Innovators vowing to let their staff slip out of work to get the shot.
They say they are keen on giving workers the time because vaccinations are more important than business as usual.
The signatories will try to tackle misinformation by providing reliable information from public health agencies about vaccine safety and efficacy to employees.
They are promising to share information with staff about where, when and how people can be vaccinated, as soon as the shots are available to the wider population.
Canada has so far administered just over 738,000 doses of the vaccine to health-care workers and long-term care home residents.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2021.
The Canadian Press
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April – Rossland News
B.C.’s health ministry expects to start registering four million people for COVID-19 vaccine in March, beginning with the oldest and reaching everyone 18 and older who wants to be immunized by the end of September.
The largest immunization program in the province’s history will set up clinics in 172 B.C. communities, using school gymnasiums, arenas, community halls, church halls and convention centres, as well as mobile clinics for rural areas. Mobile teams will also be dispatched to people who aren’t able to leave their homes, using transit buses and other self-contained vehicles.
Health Minister Adrian Dix says the current phase one of vaccinations has reached most long-term care staff and residents as well as front-line acute care staff with a first dose. Decisions on increasing access and mobility in long-term care homes can be considered in March, he said.
Phase two in February and March continues to target the highest-risk populations, seniors aged 80 and up in communities, hospital staff, community physicians and staff in home support and nursing for seniors.
— Tom Fletcher (@tomfletcherbc) January 22, 2021
The mass vaccination starts with phase three from April to June, with people registered for vaccination in five-year increments, starting with the group aged 75 to 79. Phase four, from July to September, moves to people younger than 60, moving down to age 18. Approximately 900,000 of B.C.’s population of more than five million are under 18, and won’t be eligible for vaccine under the current plan.
With the delay in delivery of Pfizer’s vaccine while it expands its production facility in Belgium, deliveries to Canada are interrupted until February. Despite that, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said seniors aged under 80 in communities are likely to be registered and start receiving vaccine by the end of March.
Dr. Penny Ballem, the former deputy health minister appointed to lead the B.C. vaccine rollout, said the program is designed to be flexible, diverting vaccination to emerging situations like infection clusters in communities, work camps, and other group situations that may need earlier protection.
Details of the registration are still to come. Ballem said a phone call centre will be available to assist seniors who don’t have online access to get registered. For those who miss an appointment, they don’t lose their place in line and will receive priority for rescheduling.
Front-line workers, chronically ill concerned about low priority in B.C.'s new COVID-19 vaccine plan – CBC.ca
Sharon Lee-Flynn, 43, says she suffers from a spinal cord injury of more than twenty years and, with impaired pulmonary and cardiovascular systems, she’s “more at risk than a 60-year-old.”
That’s why the B.C. resident says she doesn’t understand the province’s COVID-19 vaccination plan announced Friday which mainly prioritizes people by age, leaving Lee-Flynn to wait at least another six months before she can be vaccinated.
Lee-Flynn is one of a large group of vulnerable people who say they should be further up the new vaccination line. The list also includes teachers, first-responders and grocery store workers who are no longer being given higher priority based on their jobs.
Instead, provincial officials announced that, after health-care staff, Phase 2 of the plan will allow seniors over 80 and Indigenous seniors over 65 to be vaccinated starting in February. Next will be Phase 3 in April which includes seniors 60 to 79. This leaves Lee-Flynn in Phase 4 starting in July when people from 18 to 59 will finally have the chance to be vaccinated.
“It really seems like patients with true medical compromise have been overlooked in the ‘ethical framework’ put forth,” said Lee-Flynn, adding that she’s had “a very limited, house-arrest type of life” since last March to avoid risking her health.
Henry says schedule could move quicker if more vaccines approved
Premier John Horgan said Friday that he’s received a pile of mail “a couple of inches thick” from advocates asking for higher priority for certain people.
“All of the arguments were very compelling … but the science is pretty clear: age is the dominant determinant factor on severe illness and death.”
Both Horgan and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said other at-risk people could be vaccinated sooner than scheduled if more vaccines are approved by Health Canada.
Russ Grabb, 63, from North Vancouver, says while he’s been diagnosed with a rare, incurable form of leukemia and is severely immunocompromised, he’s prepared to wait the three-to-five months it will for this vaccine rollout because it is still faster than most.
“For us to be getting any kind of vaccination within 10 months to a year is a miracle,” he said, adding that he’s in “really good hands” with his doctors and his family in the meantime.
First-responders should be prioritized, says firefighters association
Gord Ditchburn, president of the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association, says while he’s happy the plan is finally out, he’s disappointed that firefighters, along with other first responders have been bumped down to Phases 3 and 4, under the new plan.
“Our members right across this province are exposed every day while interacting with the public in unknown environments… [This] puts firefighters at risk every day to picking up this virus,” he said.
Similarly, Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, told CBC’s On The Coast Friday that she’s concerned about “thousands of front-line essential workers” who are at high risk of exposure to the virus every day.
“For us, it’s a question of clarity,” said Smith. “We represent members in corrections, shelters, supportive housing, child care… When with their turn be?”
Teachers union wants enhanced protections
Meanwhile, Teri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, said that she understands many teachers are stressed at not being prioritized, and called for the government to “take immediate action” to improve safety measures in schools, if this continues to be the case.
“We must have a mandatory mask mandate, we must have better physical distancing measures, and we must have ventilation upgrades in our classrooms,” her statement reads.
Horgan said the long-term goal is still to have everyone in the province who wants a vaccination to have it by the end of September.
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