Toronto Public Health Expands Case and Contact Tracing Work

Case and contact tracing, where public health staff work with COVID-19 patients to trace and isolate their recent contacts, is a key part of stopping the spread of COVID-19. Toronto Public Health now has over 700 people working on case and contact tracing, making it the largest team in the country.

All this hard work is paying off. Toronto Public Health staff are now reaching 87% of new cases within 24 hours of identification  helping to contain the virus and minimize spread. But we continue to struggle with a lab reporting system that is clunky, outdated, and inefficient. 

Right now, testing labs are only reporting 23% of COVID-19 test results to Toronto Public Health within 24-hours, and only 55% within 48 hours. Until we can ensure that labs are reporting results in a timely manner, we can’t speed up case and contact tracing. 

The reality is that the current lab reporting system isn’t working. Test results are delayed, and when they do arrive (often by fax), they are missing key information like the patient’s phone number. In the 21st century, we need a better, real-time provincial lab reporting system. 

I’m glad that in the last week two provincial tables have been formed to tackle case and contact management improvements and digital solutions for the GTA in particular. Toronto Public Health is actively working at these tables, with the support of Toronto’s Technology Services Division. 

Toronto Public Health staff is working with labs to try to fix the problems we’re seeing. Our Medical Officer of Health has confirmed that we continue to assess staff resources daily to ensure that we have enough people to meet the changing and ongoing needs of this important work.

The scope of our case and contact tracing work shows that the risk of COVID-19 continues to be very real in our city. We need to follow the advice of our Medical Officer of Health and continue to avoid the big Cs: close contact, confined spaces, and crowds. We have to continue to physically distance and stay 6 feet apart at all times from anyone who isn’t part of our household, even if we are outdoors and wearing a mask. Only by following these instructions can we reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Toronto.