The province is hiring about 500 more health professionals in its efforts to ramp up contact tracing around British Columbia.

Contact tracing works by speaking with each person who has tested positive for COVID-19, to find out who they may have been in contact with. They confidentially follow up with those people, to see if they have been sick, and let them know they may have been exposed to the virus.  

BC Premier John Horgan says strong contact tracing is one of the best ways to keep people safe from the virus.

“We want to make sure people are kept safe in any COVID-19 outbreak, and one of the ways to do that is through strong contact tracing,” Horgan added. “These new contact tracers will provide an extra layer of protection by jumping into action as soon as there is an outbreak, and will start their detective-style work to find out who may be infected in health in order to protect all British Columbians.”

Horgan says that while the province supports the federal government’s newly developed COVID alert app for smartphones, “the app won’t tell you everything.”

“Nothing replaces person-to-person contact,” he added. “Public health teams typically have staff, to work on contract tracing for communicable diseases, but during a pandemic, more resources are required.”

Horgan says some of these contact tracers will help support public health in communities and will help prepare for B.C.’s fall immunization plan.

He added that these jobs will start in September, and go through next March, or longer if needed. The candidates will be hired by the provincial health services authorities.

Many of the new hires will be retired nurses and health care professionals, as well as recent health care graduates.

Horgan said this plan will help the province “deal with community transmission now, and into the fall.”

“Our plan will allow health authorities to increase the number of public health workers focused on COVID-19, and it will also ensure that we have teams that we can deploy across the province as required,” Horgan said. 

Health Minister Adrian Dix added that strong contact tracing has proven to be “absolutely crucial when dealing with community outbreaks as we slowly and safely increase our contacts.”

“Our health-care workers have gone beyond the call of duty during the pandemic, and we are putting out this call to these dedicated professionals to bolster our contact tracing capacity and prepare us for a potential surge of COVID-19 in the fall,” he added.

The province says reducing the number of people with the flu will help alleviate the burden on provincial laboratory testing infrastructure, and protects acute-care capacity in B.C.’s hospitals as respiratory illness season approaches this fall.

“When there is a community outbreak, time is of the essence,” said provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. 

“These new contact tracers will work with existing public health teams to help track down all those who may have been exposed and support people to self-isolate when necessary. This role becomes even more crucial to contain the spread as we continue to open up our schools, economy and social activities, and as we prepare for the upcoming cold and flu season this fall.”

This will allow health authorities to increase their local pool of available public health professionals, while also providing a team of people that are available to be deployed throughout the province as needed. The Ministry of Health is working with Health Match BC and the health authorities to manage the recruitment process.