BY PAMELA FAYERMAN

It sounded like an audacious goal – hiring 500 additional COVID-19 contact tracers – when the B.C. government announced its bold ambition in the summer.

Skeptics, who know about the scarcity of nurses might have muttered “yeah, sure, where are you going to find them?”

But health minister Adrian Dix said recently that thousands of health professionals, including retired nurses and physicians, have expressed interest in the jobs. And instead of 500 additional tracers, the government has upped the ante – to 608.

“More than 600 (of the more than 2,000 who’ve applied) have met the qualifications. A significant number have already been hired, others are at the interview stage,” he said.

“We’re talking in many cases about retired nurses and even retired physicians who are coming back into the field to assist the public healthcare system in this time of the pandemic. It demonstrates their commitment to our province and I think the strength of our public healthcare system.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix, now campaigning for re-election, gives an update about contact tracers, over Twitter.

To put this in perspective, before the pandemic, each health authority had contract tracers embedded in their public health teams, working on contact tracing for infectious/communicable diseases like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, measles, and sexually transmitted diseases. Prior to the pandemic, each health authority had only nine to 15 (full-time equivalents) doing such work.  Once the pandemic began, there were about 300 contract tracers following up on every positive COVID case. In August, the government announced it would hire 500 more. Then earlier this month, Dix said the number would actually be 608 more.

Dix said October 15 that 404 additional hires have been made in the last few months which means there are over 700 contact tracers now. At full complement, B.C. will have about 900 doing such work. He said 267 individuals are in the interview stages and 84 are “in the process” of getting hired.

The new positions will be in place until at least March 2021, Dix said. But contracts could be extended if necessary.

The Ministry of Health is working with Health Match BC and the health authorities to manage the recruiting process. Click here to learn about how contact tracing works.

Meanwhile, in her press briefing today, Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said there have been 549 new cases of COVID-19 over the past four days, for a total of 10,734 confirmed cases in B.C. since the pandemic began.

There are currently 1.476 active cases that public health teams know about and 3,618 people are under active monitoring after being exposed to confirmed cases.

Hospitalizations have been gradually rising; there are now 77 individuals in hospitals across the province, including 24 in intensive care units.

The five people who died over the past four days were not long term care patients. In B.C., 250 people have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

Note to readers: This post was updated October 18 with the latest figures provided by the government.

pamela@medicinematters.ca