‘We are significantly boosting our ability to respond to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the province’
Ontario is adding more personnel to the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19.
As part of its Fall Preparedness Plan, the province has hired over 700 contact tracers and case managers. This adds to the 600 Statistics Canada employees that are assisting with contact follow-up.
Ontario is also onboarding an additional 300 case managers in the coming weeks – bringing the provincial workforce to 1,600 and the total number of case and contact management staff across the province to approximately 5,600.
“Our government continues to use every resource at its disposal to fight COVID-19 and keep Ontarians safe,” said Christine Elliott, deputy premier and minister of health. “By expanding our case and contact management capacity, we are significantly boosting our ability to respond to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the province. We are immensely grateful to our public health units and this provincial workforce, who are all working to keep Ontarians safe and healthy and stop the spread of this deadly virus.”
Due to high rates of transmission in Toronto, the Ministry of Health is currently providing 180 case managers and contact tracers to support Toronto Public Health. The ministry plans to up that number to 280 over the next few weeks.
The provincial workforce also assists 12 public health units across Ontario, providing extensive supports to Windsor-Essex, Ottawa, Hamilton, Halton, Toronto, Waterloo, Peel and York. Newly onboarded staff will be made available to additional health units.
Public health units in the province have started using the ‘Virtual Assistant’ tool to reach cases and contacts faster.
The tool uses text messages to connect healthcare workers with individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 or have been identified as close contacts. The text messages link to safe and secure web-based forms with questions that help case managers assess symptoms and general health and identify close contacts. It also provides important information to individuals such as guidance on how to self-isolate.
This tool is available to all public health units and provincial workforce staff that are supporting public health units. Currently, this is being adopted by public health in Toronto, Windsor, Halton, Waterloo and York. It will soon be adopted throughout the entire province, according to the government.
“Ontario's public health system continues to take extraordinary efforts to contain COVID-19,” said Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer of health. “Public health units have shown incredible commitment and dedication to protecting our health during this challenging time. We will continue to work closely with them and support the important services they provide to Ontarians.”
In December, researchers from the University of Windsor, Ont., and the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions in Toronto, published a paper highlighting the plight of healthcare workers (HCWs) in the province. These include:
- Higher infection rates compared to the general public.
- A shortage of N95 (and other) respirators.
- Increased mental health concerns such as anxiety, exhaustion and burnout due to risk exposure and a bigger workload.
There had also been alarming reports of violence towards frontline workers increasing amid the pandemic.