The provincial government will hire about 500 people to increase contact tracing around British Columbia.
The announcement of the additional health-care sector hiring was made by Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry at a press conference on Wednesday and comes amid a steady increase in COVID-19 cases in B.C.
"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 said. "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 order to protect all British Columbians."
Contact tracing works by following up with each person who has tested positive for COVID-19 to understand who their contacts may be.
Health authorities' public health teams typically have staff who do contact tracing of communicable diseases as part of their regular work. However, given the scale of the response needed for COVID-19, the government felt additional supports were necessary.
"As we have seen in recent weeks, strong contact tracing is absolutely crucial when dealing with community outbreaks as we slowly and safely increase our contacts," said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. "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."
The contact-tracing positions will be temporary and those hired will be recruited by the Provincial Health Services Authority and the regional health authorities.
The new hires are expected to begin work in September and will be employed until the end of March 2021, with an extension if needed.
Dix said some of the positions will also help to support public health services, such as providing education in communities and possibly immunizing for influenza and other diseases.
"When there is a community outbreak, time is of the essence," Henry said. "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."