Alberta Politics
Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw at yesterday’s COVID-19 update (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video).

Overwhelmed by new cases, Alberta outsources contact tracing to people testing positive for COVID-19

Posted on November 06, 2020, 1:10 am
7 mins

Overwhelmed by a rising tide of new daily COVID-19 cases – “about 800” were reported yesterday by Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw – Alberta Health Services has announced it will no longer notify most close contacts of Albertans who test positive for the disease.

Starting today, if you test positive, AHS now wants you to notify your own close contacts yourself.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

What could possibly go wrong?

In a news release yesterday, the provincial health authority said only three categories of close contacts would now be notified by provincial health officials: health care workers, minor children (whose parents will be informed), and people who live or work in communal facilities.

The rest of you are on your own, dependent on your contacts to do the right thing, and that includes vulnerable seniors who live in their own homes.

“AHS will no longer directly notify individual close contacts of positive cases that are confirmed outside of these three priority groups at this time,” the news release stated. You can read it yourself here, in case you think I’m making this up.

“Instead, Albertans who are not within these priority groups who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be asked to notify their own close contacts of the exposure,” the official AHS statement continued.

But worry not, Albertans, AHS will provide “the case,” by which the release’s author presumably meant the sick person, “with guidance on notification of their own contacts.” And, no doubt, warm good luck wishes as well.

In the classic style of the public relations industry, the AHS news release tried to portray this troubling development in a positive light: While the volume of cases is unprecedented, the statement explained, “the Alberta Health Services contact tracing team is working tirelessly to meet demand.”

Former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith a few weeks before she became the party’s leader (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“However, to help this team – and the health of our communities – we are engaging Albertans to support contact tracing efforts,” it continues.

In other words, we didn’t hire and train enough contract tracers, the provincial contact tracing app doesn’t work, and Premier Jason Kenney won’t let us use the federal COVID Alert app, so you’re all volunteer contract tracers now! And if some of you don’t do your new job properly, well, don’t look at us!

The Alberta government says the province currently employees about 800 contact tracers.

So former Conservative British prime minister David Cameron’s dream of the “Big Society” – touted by Danielle Smith back in the day when she was leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Party – has come to Alberta at last, and some of the essential jobs of the state will be shuffled off onto volunteers or they won’t be done at all.

That said, I doubt even Mr. Cameron – the brainiac behind the Brexit vote, which he expected to fail – would have contemplated using such a scheme in the midst of a deadly global pandemic, as the United Conservative Party Government is obviously prepared to countenance.

Former British prime minister David Cameron (Photo: Guillaume Paumier, Creative Commons).

One imagines the members of Alberta’s fraternity of professional ambulance-chasing legalists are rubbing their hands with glee at the potential for litigation against infected private citizens who fail to follow Alberta Health Services’ guidelines.

This measure will be temporary, AHS reassured, merely a “pilot” – which since it likely means it will be in place as long as COVID-19 infections are running out of control isn’t really all that comforting.

Neither is the fact that the exact number of cases recorded in the 24 hours before yesterday wasn’t available because of what Dr. Hinshaw called technical problems with the provincial reporting system.

Meanwhile hundreds of federal employees have been temporarily assigned to assist provinces, including Alberta, with contact tracing.

But while 600 are deployed to assist Ontario and 100 are helping Quebec, with many more queuing up to aid other provinces, Alberta seems to have availed itself of the services of only 15.

Ottawa appears to have no problem deploying its employees to help address the national coronavirus crisis, so I don’t have an answer tonight for why Alberta hasn’t asked for more meaningful numbers.

That said, given the Kenney Government’s reluctance to allow Albertans to have access the federal COVID-19 tracing app, apparently known in the UCP cabinet and caucus as “the Trudeau tracing app,” it’s not hard to imagine the motivation.

Meanwhile, sick Albertans will now be responsible on their own for keeping track of, in addition to folks with whom they’ve exchanged bodily fluids or accidentally sneezed upon, “anyone who was within two metres of a positive case of COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes, even if a mask was worn during that contact.”

Good luck with that, folks!

“The identification and notification of close contacts of COVID-19 remains critical to Alberta’s fight against COVID-19,” the news release states. “Rapid notification of close contacts ensures that those exposed can isolate and get tested before potentially spreading disease to others.”

Albertans are entitled to wonder why, if that is so, their provincial government won’t even allow them to use the COVID Alert app.

15 Comments to: Overwhelmed by new cases, Alberta outsources contact tracing to people testing positive for COVID-19

  1. Valerie Jobson

    November 6th, 2020

    I have a few thoughts here…

    “people who live or work in communal facilities” Does this mean they will look at how much covid spread is happening in the workplace? What with the meat packing plants, surely it should have been obvious long ago.

    Dr. Hinshaw addressed employers today:

    https://twitter.com/CarrieTait/status/1324499193394704384

    and her tweets mentioned people going to work with symptoms:

    https://twitter.com/CMOH_Alberta/status/1324506104894693378

    Also AHS:

    https://twitter.com/AHS_media/status/1324505507332149248

    I’ve seen a tweet claiming a certain major employer has told its employees not to wear masks. Maybe Kenney’s feeble lack of action is because he doesn’t want to annoy his corporate donors or as he calls them “job creators”?

    And maybe Kenney doesn’t want to turn on the federal tracking app because it might show a lot of cases at some corporate worksites?

    And it’s not like Kenney cares about workplace safety:

    https://twitter.com/canadianglen/status/1324519452940017664

    Val (still suspended)

    Reply
  2. Dave

    November 6th, 2020

    This is just another sign that things are getting more out of control with COVID here in Alberta. This has been the trend over the last several months and it is only getting worse.

    It is ironic that Alberta actually did fairly well in the first wave back in March and April. However, that was just luck. As a landlocked province we had fewer international travellers from Asia, US and Europe than BC, Ontario or Quebec. The initial restrictions here at that time happened before things got out of hand here.

    Perhaps because of that initial seeming success, our government became more complacent than elsewhere and reluctant to take measures that would either cost it money or cause any inconvenience.

    So here we are now with Kenney seeming more eager to fight the doctors and Trudeau than COVID. Is it any wonder things are going much worse here than in BC and probably worse on a per capita basis than in Ontario too?

    Our health officials have been saying recently that we should not give up the fight against COVID, which I fully agree with, but I wonder if that message has really gotten through to our highest provincial political leaders.

    Reply
  3. Bill Malcolm

    November 6th, 2020

    Yup, read Hinshaw’s remarks from yesterday as reported on the CTV News website. Time for her to resign, because I’ve never heard such BS from an accredited doctor in my life. Official Alberta has just given up, that’s what it amounts to. And I have older relatives cowering in Calgary. Many of the cases brought into the Atlantic Bubble are returning Alberta oil-field workers apparently mind-altered by the UCP and employers while working out west. It’s one thing for slavering Trump-praising idiotic US state governors to not care about Covid spread, now this country has to put up kenney who apparently is self-conditioned to avoid reality, and who somehow has kept his chief public health official in thrall to his murderous ideological mindset. There’s little hope left. Albertans are the rats in an official experiment, no doubt soon followed by Saskatchewan. A real human like Palliser looks haunted by it all but hasn’t given up yet. As for Henshaw, she has no ethics or morals, apparently, and not the strength of character to resign. Her job is apparently more important to her than being true to her profession. More than a little disappointing.

    Reply
  4. Bob Raynard

    November 6th, 2020

    “…hundreds of federal employees have been temporarily assigned to assist provinces…”

    I would assume these are federal government employees who normally do other things, and their regular assignments are just being done a little more slowly by a remaining reduced staff level. If the Kenney government isn’t prepared to accept the federal government’s help, and the serving of humble pie that comes with it, couldn’t they reassign some of their employees? There are a lot of issues managers, war room employees and government spokesmen/women whose tasks are surely less important than trying to reduce the spread of this disease.

    I wonder if an overwhelmed contract tracing system is a harbinger of things to come. Will hospitals be next?

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      November 6th, 2020

      They’re from Statistics Canada, according to the iPolitics report that’s linked from the story. One would think they know how to ask questions on the phone. DJC

      Reply
      • Joanne Costello

        November 14th, 2020

        Have you found out why Alberta has not availed itself of more federal contact tracers?

        Reply
        • David Climenhaga

          November 16th, 2020

          No. There’s only so much time in the day, though, Joanne. I also have a full time job and a couple of dogs who need attention. I’d have to fund-raise like a right-wing video blog to pay for the staffers I’d need to properly follow up on all the stories that Alberta politics bring to mind. DJC

          Reply
  5. Abd

    November 6th, 2020

    I’ve lost track of how many times Dr. Hinshaw has stood up behind that podium and blamed “technical issues” for not giving us the new case numbers for Covid. How does she not blink? Hint to province: time to trade in the Commodore 64 for a new model. Wait — that upgrade was done on Monday, which was why “technical issues” prevented us from knowing the Friday to Monday numbers until Tuesday. And here we are with “technical issues” on Thursday. Okay, time to upgrade the Tandy 1000.

    Never mind self contact-tracing while ill with a virus that may give you heart problems or kill you, you slackers! You’ll probably learn that the hospital laundry has actually been contracted out to patients, or “cases”, if you will. Nothing goes far enough toward red tape removal. Trace contacts on your own phones from a hospital bed, whereupon you shall remove the sheets and take them home for cleaning. Please remember that patients who do not return linens in a timely manner will have these items charged to their tabs. No, being sick and elderly is no excuse for not phoning strangers whose phone numbers you don’t know. We’re broke, don’t you know?

    But wait — yesterday we heard reports from some soon,-to-be unemployed public servant that our UCP government is responsible for $1.6 billion in missing or misappropriated funds from our provincial treasury. Just imagine how far that much money could go towards being a creator of contact tracing jobs, or washing sheets. Of course, we could take the feds up on their offer of contract tracers, but that would be admitting that we’ve mismanaged this pandemic, and we’d rather sail full steam into oblivion.

    Yes, Alberta, your leader cares so much about you that this ship will go down on his watch, and he’s probably taking the last spot on the lifeboat as we speak. And good luck with the swine flu — you’ll all need it! Let the band play “Nearer, My God, to Thee”.

    Reply
    • Abs

      November 6th, 2020

      It appears teams of people are piling coal into the Tandy 1000 as we speak, but the problem is actually with the “dashboard” and “data pipeline”. Maybe the Model T running start will get that old clunker up and running? Give it some welly!

      Reply
      • David Climenhaga

        November 7th, 2020

        Don’t knock the Tandy 1000. Didn’t the Russians run the MIR space station for years on a Tandy 1000 knockoff? DJC

        Reply
  6. Abs

    November 6th, 2020

    And be careful out there, folks, Apparently, there is some sort of zombie invasion going on right now, as if we need zombies on top of everything else!

    “They treat organs like a public resource to be mined at the will of the authorities. For those that don’t think that there are different classes in socialist nations who would benefit, think again. So when my comrades from across the way claim…”

    If you want to find out who said that yesterday in the legislature, rest assured that Alex Jones is not the answer. It’s on reporter Catherine Grikowsky’s Twitter feed. She also lists a mental health helpline at the top of her feed, for *anyone* who might need it.

    If you need me, I’ll be at the Winchester.

    Reply
  7. hammer

    November 6th, 2020

    All I can say is the Bad News Bears could do a better job than these so called ” elected officials”. AHS gets its marching orders from JK and if this is the result we are in for a world of hurt. What a disgrace!

    Reply
  8. Political Ranger

    November 6th, 2020

    So now we are seeing the vacuous-ness and the uselessness, the utter abject poverty of building, maintaining and believing an ideology. Used to be the old colloquialism of ‘common sense’ that held sway and was the primary defense against anything unpleasant, or too hard.
    Now, it’s adherence to party orthodoxy.

    Which, in and of itself might not be such a bad thing if the party gave two turds about the citizenry. Alas, such is not the case. The UCP and conservatives of every stripe are just pathetic cheerleaders for mature, indeed, over-mature and geriatric corporations and industries. Nothing more; every utterance or policy prescription, if such could be called, is designed for a narrow and specific corporate or shareholder benefit.

    So, competence is not a consideration. As is demonstrated daily by the parade of bewildered and slow-witted ministers coming out to proclaim one thing or another.
    Now, one of their most favorite; self-regulation. As any attentive Grade 10 social studies student would note, self-regulation does not work and has never worked to achieve the ‘stated’ goals. That same student would only have to attend a first year university class in logistics to understand why self-regulation simply cannot work.
    But it’s mainstream orthodoxy in conservative circles; that’s all the highest minister in a ruling gov’t needs to know. And declares it so. Of course the benefits accrue to, at least temporarily and superficially, the conservative minister. He, and she, can hide behind this ruse, this charade, while blaming the regulated for poor outcomes and receiving praise if nothing bad happens.

    It’s corruption, plain & simple. Conservatives all across the globe are rushing in to take advantage of a public lulled by 2 or 3 generations, about 70 years, of generally well managed governance by generally competent people of generally high character.
    Now when our globe is under threat from AGW and our society from economic inequality and our population from covid we need highly competent people of good character to address the circumstances in front of us. People who can see through societal prejudices, and their own, to work collaboratively for the greater good of humanity, and frankly all life on this planet.

    It’s clear that these people will not be conservatives.

    Reply
  9. Just Me

    November 6th, 2020

    There can be no doubt that this is where this idiocy was headed all along.

    The public response has now become the empty scolding of the uncooperative masses. Kenney and the UCP campaigned on restoring freedom to the masses and now they have it in spades.

    Everything is now cast to the four winds and the hope will prevail that everyone will do there part to do the responsible thing and act in the place of the authorities. Maybe that oft-spoken Invisible Hand will intervene? Maybe the end goal is fewer but better Albertans?

    To borrow a line from the Hunger Games, “I volunteer as tribute.” That is what the Angry Midget expects now; he is only responsible for damaging society’s structures; everyone else will have to rebuild them again.

    Welcome to your dystopian realty.

    Reply
  10. Caron

    November 6th, 2020

    Just watched the Premier say there will be no lock-downs and he called for “compassion” for those restaurant owners “whose life savings and income are tied up in their business” and would be lost if there was another lock-down. Of course, he has no compassion for the 11,000 or so health care workers who are about to lose their AHS jobs. Jobs that at least come with dignity and proper benefits. But now those workers face grovelling to get private sector jobs with lower pay and less benefits. As Kenney stumbled through his presentation, his glibness gone, and his face bloated, I have to wonder if he is now starting to suffer from post-Covid syndrome. If so, he deserves the same compassion he has shown to AHS workers. He should go back to the depths of Ontario whence he was spawned.

    Reply

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