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Rise in people ignoring contact tracing could drag the pandemic further: experts

Last Updated Feb 19, 2021 at 4:30 pm MDT

CALGARY (CityNews) – Hearing the ring and not doing anything; new numbers show more Albertans are ignoring contact tracers, a decision that could drag out the pandemic and make it harder for everyone else.

The increase is small, but significant, according to Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

“One point nine per cent of all cases in January and 1.3 per cent of all case so far in February.”

“It’s really difficult to understand where we are and where we’re going without a clear picture of where we actually are,” said Tyler Williamson with the Cumming School of Medicine. “It’s like we’re driving in a snowstorm and the kids in the back seat are asking us to go faster and we can see less, and less and less.

RELATED: The number of Albertans ignoring contact tracers calls is increasing: Dr. Hinshaw

According to Alberta Health Services (AHS), the call display shows as ‘Alberta Health Services’ when AHS employed staff as well as contracted employees call out. Only federal employees, of which there are about 45, do not show ‘Alberta Health Services’. Their number comes up as a generic phone number.

If those people ignoring the calls have no contacts, the current plan and public policy still works, but as Williamson explains, that’s likely not what’s happening.

“I think it would be reasonable to conclude that they’re probably not those individuals, there might be a reason they’re deciding not to share where they’ve been.”

“With variants and with higher risk viral versions in the community now, if we’re unable to make those contact tracing, we’re running the real risk of having significant outbreaks of these more contagious or more infectious strains of virus,” said Infectious Disease expert. Dr. Craig Jenne.

There has also been a rise in people unwilling to give the information needed to do tracing, A decision that could see the places people might be trying to hide as a possible site of exposure close again.

“If we don’t know where the viruses are transmitting, we have to have a broader approach of keeping restrictions in place rather than precise targeting,” said Jenne.

“The countries that have done the best have been really successful with contact tracing. It’s one of the most effective methods of dealing with a pandemic,” added Williamson.