COVID-19 Contact Tracing Initiative: A significant achievement in an extraordinary time

Current Initiatives

3 Sep 2021

Increasing capacity

In January 2020 the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Ontario. Along with the Ontario Ministry of Health (MoH), Public Health Ontario (PHO) carefully monitored the outbreak, conducted extensive laboratory testing and surveillance, and provided scientific and technical support focusing on public health and infection control issues.

On March 17, 2020 Ontario made a Declaration of Emergency to respond to the quickly evolving threat of COVID-19 transmission in the province. Just two weeks later, PHO received a request from the MoH to expand capacity for contact notification and follow-up across Ontario. To accomplish this, we quickly developed and implemented a Contact Tracing Initiative (CTI) – providing surge-capacity for local Public Health Units (PHUs).

Exceptional partnerships

Working in partnership with organizations, communities and agencies is fundamental to successful public health practice. Without these partnerships, the CTI wouldn’t have been possible.

In early April of 2020, PHO commenced planning work with partners at the Department of National Defense (DND), Ontario Health and Health Canada to train and deploy a portion of their staff as a centralized workforce for contact notification and follow up.

After several months, our partners needed to transition to other work and we established a new partnership with Statistics Canada (StatCan). June 2021 marked the one year anniversary of our partnership with StatCan.

What began as a small program making a few dozen calls a day, quickly grew with thousands of calls being made daily as the positive case count increased. The DND, Ontario Health, Health Canada and StatCan callers, supervisors and leaders who have been involved have shown an unwavering commitment to the initiative and have made a massive contribution to the COVID-19 response in Ontario.

As a parent of a young child who’s been self-isolating due to a classroom exposure, I’ve been quite happy with the calls I’ve received from StatCan. They’ve been polite, knowledgeable, and efficient.

— Parent

Accomplishing the extraordinary

Pre-pandemic it took significant time to develop partnership agreements, manage competing priorities, create processes for secure data transfer, and determine individual and team responsibilities. The COVID-19 pandemic provided opportunities to work with new and unique partners we may not have otherwise had the chance to work with. In what became a very fast-paced, ever-evolving environment, time was of the essence and in just nine days we accomplished the extraordinary. We recruited and developed agreements with partner organizations, developed varied training materials and call scripts, distributed program resources for callers and supervisors, lead large scale meetings and training sessions, provided extensive email support, and established a data quality program. Our first day of making calls to contacts was April 9, 2020.

PHO’s Contact Tracing Initiative has increased our capacity beyond measure. Recently, we experienced a significant surge of COVID-19 cases in Northern Ontario. The StatCan callers are the reason we were able to continue with contact tracing initiatives and effectively follow-up with all high risk close contacts known to our PHU.

— Participating public health unit

Without the close and dedicated collaboration with our partners, the CTI wouldn’t have been possible, especially on such a tight timeline. We look forward to our continued partnership and the future successes we’ll achieve together.

By the Numbers

1,080 Total trained workforce support staff
654,000 Total calls made to high risk contacts (April 9, 2020 to July 23, 2021)
6,400 Highest number of calls made in one day (estimated)
32 PHUs supported
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Updated 3 Sep 2021