Omicron overwhelms MLHU contact tracing, so positive cases should notify close contacts

You may have been left in the dark about recent close contact with COVID-19.

Contact tracing has helped curb the spread of COVID-19, but the Middlesex London Health Unit (MLHU) admits the Omicron variant has exceeded its ability to notify everyone recently at risk.

“Contacting every contact is going to be strained to the point of not happening,” says acting medical officer Dr. Alex Summers.

Contact tracing investigations by MLHU staff have recently shifted to prioritizing high-risk settings like nursing homes.

Anyone else who tests positive is now asked to email a notification letter signed by Dr. Summers ordering them to self-isolate until they have tested negative for COVID-19.

Contact tracing by MLHU staff protects the identity of the infected person, but the new system asks infected people to reveal personal medical information (their COVID-19 diagnosis) when notifying their recent contacts.

“We have to rely on less than ideal approaches to ensure that we limit transmission in our community. Therefore, we will be asking cases to notify their close contacts to self-isolate,” Summers said at a news conference on Monday.

Close contacts could be left in the dark if a COVID-positive person opts out of contact tracing by choice, or an inability to obtain a phone number or email address.

It is now up to those who test positive to make notifications, the number of close contacts in London and County Middlesex remained in the dark.

Other health units in Ontario are having similar struggles with contact tracing volume as case numbers soar.

The London Health Sciences Center is carrying out 600 tests each day at the COVID-19 Assessment Centre, but the number of rapid tests carried out privately is unknown.

Summers says the next phase of the pandemic will force people to take on new responsibilities.

“The next phase of this pandemic will require a very different approach to previous stages due to the number of cases,” he said.

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