Ontario enhancing COVID-19 case and contact management

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At a June 18 press conference, Ontario Premier Doug Ford discussed additional measures to help cope with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the Ontario government announced that it is enhancing case and contact management to quickly test, trace and isolate cases to stop the spread of the virus and prepare for any potential future waves. 

These additional measures include a comprehensive case and contact management strategy, Protecting Ontarians through Enhanced Case and Contact Management and a new made-in-Ontario national app called COVID Alert, in partnership with the federal government.

Today’s announcement was made by Premier Doug Ford and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health.

The government’s enhanced strategy focuses on strengthening and standardizing case and contact management by ensuring that all new cases and their close contacts are identified early, contacted quickly, investigated thoroughly and are followed up with daily for up to 14 days and by supporting public health units with up to 1,700 additional staff from Statistics Canada.

Additionally, the strategy focuses on improving technology tools by modernizing the integrated Public Health Information System (iPHIS) through the implementation of a new custom-built COVID-19 case and contact management system and launching a privacy-first exposure notification app to alert Ontarians when they may have been exposed to COVID-19.

You can’t manage what you can’t measure. That’s why our government has been relentless in building our testing and contact tracing capacity to track, trace, and contain the invisible enemy we face,” said Premier Ford.

As we take our contact tracing strategy to the next level today, I want to thank the federal government for providing more boots on the ground and supporting a privacy-first app that will protect both Ontarians and Canadians alike.”

Along with the early detection of new cases through the ongoing implementation of our enhanced testing strategy, more effective and efficient case and contact management will ensure that we are able to stop the spread of COVID-19 as we gradually reopen the province,” said Minister Elliott.

To support these efforts, we are dramatically expanding staffing levels and getting on with the long-overdue work of replacing outdated systems that no longer meet the needs of public health units.”

The province of Ontario is providing updated case and contact management guidance for all public health units to ensure consistency across the province.

To continue to ensure cases and their contacts are reached in a timely and effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, public health units will connect with cases, and with all individuals who have had close contact with a positive case, within 24 hours of being identified, direct all close contacts to self-isolate for up to 14 days, follow up with close contacts every day for the duration of their self-isolation and advise testing of all appropriate close contacts.

Ontario is also providing additional contact tracing staff to increase the current provincial capacity of approximately 2,000 case managers and contact tracers.

New and expanded capacity will be provided through Statistics Canada with access to up to 1,700 additional staff, available to all provinces, for contact tracing.

Public Health Ontario will continue overseeing the training and coordination of these additional resources.

Ontario will continue to build a supplementary pool of contact tracers from the Ontario Public Service and the broader public sector for additional surge capacity, as required, over the summer and into the fall.

This will allow public health units to perform their other critical functions, including inspections of food premises and water in recreational facilities, and vaccinations.

To help Ontarians stay safe when the economy reopens, the province of Ontario will be partnering with the federal government to launch COVID Alert, a new privacy-first exposure notification app, within the next two weeks.

This app was made in Ontario and developed by the Ontario Digital Service (ODS) and a group of volunteers from Shopify.

The government will leverage BlackBerry volunteer expertise to audit the security and privacy of the application, in addition to the province’s internal security reviews, in order to ensure the privacy and security for all users.

Users will be able to voluntarily download the app and be notified anonymously if they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 14 days.

In Ontario, the app will also provide users with quick access to Ontario’s public health advice and resources and recommend any necessary actions, including monitoring for symptoms, self-isolation or appropriate next steps on getting tested.

The use of a national application will help ensure that Ontarians are notified, regardless of which province they are in.

It will also provide help towards the goal of ensuring everyone can move more freely and safely.

Additionally, the province of Ontario is implementing a new user-friendly case and contact management system that will integrate with COVID-19 laboratory results from the Ontario Laboratory Information System (OLIS) data.

This will make current processes more efficient and reduce the administrative burden for public health unit staff.

A single central system will enable the province to identify provincewide regional trends and hotspots while protecting personal health information.

The new system, custom-built on the Salesforce platform, will also allow for a remote workforce, enabling contact tracing to be quickly ramped up when required.

The public should continue to follow health guidelines to stay safe, such as physical distancing with people not in your social circle, wearing a face-covering if physical distancing is a challenge, washing your hands thoroughly and frequently and getting tested if you think you have COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19.

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