Contact tracers facing resistance, abuse from public in Ottawa: officials
OTTAWA -- Members of Ottawa’s COVID-19 contact and case management team have faced resistance and abuse from members of the public, the city’s board of health chair says.
Coun. Keith Egli is asking everyone to be patient and kind with contact tracers as they follow up on positive cases of COVID-19.
Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Egli addressed reports that some members of the contact and case management team had been the target of abusive behaviour by some members of the public who had been called as part of contact tracing efforts.
"I know that this is not the norm, but we are hearing some reports of our case and contact management team encountering resistance and, in some cases, being subjected to abusive behaviour," Egli said. "Given the objectives of case and contact management and the importance of this work, I'm asking those who have been directly affected by COVID-19 … to please be kind to our case managers as they work hard to navigate the unique circumstances of each individual who tests positive and those of their close contacts."
The case and contact management team is responsible for identifying locations where anyone who tests positive may have visited while contagious, obtaining a list of close contacts and then reaching out to high-risk contacts to give them information on what to do next, all with the goal of reducing further transmission of COVID-19.
Egli said senior OPH staff have reported cases of contact tracers being hung up on and yelled at as they've attempted to touch base with close contacts of individuals who have tested positive.
"People have threatened—I'm not sure if this is a threat—but people have threatened that if they keep asking questions, they're going to go to the media about it," Egli said. "The point I was trying to make is the people doing the contact tracing are doing it for everybody in the community. They're doing it to make us all aware of where the risks might be. All we're asking is recognize they have a tough job to do."
The pandemic has been stressful for many, Egli said, and someone telling you you're a high-risk close contact may be frightening, but he is urging people to respond to questions honestly and with patience.
"They need this information to keep the schools open and keep activities going in the community that we rely on. By doing that, you're helping everyone around you," he said.
Medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said these incidents are a "small minority" and she said escalation can be a sign that people may need additional support.
"We get that. This is a difficult time. Many people have had very negative experiences because of COVID-19," she said. "There are supports available. That's part of what we can do is connect people to supports."
She added that staff who experience abuse are supported at work.
"We just want to promote kindness and kind words."