OTTAWA -- As Ottawa experiences a level of COVID-19 cases not seen since the spring, Ottawa's top doctor says contact tracing is becoming more difficult.

Ottawa Public Health's stated goal is to reach 90 per cent or more of the people who test positive in Ottawa and their close contacts within 24 hours. However, according to the most recent figures shared by OPH, they have only succeeded in reaching about 55 per cent of individuals who test positive within 24 hours and 73 per cent of contacts.

Typically, OPH calls the individuals who test positive to tell them to self-isolate and then ask about close contacts, and to investigate whether the case may be linked to a school, long-term care home or other high-risk setting. The contact tracing team then reaches out to close contacts.

But at a news conference on Monday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said OPH is finding it harder to do that.

"That is a level of investigation that we're not able to carry out in as timely a way for all of the people who are testing positive right now," she said.

Dr. Etches said rather than "giving up", OPH is now directing people at lower risk toward an online web form that they fill out themselves.

"People can enter their own information about who their contacts were, when they were developing symptoms, when they were infectious, and that allows us to upload the information more quickly and even automatically, and then use that contact information to send out messages to contacts with more instruction," she said.

Dr. Etches said everyone who tests positive will still be called, but those who are not in high-risk settings will then be directed to the web form.

"If people aren't completing information online, we'll be able to follow up with them, but this online direction follows the initial call," she explained. "The initial outreach is done to connect with everyone by phone to assess if this is someone who can use an online tool or if this is someone who needs more support."

Dr. Etches added that many younger people who have tested positive for COVID-19 have requested more online options.


Last week, Toronto Public Health announced it was shifting its contact tracing priorities because of the continually high number of people who test positive for COVID-19 every day in the city. TPH is now only directly contacting people in congregate settings like schools and long-term care homes. Everyone else is now only provided with instructions to notify their high-risk contacts.

Dr. Etches said last week that Ottawa's health-care system was "nearly broken" as case counts reached record highs twice in the same week. 

On Monday, she stressed that we can’t contact trace our way out of the pandemic.

"The virus can grow exponentially, but this is not the way to control the pandemic," she said. "The way to control the pandemic is to keep distance between ourselves so the virus can't spread. The best way to help our contact tracing team is to reduce our number of close contacts."