Winnipeg teacher says contact tracing delay left school community in the dark about COVID-19 case

A Winnipeg teacher has lost faith in the public health system’s ability to conduct contact tracing, saying she tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, but didn’t receive a call from public health until days later — and that meant her school community wasn’t notified about her case.

The teacher, who CBC is not identifying to protect her employment, says she became sick last week and went for a test. Five days later, she found out her test was positive.

She contacted her principal after learning the results.

“When I asked about telling people, they reminded me that division policy is to let public health take the lead, and that they were not going to be telling the school community until they heard from public health,” she said.

She asked about reaching out to co-workers she knew she had been in contact with, but was told not to, she says.

CBC is not identifying the school to protect the teacher’s identity.

She finally received a call from public health Friday evening, three days after getting her test results and contacting her principal. As of Friday evening, there was no notice about her case posted to the province’s list of school exposures.

She worries the delays have put her co-workers and students at risk.

“For sure the government has failed us in their public health efforts. Everybody is trying their hardest, but I feel like [teachers getting sick] was pretty predictable, and I don’t understand why the contact tracing piece wasn’t in place,” she said.

“That’s the part of the situation that is hurting my heart.”

The teacher believes she contracted the virus from a student who was sick while at school, and doesn’t know if the child received testing or continued to go to school.

‘Addressing cases as soon as possible’: province

The province could not respond to questions about the teacher’s situation before publication deadline, but pointed to previous answers in similar cases.

When contacted about a similar case last week — in which a parent notified their child’s school about a student’s positive COVID-19 test — a spokesperson for the province said that when a positive lab report is received, regional public health staff start a case investigation to determine if the person was infectious while at school. 

If they find the person was infectious, the school and division would be notified. Any close contacts identified would also be notified.

“When case numbers were lower, school-aged children were prioritized for case investigation/contact tracing,” the spokesperson said.

“However, with the increasing number of cases, work is focusing on addressing cases as soon as possible.”

The province did not address the issue of public health’s delays in contacting individuals with positive test results within schools.

“Work is underway to enhance contact tracing supports to ensure people are contacted as soon as possible.”

People are encouraged to think about anyone they may have had close contact with in the days before symptoms developed.

“This will help the contact tracing process go more smoothly once a call is received.”

‘They just were not prepared’

The teacher CBC spoke with said waiting days for a call from public health is one thing, but making a school wait to notify others seems unacceptable. 

“I let them know I was a teacher when I was tested,” she said.

“I would have hoped for a faster test result, and I would have hoped for immediate contact with me, so that we could tell the school so that families would be protected,” the teacher said.

“They just were not prepared, if it’s taking this long to address a case of what I believe is community transmission in a school.”

The teacher has been isolating since she became ill, and her family has also been tested, with her husband getting a positive result as well.

She feels being exposed to COVID-19 at her job was inevitable.

“It’s part of my job to work with kids who are not wearing masks, little children, and it just was going to happen.… It’s the kind of thing that is probably happening all over Winnipeg.”

But she’d like schools to have more autonomy when it comes to notifying staff and students about a possible exposure, and not have to wait for public health to get involved.

She’d also like to see real-time information made available about cases and exposures at schools.

“I think we’re looking at such outdated information that I think most parents, if they really knew the situation … would not send their children to school.”

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