Why has British Columbia stopped contact tracing for coronavirus?

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry explains why the province has stopped using this tool.

Contact tracing is no longer an effective tool in the province’s fight against surging cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, BC’s top health official says.

The province has adapted its strategy to prevent transmission of the highly infectious strain of COVID-19, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters during a press briefing Friday morning, January 21.

And while contact tracing has been an effective mechanism for public health intervention in the past, Henry noted that it’s an increasingly difficult process due to the infectious variant.

“The features of the disease that make contact tracing effective are things like having a longer incubation period because you need time to find people after someone has been tested,” he said. she explained, pointing out that the Omicron variant has a considerably shorter incubation period.

As strains of COVID-19 “become more infectious,” it’s harder to find people through contact tracing, Henry added.

A disease like measles, on the other hand, has an incubation period of two to three weeks. The health official said contact tracing for diseases with longer incubation periods like this allows time to identify and reach a high proportion of contacts and take action to prevent the spread. spread of the virus.

Earlier in the pandemic, people infected with the Delta variant typically had an incubation period of five to seven days, Henry noted. This period allowed public health teams to locate individuals and prevent them from transmitting the virus to others before they developed symptoms.

People infected with Omicron may also “have mild or asymptomatic infections and not even realize they are affected,” she pointed out. Also, at this point in the pandemic, the majority of BC residents are vaccinated. Select adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of progressing to severe disease will have access to Canada’s first oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19.

“So with the emergence of these more transmissible variants, the incubation periods are shorter, COVID-19 is no longer an infection for which contact tracing is an effective intervention,” Henry pointed out.

“We now need to change our management and think about the things we can do at all levels to prevent transmission and prevent ourselves from being exposed.”

Although vaccination is the most effective way to prevent transmission of COVID-19, individuals should also manage their symptoms and stay home if they feel sick.