Meet the ‘disease detective’ who tracks COVID-19 cases in Langley and other Fraser Health jurisdictions

Meet the ‘disease detective’ who tracks COVID-19 cases in Langley and other Fraser Health jurisdictions

Dr. Aamir Bharmal heads the busiest contact tracing team in B.C.

Whenever someone tests positive for COVID-19, they are almost certainly not alone.

They may have unknowingly spread the virus to many others — and those people have to be contacted to make sure the virus doesn’t spread any further.

That’s where Dr. Aamir Bharmal, medical lead of the case and contact coordinating centre at Fraser Health Authority (FHA), and his team of contact tracers comes in.

Bharmal describes them as “disease detectives.”

Fraser Health, which administers health care services to more than 1.8 million people in Langley and other communities stretching from Burnaby to White Rock to Hope, has the busiest contact tracing team in the province, with roughly half of all COVID investigations.

It still isn’t as busy as they initially feared it might be, when the existing 14-person team of medical professionals, who tracked exposure to infectious diseases like measles and STIs, was expanded to 250 to prepare for the coronavirus back in March and April.

READ ALSO: VIDEO: Testing for COVID-19 in Langley runs seven days a week

“We had no sense of how many cases we could expect,” Bharmal explained, so FHA went with the worst case scenario.

Since that time, the number of tracers has dropped to 100, as some of the nurses, health inspectors and other health professional returned to their regular duties.

Contact tracers have to be “a good social workers and a good listener” Bharmal believes, because they are often the person who delivers the news of a positive test result to the person on the other end of the phone call.

They help those exposed to re-trace their movements, at times getting them to check their calendars or credit card receipts to see where and when they have have been.

Generally, people are contagious for about 48 hours before they show any symptoms, so that is where the tracing has to begin.

With the loosening of the lockdown creating more potential points of contact, numbers are beginning to show an “exponential” increase,” Bharmal reported.

“The complexity of contact tracing has increased.”

It makes the job considerable less of a challenge when people follow guidelines by leaving phone numbers and names at restaurants and other potential contact points.

“It certainly does help.”

Bharmal is looking at adding people to the contact tracing team to handle the increase, and he was pleased by the announcement on Wednesday, Aug. 12, that the provincial government was hiring 500 contact tracers.

“If we have a surge we can draw on them,” he said.

Premier John Horgan said the new contact tracers “will provide an extra layer of protection by jumping into action as soon as there is an outbreak, and will start their detective-style work to find out who may be infected in order to protect all British Columbians.”

READ ALSO: COVID-19 tracing app starts beta testing after three-week delay

Health minister Adrian Dix described contact tracing as “absolutely crucial when dealing with community outbreaks as we slowly and safely increase our contacts.”

Some of the new positions will also help to support public health services, such as providing education in communities, and possibly immunizing for influenza and other diseases. Reducing the number of people with the flu helps alleviate the burden on provincial laboratory testing infrastructure and protects acute-care capacity in B.C.’s hospitals as respiratory illness season approaches this fall.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer said the new contact tracers will work with existing public health teams to help track down those who may have been exposed and support people to self-isolate when necessary.

”This role becomes even more crucial to contain the spread as we continue to open up our schools, economy and social activities, and as we prepare for the upcoming cold and flu season this fall,” Henry said.

These positions will be temporary and will be recruited by the Provincial Health Services Authority and the regional health authorities and is intended to allow health authorities to increase their local pool of available public health professionals.

It’s expected the candidates will begin work in September 2020 and will be employed until the end of March 2021, with opportunity for extension if needed.



dan.ferguson@langleyadvancetimes.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

CoronavirusLangley

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The South Surrey ‘Underground House’ includes skylights and just one side ‘window’ – this glass door that leads out to a patio. (Contributed photo)
South Surrey ‘underground house’ set to go up for sale

‘Unassuming’ John Kay-designed home include skylights, just one window

Stacey Wakelin is running for a seat on the Langley school board left vacant by Megan Dykeman’s election as MLA (special to Langley Advance Times)
Wakelin announces run for Langley school board

Activist seeks seat left vacant by Megan Dykeman’s election as MLA

Langley RCMP attended a three-car collision on Saturday, Nov. 28 on 200th Street at 72nd Avenue. They have launched an impaired driving investigation. (Black Press Media files)
Langley driver goes into wrong lane, ends up hitting Jetta, Hummer and median

Saturday’s crash was on the first weekend of the CounterAttack campaign to catch impaired drivers

Langley RCMP attended a multi-vehicle collision Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020 that left one driver with serious injuries, according to police. (Black Press Media file)
Woman left with serious injuries after head-on vehicle collision in Langley

Abbotsford man is co-operative with officer, RCMP say

R.E. Mountain Secondary was issued a COVID-19 exposure alert on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 by the Langley School District. (Langley School District)
R.E. Mountain issued COVID exposure alert, again

Individual with novel coronavirus was at the school on four separate days

A bus shelter in White Rock is emblazoned with an ad from B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. (Black Press Media files)
VIDEO: ‘Am I racist?’ campaign asks British Columbians to confront their unconscious biases

Signs asking British Columbians to think about racial injustice have been put up across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Jim Neufeld, 55, was last seen leaving his home in Penticton Jan. 21, 2009. (RCMP photo)
Human remains found off U.S. coast in 2009 identified as Penticton man

Jim Neufeld, 55, was last seen leaving his home in Penticton Jan. 21, 2009

Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker at his former law office. (News files)
Former Pitt Meadows mayor suspended from practising law for 14 months

Statement from John Becker says anxiety and depression played role

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond speaks to a reporter in Vancouver on November 13, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
No evidence that B.C. ER staff played blood alcohol level game, but Indigenous racism widespread

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond releases findings of independent investigation

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James and Premier John Horgan announce $5 billion emergency fund for COVID-19 unemployment and other relief, B.C. legislature, March 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
Carole James stays on to advise B.C. Premier John Horgan

Retired finance minister to earn a dollar a year

Most Read