Contact tracing is no longer a viable tool in the fight against the Omicron variant—but B.C.'s top doctor says British Columbians play an important role in reducing the rapid spread of the coronavirus strain.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters in a press briefing on Tuesday (Jan. 25) that Omicron has a significantly shorter incubation period than other coronavirus variants. Additionally, the strain has a shorter "generation time," which is the time between one person getting infected or exposed and the next person getting sick and passing it on to others.
While public health has used contact tracing extensively over the past two years, it is no longer an effective mechanism for intervention in an exposure event, explained Henry.
"And it's really the recognition that by the time you develop symptoms and potentially get tested, you'll have likely unknowingly passed it on to others," she said.
"Previously, with different strains, when that was five or six days before the next generation. We had time. We had time on our side and the opportunity to find people and to help them isolate before they would pass it on to others."
Since it is far more difficult to locate the source of transmission and prevent the spread of the virus, the health officer underscored that it is crucial that people utilize the province's public health orders.
"We also need to take collective actions to reduce risk every day. It's about thinking not only about our loved ones and ourselves, but those around us who we may or may not know are at higher risk, perhaps an older relative, a colleague that we work with or a close friend that we spend time with," she said.
"Let's remember that they're sharing their risk with us and we share our risk with them. That's why those layers of protection continue to be so important."
Henry added that preventative measures, such as wearing a well-fitted mask, washing hands, keeping groups small, and being more cautious if individuals high risk, are important ways to stay safe in lieu of contact tracing. People should also stay home if they have a fever or feel generally unwell and not return to normal activities until they feel better.
Workplaces should also have robust COVID-19 safety plans that mitigate risk for employees and people who visit businesses. People should also understand the risk they bring back to work with them following an illness.
Fully vaccinated adults who test positive must self-isolate for half the time that individuals who are not fully vaccinated do (five days). However, they must also ensure that their symptoms have improved and they no longer have a fever. Additionally, they should avoid non-essential visits to high-risk settings for an additional five days following their self-isolation period.
If you feel unsure about your symptoms you can use the Self-Assessment Tool, contact your health care provider, or call 811.
If you find it hard to breathe, have chest pain, can’t drink anything, feel very sick, and/or feel confused, contact your health care provider right away or go to your local emergency department or call 911.