An Alberta high school teacher is worried about how health officials will monitor the spread of COVID-19 once students are back in school, after his family had to wait more than a week to hear from a contact tracer after testing positive.

Adam McRae teaches high school social studies in the city of Airdrie, north of Calgary.

His partner, Hilary King, is 39 weeks pregnant, so the pair have been taking precautions such as wearing masks, only travelling to their toddler’s daycare and their work, and avoiding places like restaurants and gyms. 

King had a light headache and was feeling tired, so on Aug. 7 she went for a COVID-19 test. 

“Oh, a pregnant woman is tired and has a headache. We didn’t think it was COVID-19 because we’ve been so careful,” McRae said. 

The following day, King’s result came back positive. And on Aug. 10, their two-year-old daughter’s test came back positive as well, despite the child not showing any symptoms. McRae tested negative.

“She was told that she would be hearing from someone [in] about three to four days regarding the contact tracing. We thought that was a little long, but you know it must be backed up,” McRae said. 

I hope we’re the exception. But it just scares me a little bit that the ramifications of an exception could be so great.- Adam McRae

Contact tracing is the practice of identifying, informing and monitoring people who may have come in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with an infectious disease like COVID-19. 

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has called contact tracing an “absolutely critical” public health measure “as we go into the next phase or next steps of living with COVID-19.” 

King waited eight days to hear from a contact tracer. She only received a call Saturday after McRae posted about the delay to social media, and after CBC News reached out to Alberta Health Services (AHS) to inquire about the delay.

“My hope is we’re a slip through the cracks, like, we’re not the norm. I hope we’re the exception. But it just scares me a little bit that the ramifications of an exception could be so great,” McRae said.

“We were self-isolating. We contacted everyone we could think of.”

McRae said the contact tracer told his partner that Alberta Health Services is working to clear a backlog, but that she personally has spoken to COVID-19-positive patients for contact tracing after their quarantine was already over. 

“The nurse was wonderful. But overall we just feel frustrated.”

The contact tracers will end up contacting King’s employer and their daughter’s daycare, even though those locations have known for days, he said.

AHS seeing increased demand

AHS said in an emailed statement that while it can’t speak to individual cases, contact tracing is critical to the province’s COVID-19 response and its team is making every effort to contact people in a timely manner

“AHS is seeing an increased demand for contact tracing related to increased positive cases and outbreaks across the province as we move through relaunch and individuals are increasing the number of places they visit and people they interact with, contact tracing is becoming increasingly complex and requires additional time to complete,” the statement read.

AHS didn’t say what its current turnaround time for contact tracing is, but in late July an AHS spokesperson said the province was aiming to complete investigations within 48 hours and was not quite hitting those targets. 

McRae said he hopes his family’s experience was an anomaly, but it’s left him “more worried about [the] return to teaching.”

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