Abbotsford mom confused by ‘mixed messages’ from contact tracers

“There’s a lot of our world right now that seems inconsistent, and if you’re getting mixed messages from health authorities, it can be very overwhelming.” – Marie Haak

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After two of her four kids tested positive for COVID-19, Marie Haak divided her living room with painter’s tape and worried about whether she should go back to work.


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Because she is fully vaccinated, the Abbotsford educational assistant was given the all-clear to return to her students by the first contact tracer she spoke to last week. But a second contact tracer, who called after another one of her children tested positive, was more hesitant and advised her to call 811, the provincial health advice hotline, to discuss it further.

Haak said she struggled with the decision as she and her husband pulled apart their dining table to make two eating areas, posted signs reminding their kids to mask up in the hallway, and used green tape to separate their living room into zones.

“In the end, it was basically my own choice,” she said Tuesday. “There’s a lot of our world right now that seems inconsistent, and if you’re getting mixed messages from health authorities, it can be very overwhelming.”


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As COVID-19 cases among children aged 5 to 11 jumped with the start of school , more parents have been forced to navigate pandemic-related challenges, from having a sick kid to isolating them after an exposure. But some say their experience with Fraser Health has left them confused.

Haak decided to use her sick days to isolate herself and manage isolation plans for her four kids, all of whom are under the age of 11 and must follow slightly different guidelines due to the nature of their contact and health issues.

During her calls with two contact tracers, she said she was asked for different information. One asked about her daughter’s contacts 14 days before she tested positive, while one didn’t ask about that period of time at all.


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Another Abbotsford mother, Crystal Mauthe said she contacted Fraser Health herself upon learning her two children had been exposed to the virus after a friend was over at their house and later tested positive.

“My friend was contacted by Fraser Health after her positive test, but she wasn’t asked about close contacts in the days before,” she said. “I told my friend to call the contact tracer back and tell them she had seen us so we could be told the proper information on how long we had to isolate.”

Mauthe eventually reached Fraser Health and was told her kids needed to isolate, while she had to monitor her own health because she is fully vaccinated.

“I had to seek that out for myself,” she said.

Crystal Mauthe and her daughter. [PNG Merlin Archive]
Crystal Mauthe and her daughter. [PNG Merlin Archive] PNG

Trina Enns said she, too, had to go above and beyond to determine if she should isolate after a COVID-19 exposure. She and her 12-year-old son were fully vaccinated when they were exposed through a close contact earlier this month, but because Enns takes an immune-suppressing medication, she asked the contact tracer if she should isolate rather than monitor.


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“I know that I may not have had a strong immune response to the vaccine,” she said. “Should I act like I haven’t been vaccinated?”

While the contact tracer told her she could continue to go out if she was vaccinated, the Abbotsford mother chose to isolate.

In a statement, Fraser Health spokesperson Vanessa Woznow said contact tracers have two main priorities: to determine where someone may have picked up the virus, and if they may have passed it on.

In general, she said, unvaccinated people who have had contact with the sick person and meet “close contact criteria” are told to isolate. Fully vaccinated close contacts can typically self-monitor if they do not have symptoms.

Woznow said those guidelines have been established by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.


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But not everyone who has seen the sick person in the two days prior to them showing symptoms may be contacted and told to isolate.

Contact tracers “work to identify clusters of cases in the community and notify those people at high risk of developing COVID-19 due to the nature of their contact with the case,” she said.

While they follow standardized scripts and use provincial criteria to determine isolation periods, how far back to trace, and who is identified as a close contact, contact tracers face “many different scenarios and settings” and must sometimes tailor their recommendations.

In those situations, they consult with nursing team leadership and medical health officers for guidance, said Woznow.

A situational report posted by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on Tuesday noted that while diagnosed cases of COVID-19 among school-aged children too young to be vaccinated rose when school started, the number peaked in late September and is now trending downward.


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The increase occurred primarily in regions with lower community vaccine coverage. “Not only does vaccination help protect the individual, it can also help protect others in the community, including younger children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated,” the report noted.

Between Oct. 6 to 13, there were 877 new COVID-19 cases among children aged five to 11 across B.C., compared to 204 kids under the age of four, and 267 aged 12 to 17. Only 44 kids in the five-to-11 age group have been hospitalized due to the virus, including one during the week of the report. There have been no deaths in that age group.

The report also noted there were 1,388 postings of potential exposure among 510 schools, or about a quarter of all schools in B.C., between Sept. 7 and Oct. 9.

There are over 500,000 children under age 12 in B.C. who remain unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Earlier this week, Pfizer-BioNTech said it had asked Health Canada to approve the first COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11 years old.

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