(Files by Catherine Garrett-MyPGNow)

The BC Government is hiring up to 500 new contact tracers for COVID-19 to help deal with a potential surge in cases.

Contact tracing works by following up with each person who has tested positive for COVID-19 to understand who their contacts may be and providing appropriate follow-up.

Premier John Horgan says some of the positions will help with the immunization plan in the fall, with further details to be announced later this month.

“We want to make sure people are kept safe in any COVID-19 outbreak, and one of the ways to do that is through strong contact tracing,” said Premier Horgan.

“These 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.”

He expects new contact tracers to be new graduates or retired health professionals, with positions to start in September.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says contact tracing is a new term for many people but it’s ‘bread and butter work’ for health officials.

She says this is something the province needs to focus on until ‘there is an effective vaccine’.

Some of these 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,” said Doctor Henry.

These positions will be temporary and will be recruited by the Provincial Health Services Authority and the regional health authorities.

This will allow health authorities to increase their local pool of available public health professionals, while also providing a team of people that are available to be deployed throughout the province as needed.

It is anticipated that candidates will begin work in September and will be employed until the end of March 2021, with the opportunity for an extension if needed.