Infectious Diseases

Algoma Public Health

Understanding Case Contact Management

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What happens after the specimen is collect at an assessment centre?

  • Once a specimen is collected from someone getting tested, it is carefully packaged and transported to a laboratory for processing.
  • Depending on testing volumes at the time, turnaround times for results are between one to four days.
  • Tests for certain groups are prioritized for processing, including specimens from patients who are hospitalized, health care workers, residents of long-term care homes or similar group living settings, and people who are First Nation or Inuit.
  • Once specimen testing is complete, the laboratory sends the result to the ordering health care provider and to the local public health unit.  Lab results are also made available for individuals to check online directly. 


What happens after a person is tested for COVID-19?

After testing, the health care provider will advise the person to self-isolate at home while waiting for results.  Health care workers and other essential workers may have additional guidance from their employer with regards to instructions following COVID-19 testing. While waiting for results, it is also important to be reachable by phone, so that in the event of a positive result, public health nurses can quickly call the person, and begin case management and contact tracing. 


How does public health conduct follow-up after a positive test result?

When Algoma Public Health receives notification of a positive test result from a laboratory, our staff will follow-up with the individual who has the positive test result for COVID-19.

Case and contact management

Algoma Public Health (APH) contacts the individual who has tested positive as soon as possible following reporting of the case to APH.  Usually this takes place the same day as results are received, or within 24 hours.  All people who test positive receive frequent and regular public health follow-up until their illness is resolved.
The objectives of public health case and contact management are as follows:


  1. Monitor the person’s health status and recovery

    If APH public health nurses see that a person’s symptoms are getting worse, they help that person get the health care they need.

  2. Stop the chain of transmission. 

    APH public health nurses give individuals instructions on how to self-isolate so that no one else contracts the illness from that point forward.  Caregivers, household members, and close contacts are also given caregiver guidance on self-isolation and instructions on how to properly clean living environments.  To help people remain in self-isolation, public health nurses follow up with individuals every day, and also connect them to community assistance and services, if they need help with necessities like groceries or prescription refills.

  3. Identify and notify others who are at risk. 

    • APH public health nurses work with the individual to identify how they may have contracted COVID-19.  This involves careful investigation of possible exposures during the 14 days before the individual became ill.  Common high risk exposures include travel to an area impacted by COVID-19, or being in close contact with another person with COVID-19.

    • APH public health nurses also do contact tracing to identify people who may have been in close contact with the ill individual during the “period of communicability” which is 48 hours before symptom onset, to 10 days after symptom onset.

      • Examples of people considered close contacts: people living in the same household, people having direct or close physical contact with the ill individual, and people with direct contact with respiratory droplets from the ill individual (e.g. shaking hands, having been coughed or sneezed on, touching used tissues with bare hands).

    • Once close contacts are identified, APH public health nurses follow up with each person individually to give public health guidance and instructions.  Usually follow-up with close contacts happens the same day as they are identified, or within 24 hours.  Not all close contacts of a person with COVID-19 will develop symptoms.  Public health instructions to close contacts are tailored according to the level of exposure risk, and may include instructions to self-monitor for symptoms, to seek testing if ill, and/or to self-isolate.

    • Sometimes, in addition to notifying close contacts individually, broader public notification is required.  In these situations, APH typically issues media releases to inform the general public of risks in Algoma communities.

      • In an outbreak scenario, such as at a workplace setting or a residential institution, there can be a large number of people affected.  In these situations, a media release is often the fastest way to notify people who are potentially affected, so that they can contact APH and/or their institution for further instructions.

      • Sometimes a definitive exposure cannot be identified as to how the ill individual contracted COVID-19.  This can happen if a person cannot fully remember their close contacts for the 14 days before symptoms, or if there is no way to identify all times and places of risk in a comprehensive way.  In this situation, if the original exposure is unknown, and has happened too far back in time to take any further action, this is considered a case of “community transmission” or “community spread” of the virus.  In all communities where community spread is happening or is likely, every person must practice physical distancing and stay at home as much as possible, because any close contact can be a potential exposure.