COVID-19: Many people are still shocked to discover they may have coronavirus

‘Sometimes people might feel like we’re snooping or spying on them, but we’re just trying to keep everyone within a household safe.” — Contact tracer Shaan Laura says

Article content

During this pandemic, healthcare workers have been on the front lines, lauded as heroes but also targeted by anti-vaccine mandate protesters. Postmedia went behind the scenes and spoke with a range of Fraser Health Authority staff for this five-part series to see how they’re coping. Here is part five:


Article content

Who do you live with a complete stranger asks over the phone. How many bedrooms in your home?

Who else was at that party you went to? Who have you been in close contact with since?

Those questions and many, many more are all part of a COVID-19 contact tracer’s job, and while the questions might seem intrusive, most people — the vast majority of them — are happy to hear from Shaan Laura, a criminology student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University who has been a contact tracer since January.

“If someone tests positive for COVID-19, we give them a call, go through a set of questions, ask where they think they may have possibly caught the virus, offer any advice and help we can,” Laura said. “And we kind of go from there. It’s a quite comprehensive set of questions we ask people to ensure everyone’s safe.”


Article content

The reason for the questions is to ensure someone who caught the virus can isolate alone at home, away from other members of the family.

It’s an effort to mitigate exposure even within a household.

“So sometimes people might feel like we’re snooping or spying on them, but we’re just trying to keep everyone within a household safe,” Laura said.

In his 10 months on the job, most people are not only cooperative, most are expecting his call.

“In some situations, they aren’t very nice people, but the chances of that are quite low, actually,” he said.

“There are some people who deny that COVID’s a thing, or they believe they’ve received false results, stuff like that. But we try our best to keep it cool, to explain the situation.


Article content

“And in some cases there are people who are upset they have to isolate. Everyone has different circumstances, financially and otherwise.”

But contact tracers still try to explain the best possible way to mitigate having caught the virus.

“We tell them, ‘You’re not the only one dealing with it, there’s a whole bunch of people. We’re really trying to help people, ensure they’re safe as possible and to stay home for that period.”

Read the full series:

Part 1 —   Respiratory therapists see ICUs fill up with non-vaccinated patients

Part 2 —   Health officers find themselves branching out because of pandemic

Part 3 —  Nurses overworked, stressed out and overflowing with care and concern for their patients

Part 4 — Some patients still suffering 18 months after first diagnosis


Article content

Laura compares the ease with which COVID-19 spread to a wildfire; and the Delta variant spreads like it’s been fanned by typhoon-strength winds.

People are still surprised they’ve caught the virus, he said. They played it safe, super safe. They’ve had extremely limited exposure. They wash their hands regularly and take care not to touch their face.

“And they still somehow caught it.  Unless you stay home, unless you stay inside your four walls, there’s always a chance.”

Most people are expecting the call.

Some of those who aren’t are shocked, and the parable about shooting messengers delivering unpleasant facts comes to mind.

“I’ve had it happen to me a couple of times in my past 10 months here,” Laura said, “and it sucks to be bearer of bad news, to tell someone they’ve got COVID.”


Article content

So he tries to keep the mood as light as possible, even telling a few jokes if appropriate.

“Trying, really, to help someone, especially if elderly. But again, a very, very high percentage of people expect the call and thanks us for calling.”

It’s not something that’s taught, there’s no tracer prep school. It comes naturally to Laura.

“I try not to be too, too serious, I don’t want to sound like a robot when I’m talking to someone; I personally wouldn’t want, if I imagine someone calling me, going through that whole script in a robot voice, it wouldn’t be very nice. It would be boring.”

But the job can be stressful. Delta, the most recent variant, has caused a huge surge in cases. And informing someone who doesn’t have the resources to properly isolate that they need to regardless is tough.


Article content

“Telling someone who is living in a shelter or doesn’t have a permanent address, telling them to isolate and asking them to figure out how to do that, it’s pretty stressful,” Laura said.

“It’s not an easy job, but it’s not overly tough, either. It feels rewarding in a way that you’re helping the community.

“It feels like the work you’re doing is having a direct, positive impact.”

Get the latest COVID-19 news delivered to your inbox weeknights at 7 p.m. by subscribing to our newsletter here .

CLICK HERE to report a typo.

Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email



Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

This website uses cookies and asks your personal data to enhance your browsing experience.