WINDSOR, ONT. -- As case counts in Windsor-Essex continue to eclipse previous highs, the work load for the health unit’s 40 contact tracers is overbearing.

“Everyone is busy,” Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) CEO Theresa Marentette said during a briefing this week. “This year, since March, everyone is working at full capacity.... Every outbreak that we report, every case is further stretch of our resources.”

Ontario’s minister of health confirmed Wednesday that help is on the way.

“We have also been in contact with Windsor-Essex and are providing 24 provincial contact tracers to aid with the work they’re already doing to do that contact management to help get the numbers under control,” said Minister Christine Elliott.

But local New Democrats wonder if it will come soon enough.

“They’re sitting on $9 billion in unused COVID relief funding while exhausted front-line workers are scrambling to keep the virus at bay,” said Lisa Gretzky, the MPP for Windsor West. “People are getting sick and people are dying.”

“We need more help and we need it now,” quipped Windsor-Tecumseh MPP, Percy Hatfield. “Speaker, will the minister give the WECHU the resources they need immediately and prevent this looming collapse.”

There are currently 18 outbreaks in the region and at least 25 school cohorts dismissed due to positive cases.

With more than 400 active cases and 1,000 people identified as close contacts of confirmed cases, public health officials say contact tracing is getting harder — and the notification time for possible exposure is stretching out two to three days.

Minister Elliott said 96 per cent of cases and 89 per cent of contacts are being reached within 24 hours, but promises to provide resources as needed.

“In order to be able to flatten the curve and protect the people and the health and well-being of the people of Windsor-Essex, which has been our goal since this pandemic began,” Elliott said.

Marentette says the promised staff, as well as recent hires, still need to come onboard.

“It is taking us a few days to reach out to people with cases because of our cases being so high,” she said. “So with more staff within the next week to 10 days maybe, we should have a better handle on it then.

Until then, WECHU medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed suggests people stay home as much as possible to avoid contracting the virus and possibly pushing the area into further lockdown restrictions.

When in public he offers the same advice he’s been suggesting since the onset of the pandemic: limit social contacts, wear a mask, wash your hands regularly and maintain an appropriate physical distance.

“Even though some of these measures that we recommend can sound basic and trivial, but those are the measures that can still protect the people,” he said.