TORONTO -- The Ontario government says it will allow its 34 local public health units to recruit volunteers to help it conduct an ever-expanding number of contact tracing investigations and patient follow-ups as the COVID-19 outbreak spreads.

The government is also preparing an online portal so people tested for COVID-19 infection can receive results online.

"It will help reduce the burden on our public health units and frontline health workers, allowing them to focus their efforts where they are needed most during this challenging time,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement.

The news comes as the Peel Region Public Health Unit was forced to admit a mailing error led 16 residents to think they had tested negative for COVID-19 when they had in fact tested positive.

The new orders will allow public health units to recruit medical students or retired healthcare professionals to help them expand efforts to trace contacts of each confirmed COVID-19 case.

Health units have been under strain for weeks as they try to conduct detailed investigations to document all of the people each confirmed COVID-19 patient came into contact with over the days where they were likely infectious.

The head of the health unit in Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes and Pine Ridge District Health Unit, home to a nursing outbreak where 17 people have died from the virus, told a newspaper last week they did not have the resources to conduct contact tracing investigations on weekends.

Other jurisdictions including Israel, Taiwan and Singapore have also moved to requisition cell phone metadata in a bid to improve case contact tracing.

So far, Canadian authorities have been reluctant to follow suit, citing privacy concerns.