What is contact tracing?
Contact tracing is used by health departments to prevent the spread of infectious disease. In general, contact tracing involves identifying people who have an infectious disease (cases) and their contacts (people who may have been exposed) and working with them to interrupt disease transmission. For COVID-19, this includes asking cases to isolate and contacts to quarantine at home voluntarily.
Contact tracing for COVID-19 typically involves
• Interviewing people with COVID-19 to identify everyone with whom they had close contact during the time they may have been infectious. (In Washington County, this is determined by a nurse and is based off of symptom onset and/or test date.)
• Notifying contacts of their potential exposure,
• Referring contacts for testing,
• Monitoring contacts for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, and
• Connecting contacts with services they might need during the self-quarantine period such as Salvation Army, EMAA, etc.
To prevent the further spread of disease, COVID-19 contacts are encouraged to stay home and maintain social distance (at least 6 feet) from others until 14 days after their last exposure to a person with COVID-19. Contacts should monitor themselves by checking their temperature twice daily and watching for symptoms of COVID-19.
What happens during contact tracing?
Generally, contact tracing includes the following steps:
• Case investigation: Public health staff work with a patient to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the time when they may have been infectious.
• Contact tracing: Public health staff begin contact tracing by notifying exposed individuals (contacts) of their potential exposure as rapidly & sensitively as possible, not revealing the infected patient’s identity.
• Contact support: Contacts are provided with education, information, and support to help them understand their risk, what they should do to separate themselves from others who are not exposed, and how to monitor themselves for illness. In addition, they are informed of the possibility that they could spread the infection to others even if they do not feel ill.
• Self-quarantine: Contacts are encouraged to stay home, monitor their health, and maintain social distance (at least 6 feet) from others until 14 days after their last exposure to the infected patient, in case they also become ill.
Who is considered a close contact to someone with COVID-19?
For COVID-19, a close contact is defined as anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 48 hours before the person began feeling sick until the time the patient was isolated.
What can a person diagnosed with COVID-19 expect to happen during contact tracing?
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, a case investigator from the health department may call you to check-in on your health, discuss who you’ve been in contact with, and ask where you spent time while you may have been infectious and able to spread COVID-19 to others. You will also be asked to stay at home and self-isolate, if you are not doing so already.
• Your name will not be revealed to those you may have exposed, even if they ask.
• Self-isolation means staying at home in a specific room away from other people and pets, and using a separate bathroom, if possible.
• Self-isolation helps slow the spread of COVID-19 & can help keep your family, friends, neighbors, & others you may come in contact with healthy.
• If you need support or assistance while self-isolating, your health dept or community organizations may be able to provide assistance.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. If your symptoms worsen or become severe, you should seek medical care. Severe symptoms include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face.
What can close contacts expect to happen during contact tracing?
If you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, a contact tracer from the health department might contact you to inform you that you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.
You should stay at home and self-quarantine for 14 days, starting from the last day you were possibly exposed to COVID-19. The contact tracer will help identify the dates of your self-quarantine. The contact tracer can also provide resources about COVID-19 testing in your area.
• Self-quarantine means staying home, monitoring your health, and maintaining social distancing (at least 6 feet) from others at all times.
• If you need to be around other people or animals in or outside of the home, wear a cloth face covering. This will help protect the people around you. If you can not separate yourself from your household, your household will need to quarantine as well.
• If you need support or assistance with self-quarantine, your health dept or community organizations may be able to provide assistance.
You should take your temperature twice a day, watch for symptoms of COVID-19, and notify your health department if you develop symptoms. You should also notify people you had close contact with recently if you become ill, so they can monitor their health. If your symptoms worsen or become severe, you should seek medical care.
Am I considered a close contact if I was wearing a cloth face covering?
Yes, you are still considered a close contact even if you were wearing a cloth face covering while you were around someone with COVID-19.
What if I have been around someone who was identified as a close contact?
If you have been around someone who was identified as a close contact to a person with COVID-19, you should closely monitor yourself for any symptoms of COVID-19. You do not need to self-quarantine.
If you have questions you can call 877-435-8411 and speak with a Covid-19 specialist.
Online you can visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html#Contact-Tracing to see this document in full.