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What is contact tracing?
Contact tracing, a core disease control measure employed by local and state health department personnel for decades, is a key strategy for preventing further spread of COVID-19. Immediate action is needed. Communities must scale up and train a large contact tracer workforce and work collaboratively across public and private agencies to stop the transmission of COVID-19.
- Contact tracing is part of the process of supporting patients with suspected or confirmed infection.
- In contact tracing, public health staff work with a patient to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the timeframe while they may have been infectious.
- Public health staff then warn these exposed individuals (contacts) of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible.
- To protect patient privacy, contacts are only informed that they may have been exposed to a patient with the infection. They are not told the identity of the patient who may have exposed them.
- Contacts are provided with education, information, and support to understand their risk, what they should do to separate themselves from others who are not exposed, monitor themselves for illness, and the possibility that they could spread the infection to others even if they themselves do not feel ill.
- Contacts are encouraged to stay home and maintain social distance from others (at least 6 feet) until 14 days after their last exposure, in case they also become ill. They should monitor themselves by checking their temperature twice daily and watching for cough or shortness of breath. To the extent possible, public health staff should check in with contacts to make sure they are self-monitoring and have not developed symptoms. Contacts who develop symptoms should promptly isolate themselves and notify public health staff. They should be promptly evaluated for infection and for the need for medical care.
Contact tracing is a specialized skill. To be done effectively, it requires people with the training, supervision, and access to social and medical support for patients and contacts.
Contact tracing is part of the process of supporting patients and warning contacts of exposure in order to stop chains of transmission.
Given the magnitude of COVID-19 cases and plans to eventually relax mitigation efforts such as stay at home orders and social distancing, communities need a large number of trained contact tracers. These contact tracers need to quickly locate and talk with the patients, assist in arranging for patients to isolate themselves, and work with patients to identify people with whom the patients have been in close contact so the contact tracer can locate them. The actual number of staff needed is large and varies depending on a number of factors including but not limited to:
- The daily number of cases
- The number of contacts identified
- How quickly patients are isolated, and contacts are notified and advised to stay home, self-monitor, and maintain social distance from others