Contact tracing is a commonly used tool for contagious disease outbreaks. It is used to help contain outbreaks and help identify people who may have been exposed to an infected person. Contact tracing is important because people who are or have been in close contact with someone infected with COVID-19 are at high risk, and may or may not get sick.
Contact tracing helps stop the spread of disease by encouraging exposed individuals to self-quarantine and helping them know what to do if they become ill.
The following information has been developed to help our community better understand how contact tracing works and why it is important.
On this page:
- How contact tracers know who to contact
- Contact tracing process
- What questions are asked?
- Guidance on next steps
- What else happens
- Who else is contacted?
- Following up with contacts
- Is contact tracing a scam?
- What happens with personal information?
- Who is a close contact?
Contact tracers pull information* on new COVID-19 cases from an electronic data system.
*This information is reviewed for accuracy.
- Identify themselves as a contact tracer.
- Ask to verify the person’s age or date of birth and county of residence to make sure they are speaking to the right person.
- They share that the answers to the questions they are asking are covered under medical privacy laws and will remain strictly confidential.
- They make sure it is a good time to talk and ask the individual if they feel up to talking.
- The first step for contact tracers is to create a timeline of when symptoms began, and if people began to self-quarantine as a result.
- Contact tracers will also ask questions related to the interviewee’s living and work situations, travel history, and immediate circle of friends and family members.
These questions help contact tracers determine where individuals might have been exposed to COVID-19 and who they might have exposed to the virus after becoming infected.
- Contact tracers go over questions and topics that deal with the recovery process and the quarantine process.
- If the person with the positive test does not require hospitalization, contact tracers urge the person to continue to self-quarantine for 72 hours after their symptoms have cleared.
- Contact tracers provide an opportunity to answer questions.
- They will also ask for an email or mailing address to send additional information to.
- They will remind the person they will be checking in with them to see how they are doing and pass along any additional information.
- Contact tracers ask the person with a positive COVID-19 test to provide names and phone numbers of those they have been in close contact with.
- They remind people that gathering and communicating this information is a way of trying to ensure health and safety of those in the community.
- When tracers reach out to these contacts, they will not share the name of the person who has the positive test.
- They follow the same initial process:
- Identify themselves as a contact tracer
- Verify identity of person
- Share that information they talk about is covered under medical privacy laws
- Contact tracers then tell the person that they have been identified as having contact with a person who recently tested positive for COVID-19.
- They ask if the person is having symptoms and make sure they know what to do if they come down with any symptoms.
- They share information on how to best protect their family members, friends, and co-workers.
- They have the person do the following:
- Take their temperature and monitor for symptoms twice a day.
- Provide daily reports of these results for the next fourteen days.
- They also explain the importance of taking preventive actions because they could be a carrier without symptoms that can spread the virus to other people.
You may get a text message, phone call, or e-mail from scammers pretending to be COVID-19 contact tracers. Real contact tracers may ask for your name and address, health information, and the people and places you have visited.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Real contact tracers won’t ask you for money.
- Only scammers insist on payment by gift card, money transfer, or cryptocurrency.
- Contact tracing does not require your bank account or credit card number.
- Never share account information with anybody who contacts you asking for it.
- Real contact tracers will never ask for your Social Security Number.
- Never give any part of your Social Security number to anyone who contacts you.
- Your immigration status does not matter for contact tracing, so real tracers will not ask.
- If they do, it is a scam.
- Do not click on a link in a text or email.
- Doing so can download malware onto your device.
Talking to a real contact tracer helps stop the spread of COVID-19. Reporting scammers helps stop them too.
If you suspect you were contacted by a scammer, report it at the Federal Trade Commission's Complaint Site.
If you are unsure whether a real contact tracer is contacting you, contact your local health department before providing any information.
Discussions with health department staff are confidential. This means that your personal and medical information will be kept private and only shared with those who may need to know, like your health care provider.
If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, your name will not be shared with those you came in contact with. The health department will only notify people you were in close contact with (within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes) that they might have been exposed to COVID-19.
- For COVID-19, a close contact is anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes.
- An infected person can spread COVID-19 starting 48 hours (or 2 days) before the person had any symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19.
- Close contacts whose COVID-19 test comes back negative should still self-quarantine for 14 days since their last exposure.
- It can take up to 14 days after exposure to the virus for a person to develop COVID-19 symptoms. A negative result before the end of the 14-day quarantine period does not mean this persons is not infected.
- By self-quarantining for 14 days, they lower the chance of possibly exposing others to COVID-19.