A man getting a contact tracing alert on his smartphone.

What is Contact Tracing? All About This New COVID-19 Buzzword

Sep 16 2020

To slow the spread of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed tools to assist with contact tracing. Contact tracing programs have now been launched throughout the U.S. by state, tribal, local and territorial health departments in conjunction with the CDC. The goal is to help to identify, monitor and provide support to people who may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Contact tracing helps slow the spread of COVID-19 by:

  • Letting people know if they have been exposed to COVID-19 and should monitor for symptoms.
  • Helping people who may have been exposed get tested.
  • Asking people to self-isolate if they have COVID-19, or self-quarantine if they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

In other words, contact tracing can help you figure out if you need to be tested, self-isolate or self-quarantine to help prevent this virus from spreading further.

How does contact tracing work?

If you are suspected of or test positive for COVID-19, a case investigation is opened to help provide you with support. A public health staff member will work with you to help you remember everyone you’ve been in contact with during the time you may have been infected.

The staff member will then contact these individuals to let them know they’ve potentially been exposed. To protect patient privacy, contacts are told they may have been exposed to a patient who tested positive, not the identity of the patient. Staff members provide them with education, information and support to help them understand their risk and decide on next steps.

Additionally, anyone can sign up and participate in their local contact tracing program:

  1. You can sign up for text message or email
  2. You can download a proximity tracing/exposure smartphone app. This app uses existing information from your cell phone about your location, such as Bluetooth or GPS, and alerts you if you’ve been in the same area as a person who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

By participating in a contact tracing program, you are helping your health department in the fight against COVID-19, and helping to protect yourself, your family and your community.

If you have been around someone who tested positive for COVID-19, someone from the health department may call and tell you that you’ve been exposed.

If this is the case, be sure to:

  • Stay at home and away from others for at least 14 days.
  • If you need to be around others, wear a face mask and maintain a distance of at least six feet at all times.
  • Monitor your health for symptoms of COVID-19, such as cough, shortness of breath and fever. Notify your health department if you develop symptoms and seek medical care if they become severe.

Stay updated on what Mercy Health is doing related to COVID-19.

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