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What Is Contact Tracing and Why Does It Matter?

covid-19quarantinecontact tracingNewsletterHealth & Wellness • 3 min read • Jul 15, 2020 12:00:00 AM • Written by: Kat Smith

Daily life has been majorly interrupted by the spread of COVID-19 throughout the United States. While there are many more businesses and public spaces opening back up, case numbers continue to rise in many hot spots around the country. Therefore, community efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus are integral in managing this health crisis as we strive for a return to normalcy in daily routines. Contact tracing is one of the most important efforts used by health departments to track and slow the spread of COVID-19. Here’s a closer look at everything you need to know about contact tracing in your community.

What exactly is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is an important follow-up step for coronavirus testing. When an individual tests positive for the virus, health officials will utilize contact tracing to identify other people that individual may have recently had close contact with. Those close contacts can then be notified of their heightened risk, so they may self-quarantine and get tested themselves if necessary. Contact tracing also helps spread awareness of local resources for individuals who have coronavirus or require services during their self-quarantine period.

How does contact tracing work?

Many communities are requiring that health departments ramp up their full-time staff dedicated to contact tracing prior to reopening various businesses and public spaces. That’s because contact tracing is a complex process. It begins by communicating with patients to help them recall individuals they may have had close contact with while likely infected with COVID-19. Then, these individuals will be notified as rapidly as possible about their risk of infection—information about the infected patient will not be revealed during this contact. As a close contact of an infected patient, you should plan to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days. You will also be informed of resources for COVID-19 testing and self-monitoring for symptoms.

Who counts as a close contact?

Not everyone who has recently encountered an infected patient is considered a close contact. For example, if the infected individual shopped for groceries while sick, others in the store would not necessarily be considered close contacts. A close contact has:

  • Been within 6 feet of the infected individual for a period of 15 minutes or more.
  • Encountered the infected individual anytime from 48 hours before symptoms began to the time of isolation.

Even if you were wearing a face covering while near the infected individual, you are still a close contact of that person if you meet the above conditions.

How do I self-quarantine?

If you are a close contact of someone with COVID-19, you should self-quarantine to prevent further spreading the virus if you become sick. Self-quarantine means staying home and maintaining a distance of 6 feet from others, including others in your household. If you need to leave the house during this time, you should wear a mask and limit your time out of the house to essential errands. You’ll also want to check your temperature twice daily and monitor for coronavirus symptoms. If you develop a fever or other symptoms, contact your local health department. You should be provided with a phone number to call if you are contacted by local health officials for contact tracing. Otherwise, notify a physician of your symptoms.

Why is contact tracing so important?

Because coronavirus can spread from person to person before symptoms appear, contact tracing is necessary to slow the spread of the virus. Through community contact tracing, at-risk individuals can better understand their risk. Contact tracing also connects individuals to essential resources and information that will further improve efforts to slow infection rates.

How is personal information kept secure with contact tracing?

Health departments are held to the same privacy standards as other healthcare professionals. Therefore, you can rest assured that your personal information will be kept private when you are contacted by your local health department. If you are an infected individual, your close contacts will not be provided with your name or identifying information.

If you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath, headaches, or fatigue, MeMD can quickly connect you with a healthcare provider to guide you through the testing process.

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Kat Smith