Contact tracing is a key strategy to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in our community.
It’s a process that local health departments conduct regularly with communicable diseases but often outside of the public eye. Now the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a bright light on this process, and many people tend to ask the question: How does it work?
When someone tests positive for COVID-19, a Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health disease investigator calls the person and collects key information. This includes asking about their symptoms, when those symptoms started to develop, where they have been since then, and who they have been in close contact with.
Sonia Jordan, Informatics Director at Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, says identifying close contacts is one of the most important things to limit the spread of the virus. Close contacts are those who spent more than 10 minutes within six feet of the person who tested positive all the way back to 48 hours before the patient’s onset of symptoms. Cooperation with contact tracing is voluntary, and the information is kept confidential. WATCH THIS VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH SONIA JORDAN ABOUT CONTACT TRACING
When close contacts are identified, a disease investigator will make contact and notify them they’ve potentially been exposed and that they need to quarantine for 14 days since their last exposure.
If you have been exposed, you’ll hear from a public health worker – either with Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health or the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Jordan said.
“We try to be a system of support, as much as possible, for those people and for the contacts they may have,” Jordan said. “We try to make sure that we answer any questions and that we’re available to them whenever they need.”
Compliance with isolation and quarantine orders among positive cases and close contacts has been good during the pandemic, Jordan said. With more cases recently and more of the community open now as opposed to stay-home order earlier this year, there are likely more opportunities for exposure, so it is still important for everyone to follow public health guidelines as closely as they can, including wearing face coverings in indoor public places and where it can be difficult to maintain social distancing and monitoring yourself for symptoms.
“We’re doing this to try to protect our community as much as possible,” Jordan said. “As much as you can think of it as a civic duty, or as doing your part to help the community, the better, because we really are trying to save people’s lives and protect our healthcare system.”