What is Contact Tracing?

July 24th, 2020

Social distancing, protective masks and “flattening the curve” are all terms we hear time and again when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, many news reports are discussing “contact tracing.” What is it, and how does it help limit the spread of COVID-19? Let’s review some frequently asked questions:

What is it?

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, contact tracing is the process of reaching out to anyone who came in close contact with an individual who is positive for COVID-19. Contact tracing helps monitor a person’s close contacts for symptoms to determine if they might need COVID-19 testing.

How does it work?

Public health staff will ask a person testing positive for COVID-19 to recall everyone they have had close contact with during the time they were infectious. Those public health workers will then inform people who have had close contact with the infected person that they’ve potentially been exposed to COVID-19. They are NOT told who may have exposed them.

What will be provided to people who were in close contact with a COVID-19-positive person?

Close contacts will receive education, information and support to understand their risk. They will receive information about how to separate themselves from people who have not been exposed and how to monitor themselves for illness. They also will be informed that they could possibly spread COVID-19 to others, even if they do not feel sick.

Will people in close contact with a COVID-19-positive person need to quarantine?

Close contacts will be asked to self-quarantine and are encouraged to stay home and maintain social distancing for 14 days in case they become sick. They will be asked to check their temperature twice a day and watch for other COVID-19 symptoms. Public health staff will check in with these people to make sure they are self-monitoring and have not developed symptoms.

What happens if a close contact develops symptoms?

They should isolate themselves and let public health staff know. The close contact will be evaluated to see if they need medical care. A test may be necessary unless the individual is already in a household or long-term care facility with a confirmed case, then the close contact would be considered a probable case without a test.

Learn more about contact tracing.