What is Contact Tracing?

Many of us are getting anxious for the country to reopen so that we can get back to work, go out to eat, and begin returning to our normal lives.

Health experts say that will have a greater chance at being successful if states can offer widespread testing for COVID-19, followed by contact tracing. So what is contact tracing, and how does it work?

A Way to Control an Illness

Contact tracing is the process of identification for those who may have come into contact with a confirmed infected person during an outbreak. Once these contacts have been identified, they are reached out to in order to notify them of their potential exposure, and may be asked to quarantine. This helps prevent further spread of infection. It's been used successfully to control other illnesses, such as tuberculosis and SARS.

According to Dr. John May, attending physician at Bassett Medical Center, contact tracing is especially important for COVID-19:

“COVID-19 is much more challenging than many other viruses because it is very effectively spread by persons who have no symptoms at all. Typically, victims are spreading the disease for up to several days before they develop any symptoms. Prompt and aggressive tracing and testing of contacts is one of our best strategies.”

Who Can be Considered a Contact?

Contact tracing starts with the identification of someone who tests positive for COVID-19. That person is asked to recall their steps over the last few days. They'll be asked who they came into close contact with since they became sick. Contacts can include anyone who has been around an ill person, including:

  • Family members
  • Friends 
  • Coworkers
  • Health care providers
  • Roommates

Everyone on the list of contacts will be notified of their contact status. They'll be told what it means and the steps that will be taken next. Those steps could include:

  • Quarantining all contacts
  • Watching contacts for signs of illness
  • Regularly testing contacts for infection

What Happens if You're Identified as a Contact?

If you're identified as a contact of someone with COVID-19, you may be asked to quarantine at home or possibly at a hospital if you're at high risk. You may also be asked to take your temperature often. And you should stay at least 6 feet from others at all times.

Answer the Call

The New York State Contact Tracing Team is reaching out to individuals potentially exposed to COVID-19. The state is encouraging people to answer their phones when the tracers reach out to them from "NYS Contact Tracing," at (518) 387-9993.

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