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Contact tracing, a core disease control measure employed by local and state health department personnel for decades in addressing various infectious diseases, is a key strategy for preventing further spread of COVID-19.
Identifying contacts and ensuring they do not interact with others is critical to protecting communities from further spread. If communities are unable to effectively isolate patients and ensure contacts can separate themselves from others, rapid community spread of COVID-19 is likely to increase to the point that strict mitigation strategies like stay-at-home orders will again be needed to contain the virus.
How It Works
In essence, contact tracing is part of the process of supporting patients with a suspected or confirmed infection. Public health staff work with COVID-19 patients to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the time frame while they may have been infectious.
Public health staff then warn those exposed individuals (contacts) of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible. To protect patient privacy, contacts are only informed that they may have been exposed to a patient with the infection. They are not told the identity of the patient who may have exposed them.
Contacts are provided with education, information, and support to understand their risk, what they should do to separate themselves from others who are not exposed, monitor themselves for illness, and the possibility that they could spread the infection to others even if they themselves do not feel ill. Contacts are encouraged to stay home and maintain social distance from others (at least six feet) until 14 days after their last exposure, in case they also become ill. They should monitor themselves by checking their temperature twice daily and watching for cough or shortness of breath.
To the extent possible, public health staff should check in with contacts to make sure they are self-monitoring and have not developed symptoms. Contacts who develop symptoms should promptly isolate themselves and notify public health staff. They should be promptly evaluated for infection and for their need for medical care.
Contact Tracing Job and Volunteer Opportunities
A contract tracer’s work consists of:
- Immediately identifying and interviewing people with SARS CoV-2 infections and COVID-19;
- Supporting isolation of those who are infected;
- Warning contacts of their exposure, assessing their symptoms and risk, and providing instructions for next steps; and
- Linking those with symptoms to testing and care.
If you can help out, check out these job and volunteer opportunities:
- Larkin Community Hospital: volunteers must have a high school degree (at minimum) and can be from any geographic location in the U.S. or abroad. Larkin Community Hospital will provide a free contact tracer course and training using their free COVID Fighter smartphone app. Sign up at this link or email email@example.com.
- CONTRACE Public Health Corps: U.S. residents can make $17 to $22 an hour, working eight to twelve-hour shifts. Submitting this application once adds you to a national database for consideration for all remote contact tracing positions. There is no need to submit again for listings for different cities or states. Your information will be provided to organizations that are hiring contact tracing teams, in order to help them launch or expand their teams more quickly and efficiently. Click here to apply.
Contact tracing is a specialized skill. To be done effectively, it requires people with the training, supervision, and access to social and medical support for patients and contacts. Requisite knowledge and skills for contact tracers include, but are not limited to:
- An understanding of patient confidentiality, including the ability to conduct interviews without violating confidentiality (e.g., to those who might overhear their conversations)
- Understanding of the medical terms and principles of exposure, infection, infectious period, potentially infectious interactions, symptoms of disease, pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic infection
- Excellent and sensitive interpersonal, cultural sensitivity, and interviewing skills such that they can build and maintain trust with patients and contacts
- Basic skills of crisis counseling, and the ability to confidently refer patients and contacts for further care if needed
- Resourcefulness in locating patients and contacts who may be difficult to reach or reluctant to engage in conversation
- Understanding of when to refer individuals or situations to medical, social, or supervisory resources
- Cultural competency appropriate to the local community