Although it’s a decades-old public health practice, contact tracing and its role in reducing the spread of disease has become a hot topic while our community, our state and the nation battle COVID-19.
The term “contact tracing” has been used during this pandemic as a catch-all for the disease investigation process, but traditionally, contact tracing is one part of a bigger picture.
For the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, this all starts with our Division of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Put simply, epidemiology is the science of disease. Our epidemiologists identify the source of disease and transmission; monitor and track diseases; study and update our knowledge of emerging disease; and develop guidance to slow the spread of disease.
Contact tracing is the process of identifying the people our positive cases have come into contact with and initiating quarantine and symptom monitoring to slow the spread of disease. This tool limits the opportunity for disease to spread by limiting person-to-person transmission.
The disease investigation process starts when we are notified of a positive test result. Our main focus has been COVID-19 this year, but this is how we’ve approached the nearly 160 diseases that are reported to us such as influenza, hepatitis A and food-borne illness. Our epidemiologists contact the person who tested positive, and work with them to determine where the person might have been infected, what they have done during their infectious period, and who would be considered a close contact.
Then, those close contacts – family members, coworkers and others – are contacted and instructed to quarantine. This is the contact tracing part.
One important thing to know: we will never tell anyone else if you have tested positive for COVID-19. Even if we call your close contacts, we just let them know they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 – not by whom.
Those under quarantine are instructed on symptoms to watch for and are contacted regularly to ensure symptoms haven’t developed. If they have, those individuals are referred to testing.
This practice is designed to break the chain of transmission. If we can keep sick people from those who are well, COVID-19 doesn’t have a chance to spread. The time frame of quarantine for COVID-19 is 14 days, as this is the incubation period. The incubation period refers to the range of time from when a person is exposed to the virus until that person can become infected. Waiting 14 days before leaving quarantine ensures that a person isn’t sick before they return to normal life.
It’s up to each and every one of us to do what we can to prevent COVID-19. We hope we never have to call you to say you have tested positive or need to quarantine, but if we do, we ask that you cooperate with us so we can work together to keep your friends, family, co-workers and community healthy.