The Importance of Contact Tracing

Submitted by the Whatcom County Health Department

We have a variety of tools we can use to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Mask wearing, maintaining physical distance and washing our hands are all ways we can keep ourselves and others safe. Another tool we use is contact tracing. Contact tracing helps us “box the virus in”, so it doesn’t continue to spread. 

What is Case Investigation and Contact Tracing?

Case investigators call each person who is diagnosed with COVID-19 and get a list of their close contacts. Contact tracers then call those close contacts to inform them of their risk so they can quarantine. They also connect people with testing and services in order to safely isolate. It takes workers, time and organization, but it is a decades-old tool that has been proven effective in slowing infectious diseases.

Why is Contact Tracing important?

Case investigation and contact tracing help us stop the virus in its tracks. When someone is diagnosed with COVID-19, their recent close contacts are notified and asked to quarantine. This helps prevent those close contacts from transmitting the virus to others if they’re infected and don’t know it yet. A recent model showed that cases can be significantly decreased when contact tracing and testing are completed quickly upon learning of a new case.

A Whatcom County contact tracer hard at work.

Contact tracing is also a valuable source of data about where transmission is happening. This data shows where people may need more support or education on how to prevent COVID-19 spread. 

We know it’s a call that no one wants to receive. Some people who are informed that they have had a positive test result are reluctant to share their close contacts. And some people who are close contacts are reluctant to quarantine themselves. But if you don’t take the time to talk with case investigators or contact tracers, you could potentially be putting your family, friends and coworkers at risk.

We are all ready for life to get back to normal. It’s going to be a long haul though, and it’s going to take every tool we have to make that happen, including case investigation and contact tracing. We all have a part to play in keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe.

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