Contact tracing has become a popular phrase that’s been heard thanks to the COVID pandemic. But what is it and what is the process? Here are a few quick tips on what contact tracing is and why it’s important.
What is contact tracing?
Contact tracing is a tool for public health officials to track where a person has been and who might have been exposed to an infectious disease. For example, if a person tests positive for COVID-19, they will be asked where they have been and who they have been in close contact with.
Public health workers will then try to contact the people. To protect the anonymity of the patient, the name of the person who was the source of the exposure is not disclosed to the people that are contacted. They are only told that they may have been exposed and that they need to take the appropriate steps to ensure that they do not expose others.
For COVID-19 contact tracing, close contact is a person who’s been within six feet of a person with COVID-19 within two days of the person’s diagnosis and/or onset of symptoms. These close contacts might include family, friends, co-workers, and health care providers. This enables health authorities to narrow down a list of possibly infected persons and contact them to monitor their health for a determined length of time and quarantine for the required 14 days.
Why is contact tracing important?
Contact tracing is important to help slow the spread of infectious diseases. It can be implemented with any infectious disease but has gained popularity thanks to the COVID pandemic. By utilizing this tool, it will help to limit the spread and save lives. The use of this system has never been implemented on such a wide scale, so it is important to establish the need for the system.
Without such a system in place, those that are infected would inadvertently spread the virus to those that are more vulnerable, such as the elderly and very young children. Even with the successful rollout of the vaccine, it’s still important to use contact tracing as a tool to limit the spread to those that can not receive the vaccine for health reasons.
Will my privacy be protected?
Any information that is given to health professionals concerning your close contacts is kept private. The information given to any close contacts that you provide to the health official will remain strictly private. Contact tracers will only share that the person has been exposed and what their next steps should be. The only exception to this rule is when your healthcare provider is contacted.
Contact tracing via technology has been implemented in countries other than the US, such as China and South Korea. This technology utilizes an app that uses Bluetooth, location-based, and QR codes and also anonymizes the information being collected. One of the biggest advantages of this type of tracing is speed. Traditional contact tracing can take a long time, especially when there are not enough people to do the tracing. This method allows for immediate notifications to be sent through the app and there is no need for human intervention.
The COVID pandemic has led to many changes in the way that we live and interact with each other. The number one priority is to keep everyone safe and protect those that are more vulnerable. Contact tracing has proven vital in its role of alerting those that have been exposed and slowing the spread to allow scientists more time to study and combat this infectious disease.
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