Contact tracing might feel a little invasive, but there are reasons for the questions.
Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 in Monongalia County gets a call the next day from the Monongalia County Health Department—partly to see how they’re doing, and partly to find out who they might have exposed to the virus.
Then those people, those “contacts,” get calls, too. Because so many people never develop symptoms, contact tracing—finding people who may have been exposed so they can be quarantined before they pass it on in turn—is crucial for slowing the spread.
“When people cooperate, things get nipped in the bud really quickly,” says Jennifer Goldcamp, director of nursing for the Monongalia County Health Department.
But if you get a call from someone who says they’re from the Health Department and starts asking you personal questions, you might understandably think twice. So we asked the Health Department how contact tracing works. Your phone could ring at any time—here’s what to expect.
Why would I get a call? If you get a call, it’s because the Health Department has learned that you’ve been within six feet of a person who’s tested positive for more than 15 minutes in the previous 48 hours. It might have been a friend or co-worker, your hairdresser, your dentist. The caller is not going to tell you who it was—that would violate medical privacy laws.
How do I know it’s the Health Department and not a scam? The caller will identify herself as being with the Health Department. If you want to be sure, ask for the caller’s name, then hang up, look up the Health Department’s phone number, and call and ask to be connected with that person.
What are they going to ask me? The caller’s most important questions will be whether you’re having any symptoms and whether you have pre-existing medical conditions that put you at risk. If so, she’ll suggest you contact your doctor to get a referral for a COVID test.
What else are they going to ask me? These other questions might feel invasive, but they help public health efforts down the line. The caller will ask you for your address—this is so the Health Department can find you and make sure you’re alright if you don’t respond to follow-ups. She’ll ask your date of birth, and that’s to keep identities straight so that if you do later test positive, the epidemiologists can connect your original listing as a contact with your later listing as a case. And finally, she’ll ask your ethnicity, again for epidemiological purposes—because the disease appears to affect races differently, it helps scientists learn how the disease behaves.
Anything else? The caller will tell you you’re required to self-quarantine for two weeks or until you get word of a negative test result, and she may talk with you about your options for food shopping and other necessities.
And then someone from the Health Department will text you each morning while you’re in quarantine to see how you’re doing. Answer their texts—they’re working really hard to minimize the spread and keep everyone safe.
posted on August 5, 2020