Contact tracing, a core disease control measure employed by local and state health department personnel for decades, is a key strategy for preventing further spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing is part of the process of supporting patients with suspected or confirmed infection.
In contact tracing, public health staff work with a patient to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the time frame while they may have been infectious. If you receive a call from a Health Department contact tracer the purpose is to warn the exposed individuals (contacts) of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible. In order to stop the spread of the disease it is important to answer all contact tracer questions accurately and completely.
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. Being the contact of someone who had close contact with a COVID-19-postive person does not require testing.
For example, if you have a coworker whose family member is a confirmed case, you are not necessarily at risk. Despite coming into contact with the coworker, you did not have close contact with the person who actually has COVID-19.
Contacts are encouraged to stay home and maintain social distance from others (at least 6 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 the need for medical care.
“As the population of Cape May County increases in the summer months, so do the number of individuals being testing for COVID-19. Testing is available to those who need it, but it is important to know when to get tested,” said Kevin Thomas, Health Officer.
It is especially important to get tested if:
- You are an essential worker (health care worker, first responder, food service worker, or transit worker)
- You were recently in a large crowd where social distancing was hard to maintain
- You recently traveled to an area or a state with high COVID-19 infection rates
- You have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Testing negative does not make an individual exempt from continuing to take preventative measures, such as social distancing, wearing a face covering, and hand hygiene. The average incubation period of COVID-19 is 2-14 days, which is why the recommendation is to self-quarantine for 14 full days, even with a negative COVID-19 test.