Contact Tracing Explained

Contact Tracing Explained

December 10, 2020

So many words have been added to our everyday language this year and it can get confusing. Contact tracing is a new set of words that many people are just beginning to understand. However, it is not a new concept in public health. It has been utilized in epidemiology for decades and is something SRHD has always done with STDs, TB, and other infectious diseases. Contract tracing is an important part of investigating how a disease spreads.

When a COVID-19 test is positive, the result is sent to the local health district who will then contact the individual to complete a disease case investigation. The disease investigator has a discussion with the person who tested positive and asks them information about their contacts, place of employment, resource needs, and anything else that will help keep them or others safe. If they have been in contact with others during their infectious period, any close contacts* need to be notified. Contact tracers then reach out to those close contacts and let them know they may have been exposed to COVID-19 (they do not give out personal information).

Recently, however, increased cases in Spokane County have created a need to prioritize cases by risk level. To understand the case load, consider that most people have a social circle that begins with household members then reaches out to their work or school contacts, their friends and family and to the broader community. Even if each person who tests positive has only five close contacts (it is often greater than that) and you have 300 positive cases in a day, that would be 1500 people who need to be contacted.

This is where the community needs to play a huge role in slowing the spread of COVID-19. If you receive confirmation that you have tested positive for COVID-19, you can help by immediately notifying all your close contacts about possible exposure. If for any reason you’re concerned about what they might think, you can go to, enter in the contact information and it will send an anonymous notice to those contacts regarding exposure and give them guidance on what to do next.

Another great tool is the WA Notify app. Activate (iPhone) / download (Android) it now to be notified of exposure, but also to notify the people you’ve been around in case of a future infection. The SRHD call center can give you a code to enter into the app if you are notified you are positive for COVID-19. The app will then send an anonymous message to anybody who has been near your phone for a significant amount of time and give them instruction on next steps. If you receive a notice you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, we also have resources at that can lead you through your next steps.

*A close contact is a person that has been within 6 feet for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or longer during a 24 hour period, regardless of whether masks were worn.