The term contact tracing has been used during this pandemic as a catch-all for the disease investigation process, but traditionally contact tracing is one part of a bigger picture.
For the Springfield-Greene County Health Department, this all starts with our Division of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Put simply, epidemiology is the science of disease. Our epidemiologists identify the source of disease and transmission; monitor and track diseases; study and update our knowledge of emerging disease; and develop guidance to slow the spread of disease.
The disease investigation process starts when we are notified of a positive test result. Our main focus has been COVID-19 this year, but this is how we’ve approached the nearly 160 diseases that are reported to us such as influenza, Hepatitis A and foodborne illness. Our epidemiologists contact the person who tested positive, and work with them to determine where the person might have been infected, what they have done during their infectious period, and who would be considered a close contact.
Then those close contacts, like family members; coworkers; and others, are contacted and instructed to quarantine. This is the contact tracing part.
One important thing to know is we will never tell anyone else if you have tested positive for COVID-19. Even if we call your close contacts, we just let them know they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, not by whom. Maintaining confidentiality is paramount for us.
Those under quarantine are instructed on what symptoms to watch for and are contacted regularly to ensure symptoms haven’t developed. If they have, those individuals are referred to testing.
Contact tracing is designed to break the chain of disease transmission. If we can keep sick people from those who are well, COVID-19 doesn’t have a chance to spread. The length of quarantine is a minimum of 7-10 days, depending on test results. If the individual is tested after day 5 and receives a negative test result, they can be released after 7 days of quarantine. If they are not tested, they must quarantine for 10 days.
It is important to continue monitoring for symptoms for the full incubation period of 14 days. The incubation period refers to the range of time from when a person is exposed to the virus until that person can become infected. Monitoring for symptoms for 14 days ensures that a person can prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It’s up to each and every one of us to do what we can to slow the spread of COVID-19. We hope we never have to call you to say you need to quarantine, but if we do, we ask that you cooperate with us so we can work together to keep your friends, family, coworkers and community healthy.
To meet the unprecedented demand for contact tracing, the Health Department has partnered with Virginia-based company Maximus Federal Services, Inc., to monitor individuals who have had close and prolonged contact with a COVID-19 individual. This means you may not receive a call directly from a Health Department employee, but rather someone from Maximus, if you have been identified as a close contact.
Below are some of our most frequently asked questions regarding this partnership:
- What does the partnership between the Health Department and Maximus mean for me?
The Health Department's partnership with Maximus has improved the efficiency of contacting and monitoring individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19 from a COVID-19 positive individual. This ensures that you will be contacted in a timely manner and emphasizes our commitment to providing and maintaining a thorough quarantine process to keep you and others healthy.
- If I already know that I was exposed last week, why are you just now calling me?
During the disease investigation process, COVID-19 positive individuals are asked to name people with whom they had close contact. Even if someone you were around already told you about their diagnoses, the Health Department or Maximus will contact you to provide guidance on quarantine and what to expect.
- Why do I have to quarantine if I don't have any symptoms? And why do you have to call me every day?
You will be instructed to quarantine 7 or 10 days from your last date of contact with a COVID-19 positive individual, depending on test results. You will be contacted daily and expected to report your temperature and any changes in how you feel. Even if you test negative for COVID-19 or feel healthy, symptoms may appear between two and 14 days after exposure to the virus.
- Why are you asking me for my address and telephone number, shouldn’t you already have this information?
You will be asked to verify your information to ensure that we are speaking with the right person and to make sure that we have the correct contact information on file should we need to contact you in the future. All of your information will be kept confidential.
- Why do you need my email address?
We need your email address so we can send you patient responsibility forms on what is required of you when you are instructed to quarantine.
- What if I don’t want to talk to you? I would rather talk to my own personal doctor about my health questions related to COVID -19.
Although specific health-related questions should be referred to your physician, the Health Department will monitor changes in your health while in quarantine and provide guidance on when to get tested or seek medical attention.
Things you will NEVER be asked for:
- Your social security number (SSN)
- Financial information, including credit card and checking account information
- Personal information not related to your symptoms for the exception of your name, address, date of birth (DOB), phone number and email address