Contact Tracing Frequently Asked Questions

What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is used by health departments to prevent the spread of infectious disease. In general, contact tracing involves identifying people who have an infectious disease (cases) and their contacts (people who may have been exposed) and working with them to interrupt disease transmission. For COVID-19, this includes asking cases to isolate and contacts to quarantine at home voluntarily.

What does contact tracing typically involve?

  • Interviewing people with COVID-19 to identify everyone they had close contact with during the time they may have been infectious

  • Notifying contacts of their potential exposure

  • Referring contacts for testing

  • Monitoring contacts for signs and symptoms of COVID-19

  • Connecting contacts with services they might need during the self-quarantine period

To prevent the further spread of disease, people who had contact with someone with COVID-19 are encouraged to stay home and maintain social distance (at least 6 feet) from others until 14 days after their last exposure to a person with COVID-19. Contacts should monitor themselves by checking their temperature twice daily and watching for symptoms of COVID-19.

What are the steps of contact tracing?

Generally, contact tracing includes the following steps:

  • Case investigation: Public health staff work with a patient to help them recall everyone they have had close contact with during the time they may have been infectious.

  • Contact tracing: Public health staff begin contact tracing by notifying exposed people (contacts) of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible, not revealing the infected patient’s identity.

  • Contact support: Contacts are provided with education, information, and support to help them understand their risk, what they should do to separate themselves from others who are not exposed, and how to monitor themselves for illness. In addition, they are informed of the possibility that they could spread the infection to others even if they do not feel ill.

  • Self-quarantine: Contacts are encouraged to stay home, monitor their health, and maintain social distance (at least 6 feet) from others until 14 days after their last exposure to the infected patient, in case they also become ill.

If I am diagnosed with COVID-19, what can I expect to happen?

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, a public health worker may call you to check-in on your health, discuss who you’ve been in contact with, and ask where you spent time while you may have been infectious and able to spread COVID-19 to others. You will also be asked to stay at home and self-isolate, if you are not doing so already. You will likely receive a call from a contact tracer within 24 hours of your positive test result. 

  • Your name will not be revealed to those you may have exposed, even if they ask.

  • Self-isolation means staying at home in a specific room away from other people and pets and using a separate bathroom, if possible.

  • Self-isolation helps slow the spread of COVID-19 and can help keep your family, friends, neighbors, and others you may come in contact with healthy.

  • If you need support or assistance while self-isolating, your health department or community organizations may be able to provide assistance.

  • Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. If your symptoms worsen or become severe, you should seek medical care. Severe symptoms include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face.

If I am a close contact of a diagnosed positive case, what can I expect?

If you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, a public health worker might contact you to inform you that you’ve been exposed to COVID-19. You can expect a call within 48 hours of the COVID-10 positive test result. If you are sure that you are a close contact, and you do not hear from us for 72 hours, then you may call the Health Department at 307-733-6401. If you are a contact of a contact, please do not call us. By calling us, you are taking away time from us helping those who are contacts and those who are positive cases. 

If you are a close contact, you should stay at home and self-quarantine for 14 days, starting from the last day you were possibly exposed to COVID-19. The public health worker will help identify the dates of your self-quarantine. They can also provide resources about COVID-19 testing in your area. Even if you get tested and the test is negative, you still need to quarantine. This is because you can develop symptoms anywhere from 2-14 days from your last exposure with a case that is positive.  If your test was negative we can assume that on the date of your test you are not infectious but that could change over the course of your quarantine period.  

  • Self-quarantine means staying home, monitoring your health, and maintaining social distancing (at least 6 feet) from others at all times.

  • If you need to be around other people or animals in or outside of the home, wear a cloth face covering. This will help protect the people around you.

  • If you need support or assistance with self-quarantine, your health department or community organizations may be able to provide assistance.

You should take your temperature twice a day, watch for symptoms of COVID-19, and notify your health department if you have symptoms. You should also notify people you had close contact with recently if you become ill, so they can monitor their health. If your symptoms worsen or become severe, you should seek medical care. Severe symptoms include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face.

Who is considered a close contact?

For COVID-19, a close contact is defined as anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 48 hours before the person began feeling sick until the time the patient was isolated.

Am I considered a close contact if I was wearing a face covering?

Yes, you are still considered a close contact even if you were wearing a cloth face covering while you were around someone with COVID-19. Cloth face coverings are meant to prevent someone from transmitting the disease to others, and not to protect someone from becoming infected.

What happens to my private information during contact tracing?

Discussions with health department staff are confidential. This means that your personal and medical information will be kept private and only shared with those who may need to know, like your healthcare provider.

Your name will not be revealed to those you came in contact with. The health department will only notify your close contacts that they might have been exposed to COVID-19. How data are collected, stored, and shared are specific to each state or jurisdiction.

What if I have been around someone who has been identified as a close contact? Should I get tested? Should I self-quarantine?

If you have been around someone who was identified as a close contact to a person with COVID-19, you should closely monitor yourself for any symptoms of COVID-19. You do not need to self-quarantine or get tested. If you are a contact of a contact, you ARE NOT a close contact. Limit interaction with others as you should be doing regardless of diagnoses or contact. Monitor symptoms.

What kinds of questions will a contact tracer ask me?

The most important question that a contact tracer will ask you is: since 48 hours before you felt any symptoms (if you ever felt symptoms), who have you been around, and for how long? A reasonable answer would be that you’ve only been within six feet of about 3-5 people for longer than ten minutes. These people would likely include your housemates, family, significant other, or perhaps a few close friends if you live alone. Ask yourself, right now, who have you been around for longer than ten minutes and closer than ten feet or so for the past two weeks? Can you remember who those people were, and their phone numbers? If it’s around 3-5 people, you’re doing a great job. If you went to a dinner party of 20 people, or a 4th of July party with 30 people, then that is approaching on an unreasonable and unsafe number. Did you go to a wedding with 50 people? Numbers such as those can cripple the contact tracing system. 

How can I help a contact tracer do their job, and keep our community safe?

Limit your exposure to others. Download the PathCheck app (you can read more about the contact tracing app here). Cooperate with contact tracers - we know it’s not fun news to be told you have to stay home and quarantine for two weeks - but they are just doing their job: keeping our community safe. We have plenty of resources for food and prescription drug delivery if you are asked to quarantine or isolate and find yourself without many groceries in your fridge!