You can’t be too safe these days, and a key precaution to keep COVID-19 from spreading is contact tracing. You’ve probably heard or read about it, but what is contact tracing?
Dr. Alex Daneshmand, chief quality and safety officer with Lee Health, says contact tracing is a key to safely reopening Florida.
“Contact tracing is a way of effectively monitoring the spread of not just COVID-19, but any infectious disease,” Dr. Daneshmand says. “It’s a basic epidemiological practice that’s extremely useful for breaking trains of transmission.
“At a time when social distancing is relaxed, contact tracing is our best hope for isolating coronavirus when it appears and keeping it isolated.”
Contact tracing is a public health function of the Florida Department of Health. Since the pandemic began, Lee Health’s employee health and quality program has overseen contact tracing of Lee Health employees diagnosed with COVID-19.
“Working at the direction of the Florida Department of Health, members of our health and safety group speak with our hospital workers who have tested positive for the virus about anyone they have been in close contact with, such as friends, family, coworkers, and others,” Dr. Daneshmand explains. “We try to trace where the employee has been to determine who else might have been exposed. Then those individuals can be alerted, tested, and quarantined to stop further transmission of the virus.”
Contact identification: Once someone is confirmed as infected, we identify contacts by asking about their activities and the activities of the people around them since their illness began. Contacts can be family members, work colleagues, friends, or healthcare providers.
Contact listing: All people who have had any contact with the infected person should be listed. Then the effort begins to identify every contact and inform them of their contact status, what it means, the actions that will follow, and the importance of receiving early care if they develop symptoms. Healthcare professionals provide these contact with information about disease prevention. And in some cases, these contacts will be quarantined or isolated either at home or in the hospital.
Contact follow-up: Healthcare professionals conduct follow-ups with all contacts to monitor symptoms and test for signs of infection.
To protect patient privacy, we inform contacts that they may have been exposed to a patient with the infection. They are not told who they patient is or who may have exposed them.
We provide contacts 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 they could spread the infection to others even if they don’t feel ill.
We encourage contacts 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 a day and watching for cough or shortness of breath. Public health staff should check in with contacts to make sure they are monitoring themselves 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.
“Identifying contacts and ensuring they do not interact with others is critical to protect communities from further spread,” Dr. Daneshmand adds. “Contact tracing is an indispensable tool during these times, especially as our state tries to reopen.”