Hand washing, wearing masks and social distancing are effective ways to control the growing numbers of COVID-19 cases in Alaska. However, when a person acquires the disease, it is vital to ensure that all people who have had contact with that person (and might be carrying the infection) are contacted and informed. This activity is called contact tracing and it is a time-tested public health strategy that helps stop the spread of diseases, whether it be tuberculosis, sexually transmitted infections, or COVID-19. Let’s explore how it works.
The process starts with an index case – a person who has been tested and confirmed positive. Trained public health workers interview this person about places they have visited and people with whom they’ve had close contact. Close contacts are considered to be anyone who was within six feet for more than 15 minutes. This might be family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and more.
Once the list is compiled, state and local public health workers begin making contact with each person to let them know they may have been exposed and guide them on what to do next. In some cases, that may include self-isolating to prevent further spread. For COVID-19, that period is 14 days from the last time of contact with an infected person. This process continues until all potential cases are identified and contacted.
Contact tracing can be a tedious and lengthy process, but when deployed early, it can slow the spread of disease and flatten the curve. Additionally, data gathered from contact tracing can help epidemiologists learn more about the disease, its transmission, and its impact regionally, nationally, and globally.
Visit the CDC’s Contact Tracing webpage for more details.
How can you help?
Here are a few ways you can help:
- Practice social distancing to minimize the number of people you come in close contact with (under 6 feet for over 15 minutes).
- Keep a list of your whereabouts and the people you came in close contact with. If symptoms arise in the future, you can easily see your list and save time. Here’s a tracking sheet you can print out and use.
- You can also get involved in Alaska’s COVID-19 response as a volunteer or staff member. Find out more by visiting this Volunteer and Help webpage and explore opportunities with the CDC Foundation, University of Alaska, State of Alaska, and Alaska Respond Volunteers.