Contact Tracing: What is it & Who Does it

Since March of this year, Americans have had to learn quite a few new terms for combating a pandemic. Phrases such as social distancing, quarantine , incubation time, isolation and contact tracing are relatively new to most of us.

And while we have all been rather familiar with social distancing and quarantine, contact tracing is a phase many are learning right now. So, what is contact tracing, what is it used for, and who are contact tracers. 

What Is Contact Tracing

In short, the purpose of contact tracing is to identify those who have contracted a highly contagious disease. Then, contact tracers work to find those who have been in physical contact with the infected. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, IDPH, contact tracing has been a successful practice for decades.

However, the IDPH stresses that with COVID-19, contact tracing needs much larger implementation than other diseases. Successful contact tracing means health care workers can curb the spread of COVID-19 and identify cases earlier.  

Illinois Problem With Tracing

Although everyone would prefer that the pandemic, and everything that came with it, would disappear, it won’t be that simple. As mentioned before, for COVID-19, the IDPH will need to implement a lager tracing regime. According to the Sun-times, Chicago and Cook County have barely begun the process, with cases on the rise. In other words, tracers will be playing massive catch up in highly populated areas until caseloads die down. Unfortunately, large caseloads are only part of the problem.

Another problem facing contact tracing in Illinois is a lack of cooperation. In the same Sun-times article, tracers have had problems getting people to answer questions, phone calls, or to take advice. For example, some people become emotional, out of fear for themselves and others, while others have lashed out or flat out ignored advice. This presents a problem for the IDPH, because when people are unwilling to cooperate, they could be spreading unknowingly.

What To Do If You Are Contacted By A Tracer

So, you may be asking yourself what you should do if a contact tracer happens to call you. 

  • First, when a tracer calls you it will be from a number you do not recognize, which many don’t answer. You should answer these calls because they may have vital information for you. 
  • Secondly, it’s important that you remember a call does not mean you are infected, only a test can prove that. The tracer might ask who you’ve been in contact with in the past 48 hours in order to identify others who might be infected. Remember, the tracers will only ask relevant questions to your recent activity so they can determine who else might be infected. 
  • After you are interviewed by the tracer, they may direct you to get tested, self isolate/quarantine, or other steps to take. They may ask for other contacts’ information and may call again over a 14 day period. 

Beware Of Scam Contact Tracers

Of course, with any large event, there are scammers ready to take advantage of people’s fear. The COVID-19 pandemic is no different, and scam contact tracers have already been spotted.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, FTC, scammers, posing as contact tracers, will send people text messages with a link. Do NOT click the link. Contact tracers may contact you via text message but only to let you know they will be callin

Take-Home Message

If you have contracted COVID-19 or someone close to you has, you will likely get a call from a contact tracer. The tracer will interview you for additional information, give you advice on what to do, and ask about other people or places you have been.

Remember that scammers are preying on people’s fear. If you are texted a link from a “tracer” do not click on it and ignore it. Contact tracers that text you will only do so to let you know they will be calling.