What happens if a contact tracer calls you? URMC doctor explains


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Contact tracers are playing a key role in fighting the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Colleen Fogarty, the Department Chair for the University of Rochester Department of Family Medicine, discussed the process of contact tracing and what you need to know Tuesday during News 8 at Sunrise.

“Contact tracing is a very important tool from the public health standpoint to help stop the spread or curb the spread of the COVID-19 infection,” said Dr. Fogarty. “So what will happen is when a patient tests positive their name is released to the health department and then health department officials can contact that person to find out anybody else that they may have been in contact with.”

Dr. Fogarty said contact tracing is a confidential and anonymous process. The real point is not to blame people but to help understand potential exposures and identify people who may need to be warned that may be coming down with the virus themselves.

Close contact is important to define. “Close contact is somebody who has been within six feet of the infected person in the two days prior to or after their diagnosis,” Dr. Fogarty explained. “From the standpoint of the public health tracing close contact isn’t necessarily defined by the amount of time.”

If it’s determined through contact tracing that you’ve possibly been exposed to COVID-19, Dr. Fogarty explained what happens next. “The public health worker will contact you to find out what are your symptoms and if it’s possible to get a test, to recommend testing, and they will also recommend quarantining. If the person does not have symptoms of the infection the quarantine is important because the virus can manifest within several days. So the initial test could be negative and you still may be carrying the virus. So quarantine is for people who are not necessarily sick or symptomatic for them to stay apart so that they don’t accidentally transmit the infection unknowingly to someone else.”

If you test positive then you need to isolate. “The term is called isolation and that is important for a known person with an infection to stay apart from others, including in the home, ideally staying in a separate room and using a separate bathroom facility to avoid exposing other members of the household to the infection,” noted Dr. Fogarty. “That’s why contact tracing is so important because we want to prevent the exponential rise of the infection and try to flatten that curve as we talked about in the spring.”

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