Contact tracers working around the clock to help stop the spread of COVID-19

Coronavirus

'Answer the phone,' contact tracers urge

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Over the past few weeks, coronavirus cases in Indiana have been on the rise. With the recent spike, contact tracing is becoming more common, and contact tracers work around the clock to notify those that have come into contact with someone who tested for the virus.

“Quarantine and isolation are two of the biggest tools that we have right now to fight against COVID-19,” said Erika Pitcher, the Allen County Department of Health’s director of community health and case management services. “We can socially distance, we can mask, we can do all kinds of things but really if we are staying home when we are supposed to, that’s one of the biggest ways to prevent future transmission. The best way to do that successfully is to talk to each case, figure out their contacts, and make sure the case and their contacts are staying home. The only way we can do that is if people answer their phones. ”

When a person gets tested for the virus, that test gets analyzed at a laboratory. Labs then report all positive COVID-19 tests to a national online database. Then, every morning, health departments receive a report of all new positive cases for that day.

Contract tracers then divide up the cases and start calling those who have tested positive. On the call, tracers will ask the person several questions, collect that data, and then start to map out where the person was exposed to COVID-19.

When a person tests positive they will receive a call from their local health department and a text from the state of Indiana’s Health Department. It’s important those calls are answered. In a visit to Fort Wayne on Friday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams encouraged residents to pick up the phone if they receive a call from the health department and answer the questions truthfully.

County Health Department tracers

If a person tests positive for COVID-19, contact tracers with the county that the individual lives in will contact the person by phone. When contact tracers with the health department reach out, the phone number will be local and will often show the county health department on the caller ID.

Allen County has 7 contact tracers, including Pitcher. Since March, contact tracers have been working 7 days a week to make sure anyone impacted is notified. It is likely a person will receive a call on a weekend or even in the evening.

“Don’t let the day of the week or the time of the day make you think that this is not a legitimate call,” Pitcher said. “We do work pretty much around the clock to make sure we are getting cases contacted.”

Pitcher says the department’s goal is to make contact with a person the same day they receive it. Once a case has been contacted, tracers will go through several pages of questions.

Officials will start by asking the person what symptoms they had when they started when their infectious period, and walk through how the virus could impact the person if they have a pre-existing medical condition.

Tracers also ask the person where they think they were exposed to the virus, where they work, and who they’ve been around during that infectious period. They may also ask your phone number and address to not only make sure your contact information is correct, but also that you are being contacted by the right county health department.

The health department will never ask for any monetary information like your social security number or your medical records number. Contact tracers also follow strict confidentiality laws and are only allowed to share information if it is needed to figure out who was exposed.

“For example, if John is on the basketball team, we may have to let the basketball coach know so the coach can help us figure out what players on the team were exposed,” Pitcher said. “The players would never know that it was John. Only that coach.”

If a person has been exposed, contact tracers would call the person and let them know that they have possibly been exposed to the virus, the date they were exposed, and when and how long they would need to stay quarantine.

State Health Department tracers

Indiana’s contact tracing program involves both text messages and phone calls.

When a person takes a COVID-19 test at a state-run site, they will be informed that they will be notified results by text and/or phone call.

According to officials with the Indiana State Department of Health, if a person tests positive, they will receive a text message from the state asking them to call 1-833-670-0067 for more information. If the individual does not respond, the contact tracer will follow up with a phone call. If the person does not answer, the department will leave a voicemail if the mailbox is set up and can take messages. If the person is not reached on the first day, a written letter is then mailed to the individual, which asks them to contact the call center. 

When a state contact tracer makes an outbound call for contract tracing purposes, the caller ID will show up as IN Health COVID or 1-833-670-0067. Contact tracing involves asking questions about symptoms and exposures to other people, including in the workplace. Like the county, health department officials will ask you to verify your identity but will not ask for financial or any other personal information like a social security number.

During Gov. Eric Holcomb’s weekly beefing Wednesday, Indiana Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box reminded Hoosiers of the importance of answering contact tracer’s phone calls and text messages.

Pitcher said both the state and county health departments are here to help, and are great resources for anyone with questions or those in needs of documentation.

“It’s much more than us just collecting information from you,” Pitcher said. “It’s trying to figure out how we can help anyone in this situation and make sure we make it a comfortable environment for you to stay home during your isolation period and your contacts to stay home for their quarantine period minimizing the effect on them.”

To learn more about contact tracing, click here.

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