Case investigations and contact tracing are trusted public health tools used to prevent further spread of contagious diseases. Contact tracing is not a new tool - public health uses it every day for other contagious diseases like measles and tuberculosis (TB). Contact tracing is an important part of how Virginia can stop the spread of COVID-19.
Who are case investigators and contact tracers?
Case investigators and contact tracers are skilled, trained public health professionals. They find people who test positive for an infection or might have been exposed and provide guidance on how to stop its spread.
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has been working hard to conduct case investigations and contact tracing since the beginning of the COVID-19 response. VDH has expanded our staff of case investigators and contact tracers from a few hundred to nearly 2,000. It is important for community members to trust these professionals, respond to their outreach, and follow their guidance to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Why does VDH perform case investigation and contact tracing?
Contact tracing and case investigations are important because it helps VDH to:
- Provide guidance and education about how to keep yourself and others safe
- Inform public health actions
- Understand communities hit hard by COVID-19
- Track the progress of the outbreak in Virginia
- Connect people with resources they may need
1. You are diagnosed with COVID-19 by your healthcare provider:
Your healthcare provider told you that you had COVID-19 based on a positive COVID-19 test result or because of your illness. You should stay home, keep yourself away from others (isolate), and take care of yourself, regardless of your vaccination status. Learn more about steps you can take to protect other people in your home and community if you have COVID-19.
2. VDH is notified when a person with COVID-19 is identified:
Doctors, labs, and hospitals are required by law to report when someone has or might have certain illnesses, including COVID-19. This reporting allows your local health department to track COVID-19 in the community and provide education and support to those that are infected.
3. A case investigator from the health department may contact the person with COVID-19 to help identify anyone who may have been exposed:
The case investigator from the health department may reach out to you (usually by phone) for a voluntary and confidential conversation. During this talk, the case investigator will ask you some pre-approved questions to understand more about you and your illness. The interviewer will work with you to create a list of all of the people you may have had close contact with while you were sick, and right before you felt sick. This process helps to find people who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
4. People who may have been exposed might be contacted by a contact tracer:
After the people you had close contact with while you were contagious have been identified, a contact tracer will typically reach out and notify each of them of their possible exposure as soon as possible. The contact tracer will also provide education, information, and support to help the people who may have been exposed and recommend the steps they should take to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Unless you give permission, your name will not be given to those you came in contact with, even if they ask. This conversation will be confidential to protect and respect your privacy.
Protecting your confidentiality means that VDH will never share your name or medical records with your contacts without your approval. Your information cannot be shared with other people such as family members, roommates or neighbors. If you are identified as a contact this means VDH cannot give you the name of the person who identified you as someone who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
A large number of cases of COVID-19 are still reported daily across Virginia. Health departments in Virginia that are unable to perform timely follow-up of all cases and tracing of their close contacts may need to prioritize certain contact tracing and case investigations based on CDC guidance. Even if you do not get a call from the health department, it is important that:
- All people who are diagnosed with or test positive for COVID-19 on a viral test (e.g., PCR or antigen test), regardless of their vaccination status, should identify and notify the people that they had close contact with while they were contagious. You can call, text, or email your contacts. If you would like to stay anonymous, there is also an online tool that allows you to tell your contacts by sending out emails or text notifications anonymously at tellyourcontacts.org. The VDH Notify Your Contacts resource provides example messages, recommendations, and a log to help identify your close contacts. By letting your close contacts know they may have been exposed to COVID-19, you are helping to protect them and others within your community.
- If you know you had close contact with someone with COVID-19 while the person was contagious, follow quarantine and testing guidelines unless you are fully vaccinated and monitor your health for 14 days after your last contact.
I have been vaccinated. Will I still be contacted?
Health department staff may not know if you have been vaccinated. If you have been vaccinated for COVID-19 and you are sick with COVID-19, you should follow existing VDH guidance on when and how long to isolate (stay home) until you meet the criteria to discontinue isolation.
If you have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and have close contact with someone with COVID-19, you are not required to quarantine (stay home) as long as you have no symptoms and you are not an inpatient, resident of a healthcare setting, or resident of a congregate setting like a group home or correctional or detention facility. People who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 and who have either traveled in the United States or arrived back in the United States after traveling internationally do not need to quarantine (stay home). Fully vaccinated means that 2 weeks or more have passed since you received the second dose of a 2-dose vaccine or one dose of a single-dose vaccine. Otherwise, you should follow existing VDH guidance for when and how long to quarantine after an exposure to COVID-19.
The previous section has more details on possible prioritization for contact tracing and case investigation efforts.
Exposure notification apps, like COVIDWISE, use Bluetooth technology to support traditional contact tracing. If you receive an exposure notification from Virginia’s free COVIDWISE exposure notification app, that means your device was in close contact with a device of someone who tested positive for COVID-19. VDH recommends that you stay at home and away from others, especially from those at a higher risk of severe illness, as much as possible. Get tested at least 5 days after your exposure and monitor your health. For more information on what to do following a potential exposure, please visit VDH's Exposed to COVID-19 website.
- Read VDH’s general FAQs on COVID-19
- Read VDH Notify Your Contacts resource
- Read VDH Contact Tracing in K-12 Schools resource
- Read CDC Contact Tracing Steps Infographic
- Read CDC How to Talk to Your Close Contacts Infographic
- Read CDC 3 Steps to Take While Waiting for Your COVID-19 Test Result
- View VDH Contact Tracing Data
- Call VDH COVID-19 hotline at 877-ASK-VDH3 (877-275-8343)
- VDH is recruiting contractors for new opportunities to support the COVID-19 response efforts including Contact Tracing Support. If you are interested in these positions, please contact one of the staffing agencies and let them know you are applying for a COVID-19 position through VDH. For more information and how to apply visit the website here.
Page Last Updated: April 26, 2021