Contact Tracing

Case investigations and contact tracing are trusted public health tools used to prevent further spread of contagious diseases. Contact tracing involves finding people who may have been exposed to an illness and providing guidance to prevent them from spreading it. Contact tracing is not a new tool - public health uses it every day for other contagious diseases like measles and tuberculosis (TB). It is an important part of how Virginia can stop the spread of COVID-19. 

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. As Virginia begins to ease restrictions, these tools become even more important. VDH is expanding our staff of case investigators and contact tracers from a few hundred to nearly 2,000. 

Who are case investigators and contact tracers?

Case investigators and contact tracers are skilled, trained professionals. 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. 

How does it all work?

  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, and take care of yourself.  Learn more about what to do if you feel sick.

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 the status of COVID-19 in the community and provide education and support to those that are infected.  

3. A case investigator (“disease detective”) from the health department contacts the person with COVID-19 to help identify close contacts: 

The case investigator from the health department will 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 are contacted:

After all of your close contacts have been identified, a contact tracer (another “disease detective”) will reach out and notify each of them of their possible exposure as soon as possible. When the interviewer calls close contacts, they do not tell them who it was who tested positive for COVID-19. 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.  

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. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, people who have been exposed should stay home (“self-quarantine”) and monitor their health for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days. If the close contacts become sick, the contact tracer can help connect them to a healthcare provider who can provide information about how to get tested and provide other medical care.

Page last reviewed: May 22, 2020