Contact Tracing

Background on case investigations and contact tracing

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

VDH COVID-19 contact tracing process

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.

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. 

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. Because this call contains health information, the call or voicemail may sound vague at first in order to protect your health information. However, you should answer or return the call to confirm you are the person they are trying to reach and to learn why you have been contacted by the health department. 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.

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.

Protecting your personal information

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.

Will I be contacted? Will I be contacted on behalf of my child?

Yes, you may be contacted for yourself or on behalf of your child. 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, including children, may need to prioritize certain contact tracing and case investigations based on CDC guidance

Close contact means being within about 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. In indoor K-12 settings, a student who is within 3-6 feet of an infected student is not considered a close contact as long as both students are wearing masks and the school has other prevention strategies in place. This exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in indoor K-12 settings.

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.

The contact tracer or case investigator may also speak to you about COVID-19 vaccination and ask if you have been vaccinated. If you are not yet vaccinated, the contact tracer or case investigator may help set up an appointment or find a walk-in location over the phone. However, you must wait until after your isolation period is complete before going to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

If I have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days, will I still be contacted?

Yes, it is possible you will be contacted by the health department. Health department staff may not know if you have been fully vaccinated or have started the vaccination process. If you have recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days, you may be contacted because cases of reinfection with COVID-19 have been reported but are very rare. 

  • Fully vaccinated means 2 weeks or more have passed since getting the second dose of a two-dose vaccine (e.g., Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine), or 2 weeks or more have passed since getting 1 dose of a single-dose vaccine (Johnson & Johnson/Janssen). This also applies to COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization (e.g. AstraZeneca/Oxford). If you have a condition or are taking medications that weaken your immune system, you may NOT be fully protected even if you are fully vaccinated. Talk to your healthcare provider. Even after vaccination, you may need to continue taking all precautions.

If you are fully vaccinated and have close contact with someone with COVID-19, you are not required to quarantine (stay home) as long as you do not have symptoms. There are exceptions to this recommendation: 

  • Inpatients or residents of a healthcare setting should quarantine (stay home) after close contact, even if they are fully vaccinated. 
    • Healthcare settings include hospitals and long-term care facilities (e.g., nursing homes, assisted living facilities). 
  • People who live or work in correctional and detention facilities and homeless shelters are not required to quarantine (stay home) after close contact, but should get tested for COVID-19. 
    • People who are incarcerated who are fully vaccinated and do not have COVID-19 symptoms do not need to quarantine at intake, after transfer, or following exposure to suspected or confirmed COVID-19. 
  • Fully vaccinated people with weakened immune systems (immunocompromised) should talk with their healthcare provider about whether staying home (quarantining) after close contact exposure is recommended.

If you are fully vaccinated and have either traveled in the United States or arrived back in the United States after traveling internationally, you do not need to quarantine (stay home). 

If you have close contact with someone with COVID-19 and then develop COVID-19 symptoms,  you should get tested for COVID-19 and follow existing VDH guidance on when and how long to isolate (stay home) until you meet the criteria to discontinue isolation. This applies to everyone, even if you are fully vaccinated. 

If you are not fully vaccinated and have close contact with someone with COVID-19, you should quarantine (stay home) and monitor your health for 14 days after your last exposure. 

The previous section has more details on possible prioritization for contact tracing and case investigation efforts.

I received a COVIDWISE exposure notification. What should I do?

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 recently tested positive for COVID-19. You can also use the “Vax Info” button to find local vaccination providers and schedule an appointment with fewer clicks, as well as other valuable vaccination-related information and resources. 

If you are not fully vaccinated, 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 and monitor your health. For more information on what to do following a potential exposure, please visit VDH's Exposed to COVID-19 website.

If you are fully vaccinated, COVIDWISE is still a tool to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia. If you have downloaded COVIDWISE and are fully vaccinated, you may receive an exposure notification. At this time, the exposure notification can be used for general awareness for people who are fully vaccinated. If others around you are not yet fully vaccinated, have a weakened immune system, or do not have COVIDWISE downloaded, this notification may be helpful in knowing more about your potential community exposure. 

For more information:

 

 

Page Last Updated: July 14, 2021