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. It is important for community members to trust these public health 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 community 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. 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.
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 may reach out to the people who have been exposed and recommend the steps they should take to stop the spread of COVID-19.
If you are exposed to someone with COVID-19, your local health department may ask you to check in with Sara Alert™. Sara Alert is an online tool that the health department uses to monitor the health of people who are sick with COVID-19 or may have been exposed to it. Sara Alert allows the person to report how they are feeling daily through text, email, or phone. The message will come from 844-957-2721 or an email from firstname.lastname@example.org. By checking in with Sara Alert™, you can let the health department know how you’re feeling and help to slow the spread of COVID-19 in your community. Learn more about How Sara Alert™ Works.
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.
VDH has refocused contact tracing efforts. However, you may still be contacted for yourself or on behalf of a dependent. VDH encourages individuals to take appropriate action if they suspect or confirm a COVID-19 infection. Public health staff may call to gather information in response to reported COVID-19 clusters and outbreaks or other targeted situations. If you have COVID-19, you can help notify people you have been around that they may have been exposed:
- You can call, text, or email your contacts to let them know they may have been exposed to COVID-19.
- If you would like to stay anonymous, there are online tools that allow you to tell your contacts by sending out emails or text notifications anonymously at tellyourcontacts.org. You can also use an exposure notification app like COVIDWISE.
- The VDH Notify Your Contacts resource provides example messages, recommendations, and a log to help identify your close contacts.
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 should follow the steps to take after an exposure to stop the spread of COVID-19.
- Read VDH’s general FAQs on COVID-19
- Read VDH Notify Your Contacts resource
- Read a variety of CDC Easy to Read COVID-19 Materials including information on Contact Tracing
- 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
- Call VDH COVID-19 hotline at 877-ASK-VDH3 (877-275-8343)
Page Last Updated: January 31, 2021