What is contact tracing, and why is contact tracing important?

Contact tracing is the process of tracking down an individual who has had an infectious disease and the people that person has potentially been in contact with. It’s a confidential process that has been used by health departments for years to help stop the spread of infectious diseases and avoid outbreaks.

Contact tracing is crucial part of good public health. It enables health departments to determine where there might be an increased risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. That gives an early alert to people who may have been exposed so they can take precautions and not further spread any disease. The public plays a key role in providing contact tracers with complete information, which helps to limit the number of new cases.

Learn more about how COVID-19 is spread 

How does contact tracing work?

The California Department of Public Health provides the following information about contact tracing.

If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19:

  • Separate yourself from those in your home and avoid contact with others.
  • The public health department will contact you to ask about places you’ve been and the people you have spent time with recently.
  • These people will be contacted and informed they may have been exposed to COVID-19, but they won’t be told your name or any personal information.
  • Your information is confidential and will not be shared.
  • Public health officials will also help you connect to medical care and support.

If you’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19:

  • You will receive a call from a public health worker to tell you about the next steps.
  • You will be provided access to COVID-19 testing at no cost to you.
  • You may be asked about the places you’ve been and who you’ve been in contact with.
  • You will be asked to separate yourself from people in your home to protect others.
  • Public health workers will stay in contact to see if you develop symptoms or need support.

Who is considered a close contact for contact tracing purposes?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a close contact as “someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.” Even people who wore face coverings around someone with COVID-19 are still considered a close contact.

Will contact tracers track my location?

Programs across the country may vary. California’s contact tracing programs does not use any tracking device or cell phone information. All information remains confidential.

Can I become a contact tracer?

California’s contact tracer program, called California Connected, is currently using existing resources and redirecting employees to help. Outside assistance is appreciated but is not currently needed. However, additional resources may be needed in future phases.