Contact tracing helps to slow the spread of COVID-19. Tracing means finding and talking to people who are infected with COVID-19 and then finding and talking to all the people they may have infected. If all of these people then stay home and away from others, they cannot spread the disease. It is important for them all to stay home, because even though some people with COVID-19 never feel sick, they still can give the disease to others.
How COVID-19 tracing works
- Doctors, nurses, hospitals, and labs report the names of people who test positive for COVID-19 to the health department, the same way they report other infectious diseases. They also give the test results to the person who tested positive, and tell them what to do next.
- A trained health worker calls people who test positive for COVID-19 to ask about their symptoms, how they may have been infected, and who they may have infected.
- Public health workers help people with COVID-19 get information online and they answers their questions. People with COVID-19 are told to stay home, and in one room away from others as much as possible. They are told to do this for at least 10 days, starting the day that their symptoms first started and until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever, without using medicine that lowers fevers.
- They are asked about people who spent time close to them, starting two days before they were tested or from when they first started feeling sick. It is possible that some of these people are now infected.
- A trained health worker then calls the people who spent time close to the person with COVID-19.
- People who live with someone who tested positive and any other close contacts are told they may have been exposed and should stay home for 14 days, counting from their last close contact with the person who tested positive. They are told to watch for symptoms, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
- People with COVID-19 can infect others, even if they do not have symptoms. It is important that those who were close to the person with COVID-19 stay home and away from others for 14 days.
What is a 'close contact?'
Trained public health workers help decide who is a "close contact" of someone with COVID-19.
- Trained workers ask people who test positive for COVID-19 about the people with whom they spent time, starting two days before they were tested or from when they first started feeling sick.
- Being close generally means being less than 6 feet from someone for 15 minutes or more.
- The chance of spreading the virus is greater the longer an infected person is close to someone and the closer they are to each other. It also matters if the infected person is coughing, sneezing, singing, shouting, or doing anything else that can put more virus into the air.
Special teams from the health department get involved if a close contact is a health care worker. This includes someone who works in a nursing home or other settings where a lot of people live in the same place, such as jails, homeless shelters, or treatment centers. This is because health care workers spend a lot of time close to people who have COVID-19 or who are at high risk of getting it.
Protecting the health privacy of people is critical to public health. It is also state law. People who test positive for COVID-19 get a detailed privacy notice when the health department contacts them. The notice tells them what information the health department is asking for and how it will be used. People have the right to refuse giving any or all information. Information given to the health department is shared with local public health officials and other public health staff working on the COVID-19 response.
To protect the health and safety of others, MDH may sometimes need to share your name and that you tested positive for COVID-19 with your school, child care, or workplace if you work in a health care setting. MDH will try to reach you by phone first to explain why your name may need to be shared.
Addresses, but not names of people who test positive for COVID-19 are shared with 911 dispatch centers, if the people agree to share their address with the health department after getting the privacy notice. Addresses are shared under a governor's executive order. If emergency responders are called to those addresses, they know ahead of time to take health safety steps against COVID-19 infection. Law enforcement is not allowed to use these addresses for any investigations, and address information is removed from dispatch records when the person is no longer able to infect others.
Answer the call
It is important to answer telephone calls from public health workers doing contact tracing. Contact tracing works to slow the spread of COVID-19 only if those who test positive for it, and their close contacts, answer calls from trained workers and follow their instructions, including to stay home and away from others.
Trained workers who call can answer your questions, and tell you about services and how to protect your family, friends, and community. Trained workers leave messages if they cannot reach you. Please return their calls as soon as you can.
Do not let concerns about calls from possible scammers keep you from talking with the health department. Here is a list of things public health workers may ask you about on a call, and a few things they will NEVER ask.
Public health workers will ask about:
- Symptoms you may be having.
- People you may have been in contact with.
- If you have been tested for COVID-19, including dates and locations.
We will NEVER ask for:
- Your Social Security number, bank account information, or credit card numbers.
For more tips, see Avoiding Phone Scams.
If You Are Sick: COVID-19
More information about what to do if you are sick, including translated fact sheets explaining what to do if you have COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has it.
Case investigation and contact tracing jobs
Rose International, a provider of workforce and technology solutions, is giving support and hiring staff on behalf of MDH, as part of MDH's comprehensive COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing efforts. If you are interested in these opportunities, please visit Rose International: Available Jobs.