To slow the spread of COVID-19, we need to follow where the virus may be spreading in our communities. It is important for people who know they have the virus, and for people who have been exposed to the virus, to stay home and away from others. This helps keep them from spreading COVID-19.
When a person tests positive for COVID-19, trained workers for the Minnesota Department of Health and local and tribal public health departments call to provide information and answer questions. They also work together to find and talk with the people the infected person may have come into contact with. People who have been close to someone with COVID-19 may have been exposed to the virus, which means they have a greater chance of getting it themselves, and then of spreading it to others. For this reason, the worker who calls will tell people to stay home and away from other people. This work of talking with people who are infected and people they may have infected is sometimes called “contact tracing.”
How COVID-19 tracing works
- Doctors, 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 report the results to the person who was tested and tell them what to do next.
- A trained worker calls the 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 them get information online and answer any questions they have.
- Some workers speak multiple languages, and interpreters are available if needed.
- The people who test positive are reminded to stay at home and away from others until all three of these things are true:
- It has been at least 10 days since they got tested or first started feeling sick.
- Any fever has been gone for at least 24 hours (without using medicine that lowers fevers).
- They feel better.
- They are asked about the people they spent time close to (sometimes called “close contacts”) starting two days before they were tested or when they started feeling sick. These people could have been exposed to the virus.
- A trained worker calls the people who spent time close to the person with COVID-19.
- People who live with a person who tested positive and other close contacts are told they may have been exposed and to stay home for 14 days from the time they were last close to the person who tested positive.
- They are told to watch for symptoms, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
- People with the disease can infect others even if they do not have symptoms, so it is important for the people who were close to the person with COVID-19 to stay away from others for 14 days.
- If these people start to feel sick during the 14 days, they should continue to stay home and call their doctor or clinic to get tested for COVID-19.
People who have been close to someone with COVID-19
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 they spent time with, starting two days before they are tested or when they started feeling sick.
- Being close means being less than 6 feet from someone for 15 minutes or more.
- The longer someone is close to the person who has COVID-19, and the closer they are, the greater the chance the virus can spread.
- The type of contact and a sick person's symptoms also matter. Passing someone sick in a hallway has less risk than someone sick coughing when you are facing each other.
Special teams from the health department get involved if a close contact is a health care worker, including someone who works in a nursing home or other settings with a lot of people living 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 are at high risk of getting COVID-19, or people who have COVID-19. The teams work with health care workers to determine how likely they will get COVID-19 based on the time they spent and distance they were from the person who tested positive. Based on that likelihood, recommendations are given to help make sure that COVID-19 does not spread at the facility the health care worker is at.
Protecting the health privacy of people is critical for public health and is required by state law. When the health department contacts people who test positive for COVID-19, the health worker gives a detailed privacy notice right away. That notice tells the person what types of information they will be asked for, how it will be used, and the right to refuse to give some or all of the information. Information given to the health department is shared with public health staff working on the COVID-19 response. Sometimes this includes local public health officials.
During the time they may be infectious to others, people who test positive and who have agreed to share their addresses with the health department after being given the privacy warning will have their addresses shared with the Department of Public Safety (DPS), under a governor’s executive order. No names are given to DPS. DPS gives the address to the local 911 call center and the center puts a note in its file for that address. If an emergency call is made from an address where COVID-19 has been reported, or if there is another reason for a first responder to go to the address, the call center lets emergency responders know that they should wear protective gear when responding. The note to the dispatcher is removed when the person is no longer recommended to isolate at home. The address information is not allowed be used for any law enforcement investigations.
If you get a call
It is important to answer telephone calls from trained workers doing contact tracing. Tracing the spread of COVID-19 in communities works to slow the spread only if people who test positive for COVID-19 and people who have been close by these people 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. Return their calls as soon as you can.
Workers who call will say they are calling on behalf of the Minnesota Department of Health or a local or tribal public health department. If they call from the state health department, they will have a 612 area code. If they leave a message, they will give a 651 phone number to call back.
- 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 a person with COVID-19.
- Case investigation and contact tracing jobs
As part of MDH’s comprehensive COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing efforts, Rose International is providing support and hiring staff on our behalf. If you are interested in these opportunities, please visit Rose International: Available Jobs.