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Posted on: June 12, 2020

As Contact Tracing is Expanded in Orange County, Community Members are Asked to Answer Their Calls

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HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. June 12, 2020 – Simply put, contact tracers are disease detectives. Contact tracing is the identification and monitoring of all persons who might have been exposed to a person diagnosed with COVID-19.

If you are COVID-19 positive or if you are contacted about having been exposed, you are not in trouble. Contract Tracers want to help by providing guidance to keep you and everyone around you healthy.

Margaret Campbell, the Public Health Nurse Practitioner who is in charge of the Orange County Health Department’s contact tracing team advises, “We want to spread the word about contact tracing so community members are sure to pick up their phone for unknown numbers. It could be a contract tracer calling. In order to fight COVID-19 we need people to answer when we call or return our call, as we will be sure to leave a message.”

When the Orange County Health Department is notified of a positive case of COVID-19, the communicable disease staff use case investigation and contact tracing to prevent further spread of the disease.

During the initial case investigation public health staff work with a patient to help them to retrace their steps in order to recall everyone with whom they have had close contact during the time that they may have been contagious. Close contact, the CDC says, is generally defined as being within 6 feet of someone for at least 15 minutes. The Orange County Health Department’s contact tracers then stay in touch with the initial patient’s list of close contacts for 14 days (the maximum incubation period) from the last date they had exposure to a confirmed case.

To protect patient privacy, contacts are only informed that they may have been exposed to a patient with the infection. They are not told the identity of the patient who may have exposed them. Close contacts to a positive case are asked to monitor themselves for symptoms.

Contact tracing staff call a list contacts daily to check on their symptoms. They have the ability to communicate in the language of the caller’s choice. During their conversations they work to build and maintain trust with patients and contacts and can confidently refer them for further care if needed. When they make their calls, they help community members understand their risk, ask about symptoms and advise them about what they should do to separate themselves from others who are not exposed.

Orange County Health Director, Quintana Stewart said, “These strategies will help to break the chain of transmission and will enable people to return to a more normal life. As COVID-19 testing increases, we will see an increase in diagnosed cases and therefore contacts. We have worked hard to train more contact tracers in order to meet this demand. This is especially important as the economy opens and exposures increase. Contact notification and isolation will be a key control measure.”

Contact tracing has been a keystone of preventative medicine and public health for decades. It was employed during the SARS outbreak in 2003 and well as the Ebola epidemic in 2014, and played a key role in defeating smallpox and polio.

Contact Tracers Will:

  • Tell you about your risk
  • Tell you how to monitor your symptoms
  • Help connect you to resources and support you may need
  • Keep your information confidential

Contact Tracers Will Not:

  • Ask for your social security number
  • Ask for your bank information

Reliable Information

For the latest information and guidance relating to Orange County’s COVID-19 response:

  • Visit www.orangecountync.gov/coronavirus.
  • Receive daily text updates Monday through Friday on the crisis by texting 888-777 with OCNCHEALTH for English speakers and OCNCSALUD for Spanish speakers.
  • Sign up for a twice weekly e-newsletter about the COVID-19 response via the county website.
  • Follow the Orange County Health Department on Facebook and Twitter.
  • The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services updates its COVID-19 case count dashboard daily at 12 p.m.

Links to press release: