Although contact tracing has been a tool used by public health officials for decades, many people are now paying attention to the process due to COVID-19. In general, contact tracing refers to the identification and collection of information from an infected person and their associates. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) differentiates between a case investigation and contact tracing.
In the United States, typically the local or state health department asks a person diagnosed with COVID-19 about individuals with which they’ve recently had close contact. A close contact for Covid-19 is defined as a person who’s been within 6 feet of a person within two days of the person’s diagnosis. This process is formally known as the case investigation.
The health department will then try to quickly alert those who may have been exposed to the virus once a contact tracer has been assigned to the case investigation. The health department will not disclose the name of the person who may have exposed them, even if the individual directly asks. This process, and the subsequent monitoring of the individuals is considered contact tracing.
Because contact tracing is handled on a state and local level, the amount of resources and contact tracers varies. Although the CDC reports that contact tracers may contact you through phone, text message, or in-person, individuals must be vigilant in discerning whether the contact tracer is legitimate.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a warning alerting people to potential contact tracing scams. The FTC has issued 5 things to look out for in a contact tracing scam:
1. Real contact tracers won’t ask you for money. Only scammers insist on payment by gift card, money transfer, or cryptocurrency.
2. Your immigration status doesn’t matter for contact tracing, so real tracers won’t ask. If they do, you can bet it’s a scam.
3. Contact tracing doesn’t require your bank account or credit card number. Never share account information with anybody who contacts you asking for it. Legitimate contact tracers will never ask for your Social Security number.
4. Never give any part of your Social Security number to anyone who contacts you.
5. Do not click on a link in a text or email. Doing so can download malware onto your device.
Stay vigilant, but help stop the spread of this virus! It takes all of us!