Contact tracing: Leaders urge residents to respond to limit spread

Delaware National Guard Soldiers and Airmen assist Delaware Division of Public Health with contact mapping for COVID-19 at various locations throughout Delaware in May. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Laura Michael

DOWNSTATE — Delaware’s new contact-tracing program, in partnership with the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, is expected to be a key tool to help combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s if the public cooperates.

The Delaware Division of Public Health is encouraging Delawareans who are reached through the contact-tracing program to answer their phones and participate.

“If you see on your phone a call from Delaware Public Health, please do answer it,” DPH Director Dr. Karyl Rattay said at a press conference last week. “We will be giving you important information, and it’s really, really important to control the spread of the infection. … It’s really important the public be part of the solution.”

Dr. Rattay said the main challenge for contact tracing, not just in Delaware but throughout the country, is that people don’t want to pick up the phone and talk with the contact tracers.

When receiving a call, the caller ID should come up as “DE Public Health” or 446-4262.

The partnership with NORC allows the DPH the capacity to contact all positive cases and contacts, said DPH spokeswoman Jen Brestel.
Through NORC, the DPH hired 150 telephone-based contact tracers. It also hired 13 field contact tracers to make in-person connections with individuals in the community for whom the DPH does not have a phone number, said Ms. Brestel.

She added that hiring for field contact tracers is ongoing.

“Contact tracing is an important part in combating this pandemic,” Ms. Brestel said. “Early identification to those potentially exposed to infection will allow them to implement quarantine to prevent further spread of disease. We need the public’s help in this pandemic, so please participate in contact tracing and answer the survey as accurately as possible.”

For those concerned about security and their personal information, Ms. Brestel issued a reminder that the DPH, as a public health agency, is obligated to protect individuals’ personal and health information.

“Your personal information will not be shared with any person or any organization outside of DPH (including immigration, family services or law enforcement) and will be only used for public health purposes,” Ms. Brestel said in an email. “DPH will not collect Social Security numbers, bank account information, credit card information or immigration status.”

Before the new program through NORC, the DPH used 105 Delaware National Guard staff to do telephone-based contact tracing and 11 DPH staff to do field contact tracing. The current workforce of 163 contact tracers replaced the Guard, as well as the 11 DPH staff, who returned to their normal daily roles in Public Health, Ms. Brestel said.

Those interested in learning more about Delaware’s contact-tracing program can visit coronavirus.delaware.gov/contact-tracing.

“We will continue to expand the contact-tracing system as needed,” Ms. Brestel said, “to notify those exposed as soon as possible and to provide guidance on how to keep them and their loved ones safe, and to prevent further spread of the virus.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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