State launches COVID-19 contact tracing system

COVID-19 contact tracing, the process of identifying those infected or who may have had close contact with the virus and encouraging them to self-quarantine, is at work in Delaware.

“We are extremely excited that we are going to be doing a soft launch of the contact tracing system on Friday (June 25),” said Karyl Rattay, the director of Delaware’s Division of Public Health in a press briefing Tuesday.

As the DPH committed to hiring around 200 dedicated contact tracers last month, a task formerly carried out by members of the Delaware National Guard, Gov. John Carney said that “we need to be able to quickly identify positive COVID-19 cases and reach out to those residents who may have been exposed.” He said the “program brings us one step closer to returning Delaware to a new normal.”

A help-wanted ad for contact tracers distributed by NORC at the University of Chicago, an organization assisting Delaware in its COVID response, said “we will continue our contact tracing efforts for at least six months. However, the amount of work available and the length of the effort will vary with the course of the pandemic…”

“Delaware residents are especially encouraged to apply.”

Delawareans who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 or who the DPH has identified as having been in “close contact” with an infected person will be hearing from a contact tracer soon.

A frequently-asked questions flyer from DPH defines “close contact” as being “within 6 feet or less of an individual with COVID-19 for at least 10 minutes,” including “those who live in the same household as, or is the intimate partner of, someone with COVID-19,” and “those who have been providing care to someone with the disease without using recommended protective equipment or precautions.”

If DPH contact tracers have the phone number of a person they need to get in touch with, they will call. If they don’t have a phone number or can’t get in touch with somebody, they will go to their residence to make contact.

“DPH representatives will need to confirm your personal information like name, address and phone number, so they can verify with whom they are speaking,” the flyer said. “They also need this information to get in touch with you for follow-up monitoring to see if you develop symptoms of COVID- 19.”

After being initially contacted, those in the program should expect DPH contact tracers to be in touch for two weeks.

“The information DPH representatives collect will be used to help us monitor your health status through additional phone calls to you during the monitoring period, which is generally 14 days,” the flyer said. “In follow-up monitoring texts, emails or phone calls, we will ask if you have developed a fever or any of the other symptoms of COVID-19… [and] provide guidance on testing and medical care.”

In bold, the flyer states that “DPH will NOT collect Social Security numbers, bank account information, credit card information or immigration status.”

It also says that concerns about privacy, immigration status or potential law enforcement action shouldn’t keep people from cooperating as the DPH will “not release any personal information to the public…”

“Your information is protected as confidential by state and federal statutes,” the flyer said. “Your information will not be shared with any person or any organization outside of DPH… including immigration, family services or law enforcement.”

Ms. Rattay said that as the Division of Public Health begins the contact tracing program it will also be transitioning to a new statistics platform, so there may be a temporary gap in the availability of Delaware’s COVID-19 data.

“The data may be delayed by 24 hours or so while we’re making that transition,” she said. “We don’t want people to be concerned, we just want you to be aware that you may not see data updates on Friday.”

Ms. Rattay said “it may be longer than that,” and that “If there are any issues or concerns we’ll make sure that we find other ways to keep people updated on our numbers.”

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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