- What is contact tracing?
Contact tracing is a way to identify people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. Contact tracing helps public health track and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- What is a case investigation?
A case investigation is part of a process to support people who have confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
- How can I be confident that someone who calls me is actually from public health?
A legitimate call from public health will start with questions about your name, address, and date of birth. A case and contact tracer will never ask for your immigration status, your social security number, financial information, or tell you who may have exposed you to COVID-19. If anyone asks you one or more of these questions, hang up without providing any information.
- How does public health know when a person has COVID-19?
By law, doctors and labs must report positive cases of COVID-19 to the local health jurisdiction (county health department, etc.). A trained contact tracer then reaches out to the person who tested positive to start a case investigation.
- Does public health reach out to the close contacts of a person who tests positive for COVID-19?
Yes. This is called contact tracing. We tell close contacts they might have been exposed to a person with COVID-19. We give them education, information, and support to understand their risk and prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others.
- What are the steps in contact tracing?
This infographic shows how contact tracing works (PDF).
- Why do contact tracers need to interview people?
Interviews help us:
- Identify close contacts who might become sick with COVID-19
- Give information about how to stay safe and healthy
- Help people check for symptoms
- Connect people with resources to safely isolate or quarantine
- Stop the spread of COVID-19
- Do I have to complete an interview?
No. You are not required to do an interview, but we hope you will talk to us. The information we ask for will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others.
- What happens if I do not do an interview?
There is no penalty if you do not do an interview.
- How will a contact tracer contact me?
A contact tracer may first text or call you. If the contact tracer gets your voicemail, they will leave a phone number and ask for a call back.
- What kind of personal information does a contact tracer ask for?
A contract tracer will ask for your date of birth, address, race, and ethnicity. Contact tracers will never ask for or write down your immigration status, social security number, or for banking or financial information or ask for any payment.
- What other questions will contact tracers ask?
Interviewers ask questions about your COVID-19 illness, your exposure to COVID-19, and people you have been in close contact with. They will also give you information to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others.
- Do I have to answer every question?
No. While each answer gives us valuable information to stop the spread of COVID-19, you are not required to answer every question.
- Can I get an interpreter for the interview?
Yes, we have bilingual interviewers and interpreters. Many of our outreach materials are also available in more than 26 languages.
- How long is the interview if I have tested positive for COVID-19?
A case investigation interview typically lasts between 30 and 60 minutes. In general, the fewer people you have had contact with, the shorter the interview.
- How long is the interview if I am a close contact of a person who tested positive for COVID-19?
A contact tracing interview typically lasts 10 to 15 minutes.
- Do contract tracers share the name of the person who tested positive for COVID-19 when they reach out to their close contacts?
No. We only tell you that you may have been exposed to COVID-19.
- What do contact tracers do with my information?
The information you share is confidential and only used by public health agencies. The information you share tells us about the spread of COVID-19, helps us understand who is affected by COVID-19, and allows us to follow up with people who might be at risk.
- What happens after the interview?
We will talk with you about how to prevent the spread of disease to others. We'll also make sure that you:
- Have the support you need to safely isolate or quarantine.
- Can get food and essential items without leaving the house.
- Are connected to any other available support you may need to safely stay home and away from others.
- What is quarantine?
Quarantine describes when someone who has been exposed to COVID-19 stays home and away from others for the recommended period of time in case they were infected and are contagious. Quarantine becomes isolation if the person later tests positive for COVID-19 or develops symptoms.
- How long does quarantine last?
Your quarantine time is based off of a few details, such as your symptoms and your ability to wear a well-fitting mask. To calculate your recommended quarantine time, please use the Washington State Quarantine and Isolation Calculator.
- What is isolation?
Isolation describes when someone who has COVID-19 symptoms, or has tested positive, stays home and away from others (including household members) to avoid spreading their illness.
- How long does isolation last?
Your isolation time is based off of a few details, such as your symptoms, vaccine status and your ability to wear a well-fitting mask. To calculate your recommended quarantine time, please use the Washington State Quarantine and Isolation Calculator.
- What kind of support can I get if I need to isolate or quarantine?
If you need support to safely stay at home, or if you need a safe place to isolate or quarantine, we will connect you with local public health to determine what services are available. We will also send you guidance that includes links to resources on Washington's coronavirus website.
- Is my information protected?
Yes. We store your information in secure databases that can only be accessed by people supporting this public health work.
- How do you screen contact tracers?
Contact tracers are state or local health employees, or employed by companies we have a contract with. They will have experience, skills and the proper training to do this work. Contact tracers sign strict confidentiality agreements.
- Which systems do you use to collect and store data?
We use several systems, including the state's notifiable conditions database – the Washington Disease Reporting System (WDRS). It alerts public health agencies to a positive COVID-19 test result. All of the systems we use for this work are secure and use multi-factor authentication.
- Do you use other technology or apps to help with case investigations and contact tracing?
On Nov. 30, 2020, Washington state launched WA Notify, which anonymously supports contact tracing. Here's an example: If you test positive for COVID-19, public health officials may call and ask you to share your recent close contacts – that's contact tracing. You can't name a stranger you sat near on a bus. If you both use WA Notify, the stranger from the bus can be anonymously alerted of the possible exposure and take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to their friends and family Just like hand washing and wearing a mask each help stop the spread of COVID-19, together they are more effective.
More COVID-19 Information and Resources
Stay up-to-date on the current COVID-19 situation in Washington, Governor Inslee's proclamations, symptoms, how it spreads, and how and when people should get tested. See our Frequently Asked Questions for more information.
The risk of COVID-19 is not connected to race, ethnicity or nationality. Stigma will not help to fight the illness. Share accurate information with others to keep rumors and misinformation from spreading.