Because contact tracing for COVID-19 is ongoing, Catawba County Public Health is asking citizens to answer phone calls they may have previously been reluctant to for fear of being harassed by telemarketers or being targeted by scammers.
You could be called because your test was positive or because someone who tested positive said you’d been close to them and could be at risk. Either way, the information you share with contact tracers could be invaluable in keeping the people around you healthy and slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Close contacts can be someone in the household, workplace or community who have been within six feet of the affected individual for 15 or more minutes. For the most part, people have been responsive to contact tracing efforts; however, there have been some instances where people have not taken or returned calls or have not been forthcoming with information about their close contacts. Some people who test positive for the coronavirus may be reluctant to provide information about close contacts because they feel bad about the situation or are worried about what might happen next.
When a person tests positive, contact tracers reach out to the positive individual. We ask them questions to try and determine how they might have contracted COVID-19, as well as who might have been close contacts to them starting 48 hours prior to symptom development. They try to obtain those contacts’ names, phone numbers, email addresses and other information that will help us locate those individuals. We then reach out to those individuals to advise them on measures to prevent further spread, which can include monitoring for development of symptoms, testing advice, and information on quarantine and other measures. If we do not reach them directly, we leave a message asking them to call us back.
Contact tracing is not about pointing fingers or casting blame, because in many (if not most) cases, the coronavirus is spreading before someone even knows they have it. It’s about helping identify people close to you who may become sick so they can take appropriate measures to protect their health and prevent further spread. That’s why we cannot stress enough how important it is to respond when you are contacted. By sharing close contacts, we are able to give valuable guidance and support to your family, friends and loved ones.
A few weeks ago, case study was shared on a family gathering that ended up spreading COVID-19 to more than 40 individuals. In that case, contact tracers began speaking with the first few positive individuals and quickly learned that there were potentially multiple cases from that one event. When Public Health followed up with those additional cases, they discovered that there had been additional spread to neighbors, friends and workplaces.
How do you know if you’re getting a call from a real contact tracer and not a scam?
Health officials will usually ask: For your name and address, for your date of birth, for your whereabouts on certain dates, errands you ran, stores or businesses you visited, people you have come into contact with, your workplace, etc. In addition they’d ask questions about your health and whether you’ve experienced any symptoms.
Contact tracers will never ask for your Medicare, Medicaid or insurance policy number, immigration status, your Social Security number, for a financial account number or request payment, tell you who among your contacts has tested positive for COVID-19 threaten you, or ask you to fill out an online application to be a contact tracer, too.
If you are unsure if a call is legitimate, call Catawba County Public Health directly to verify. They can be reached on their COVID-19 hotline at (828) 465-9595.