This is what contact tracers do

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – As an Epidemiologist at the Hamilton County Health Department, Dan Walker has a hand in what’s known as contact tracing.

“Contact tracing is a fundamental part of epidemiology, kind of like where the rubber meets the road, right. And this is how you can control various diseases. So this isn’t new to us. The epidemiology department does this every day.”

It’s done for diseases from measles to STDs, and it’s also done for COVID-19 cases with a group of around 16 trained contact tracers.

“We’ve cross-trained people throughout the health department to be able to help out such as environmentalists. Those are the people who do health, restaurant inspections and then we also have a cohort of MPH students, Masters in Public Health at UTC,” Walker said.

The epidemiology department investigates the cases.

Walker said that once a lab reports a case to the health department, they rapidly contact the person within one to two hours and conduct an in depth interview.

“Sometimes we ask them to get a calendar out or look at their receipts, but we try to find out exactly where they were and who they’ve been around during that infectious period.”

After coming up with a list of people the infected person has been in contact with, those people are called and told that they’ve been in contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Then they’re placed in quarantine for 14 days from the last exposure they had with the person who tested positive.

“One of the contact tracers from the health department will touch base with the person who is quarantined each day to make sure that they are not sick, not developing symptoms and then they follow them throughout the quarantine period until their last day,” Walker said.

Walker said that the number of contacts they’ve seen varies from case to case with the most being in the hundreds.

“Right now, most of the cases are zero contacts to two contacts,” he said.

“Most of the time, given the current situation, it’s usually a household member.”

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