What to expect when a COVID-19 contact tracer calls you

What to expect when a COVID-19 contact tracer calls you

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Mecklenburg County Health Department has struggled to get through to some people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

More than 100 Mecklenburg County employees have been trained to serve as contact tracers during the coronavirus pandemic. A contact tracer will notify someone who may have been exposed to the virus when a positive case is confirmed.

Mecklenburg County Public Health Medical Director Dr. Meg Sullivan said that when a case comes back positive, they open a case investigation.

An employee with the health department will call the patient who tested positive to ensure they know of their diagnosis and to check that they are self-isolating for 14 days.

Then, case investigators will determine when the patient became infectious.

According to Dr. Sullivan, that can be two days before the patient started showing symptoms.

“That’s what’s tricky about this. We know people can be contagious even before they get sick,” Dr. Sullivan said.

For patients who are asymptomatic, Dr. Sullivan said they are assuming the patient was infectious two days before being tested.

“We’re going to start asking you a lot of questions about who you live with for potential household contacts. And then, where you work to see if you were at work when you were potentially contagious. And we will work directly with the employer on that. Did you attend any large events or social gatherings? And then also, we’ll just ask you to think about any other possible potential exposure,” Dr. Sullivan said.

After the case investigator gathers information from the patient who tested positive, contact tracers will take over.

The contact tracer will call to notify people who may have been exposed to coronavirus while the positive patient was contagious.

This will be anyone who is considered a close contact to the person who tested positive.

Dr. Sullivan said a close contact is defined as someone who the person was within six feet of for at least 15 minutes while proper protection was not worn.

“When they are calling, they are not giving the name of the person who has the infection,” Dr. Sullivan said.

The contact tracer will notify the person of the date they were potentially exposed to the virus and then give guidance to that person.

The person who was potentially exposed should self-quarantine for 14 days from the date of exposure. If a close contact is showing symptoms of coronavirus, Dr. Sullivan said they should be tested right away.

If the close contact is not showing symptoms, they are advised to get tested about five to seven days after the date of potential exposure.

“If we have exposure to someone with COVID-19 but it doesn’t meet that close contact {definition}, again the risk is much lower but not zero,” Dr. Sullivan said.

Dr. Sullivan said it may be difficult for some to accept the possibility of isolating for two weeks.

“To isolate for 10 days or quarantine for 14 days is not easy,” Dr. Sullivan said. “People don’t want to stay home, they want to go to work, or they may have childcare. I think we are very mindful of that. One thing we have set up is that we have a team of social workers at the health department that identifies some of those barriers and try to address them to the extent possible.”

Dr. Sullivan said it is important for people to not just answer the phone call from case investigators or contact tracers, but to also be forthcoming about who you may have been in contact with.

There are limitations to contact tracing, such as identifying every contact in a mass gathering, but the more information they know, the better they can address potential exposure.

“We are seeing more contact as people go out and about. But again, I think one of the things people remember is we know people can’t stay home forever, but if you do {go out} in a safe manner, then you’re risk of exposure or spreading is so much lower,” Dr. Sullivan said.

Health officials believe they may be struggling to get through to some people who need to be notified of potential exposure because they may think it is a scam.

The Better Business Bureau of Charlotte says scammers are posing as contact tracers in an attempt to get your personal information.

For example, the BBB says one scam is sent via text, email or social media message notifying a person of coronavirus exposure.

The BBB says the message will prompt you to click on a link, but you should not fall for it. The link may download malware onto your device.

In a second scam reported to the BBB, people receive a robocall claiming they are exposed to coronavirus.

The BBB says the robocaller may begin by asking seemingly innocent questions, but then they progress into more sensitive information such as your social security number or bank information.

Dr. Sullivan said contact tracers and case investigators are all county employees. You will not receive an automated call notifying you of potential exposure.

If you miss the call, you may receive a text message from the county.

The contact tracer may ask you to verify your address or birthdate, but they will not ask for your social security number or financial information.

Dr. Sullivan says if you are unsure if the caller is legitimate, take down the contact tracer’s name and call the Mecklenburg County Hotline at 980-314-9400

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