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Contact tracing is a vital tool in the fight against COVID-19

Posted June 16, 2020 | Last updated June 17, 2020

a hand filling out paperwork on a desk
Interviewers help gather information about people who may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus.

Contact tracing is a critical component in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Locally, Tarrant County Public Health is responsible for contact tracing.

The City of Fort Worth and Tarrant County Public Health have coordinated with the University of North Texas Health Science Center (HSC) to use medical students and educators to supplement staff resources for contact tracing, testing, telephone support, reporting, education and other critical services.

The agencies coordinate to identify known or suspected health risks to first responders. For example, a resident who has been exposed to the virus would be helpful information so first responders can make sure that they wear proper personal protection equipment, are limiting the number of staff involved and are implementing special care and transport protocols to reduce viral transmission risks.

“Each new confirmed case of COVID-19 is another case that Tarrant County’s dedicated public health professionals must investigate to determine who had close contact with the infected person and provide critical guidance to those individuals,” HSC President Michael R. Williams said. “Our public health students are prepared and eager to support these professionals perform this enormous task.”

The agencies also coordinate to assist special populations such as homeless shelters, nursing homes and jails. The potential for viral spread in these settings is greater and the health risks higher because of a more susceptible population.

How contact tracing works

Viral testing is performed by both private and public labs. This includes hospitals, clinics, mobile, drive-up, walk-up and other similar operations. It also includes public labs like Tarrant County Public Health, although public labs tend to have less capacity.

Any lab that receives a positive test must report the finding to the local health authority – in this case, that’s Tarrant County Public Health.

Once notified of a positive result, Tarrant County Public Health staff members call the patient and collect information on the patient’s travels and contacts during the period that they would have been contagious. Workers then attempt to make contact with others who might have been exposed during the contagious period.

Contact tracing is most effective when people have had fewer contacts with strangers, have not travelled much and have practiced social distancing. It is much more difficult during periods of sustained community spread, where populations gather in large groups, travel frequently and do not practice social distancing.

Tarrant County Public Health follows up with positive patients at different intervals or as required to carry out additional contact tracing. As part of the process, patients will receive instructions on self-solation.

For general inquiries on contact tracing and other COVID-19 public health issues, contact Tarrant County Public Health at 817-248-6299.

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