COVID-19 Contact Tracing

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota is working with the Winona County Department of Public Health and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) on contact tracing. Christina Uribe Nitti, interim director of the Wellness Center, is the primary contact with the MDH for contact tracing involving Winona students. David Miliotis, assistant vice president for Human Resources, is the primary contact with the MDH for contact tracing involving employees.

The MDH guidance on contact tracing provides the following information:

Process:

  • Labs report the names of people who test positive for COVID-19 to the health department, the same way they report other infectious diseases. The facility where the test was done also reports the results to the person who was tested and provides next steps.
  • A trained public health worker calls those who test positive for COVID-19 to ask about their symptoms, how they may have been infected, and who they may have been in contact with.
    • Public health workers help them get information online and answer any questions they have.
    • Some workers speak multiple languages, and interpreters are available if needed.
    • Those who test positive are reminded to stay at home and away from others until all three of these are true:
      • It has been at least 10 days since they got tested or first started feeling sick.
      • Any fever has been gone for at least 24 hours (without using medicine that lowers fevers).
      • They feel better.
    • They are asked about the people they spent time close to (sometimes called “close contacts”) starting two days before they developed symptoms, or, if they have no symptoms, two days before they were tested. If these people qualify as close contacts, they could be at risk for developing COVID-19.
  • A trained worker calls those who spent time close to the person with COVID-19.
    • People who live with a person who tested positive and other close contacts are told they may have been exposed and to stay home for 14 days from the time they were last in close contact to the person who tested positive.
    • They are told to watch for symptoms, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
    • People with the disease can infect others even if they do not have symptoms, so it is important for those who were close to the person with COVID-19 to stay away from others for 14 days.
    • If these people start to feel sick during the 14 days, they should continue to stay home and call their doctor or clinic to get tested for COVID-19.
    • Close contacts may choose to be tested, however, they should wait until at least five days after their close contact or until they develop symptoms. This will increase the likelihood of an accurate test result. Even if the test is negative, close contacts should remain in quarantine for the full 14 days since they may develop symptoms or become infectious at any time during that 14-day time period.

What is a close contact:

A trained public health worker helps decide who is considered a close contact of someone with COVID-19.

  • Trained workers ask those who test positive for COVID-19 about the people they have spent time with, starting two days before they are tested or when they started feeling ill.
  • Being close means being less than 6 feet from someone for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
  • The longer someone is close to the person who has COVID-19, and the closer they are, the greater the chance the virus can spread.
  • The type of contact and the severity of symptoms also matter.

Privacy:

  • Protecting the health privacy of patients is critical for public health and is required by state law. When the health department contacts those who test positive for COVID-19, the health worker gives a detailed privacy notice right away. That notice tells the person what types of information they will be asked for, how it will be used, and the right to refuse to give some or all of the information. Information given to the health department is shared with public health staff working on the COVID-19 response. Sometimes this includes local public health officials.
  • During the time they may be infectious to others, people who test positive and who have agreed to share their addresses with the health department after being given the privacy warning will have their addresses shared with the Department of Public Safety (DPS), under a governor’s executive order. No names are given to DPS. DPS gives the address to the local 911 call center, and the center puts a note in its file for that address. If an emergency call is made from an address where COVID-19 has been reported, or if there is another reason for a first responder to go to the address, the call center lets emergency responders know they should wear protective gear when responding. The note to the dispatcher is removed when the person is no longer recommended to isolate at home. The name of the person and the address information is not allowed to be used for any law enforcement investigations.

If you get a call:

  • It is important to answer phone calls from trained workers doing contact tracing. Tracing the spread of COVID-19 in communities works to slow the spread only if those who test positive for COVID-19 and those who have been in close contact with these people answer calls from trained workers and follow their instructions.
  • These trained workers can answer your questions, tell you about services, and help you protect your family, friends, and community. They will leave messages if they cannot reach you. Return their calls as soon as you can.
  • Workers who call will say they are calling on behalf of the MDH or a local or tribal public health department. If they call from the state health department, they will have a 612 area code. If they leave a message, they will give a 651 phone number to call back.

Resource:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Contact Tracing Infographic