New Software Brings Automatic Contact Tracing to Nebraska

May 10, 2021, midnight ·

Listen To This Story

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is getting ready unveil new software they're using that makes contact tracing automatic.

A key part of stopping the spread of COVID-19, especially early in the pandemic, have been contact tracers; the people who hunt down those who test positive for the disease as well as those who may be at risk of contracting it, and tell them to quarantine. Lori Snyder is the Chief Information Officer at DHHS and says much of that crucial work can now be automated thanks to software dubbed “Text Nebraska.”

“So kind of a play on words with “Test Nebraska” and what that does is that triggers the ability for us to send in a text link to people who have mobile phone numbers and option for them to fill out their contact tracing via electronic means as opposed to having a contact tracer,” says Snyder. She says the software is linked with the statewide database that monitors and records COVID-19 test results for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is already operating in several state health districts, including Douglas County.

This is how it works: When a positive result is recorded, a text with an encrypted link to an online survey is automatically sent to the positive person, provided they have a mobile phone number. If the survey isn't filled out within six hours, then a human contact tracer will reach out to the individual. Snyder says the results so far have been good, with about 75% of people opening the text and 50 % of those people completing the survey.

“So where our contact tracers might have contacted them within 24 hours, we don't always reach the person you know. We might have to leave a message because the person isn't available where 50% of these people are fully done and we are then able to, in an automated way, send an additional survey out to their close contacts and start that process," says Snyder. She adds that the survey is encrypted and anonymous, providing people a secure way to fill out the information at their leisure.

For the health departments opting to use the software, Snyder says it also allows the redistribution of resources from contact tracing to other needs, like vaccine distribution.