Officials Describe Contact Tracing

May 14, 2020, 5:56 p.m. ·

Felicia Quintana-Zinn (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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As the state steps up efforts to trace the contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19, officials are giving more details of how that process works.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were about 30 contact tracers, or disease investigators, in the state. Now, the state has trained 277 more people to help local health departments trace the contacts of people who’ve tested positive for the virus, according to Felicia Quintana-Zinn of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

At Gov. Pete Ricketts’ daily coronavirus news conference, Quintana-Zinn said when someone tests positive, they’re asked a series of questions, including “when you started feeling symptoms, what those symptoms are like, if you’ve been in the hospital with COVID, if you have any other pre-existing medical conditions, and who you’ve had close contact with over the period that you’ve had symptoms, and then 48 hours prior to that.”

And she explained what “close contact” does -- and doesn’t – mean.

“When we say close contact, we’re not talking about just passing somebody in a hall or in a grocery store. We’re talking about being within six feet of distance for over 10 minutes with that individual,” she said.

Those contacts will then be contacted, asked if they have symptoms, and given recommendations, which can include quarantine or self-monitoring, depending on the degree of exposure. Ricketts said people who have tested positive have been averaging about 10 close contacts so far. The governor was asked if quarantine for close contacts would be mandatory, or voluntary. “We don’t have enough police to go enforce this on everybody. We need people’s cooperation to be able to get this done,” he replied.

Ricketts says the state’s goal is to work up to having 1,000 contact tracers. Quintana-Zinn said the department is currently contacting private companies and looking for people who have experience with call centers or with asking people health questions.