Contact Tracing 101

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What is Contact Tracing?
How Does Contact Tracing Work?
Frequently Asked Questions

What is Contact Tracing?

The Baltimore City Health Department uses contact tracing to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Baltimore City.

With contact tracing, we

  1. Keep people from getting infected with COVID-19
  2. Reduce the number of people needing to go to the hospital with COVID-19  
  3. Keep people from dying from COVID-19

Right now, we have no vaccine and no treatment for COVID-19, so we must use contact tracing to protect others and ourselves.

Contact tracing and isolation (staying home and away from others) are KEY TOOLS. They help slow down the spread of disease, make sure our hospitals do not have more patients with COVID-19 than they can care for, and protect our families and our communities.

Together, we can protect each other. If we call you about COVID-19, you have the power to stop the spread.  By helping us reach others who may be infected, you could help save the lives of friends, family, and others in our communities.

How Does Contact Tracing Work?

Find more info about Contact Tracing Steps here.

Step 1: The Health Department learns that someone has tested positive for COVID-19.

By Maryland and U.S. law, the Local Health Department must be told when someone tests positive for diseases, such as COVID-19, that spread among people. This law helps the local health department protect the community.

Doctors and medical labs must share COVID-19 test results with the Health Department.

The Health Department keeps all testing information, including results, confidential. The Health Department will not share your test results.

Step 2: The Health Department calls the person with COVID-19.

When a person tests positive for COVID-19, the health department will call them to:

  1. Make sure the person knows they tested positive for COVID-19
  2. Explain staying at home away from others (isolation)
    • Share how isolation works to keep others from getting COVID-19
    • Explain how to isolate. This will include what they should and should not do during isolation.
    • Tell them where to find help, such as getting food and medicines, while in isolation.
  3. Determine when the person can stop isolation
    • The health department will let the person know when they can end isolation. A person should wait until they cannot spread COVID-19 to stop isolation.
  4. Find out who else might be at risk for COVID-19. These people are called close contacts.

Please make sure we have the RIGHT PHONE NUMBER! At the health department, we call people who have tested positive for COVID-19. We need patients, doctors, hospitals, and clinics to give us correct phone numbers. Without the right phone number, we cannot reach people who test positive for COVID-19.

Step 3:  The Health Department will call close contacts to:

  • Tell them that they have been exposed to COVID-19 and the date they were exposed
  • Explain they might develop COVID-19 and to watch for symptoms
  • Explain that they should quarantine—stay away from others to keep from spreading COVID-19
  • Explain how to quarantine and where to get help while in quarantine
  • Let them know where they can get the COVID-19 test

A person can spread COVID-19 up to TWO DAYS before feeling ill. So, we will ask about close contacts during the time a person had symptoms of COVID-19 and the 48 hours before symptoms started.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is a Close Contact?

Close contacts are people who are both:

  • Closer than 6 feet (2 meters) to the person who tested positive AND
  • With the person for 15 minutes or longer

Close contacts include:

  • People who live in the same home
  • Co-workers who are closer than 6 feet of one another for more than 15 minutes. Examples include working, meeting, or eating together in the same room
  • Friends meeting together at a party or meal in a home or restaurant
  • Family members visiting each other’s homes

Close contacts do not include “casual contacts.” Casual contacts are people who were in the same place, such as grocery stores, but we're not closer than 6 feet to the person for more than 15 minutes. The health department will not ask about casual contacts.

The Health Department will ask a person with COVID-19 to list all their close contacts.

What does the Health Department do with information about my close contacts?

If we have a phone number, we will call the close contact to tell them they were exposed to COVID-19 and what they need to do (see Step 3). We do NOT tell them who gave us their name, at ANY time. That information is PRIVATE and very closely protected.

PLEASE STAY HOME if you are SICK, or have been in CONTACT with those who are sick. As businesses open again, we must stop the spread of COVID-19 to protect our families, friends, and communities.

What Should I Do If I Have COVID-19?

If you are SICK with symptoms of COVID-19 OR you have tested positive for COVID-19,  stay home, away from work, and others.

How Long Should I Stay home?

If you have COVID-19, stay home until:

  • 10 days have passed from when your symptoms started AND
  • You have had NO fever for at least 3 days, without using medicines for fever AND
  • Your symptoms like cough or shortness of breath have improved

You do NOT have to get tested to end isolation. However, some employers may tell you to get tested before returning to work.

What Should I Do If I Was Exposed to COVID-19?

If you were exposed to COVID-19, please stay home and away from others for 14 days after you were last exposed to COVID-19. (If you are an essential worker, healthcare worker, or first responder, check with your employer about how long to stay out of work.) This way, if you become sick, you don’t spread COVID-19 to others.

Even if you DO NOT FEEL SICK, please stay home and away from others. You can CATCH and SPREAD COVID-19 without knowing it. So, the only way to protect others is to STAY AWAY for 14 days.

What if the Health Department Calls Me?

Getting a call from the health department may worry you. But, please know that we call to help you and to protect our community. Here is what to expect when we call:

  1. We make sure that we are talking to the right person by asking you to confirm your name and other information.
  2. We ask about when your symptoms first started. This helps us know more about how COVID-19 is spread and who may be at risk.
  3. We ask about places you have been to recently – such as home, work, or time with family or friends. We ask about your work. This helps us know how to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
  4. We also ask about who may have been near you recently, and we ask for their contact information if you have it.  We will call the close contacts to tell them they might have been exposed to COVID-19. To keep your information private, we do NOT tell them who gave us their information or where they may have been exposed. This step is important to stop the spread of disease. We can only stop COVID-19 if those who are exposed remain away from others, even before they feel sick. At the health department, we will protect your privacy. Our staff members are trained to keep your information confidential.
  5. We will also explain about isolation, staying home, and away from others for their protection. We will let you know where to get help with food, medicines, and other needs, while in isolation.

What Do Employers Need To Know?

If you are an employer, please find information on contact tracing and job sites at the BCHD COVID-19 and Employers website.