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What is contact tracing and why is it important?

Contact tracing is a time-tested way to limit the spread of contagious diseases. Along with testing, contact tracing is a crucial method for slowing the spread of COVID-19. It's a basic tool of medical detective-work, aimed at keeping your family, friends and community members safe if you may have exposed them to the virus.

If you test positive or have been exposed to someone who has, health investigators known as contact tracers will reach out to help determine when you got sick and who you might have exposed. They will then work with you to let your close contacts know what precautions to take and where to get a free test. They will not reveal your identity nor ask about your immigration status.

It is important for everyone to ANSWER THE CALL if contact tracers reach out while conducting case investigations, which are led by county health departments and supported by the state Department of Health.

Contact tracing illustration

How will I know when a contact tracer is calling?

If you receive a call from a contact tracer, your phone will identify the caller as "Public Health," "WA Health," 206-263-8480, or 206-263-0267.

Contact tracing helps all of us. If you get called, your full cooperation is essential in stopping the spread of the virus and reopening the economy.

If I receive a call from contact tracers, does it mean I’m sick?

No. You can be exposed without getting infected. But if you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, it is important to get a free test. (Close contact means being within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes.)

You can spread the virus without even knowing you are sick. It can take 2-14 days after exposure to develop symptoms, and some people never develop symptoms or only have very mild symptoms. Getting tested lets you know if you might be exposing others without realizing it.

If you develop COVID-19 symptoms, call your doctor to arrange a test. If you don’t have a medical provider, call the King County COVID-19 call center at 206-477-3977. If you have a positive test, the lab that processes your result will inform contact tracers so that they can follow up.

What kind of questions will contact tracers ask?

If you have symptoms, contact tracers will ask you questions about when they first developed, where and when you were exposed, and who you may have exposed to the virus. They will also ask for your date of birth, and confirm your address, race and ethnicity. Contact tracers will never ask about your immigration status, Social Security number or financial information.

The information they collect helps health officials understand which groups are most at risk for getting the virus and which communities are most affected. It also helps identify workplaces or events where the virus has spread, and how it is moving across Washington State.

How do I isolate or quarantine?

If you think you have symptoms or have been exposed to someone with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, follow the links below to monitor your health and avoid spreading the disease.

What support is available if I need to isolate or quarantine?

If you test positive for COVID-19, you will need to stay away from others for at least 10 days from the time you first develop symptoms. This will help ensure that you don’t spread the infection to others. If you have been in close contact with someone who has the virus but have not tested positive, you need to quarantine for at least 14 days after your last contact.

To support you during isolation or quarantine, contact tracers can help you get groceries, financial support, and medical services.

If you need a place to stay during this time, the county can help place you in a comfortable isolation and quarantine center until you have recovered. This service is available to people who can’t safely distance from family or housemates, or who are currently living homeless.