Contact tracing

The Maryland Department of Health is launching a widespread contract tracing effort in connection with local health departments. Contact tracing is not a new strategy in the fight against infectious disease and has been effectively employed during other health emergencies, such as the H1N1 pandemic in America and Ebola outbreaks in Africa.

“Contact tracing — along with widespread testing, ample supplies of PPE and hospital preparedness — is how we will keep Maryland moving toward a safer and healthier future,” said MDH Secretary Robert R. Neall.

MDH has quickly expanded its team of contact tracers and now has 1,400 investigators across the state’s 24 jurisdictions. The program has the capacity to track 1,000 cases and up to 10,000 contacts daily. MDH’s contact tracing program works like this: when an individual tests positive, case investigators reach out to that person by phone within 24 hours. Based on information collected about the COVID-19 positive individual’s symptoms and contact history, case investigators will call other people with whom the individual has had close contact and provide necessary guidance about monitoring symptoms and isolating at home.

When the phone rings, the caller ID will read “MD COVID.” Depending on whether the contact investigator is calling directly from NORC or a local health department, there will also be a list of phone numbers provided to verify the caller’s identity. Maryland’s contact tracing workforce is trained to ensure that all personal information is collected in accordance with regulations and guidelines to protect privacy and personal health information.

The contact tracer will ask about the individual’s health, any potential symptoms, and the duration of those symptoms. They may ask about an individual’s whereabouts and interactions for a specific period. A contact investigator will never ask for a Social Security number, financial or bank account information, or personal details unrelated to COVID-19. They will not ask for photographs or videos, passwords or any payment.

Gene M. Ransom III is the CEO of MedChi, The Maryland State Medical Society. Email – Twitter — @GeneRansom.

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