Tip Sheets

Contact tracing a ‘tried-and-true tool’ for public health

Media Contact

Lindsey Knewstub

As the nation looks to re-open, contact tracers will be needed to track and halt the spread of COVID-19.

Gen Meredith, an expert in public health assessment, intervention development and workforce capacity building explains contact tracing and its importance. Meredith can also speak to what will need to be done to recruit, train, and deploy contact tracers in New York.

Gen Meredith

Associate Director of the Cornell University Master of Public Health Program

“Contact tracing is a tried-and-true tool from the public health toolkit. Contact tracing has been around for decades and it is so powerful because it allows public health leaders to do three key things: (1) get people who may have been exposed connected with the testing, treatment and care services; (2) provide people who are infected – or potentially infected, pending test results – with the knowledge and tools they need to reduce risk, increase health, and keep others safe; and (3) gather more specific information about what is driving or spreading an infection.

“In practical terms, for COVID-19, every person who is getting tested is considered ‘infected’ until the test comes back negative. So, ideally, for every person tested, contact tracing starts. This is why there is an urgent need to recruit, train, and deploy contact tracers.

“Contact tracers, also known as disease detectives, contact people who are infected with or have been exposed to a pathogen that can be transmitted to others. Contact tracers speak with the individual to help them understand what they might expect if they are positive ­– such as who to call if they have symptoms, or where to get treatment; help the individual know how to keep their friends and family safe and how to not spread the infection; and, help the individual recall activities or interactions that have occurred that could have resulted in their own infection, or transmission of the infection to others. The contact tracers try to gather names of people who might be at risk, or locations where transmission could have happened and then contact the people who may have been exposed ­– never naming the person who is infected – and the process starts all over again.

“Public health leaders want to make sure that everyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19 knows where to get tested and gets tested. They also want people to know how the virus is spreading in communities and who is most at risk for more severe illness. This data informs how and when we re-open, and how to keep more people safe; contact tracers make that happen.”

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.