Contact tracing is the process of identifying an individual who has an infectious disease, like COVID-19, and the people with whom that individual has potentially been in contact.
It’s a confidential process that has been used by health departments for years to help stop the spread of infectious diseases and avoid outbreaks. Contact tracing is a crucial part of good public health. It enables us to give an early alert to people who may have been exposed so they can take precautions and not further the spread of a disease.
Eleven staff members, including two from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, have been trained as contact tracers. The Cal Lutheran community plays a key role in providing contact tracers with complete information, which helps to limit the number of new cases. We may also review card-access records for buildings or review security videos to determine contacts.
The steps for contract tracing differ depending on the situation.
Why does Cal Lutheran need to do contact tracing? Doesn’t the county do that?
While Ventura County Public Health does do contact tracing, Cal Lutheran, like other universities, has opted to do their own contact tracing in order to provide some relief for the contact tracers in public health as well as to make sure everyone in our Cal Lutheran community gets the information they need as quickly as possible. With over 800,000 people residing in Ventura County, it can be difficult for the public health department to contact everyone in a timely manner. Our goal is to inform close contacts of a COVID-19 positive individual as soon as possible in order to stop its spread any further, as well as connect people with the resources they need while isolating or quarantining.
What kind of information will I be asked by contact tracers?
To verify they are talking to the correct person, contact tracers will likely ask your name and date of birth. They will also ask questions about how you are feeling, what places on campus you have visited recently, and who you may have had contact with recently. They will NEVER ask for financial information, social security numbers, or immigration status.
What if I feel uncomfortable answering a question?
You are not required to answer any question. However, please know that we only ask questions in order to obtain information that might stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community. If you are uncertain about why a question is being asked, feel free to always ask our contact tracers to explain why they want this information.
Who will my information be shared with?
All information obtained through the contact tracing process is kept confidential to the extent allowed by federal and state law. The main law governing student health information is FERPA and the main law governing employee health information is HIPAA. When there are outbreaks like COVID-19, these laws allow (and sometimes require) that some information be shared with Public Health agencies. What this means is that some information may be shared with other individuals who have a legal right AND need to know. Your information will NOT be shared with individuals who do not have these legal rights, including your close contacts, friends, family members, co-workers, etc.
Is the name of the person who tested positive for COVID-19 revealed to their close contacts?
No. Close contacts are only told that they may have been exposed and when they may have been exposed. They are not told any more specific information about where they were or how the exposure happened or who they were exposed to.
I was around someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19, but no one called me to tell me I was exposed? Why not?
There are a couple of reasons why you may not have been contacted. First, not all exposures require individuals to quarantine. We use CDC guidelines and guidance from Ventura County Public Health to determine what types of exposures produce a risk of infection. For example, a brief “Hello” that only lasted a few seconds during a quick passing by does not increase the chance of infection enough to warrant quarantining, and thus would not prompt contact tracers to contact that individual. Second, contact tracing is a very valuable but imperfect process. Contact tracers rely on the memories of those diagnosed with COVID-19 to help us identify with whom they have come into contact. Because people’s memories are not perfect, they can sometimes forget certain interactions, especially during hectic or stressful days. Thus, if you feel you have been exposed to someone who is positive for COVID-19, it is always best if you email COVID19reporting@callutheran.edu and a contact tracer can discuss your specific situation to see if any quarantining is necessary.
If I’m feeling sick and think I have COVID-19, should I contact my doctor or a Cal Lutheran contact tracer?
You should always prioritize your health first. Seek immediate medical care or call 911 if you have any serious symptoms such as chest pain, trouble breathing, or blue lips or face. If your symptoms are mild, contact your doctor for any health-related questions. Stay home and avoid coming to work if you are ill with any COVID-19 symptoms. Once you are in a safe place, then you may email COVID19reporting@callutheran.edu for further information. Employees should also notify their supervisor and email@example.com. Health Services will not notify these people.
Are contact tracers doctors?
Contact Tracers are Cal Lutheran employees, all of whom who have some medical background and taken a contact tracing course, but they are not substitutes for your own personal medical providers. Contact tracers can provide you with general guidance about where to go for help, but they do not provide medical assessments or treatments. Please contact your own personal medical provider for any specific medical advice.
Other resources: CDC information about contract tracing