COVID-19 Contact Tracing
What is Contact Tracing?
Contact Tracing is how public health officials track the spread of an infectious disease outbreak. When a patient is confirmed to have an illness, they isolate themselves to prevent further spread of that illness. Public health staff help those who have been infected recall where they have been and with whom they had close contact while they were infectious. Those “contacts” are contacted by public health staff and asked to quarantine themselves to stop further spread of the illness.
Building Arkansas’s Contact Tracing Workforce
The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has been engaged in contact tracing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 since the start of the public health emergency. Initially, the ADH started with five contact tracers who focused on high risk groups, such as individuals returning from trips overseas. Currently, there are approximately 200 individuals employed to work on contact tracing efforts. The ADH is also collaborating with non-profit organizations and institutions of higher education and to-date has secured at least 85 volunteers to help with contact tracing. Additionally, the ADH is working to hire a partner to strengthen the state’s contact tracing efforts. The ADH expects to hire 350 additional contact tracers through this partner.
Details on Contact Tracing for COVID-19 Cases
The ADH has a plan to quickly identify individuals who have come in contact with known positive COVID-19 cases. Arkansans who have tested positive for COVID-19 should expect a phone call from a case investigator asking for information, including a list of the COVID-19-positive person's known contacts. Contact tracers will then reach out to each of those contacts to help them safely quarantine, find alternate arrangements as necessary, and help them get tested for COVID-19, if recommended. The ADH can also help Arkansans with things such as food delivery or alternative housing if they need extra support to safely self-quarantine.
Contact tracers also educate individuals on the need to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19, and they request permission to enroll the COVID-19-positive person in the SARA (Situational Awareness Response Assistant) Alert system.
What is SARA Alert?
SARA Alert is an automated system that sends a daily email, text message or automated phone call to individuals identified as a close contact of a COVID-19-positive person. Enrollees are asked if they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, and if symptoms are reported, SARA Alert flags the case for follow-up by ADH staff. SARA Alert also allows the ADH to compile reports for identification of specific areas to target for testing and to provide information for decision-making by state leaders.