Here’s what the state's contact tracing initiative means for Washingtonians

May 13 2020, 1:42 pm

On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the launch of a statewide contact tracing plan beginning on May 15 that will help to slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The term contact tracing was not received gently by the public, as many took to social media to express their concerns.

Inslee broke down the term on Tuesday, explaining what he says Washington’s contact tracing initiative entails.

So what exactly is contact tracing? 

The best way to describe contact tracing would be with an example of how it’s used.

According to Gov. Jay Inslee, when a person tests positive for coronavirus, an interviewer from the state Department of Health and its partners will reach out to the infected person within 24 hours by phone and ask who that person has been in close contact with. The interviewer will then reach out to those people to let them know that they may have been exposed.

Think of it as a chain — interviewers will be working their way down the chain, alerting those that have come in contact with an infected person that they could have been exposed.

Why is contact tracing important? 

Alerting the possibly infected persons that they’ve been exposed to the virus allows them to isolate or quarantine themselves before they can infect others.

Who will be getting the information? 

According to Inslee, the information collected by the professional interviewers will not be shared. The interviewers will ask about symptoms, recent exposure, as well as demographic questions such as age, address, gender, and ethnicity. Contacts will not be told the name of the person who may have exposed them to the virus.

Who will be part of the interview team? 

The statewide contact tracing team will include members of the Washington State National Guard, the Department of Licensing, and state and local health professionals who will be trained by the state Department of Health.

The governor is aiming to have 1,371 contact tracers trained by May 15.