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Contact Tracing and Case Investigation

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Contact tracing is critical to keeping Illinois healthy and slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Contact tracing and case investigation have been used for decades to slow or stop the spread of infectious diseases and are essential in controlling the transmission of infectious diseases like COVID-19. Contact tracing provides support that helps protect people and reduce the spread of COVID-19. Trained public health workers are available to answer questions, alleviate concerns, and offer resource assistance for all Illinoisans who test positive and need to isolate. Public health workers also support those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and need to quarantine by providing helpful information that can protect them and those they care about including offering resource assistance to help them stay home. By working together, we can make a difference.

We need your help. If you receive a text or call from IL COVID HELP or from your local health department directly, please do your part and respond. Doing so could save lives.

What is the difference between contact tracing and case investigation?

Contact tracing and case investigation are long-established, proven health practices that have helped save countless lives.

  • Case investigation is part of the process of supporting patients with COVID-19 that involves a discussion to help patients recall everyone with whom they had close contact during the timeframe in which they may have been infectious. 
  • Contact tracing lets people know they may have been exposed to an infectious agent and what to do next for their own health and the health of others.

Both practices are done by trained public health workers who can provide health guidance, answer questions, and offer support for isolating or quarantining. It helps protect you, those closest to you, and those in your community by slowing the spread of COVID-19

Is contact tracing and case investigation new?

The Illinois Department of Public Health, as well as health departments around the world, have been using contact tracing successfully for decades to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases, such as Ebola and HIV/AIDS. The COVID-19 pandemic affecting billions worldwide has put this little-known health practice on the global stage.

Who is participating in contact tracing and case investigation efforts?

All 97 local health departments and several community-based organizations and federally qualified health centers in Illinois are participating.

How does the process work?

Case Investigation Involves:

Residents getting tested for COVID-19 and receiving a positive result, which notifies the local health department.

Residents responding to the call or text from the local health department to start a discussion about their isolation

Contact tracing involves:

Public health workers and infected residents notifying their contacts of their potential exposure and discussing the need to quarantine

Referring those contacts for testing, monitoring contacts for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, connecting contacts to community-based organizations if services or resources are needed to remain safely at home during the quarantine period. Note that names of the infected individuals are never shared with contacts

What happens if I get a call or text?

If you test positive for COVID-19 or were in close contact with someone who did, you’ll get a call or text from IL COVID HELP or your local health department direct line. That’s one of the public health workers. Responding is extremely important, as it helps us do contact tracing and case investigation effectively. During the call, they will:

  • Ask you to confirm information about yourself and information about your close contacts if you are infected, answer your questions and help alleviate any concerns
  • Help determine your isolation or quarantine guidelines
  • Offer you additional support and resources to keep you home safely and put you in touch with community partners who can assist you
  • They will never ask for your social security number, payment of any kind, bank or credit card information, or your immigration status

Who is considered a close contact?

Close contacts are individuals who have been within 6 feet for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period to someone who is infected with COVID-19 (laboratory-confirmed or a clinically compatible illness). For example, three individual 5-minute exposures for a total of 15 minutes would qualify as a close contact. An infected person can spread COVID-19 starting 2 days before they have any symptoms (or, for asymptomatic person, 2 days before the positive specimen collection date), until they meet criteria for discontinuing home isolation.

Exception: In the K–12 indoor classroom setting, the close contact definition excludes students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student (laboratory-confirmed or a clinically compatible illness) if both the infected student and the exposed student(s) correctly and consistently wore well-fitting masks the entire time. This exception does not apply to teachers, staff, or other adults in the indoor classroom setting.

What should I do while quarantining?

You likely won’t receive your test results right away, but don’t be discouraged. Here are some steps to take in the meantime:

  1. Follow Quarantine Guidance Here.
  2. Retrace your steps: Recall where you went and who you were in close contact with recently.

A public health worker may be available to support in case you test positive and need to take necessary precautions.

What if my test results come back positive?

A positive result can be nerve-wracking, but don’t panic. Around 97% of people who contract coronavirus recover. To keep from passing the virus onto others, take these additional steps.

  1. Follow Current Isolation Guidance Here.
  2. Retrace your steps: Recall where you went and who you were in close contact with recently. Notify anyone who you have been in close contact with.

What happens with my information?

Your private health information is secured and always kept completely confidential. No sensitive data like social security numbers is collected. We don’t exchange private health information with anyone, including law enforcement, credit collection, or immigration agencies. And, your name won’t be revealed to others, even your close contacts. If you request resource support to keep you home safely during the quarantine or isolation period, we can refer you to a community-based organization to coordinate resources only after receiving your consent.

How much is being spent on this effort and where is the funding going?

In 2021, local health departments received approximately $230 million to perform and improve contact tracing, case investigation, testing efforts, vaccination programs, and community outreach.

Community-based organizations are receiving $60 million for resource coordination, community health outreach, and contact tracing support for those impacted by COVID-19. They are expected to use the funding to employ workers full time, provide health benefits, and pay a living wage.

Where can I find additional support and resources?

Resources may be available to those who have COVID-19 and their close contacts. Please respond to the call or text and your public health worker to learn more about resources available to you. If you have any questions about testing, contact tracing, or anything else, please visit the following websites or feel free to call us.