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As Contact Tracing Expands in Orange County, Answer Your Calls

Friday, June 19, 2020
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More than 50% of COVID-19 cases in Orange County have been in people under age 50. The overall number of cases in the county has increased by 70 since last week. See the weekly update.

Note: The following information was issued by the Orange County Health Department and is also available below in Spanish. Information and frequently asked questions on the face coverings requirement in Orange County are attached also in English and Spanish.

Simply put, contact tracers are disease detectives. Contact tracing is the identification and monitoring of all people who might have been exposed to a person diagnosed with COVID-19.

If you are COVID-19 positive or if you are contacted about having been exposed, you are not in trouble.  Contract tracers want to help by providing guidance to keep you and everyone around you healthy.

“We want to spread the word about contact tracing so community members are sure to pick up their phone for unknown numbers,” said Margaret Campbell, the public health nurse practitioner in charge of the Orange County Health Department’s contact tracing team. “It could be a contract tracer calling. In order to fight COVID-19, we need people to answer when we call or return our call, as we will be sure to leave a message.”

Case investigation and contact tracing

When the Orange County Health Department is notified of a positive case of COVID-19, the communicable disease staff work to prevent further spread of the disease by using case investigation and contact tracing.

During the initial case investigation, public health staff work with patients to help them retrace their steps in order to recall everyone with whom they were in close contact while possibly contagious. The CDC generally defines close contact as being within 6 feet of someone for at least 15 minutes. The Orange County Health Department’s contact tracers then stay in touch with the initial patient’s list of close contacts for 14 days (the maximum incubation period) from the last date the contacts had exposure to a confirmed case.

To protect patient privacy, contacts are only informed that they may have been exposed to a patient with the infection. They are not told the identity of the patient who may have exposed them. Close contacts to a positive case are asked to monitor themselves for symptoms.

Contact tracing staff call a list of contacts daily to check on their symptoms and are able to communicate in the language of the contact’s choice. During their conversations, they work to build and maintain trust with patients and contacts and can confidently refer them for further care if needed. When they make their calls, contact tracers help community members understand their risk. They ask about symptoms and advise patients and contacts about what they should do to separate themselves from others who are not exposed.

“These strategies will help to break the chain of transmission and will enable people to return to a more normal life,” Orange County Health Director Quintana Stewart said. “As COVID-19 testing increases, we will see an increase in diagnosed cases and therefore contacts. We have worked hard to train more contact tracers in order to meet this demand. This is especially important as the economy opens and exposures increase. Contact notification and isolation will be a key control measure.”

Contact tracing has been a keystone of preventative medicine and public health for decades. It was employed during the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the Ebola epidemic in 2014, and it played a key role in defeating smallpox and polio.

What to expect

Contact tracers will:

  • Tell you about your risk.
  • Tell you how to monitor your symptoms.
  • Help connect you to resources and support you may need.
  • Keep your information confidential.

Contact tracers will not:

  • Ask for your social security number.
  • Ask for your bank information.

Reliable information

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services updates its COVID-19 case count dashboard at noon daily. Orange County releases a weekly summary by 9 a.m. Fridays. For the latest information and guidance relating to Orange County’s COVID-19 response:

For questions, contact the Orange County Health Department by email at covid19@orangecountync.gov or by phone at 919-245-6111 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Spanish and other languages are available.

Related documents


Document News release in Spanish  

Document Weekly update  

Document Flyer: Face coverings requirement (English)  

Document Flyer: Face coverings requirement (Spanish)  

Document FAQs: Face coverings requirement (English)  

Document FAQs: Face coverings requirement (Spanish)