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COVID Alert NJ: Traditional Contact Tracing

Last Updated: 09/30/2020

What is traditional contact tracing and how does it work?

Contact tracing is a long-standing vital public health tool used in New Jersey and throughout the world to identify infected individuals and their close contacts to stop the spread of disease. It's been used for many contagious diseases, such as measles and HIV, and is now an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19. Contact tracing involves public health officials calling an infected individual, providing them with information / support and speaking with them about people they have had recent close contact with. The public health agency then reaches out to those close contacts to alert them of their exposure and to advise them on a course of action to minimize spread. The public health representative can also provide information on social services available such as food assistance and job protections if isolation is required. This process requires an army of public health representatives (contact tracers) – each call can be time consuming, and contact tracing can miss a number of individuals who are unknown to the infected case, such as someone in line behind you in the grocery store. For more information, please visit https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/testandtrace

How does traditional contact tracing interface with COVID Alert NJ?

COVID Alert NJ will augment traditional contact tracing, especially if it can be used in an automated and scalable way to help determine who has been exposed to a person that later reports a positive diagnosis of COVID-19. For example, the app can be used to send a rapid notification to the exposed person with instructions on next steps. These notifications may be beneficial by alerting an exposed individual faster than they would be notified via traditional contact tracing; they will enable public health authorities to contact and provide guidance to the individual and, where appropriate, include them in traditional contact tracing efforts. Additionally, if the positive COVID-19 individual doesn't know the names and contact information of everyone they have been in close contact with (for example, on the train commuting to work, at a café, or a social gathering), COVID Alert NJ helps reach those "unknown" contacts while keeping the positive COVID-19 individual and the contacts anonymous.