How contact tracing works

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FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) — As schools and universities open, it has become one of the most significant parts of stopping the spread of the coronavirus but few people understand it.

We talked with a state health official to see how contact tracing works and why it’s so important.

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When someone tests positive for an infectious disease like COVID, a contact tracer basically becomes an investigator.

“Contact tracing, in particular, has been used by health departments probably since there were health departments,” says Mark Carter, executive advisor for the Cabinet of Health and Family Services.

When the health department confirms a case, a contact tracer goes to work finding out who else might’ve been exposed.

“We’ll say that you’ve came in contact with someone that’s tested positive, what you need to do to protect your own health and then what you need to do to protect your loved ones,” says Carter.

Contact tracers will ask you about your health, where you’ve been and who you have been in contact with.

It’s a important call that people must take seriously.

“When they get that call their mind immediately goes to ‘oh, I’m gonna have to miss work’ or ‘are they gonna separate me from my children?” says Carter.

Health officials say tracers are reaching about 70% of people and most people cooperate.

The biggest issue is dealing with clusters like nursing homes, factories, and businesses.

“And how do you work with them and balance the need to maintain privacy with the need to inform,” says Carter.

Kentucky has 1,075 tracers and could add about 250 more if needed.

It’s not easy calling, waiting for call backs, paperwork on dozens of cases, but it’s making the public health response system much better in the long run.

“We’ll have a single system in place when this is all said and done that’s been focused on COVID but can be used for any kind of contact tracing,” says Carter.

He says contact tracing is just one piece of the public health response and people still need to do their part by wearing masks, distancing, and complying with tracers.

The state says it’s also working on an online platform to make the contact tracing process easier.

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Christy Bollinger joined the ABC 36 news team as a reporter in March 2018. Christy comes from a little western Kentucky town called Cadiz. She graduated from Western Kentucky University in May 2017 with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and Criminology. Christy is thrilled to be working at her dream job in her home state. She is passionate about storytelling and you can see her weekdays on ABC 36 News at 5 and 6 p.m. She's covered everything from visits from the sitting president and vice president, to high-profile murder cases. When not chasing stories, Christy loves nothing more than being at the beach and says life is just better with sand between your toes and waves crashing at your feet. She is also a big animal lover. She's a fur momma and her mini-Australian Shepherd, Milly, standard Australian Shepherd, Bennie, and her Maine Coon, Cheeto, are the loves of her life. Christy encourages you to send her any story ideas you may have. Find her on Facebook at Christy Bollinger ABC 36, tweet her @ChristyB_news, or email her at CBollinger@wtvq.com.