What is contact tracing? Local health experts say it’s crucial to stop spread of COVID-19

SPOKANE, Wash. — A huge part of stopping the spread of the coronavirus is figuring out who may have been exposed to it in the first place.

Epidemiologists across the nation are ramping up what they call “contact tracing” efforts, including in North Idaho.

The term contact tracing speaks for itself; it basically means keeping track of those who are sick with the virus and figuring out who they may have come into contact with.

When a person gets sick, they are interviewed by public health officials and asked who has been exposed to them. Health officials then take that list and typically ask those people to self-isolate based off of how they are feeling.

If a person who was exposed is also infected, their recent contacts are tracked down, too — and so forth.

The idea is that the virus will eventually have nowhere else to go.

“Probably the biggest challenge is just making sure that all of this is done in a timely manner and that we are contacting everyone that needs to be contacted,” said Katherine Hoyer, Public Information Officer for the Panhandle Health District.

In order to keep up with the demand, PHD has been training staff members from different departments who are willing to help.

Their epidemiologists have also been working extended hours Monday through Friday and on weekends. The good news is their work is paying off.

They said the people they have contacted are listening to the guidance and self-isolating.

As far a reopening everything, the health district predicts it will be a staggered approach, rather than opening everything up at once.

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