3 Tips to Help with Contact Tracing

You get a call at 11 am from the public health unit informing you that you may have come into contact with someone two weeks ago who tested positive for COVID-19. What do you do?

As British Columbia and the rest of North America begin to restart our economy, it’s important for us to be aware of our surroundings and try to reduce contact with other individuals. Even if someone maintains social distancing (6 ft / 2 metres apart), washing hands often and wears a mask, there is still a chance that individuals might unknowingly catch the bug.

Contact tracing means locating and testing individuals who are known to have been in close contact with a carrier. Public health will look at a known carrier’s whereabouts over the last two weeks, examine where the carrier is on the incubation timeline and work their way backwards. Public Health will alert establishments suspected as a transmission point so that their patrons can self-monitor and get a test if necessary.

Here are some of the tips to help protect yourself and people around you:

1. Limit Your Social Interactions

Although jurisdictions like British Columbia are giving individuals the go-ahead to expand social circles, experts are still asking people to continue to keep social circles small and visits shorter, and outside if possible.

When you come into close contact with another individual, you are not only coming in close contact with that individual but every individual they have been with over the incubation period. This is true even if you see the person on a regular basis.

If at any point your friend or family member has come into contact with someone is a carrier for COVID-19, there is a probability that your friend or family member is carrying the virus and they will transmit it to you. You then in turn will transmit it to everyone you’ve come into contact with after you see that individual, after the virus incubates.

By keeping your social circles small and limiting your social interactions, you minimize your risk. This helps you and people around you.

2. Keep a Journal

If you test positive for a transmittable disease like COVID-19, a contact tracer from the public health unit will interview you about your whereabouts over the incubation period (2 weeks for COVID-19). They want a clear idea of what you have been up to over the last two weeks with as much detail as possible.

They want to know the who, when and where regarding the past two weeks. They want to know where you went, when you were at a particular location and who you talked to.

If you kept a journal, you would have exact information as to who you talked to. Using this information, the public health unit would be able to reach out to your contacts and inform them about the possibility of contact with a carrier of COVID-19.

If you do not remember who you talk to (i.e. at the grocery store), the public health unit will usually issue a letter to the media and the establishment letting affected patrons know that a positive carrier was at the establishment between a specific time on a specific day. Public Health will also provide contact information so that individuals who think they may be affected can contact for further instructions.

Even if you’re not being interviewed by public health, you are able to use your journal to recall whether you might be affected if public health issues these warnings.

3. Use a Tool to help

It takes a lot of discipline to write down who you’ve talked to and when/where you were at specific locations, so don’t worry if you miss a day or two. Even trained professionals, like police officers, often need to write meticulous notes about their encounters and even they miss information.

To help people with logging their activities for contact tracing, many tech companies over the past few weeks have developed apps that use the GPS signal of your phone to document your movement. Ignoring the privacy concerns which vary from app to app, this is typically the most accurate source of information for contact tracers. It contains information about where you’ve been and when you were at a specific location. From those contact points, people can typically remember what they did or who they talked to.

One of the most popular location journaling application is Google Maps Timeline. This is a feature included in the Google Maps application. On some phones such as Androids, this application comes pre-installed. Some people may have this feature turned on from when they first set up their phones.

Google Maps Timeline uses your phones location to log specific locations that you’ve been and the time you were at the location. Based on your behaviour, it knows which stores you go to (ie in a shopping mall). I’ve had Google Maps Timeline enabled since 2011 so I am able to use it to pull up a list of locations I’ve been to since 2011.

Below is an example of my map from a few days ago where I went from my house to the clinic and I visited the mall and Costco before heading home. This type of information is extremely valuable to contact tracers and the public health unit.

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