Contact Tracing can Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19

UPDATED November 10, 2021

COVID-19 cases remain high locally. Our staff continues making calls each day to people that may have been exposed, but cannot get to all cases. You can take immediate steps to prevent the spread of illness! Follow these guidelines if you test positive or have been exposed.

Contact tracing is one way to help prevent further spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing can help contain outbreaks by quickly alerting people who may have had a high-risk exposure, so they don’t spread the virus to others. Washtenaw County Health Department investigates every reported case of COVID-19 and that person’s close, personal contacts.

A close contact is someone who had face-to-face contact with an infected person within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes. There may be exceptions to this criteria in certain cases where the risk of transmission is higher (e.g. contact during high impact sports). Having physical contact with an infected person may also categorize a close contact (e.g. sharing eating or drinking utensils, having direct physical contact by hugging/kissing, or having had an infected person sneeze/cough/get respiratory droplets on someone).

Here’s what you need to know about how you can help the Health Department with this important work.

How can I help?

  • Pick up the phone if we call you or call us back as soon as you can. The call may come from different numbers, depending on which staff member is calling. You may also get a call from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ “MI COVID HELP” line.
  • Try to limit and keep a list of places you’ve been and people you’ve been in close contact (within 6 feet for 15+ minutes) with.

When will you call me?

We may contact you if you test positive for COVID-19 or are connected to a larger outbreak. We’ll may also be in touch if we’ve found through case investigations that you’ve been in close contact with someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19. If you don't receive a call right away, please follow the guidelines above.

How will you get my contact information?

We’re not spying on you or tracking your cell phone data, we promise. Health care providers, testing sites, and employers are required to report positive COVID-19 cases to the public health department. We will call you from that information. If you’ve tested positive, we’ll ask you for the contact information of people you’ve been in close contact with so we can talk to them as well. The Michigan Department of Corrections or other local health departments may also provide us with your contact information if you live in Washtenaw County.

What questions will I be asked as part of contact tracing?

We want to make sure you have all the resources you need to isolate (if you’re sick) or quarantine (if you’ve been exposed but are not yet sick). We may ask questions about things like:

  • How you’re feeling.
  • If you’ve gotten tested or if you've been vaccinated.
  • If you’re ok on food and other supplies while home. 
  • The phone numbers of your close contacts who may have been exposed and your employer if you’re working outside the home. 
  • If anyone else lives with you, we’ll provide information on how you can keep your distance from them and keep them safe. 
  • We’ll also ask for basic information like your birthdate, address (to make sure you’re in Washtenaw County), and email address so we can send you follow-up information.

What questions will the Health Department NEVER ask?

We will never ask you about your:

  • Immigration status
  • Bank account
  • Credit card
  • Social security information

If you’re concerned you’re being scammed, you can call us at 734-544-6700 or send us an email at [email protected] and we can confirm if the person contacting you is legitimate or not. Calls from the state contact tracing team will come from 866-806-3447 or MI COVID HELP.

Will I get in trouble?

We’re contacting you to make sure you, your family, and your community stay safe. State law (PA 238 of 2020 and PA 339 of 2020) states that an employer can’t fire, discipline, or retaliate against an employee for staying home if they are sick or their close contact is sick. Additionally, employers must protect the confidentiality of their employees. Legally, they cannot identify an employee who has COVID-19 by name.

What if I don’t speak English?

All Health Department staff have access to phone interpreters. We have some staff who speak other languages.