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Emphasis on contact tracing used to control spread of COVID-19

Typically they look for anyone who had personal contact with that infected person for at least 15 minutes, was closer than 6 feet, and was not wearing a mask.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — It's really a scientific detective story.

Contact tracing relies on trained investigators who start with an index case. That's a person who is actively infected. And then they try to determine who he or she came into contact with over a period of time. 

It's really nothing new in the realm of infectious disease control because we've seen it with outbreaks of the measles or the mumps and now COVID-19.

Dr. Peter Winkelstein is a Professor of Biomedical Informatics at UB who says "this is the same thing, but on a larger scale because so many people have the virus. And so that's why we need lots of testing and lots of contact tracing. But yes ... it's detective work ... that's exactly right."

Typically these investigators are looking for anyone who had personal contact with that infected person for at least 15 minutes, was closer than six feet, and was not wearing a mask. There is focused questioning about those contacts. 

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein says: "If a person is an essential worker including a health care worker, then they may have more contacts because they're working so that would take more time. For the typical person who is not working, you know having close contact with people in their homes, usually about three people are contacted. But it depends upon everybody's situation."

Unfortunately, as we approach reopening, there is that risk of more infection.

That is why Dr. Winkelstein emphasizes that "businesses need to be very careful ... disinfecting their areas and making sure their employees are OK. We have to behave OK. That means masks all the time, good hand hygiene and we have to be able to do very good testing and contact tracing."

Erie County and New York State are expected to intensify contact tracing to isolate those who could further spread the illness.

The county plans on having 270 staffers trained in the process to conduct those phone interviews and the state will be offering more assistance. That would comply with the state requirement of having 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 people.

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