Contact tracing has been mentioned frequently in the news as
a way to stop the spread of coronavirus and I have set out to understand what
exactly the process entails. Each state’s public health department has had a
different experience trying to implement contact tracing, however the
challenges seem to be the same: lack of scalability, high costs, and missing
What is it?
Contact tracing is the process of locating and testing
people that are known to have been in contact with an infected person. By
identifying, contacting, and staying in touch with these contacts after
exposure proper treatment and transmission prevention are more likely. It has
been used in the past to deal with diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, and Ebola.
The practice is most effective when these viruses or illnesses have not become
widespread yet and when there are a significant amount of resources and labor
dedicated to enforcing it.
What are the steps involved in contact tracing?
- Identifying close contacts – After someone tests
positive (person under investigation), a contact tracer who is dedicated to
helping stop the spread interviews them to ensure that they are safe, have
access to the medications and food that they need, identify if they are able to
isolate, and inquire about other people whom they’ve been in close contact
- Contact close contacts – The contact tracer then
reaches out to each person who has been exposed and may be at risk for
infection, informs them, and asks them to quarantine for two weeks. In most
states, the goal is to make initial contact with these people within 24 hours
of the positive test result.
- Follow-up – After a certain amount of time, the
contact tracer contacts the close contacts again to learn if they have begun to
have symptoms or not.. If anyone develops develops symptoms, then the process
What are common challenges to contact tracing during
& Costs – Over 20,000 new COVID-19 infections are being reported every
day, creating a huge task load for interviewing and contacting close contacts.
Currently, there are only a finite number of people actually trained to help
with contact tracing.
& Infectiousness – The way in which COVID-19 is contracted is
uncertain. Chance encounters have had to be considered potential spread.
Additionally, testing was slow to ramp up and it has been recently discovered
that even asymptomatic people can transmit the virus, majorly undermining the
- With state and local agencies in charge of managing contact tracing
programs, a problem exists in standardizing the data and deciding where
responsibility lies when infected people travel or cross state lines.
- Lack of
universal data – A major hurdle is that these state and local agencies
receive testing results from independent labs who oftentimes don’t collect all
of the necessary demographic or contact information that is needed to conduct
proper contact tracing procedures.
How can proactive data management help?
proactive data management infrastructure (like Verato), teams can overcome the
hurdles created by a lack of universal data.
example, electronic lab results serve as the trigger to investigations by state
and local agencies into who infected people have been in contact with. However,
according to the New York Times, it is estimated that 80% of laboratory reports lack key contact information like
patient address or zip code, posing a major hurdle to the contact tracing
Verato helps to make this person data complete and accurate
by applying our next-generation identity matching technology. The data
completeness and record matching means that lab teams and contact tracers save
valuable time. They won’t need to spend time researching the data that has
already been provided, potentially missing out on key contacts that could help
stop the spread.