TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As the number of new coronavirus cases continues to rise across Florida, contact tracing is a critical component in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
The Florida Department of Health on Wednesday reported another 5,508 new cases of COVID-19 in the state, the highest single-day record for new cases since tracking began.
Contact tracing is the process of contacting individuals who are infected with a particular communicable disease and then tracing where they’ve been to determine who else might’ve been exposed.
Contact tracers basically try to figure out all of the people an infected person physically came into contact with during a given period of time. That includes family, friends, significant others and strangers.
They are usually trained staff that interview those who test positive for COVID-19 and then alert the people who the infected person may have been in contact with. The contact tracers sometimes recommend those people self-isolate or quarantine themselves to prevent further spread.
Now, state Attorney General Ashley Moody is warning Floridians to be careful if they get a call from a contact tracer since reports of scammers surfaced in the state.
She suggests people verify the call is from a legitimate contact tracer with the local county health department before providing information.
“Unfortunately, we can’t trust the voice on the other end of the phone to always be truthful—even in the face of a deadly pandemic," Moody said.
The health department assigns cases to contact tracers who then track down the infected patient. After that, they request the contact information of the people who they were around, starting at least two days before exhibiting symptoms. But not everyone is contacted, only people who were within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more at a time.
A real tracer will not ask for your social security number or financial information. Other warning signs the person on the phone might not be legitimate include:
- Requesting payment
- Asking for a birth date
- Disclosing the identity of the COVID-19 positive individual who might have spread the virus to you. That is kept confidential.
If you think you've been contacted by someone posing as a contact tracer, reach out to the attorney general's office by calling 1(866) 9NO-SCAM or visiting MyFloridaLegal.com.
The Department of Health typically employs approximately 500 full-time epidemiologists who can conduct contact tracing. It hired 359 additional epidemiologists as temporary staff.
Now, more than 1,600 people, including students, epidemiologists and other staff from across the department, are currently involved in contact tracing every positive case of COVID-19 in Florida. The DOH has also hired an additional 400 contact tracers and 200 disease investigators through a third party agency.
The department said its staff is successfully meeting the current operational demand but they are prepared to further expand the number of contact tracers, if necessary, based on operational needs.
A spokesperson with DOH said in an e-mail, "In addition to conducting a thorough investigation to determine any potential close contacts, the Department advises that contact tracers utilize and discuss the most up-to-date and current guidance from the CDC and provide individuals with relevant infographics and other educational material which are found on https://floridahealthcovid19.gov."
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