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November 27, 2020

Contact tracing is a tool public health uses to help slow the spread of diseases. The answers you give when a public health worker calls help stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Until there is a vaccine or a cure, contact tracing is one of the best ways to keep people healthy. 

How contact tracing works

No matter where someone is tested, a positive test for COVID-19 is reported to the health department. Under ideal circumstances, we call each person who tested positive to find out how they are doing, who they have been near, and where they might have been exposed to the virus.

Because of the large numbers of people who currently are testing positive for COVID-19, not everyone who is positive will get a call from a public health worker at this time. Health workers will focus first on those most at risk of serious illness or of spreading the virus to a lot of other people.

What should I do if I don’t get a call? 

If you test positive for COVID-19, you can help slow the spread by telling those you’ve been in close contact with right away. Telling Close Contacts>>

Who will call me, if I get a call?

Our team members:

  • Will identify themselves as working with the Multnomah County Health Department
  • Will speak your home language and, if they don’t, will work with an interpreter
  • Will call you back if you’re not free to talk at this moment

What questions will you ask?

  • We ask how you are feeling and if you need health care.
  • We ask where you went and who you had close contact with in the last few weeks. 
  • We ask about your health, housing, and employment. 
  • We ask you if you have what you need to stay safe and recover. We can help you come up with a plan to get what you need.
  • We never ask for Social Security numbers, bank information, or credit cards. 
  • We never ask about immigration status. 
  • We do not share your identity with the federal government. 
  • We do not share information with law enforcement or ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
  • We do not share information with your landlord.

All participation is voluntary. You can decline to answer any question. If you choose, you can notify your own contacts instead of sharing their names with the health department. We strongly encourage you to let us also talk to them to make sure they get all of their questions answered.

If you suspect fraud, hang up the phone. You can call the Communicable Disease Services main line at 503.988.3406 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Ask to speak to the phone triage person. That person can confirm that the person calling you is from the Health Department. 

If we are unable to reach you, we will leave a voicemail identifying ourselves as calling from the Health Department and will request that you call back. The voicemail will not contain any health information.

What do you do with my answers?

The information you give helps us stop the disease from spreading.

We use it to find and contact people who are at risk of getting COVID-19, so they can take steps to protect the people around them. We keep your information private. We do not tell people who may have exposed them unless we have your permission. Sometimes we need to notify places you have been while infectious, such as a workplace. We will work with you to do this safely and privately.

We contact your employer when there might have been close contact at work with people you cannot name, or if there are two or more cases in your workplace. We always avoid sharing your name if possible. If it is not possible we will always let you know that we will be talking with your employer.

What will you ask my contacts to do?

You can call people who were in close contact with you or, if you prefer, we can call them. Close contact means they were within 6 feet of you for 15 minutes or more over the course of a day, with or without a face covering while you had the virus.

We ask your close contacts to:

  • Stay home, away from other people, for 14 days after the last time they were around you. Staying home the whole time is important because people can spread COVID-19 before they know they are sick. 

  • Get tested, even if they don’t have symptoms. They can get tested through their doctor or a community test site.

We can also help your close contacts access medical care, groceries, or other resources they need to stay home safely.

Please answer when we call. We need your help to prevent the spread of COVID-19.