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How does COVID-19 contact tracing work? Alberta doctor explains

Alberta Health Services ramps up COVID-19 contact tracing team
WATCH ABOVE: Medical officer of health Dr. Grace Salvo joined Gord Steinke to talk about the COVID-19 contact tracing program and how it has grown seven-fold since the pandemic was declared.

When someone is diagnosed with COVID-19, an entire team of people gets to work to try to determine who else may be at risk of contracting the virus.

They’re called contact tracers and it’s their job to track down everyone the person who tested positive for the novel coronavirus may have infected or come in contact with prior to their diagnosis.

READ MORE: Inside officials’ struggle to trace the contacts, movements of COVID-19 patients

Dr. Grace Salvo is a medical officer of health, and contact tracer, with Alberta Health Services. She said contact tracing isn’t new — it’s something they’ve been practicing in public health for many years. However, the provincial team has grown exponentially from about 50 tracers prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to 440 now.

“It is a big job,” Salvo said.

So how does it work?

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When a person tests positive for COVID-19 in Alberta, they are contacted by an AHS contact tracer. The tracer informs the person of the positive result and answers any questions they may have.

READ MORE: Alberta medical students help with COVID-19 contact tracing

The person who tested positive is then asked to identify when their symptoms may have started. From there, they turn back the clock 48 hours and list everyone they may have come in contact with.

“It’s important because we know the way the virus spreads is through contact with people,” Salvo explained.

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“So if we’re able to identify those people early and let them know that they were in contact, then they could isolate themselves for the incubation period and that really stops the spread and propagation of the virus.”

READ MORE: Apple, Google developing technology to aid in coronavirus tracking

The contact tracer takes down the name and phone number of anyone the person who tested positive may have come in contact with and starts tracking them down.

“Some people at first, they’re surprised. Other people are actually expecting it because maybe the person who came back positive was able to call them [before] we were,” Salvo said.

“Often, in the end, they’re very grateful to know and to have been informed that they were in contact.”

Why contact tracing is so important for tracking the coronavirus
Why contact tracing is so important for tracking the coronavirus

All of the close contacts are asked to self-isolate for a set period of time and monitor their symptoms. If they begin to develop symptoms, the contact tracers facilitate testing.

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READ MORE: What is it like to work at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site?

Salvo wanted to assure Albertans that contact tracers do not look at anyone’s medical files. The only personal information they ask for is their name, date of birth and phone number.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Alberta had recorded 3,095 confirmed cases of COVID-19.