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Geisinger starts contact tracing coronavirus patients

Geisinger is contacting people who have been exposed to coronavirus patients and asking them to self-quarantine.

DANVILLE, Pa. — As more people test positive for COVID-19, the people they come in close contact with are at risk of catching the virus. Public health experts say one of the best tools they have to stop the spread is contact tracing. That means alerting people who have been exposed to someone with coronavirus so they can self-quarantine and stop the spread.

"They've used it for things like measles over the years. They used it for the Ebola outbreak in the past. Other countries, as well as other states in the U.S., are using it for coronavirus," said Dr. Keith Boell, Geisinger's chief quality officer of population initiatives.

Geisinger recently started contact tracing coronavirus patients and their close contacts. People who test positive for COVID-19 are asked to provide a list of people they have had close contact with up to two days before showing symptoms. A member of Geisinger's research team then calls that person.

"We tell them, one, you want to watch out for the symptoms of coronavirus. If you develop these, you should be tested. And then the other thing is, you want to isolate yourself because you may be spreading the virus at that point."

Dr. Boell says there have been discussions nationally about using smartphone apps or GPS to trace contacts, but Geisinger believes a phone call is just as effective. Dr. Boell considers close contact to be people in your home, workspace, or people you are within six feet of for more than ten minutes.

"Most of the time with cashiers, they wouldn't be a close contact because it's less than ten minutes that you're checking out. Certainly, that may vary based on the interaction."

Geisinger expects to be contact tracing coronavirus patients for at least the next few months. The doctor we spoke with reminds us the most important thing people can do to help stop the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing.

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