Contact Tracing 101: What Cape Codders Need to Know

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

The Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) of Cape Cod was originally formed in 1916 and is one of the oldest not-for-profit organizations on Cape Cod. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve taken up the role of providing the critical service of contact tracing to most of Cape Cod, which helps contain and track the spread of the virus. This month, the Cape Cod Reopening Task Force sat down (virtually) with the VNA to get the answers to some of your questions about how they work to keep us safe from COVID-19.

What does the contact tracing operation on Cape Cod look like?

The Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod performs the contact tracing for twelve towns on Cape Cod. Barnstable, Sandwich and Provincetown use a town nurse to complete their own contact tracing. The Community Tracing Collaborative (CTC), established by the State of Massachusetts, also assists as needed. All contact tracers have received specialized training related to COVID-19 by the Department of Public Health. This training is continuously updated with the latest information from state and federal agencies.

What can people expect if they’re contacted by a Contact Tracer?

When someone tests positive for the COVID-19 virus, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health notifies the contact tracer using MAVEN, a statewide health reporting network. The contact tracer then calls the patient and asks a series of questions. These questions are designed to determine if the person who tested positive has symptoms, when they became contagious, how they may have contracted the virus, and who they may have exposed to the virus (their close contacts). By definition, a close contact is anyone within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes after a person becomes contagious. The COVID-19 positive person is then instructed to isolate for a minimum of 10 days and are given detailed instructions on isolation procedures. Any close contacts are called and notified of their exposure, instructed to quarantine, and contact their primary care provider to be tested. The contact tracer will answer any questions that the person or their close contacts may have.

How does contact tracing help Cape Cod resume some of the normal, pre-COVID activities?

The goal of contact tracing is to promote public safety, provide accurate information in the community, and minimize the spread of the virus. Contact tracing is very important in determining who has the virus and who may have been exposed to it. Once an exposure has been identified, the person is notified that they need to separate themselves from others in order to limit the spread of the virus. This protects the general public from further exposure and spread of the virus, and increases the safety of daily activities.

If a person tests positive for the virus, but doesn’t live on Cape Cod year round, how is that reflected in the count of new positive cases for our region? Is it attributed to the community that they live in?

When a person is tested for COVID-19 they provide a home address, which is used to trace and count the positive case by the State Health Department. The provided home address triggers follow-up by that town’s designated contact tracer. For those people who do not reside on Cape Cod year round, they receive notification and contact tracing from their primary address. All Massachusetts towns work very closely with each other and with the State Health Department for contact tracing so that no one is missed.

When a person offers an out of state address for their COVID-19 test, the Department of Public Health sends a notification to their home state, letting them know that a positive case has surfaced in their jurisdiction that needs follow-up.

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