Conspiracy Theories Aside, Here’s What Contact Tracers Really Do

In the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic, contact tracing is downright buzzy, and not always in a good way.

Contact tracing is the public health practice of informing people when they’ve been exposed to a contagious disease. As it has become more widely employed across the country, it has also become mired in modern political polarization and conspiracy theories.

Misinformation abounds, from tales that people who talk to contact tracers will be sent to nonexistent “FEMA camps” — a rumor so prevalent that health officials in Washington state had to put out a statement in May debunking it — to elaborate theories that the efforts are somehow part of a plot by global elites, such as the Clinton Foundation, Bill Gates or George Soros.

At the very least, such misinformation could hinder efforts to contain the virus, and at worst has sparked threats against tracers, say some observers, including

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Massachusetts Recruits 1,000 ‘Contact Tracers’ To Battle COVID-19

Massachusetts is launching an effort to reach everyone in the state who may have the coronavirus and get them tested and into isolation or treatment if needed. The ambitious goal is to stop — not just slow — the destructive power of COVID-19 through the tedious, yet powerful public health tool called contact tracing.

Contact tracing starts with a call to someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus, and then follow-up with everyone that person was in close contact with — family, friends, colleagues or others they got closer than 6 feet from for more than a brief encounter. Everyone on that list is interviewed about their contacts and symptoms.

This is a routine, resource-intensive public health strategy that’s been successfully used in the U.S. and around the world to contain infectious disease outbreaks — from measles to smallpox to tuberculosis to Ebola and more.

Local public health workers

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