Healthy Communities

COVID-19 Contact Tracing

What is contact tracing?
Contact tracing is how public health officials track the spread of an infectious disease outbreak. When a patient is confirmed to have an illness, they isolate themselves to prevent further spread of that illness. Public health staff help those who have been infected recall where they have been and with whom they had close contact while they were infectious. Those “contacts” are contacted by public health staff and asked to quarantine themselves to stop further spread of the illness.

Who is considered a contact?


Contact tracing focuses on close contacts while a positive patient was infectious. The infectious period begins 48 hours before the patient’s symptoms began. If the person with COVID-19 never developed symptoms, the infectious period begins the 48 hours before the positive test was collected. A person is considered a close contact if they have been within 6 feet of the patient for at least 15 minutes. If a person is thought to be a close contact, then a contact tracer will give them a call. If the exposure wasn’t within 6 feet, if it didn’t last 15 minutes or more, or if it occurred before the infectious period, that person would not be considered a close contact and will not receive a phone call from a contact tracer.

What if I am a contact to a person with COVID-19?
If you have had close contact with someone confirmed to have COVID-19, you will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. A quarantine of 14 days is needed because you may develop COVID-19 anytime during the virus’s incubation period, which is 14 days. If you work in a critical infrastructure job, it may be possible for you to still work while under quarantine. The Arkansas Department of Health will coordinate such arrangements with your employer.

In addition, you will be encouraged to get tested for COVID-19 as soon as possible – in case you already have COVID-19 but don’t have any symptoms yet. You will still be required to complete the 14 days of quarantine, even if your test comes back negative, because you could still develop the illness later in the quarantine period.

When will I receive a call?
ADH contact tracers reach out to COVID-19 patients shortly after a positive test result is confirmed in order to learn about the patient’s close contacts. The contact tracer then calls each of the close contacts to inform them about their exposure to COVID-19 and give them instructions about how to quarantine. The goal is to reach the close contacts within a day or two after the positive test result is received. Sometimes it takes longer.

What if I never heard from a contact tracer?
You might not hear from a contact tracer if the exposure you had was not enough to put you at increased risk of COVID-19 transmission. For example, the exposure may not have been for at least 15 minutes, or it may have occurred prior to the infectious period. Please email us at ADH.CoronaVirus@arkansas.gov or call us at 1-800-803-7847, if you have not been reached by a contact tracer and you believe you may be a close contact.

What can contact tracers do for close contacts?
Contact tracers reach out to contacts to help them safely quarantine, find alternate arrangements as necessary, and help them get tested for COVID-19, if recommended. The ADH can also help Arkansans with things such as food delivery or alternative housing if they need extra support to safely self-quarantine.

Contact tracers also educate individuals on the need to monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19, and they request permission to enroll the COVID-19-positive person in the SARA (Situational Awareness Response Assistant) Alert system. 

What is SARA Alert?
SARA Alert is an automated system that sends a daily email, text message or automated phone call to individuals identified as a close contact of a COVID-19-positive person. Enrollees are asked if they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, and if symptoms are reported, SARA Alert flags the case for follow-up by ADH staff.  SARA Alert also allows the ADH to compile reports for identification of specific areas to target for testing and to provide information for decision-making by state leaders.

Building Arkansas’s Contact Tracing Workforce
The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) has been engaged in contact tracing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 since the start of the public health emergency. Initially, the ADH started with five contact tracers who focused on high risk groups, such as individuals returning from trips overseas. Currently, there are approximately 200 individuals employed to work on contact tracing efforts. The ADH is also collaborating with non-profit organizations and institutions of higher education and to-date has secured at least 85 volunteers to help with contact tracing. Additionally, the ADH is working to hire a partner to strengthen the state’s contact tracing efforts. The ADH expects to hire 350 additional contact tracers through this partner.

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Public Health Accrediation Board
Arkansas Department of Health
© 2017 Arkansas Department of Health. All Rights Reserved. www.healthy.arkansas.gov
4815 W. Markham, Little Rock, AR 72205-3867
1-800-462-0599