We recently sat down with Comagine Health’s senior vice president of clinical leadership, Dr. Dan Lessler, to talk about the importance of contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is contact tracing and why is it so important right now?
Contact tracing is a public health strategy that's been around for decades. It's used when there’s an outbreak of an infectious disease to identify people who are infected and find out who they might have exposed to the disease. Those people are then contacted, or traced, and a plan of action is recommended, which could include quarantine.
Contact tracing also provides an opportunity to educate individuals about what it means to have been exposed to the disease, how they can take care of themselves and their families, and what’s required during quarantine. Quarantine is key to public health safety because it keeps people who might become infectious isolated and reduces the chances of transmission.
Are there ways we know that contact tracing really does work?
Yes, it's an effective public health strategy that’s historically been successful. For example, it’s been used with tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases.
In the case of COVID-19, it's a strategy that has been undertaken with considerable success in other countries that have experienced the coronavirus. The strategy was used in South Korea and Singapore to contain the pandemic and to allow societies to reopen.
How do you think it could be implemented in ways that are informed by best practice or can have the greatest likelihood of success?
It's important to realize that contact tracing alone is not adequate to address or contain the pandemic. It needs to be part of a more comprehensive strategy that includes testing so we’re able to identify where people have actually acquired the disease. Testing is critical and works together with contact tracing and quarantine.
Can you share more about contact tracing conversations in general and what’s needed for them to be successful?
Contact tracing conversations can be challenging. It takes appropriate training to be able to engage a person quickly and build trust. It’s a unique skill and one that people actively working on care coordination and case management use on a regular basis.
This type of work is actually a big part of what we do at Comagine Health. For example, we work closely with people who are on Medicaid and who have experienced catastrophic injuries or are facing extreme circumstances and could benefit from care coordination and case management. Our team has deep experience navigating these types of conversations and handling them well, so the receiver feels comfortable and gets the information they need to move forward safely.
It’s such a challenging time. Are you hopeful that efforts like contact tracing can make a difference?
Yes, definitely. We’ve seen that this has been successful in Asian countries and we have the know-how. It’s a core function of public health and it’s worked for other infectious diseases. While the magnitude in terms of number of people is greater, we’re up for the challenge. We can do this.
Watch a video of the full conversation.