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Voluntary contact tracing efforts expand in Washington state

Gov. Inslee met with members of the National Guard who are working on the contact tracing effort in Washington state. (Photo courtesy of Gov. Inslee on Twitter)

On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee met with members of the National Guard and Washington State Department of Health personnel who are supporting the voluntary contact tracing efforts statewide.

Gov. Inslee outlines state’s contact tracing system

“We are moving from the blunt instrument of social distancing,” Inslee said. “And to replace that blunt instrument, we now have contact tracing.”

Inslee says the fundamental mission of contact tracing efforts is to help Washingtonians have the knowledge they need to protect themselves, as well as their friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers who they might have had contact with.

In a video posted on Gov. Inslee’s Twitter page, he asks members of the National Guard about the reactions they’ve had from people they contacted.

“Most of the time, they’ve either tested positive or they’ve been living with someone who tested positive, so they understand the risk associated with going out and spreading it,” said a National Guard member. “I haven’t had anyone who’s combative about staying home.”

Contact tracing in Washington state will hopefully help the state move toward a full reopening while being able to contain the spread of COVID-19.

It is confidential and voluntary. Case investigations and contact tracing are key public health strategies in preventing the spread of a disease.

“We’re here to help people, not to police them; to ask them to do things voluntarily,” Inslee said.

The information is only used to identify positive cases and help people stay home and stay isolated to limit the spread. Again, the public’s participation in these efforts is completely voluntary.

“We’re not trying to find out where they’re going or anything like that,” said a member of the National Guard. “We’re just trying to gain a little bit more information about the disease and to better help stop the spread of it.”

As of May 19, there were 723 National Guard personnel and 769 Department of Licensing personnel who had been trained to help local health jurisdictions in contact tracing efforts. There are nearly 630 local and state public health professionals involved in this work as well.

The state has been reviewing applications from volunteers across the state, and finalizing a plan to screen and train these volunteers if they are needed to expand the contact tracing efforts.

Increasing the number of people in this effort would allow everyone with a positive test result to be contacted within 24 hours to determine who they’ve been in contact with, and then be able to contact all close contacts within 48 hours.

“Case investigations and contact tracing are key pieces of the effort to keep Washington residents safe,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “Both have been critical tools to suppress the virus in other parts of the world.”

In contact tracing, public health staff interview people who test positive for COVID-19 to identify and contact anyone who may have been exposed while they were contagious. The process, DOH says, ensures everyone who tests positive or is exposed to the virus has access to information and services they may need to protect themselves and others.

“This is the most important mission in the state of Washington right now,” Inslee said.

Find more information about case investigations and contact tracing from the DOH online here.

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