TMCnet Feature
February 26, 2021

How Successful Is Contact Tracing in the United States?



In years gone by, most people had never heard the term ‘contact tracing’. However, since the outbreak of the global pandemic last year, this has become a term that is known in most households. This is a method that is designed to try and reduce the rate of COVID-19 infection, and it has proven to be very successful.



The process involved contact tracers calling those who have been confirmed as having COVID. They then ask about people that the person with the infection has been in contact with. This then enables the contact tracer to get in touch with those who the infected person has interacted with to let them know they have been exposed.

The idea behind contact tracing is to reduce infections by cutting interactions between those who are or might be infected and other people. If the person who is infected has already interacted with people, those people could then be infected but may not know it yet. They could then spread the infection to those they interact with, which is how it spreads. Contact tracing is all about breaking these interactions to try and reduce the risk of spreading the infection.

Does it Work?

So, does contact tracing work? Well, the answer is both yes and no. When contact tracers are able to get in touch with those who are infected and those they have interacted with, it can work wonderfully. However, as our infographic shows, calls from contact tracers often go unanswered and this is sometimes because the call comes from an unknown number.

This is a major problem when it comes to contact tracing, as figures show that many Americans will not answer calls from unknown numbers. Many suspect that these are just cold callers, scammers, or other unwanted calls, with few imagining it may be a contact tracer calling to advise them about possible infection. It is estimated that contact tracers are unable to contact 20-30 percent of infected people on average. In addition, they are unable to contact around 25 percent on average of those that may have been exposed through interactions.

The Reasons Behind Lack of Contact

While contact tracers do their best to get in touch with those who have been exposed to COVID, it is not always possible for a variety of reasons. This could be due to the phone number being out of date, the person having lost their phone, or simply not answering due to being an unknown number. The latter is a very common reason and has a big negative impact on the success of contact tracing as a whole.

One thing that can be done to help resolve this is for people to use a reverse phone lookup tool if they receive calls from an unknown number. This will help them to identify the caller and get in touch, which means that they can then be informed of the possibility of being infected. They can then take the appropriate steps to limit their own interactions and get tested to help reduce the spread of COVID.



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