As some state and local governments move to re-open, we’re hearing more about contact tracing. Since many Americans may be unsure of its meaning, we thought it might help to explain how this process may impact us.

Massachusetts seems to be out front, already working to hire and train nearly 1,000 people to do contact tracing. Other health departments have formed teams to begin the process, which consists of identifying and isolating anyone exposed to a confirmed COVID-19 patient. Here’s how it typically works:

  • Health officials call a person who recently tested positive for the virus.
  • The patient describes where they have gone and who they interacted with during the 48 hours prior to their symptoms appearing.
  • Health officials then reach out to these businesses and individuals to inform them that they may have been exposed to the virus.
  • People who were in close contact with this individual for several minutes are advised to self-isolate for 14 days.

Technology developed by Apple and Google is expected to identify people who have come in contact with a person infected by the virus. While this makes far more sense than expecting someone to remember exactly where they’ve been, concerns about privacy are still keeping these apps from being rolled out in the U.S.