Contact tracers work to minimize potential virus spread

After testing positive, people will be contacted and asked to give information for contact tracing



WSU trained seven contact tracers to assist the Whitman County Health Department.


Contact tracers have been working more to keep up with the recent surge of COVID-19 cases among WSU students. There have been 119 new cases since Aug. 22 with 97 of those cases in individuals between 20-39 years old.

Tracking and preventing the spread of COVID-19 by identifying people who may have been in close contact with a positive case is called contact tracing, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

“Contact tracing is our No. 1 tool in fighting a communicable disease if you don’t have a vaccine,” said Troy Henderson, Whitman County Health Department director.

It is crucial that a person displaying symptoms of COVID-19 contact their primary care physician and make arrangements to get tested, said Dwight Hagihara, WSU Environmental Health and Safety executive director.

He said once someone tests positive for the virus, the case is reported to the local health department. Trained interviewers will then begin the contact tracing process by conducting an investigation and asking for the information of close contacts.

A close contact is someone who has been closer than 6 feet of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes.

Hagihara said people who have been potentially exposed to the virus will then be notified that they should self-quarantine and monitor for symptoms.

Confidentiality is important throughout the contact tracing process, he said. Interviewers will not ask for information such as a social security number or immigration status of an individual.

He said WSU trained seven people who will interview those who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19. They will assist the Whitman County Health Department.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Whitman County Health Department stated 49 new COVID-19 cases. The county total is now 261. Whitman County is considered a high-risk county because there are more than two new COVID-19 cases per day.

Henderson said the majority of new cases have been concentrated in an 18- to 23-year-old age demographic, with many linked to WSU students living off-campus in Pullman.

With the surge in cases, WSU issued a campus-wide alert last week, urging everyone to comply with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.

Henderson said people not following guidelines may spread the virus to high-risk populations, such as the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. They will face penalties such as fines from the police department.

“One of the new positive cases is in congregate living (Greek life),” according to a Whitman County Health Department press release on Aug. 22.

Henderson said everyone must wash their hands, socially distance and wear a mask in common areas, such as kitchens.

“There’s going to be more cases,” he said. “Whether or not we get through this fight with 200 cases or 700 cases, I think, depends on young adults making good choices.”