COVID-19 Contact Tracing: Developments, Challenges, and Employer Considerations

Posted on Behalf of  Dylan Steigerwald

Through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, public health professionals, employers, and other community stakeholders have used contact tracing as a critical tool to help slow the spread of the disease. Contact tracing works by identifying active COVID-19 cases and their close contacts and separating them from those who are susceptible in the public through isolation and quarantine (CDC, 2020a). Contact tracers at local and state health departments also provide the appropriate education, guidance, and support for any additional testing or treatment that may be required (CDC, 2020a).

COVID-19 is classified as a nationally “notifiable” condition, meaning that cases are required to be reported to local or state health departments within 24 hours. While leading case investigations and contact tracing efforts are responsibilities of health departments, during times of high community transmission their resources can be overwhelmed (CDC, 2020a; NNDHS, 2020). In these circumstances, employer assistance can significantly aid in the process of contact tracing and limit the spread of COVID-19, especially in the workplace. By developing a comprehensive pandemic management and response plan, employers can help to ensure contact tracing begins immediately when necessary, leading to quicker time to isolation and quarantine and helping reduce the burden on health departments. It is important that employers prepare to collaborate with health departments by:

  • Establishing a COVID-19 coordinator or team
  • Developing a preparedness, response, and case management plan
  • Collecting information about the workplace (employee contact information, schedules, etc.)
  • Conducting workplace hazard evaluations and implementing prevention methods
  • Maintaining open communication with employees (CDC, 2020a)

Depending on the level of involvement with health departments, employers may potentially encounter private and confidential information during contact tracing efforts. This information may be obtained for contact tracing purposes only. In order to prioritize confidentiality, employers should rely upon the company’s human resources, legal, medical, and occupational health and safety guidance and policies when creating COVID-19 preparedness and response plans (CDC, 2020a).

In light of the strain on public health resources throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous contact tracing apps have been developed with the goal of improving the efficiency and efficacy of case investigation and contact tracing. For example, many countries are developing or currently using tracing apps (e.g. GPS or location-based tracking, Bluetooth-based tracking). However, this technology is still evolving, and concerns remain regarding the efficacy of existing apps and limitations based on low user adoption. Simulations suggest that app adoption by approximately 60% of the population would be required for tracing apps to be effective. Despite this limitation, researchers have generally concluded that “digital exposure notification can effectively reduce infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19 at all levels of participation” (Abueg et al. 2020; University of Oxford, 2020).

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique circumstance in which the cooperation and collaboration of public health departments, employers, and the public can reduce the spread and burden of disease. In light of the burden on public health systems due to high levels of community transmission, employers and other community stakeholders can play a significant role in contact tracing and slowing the spread of COVID-19 by being prepared and proactive (e.g. COVID-19 response team and plan), maintaining employee confidentiality, collaborating with health departments, staying up-to-date on developments in tracing technologies and methods, and encouraging the use of reputable tracing apps.

Cardno ChemRisk is experienced in developing and assisting with COVID-19 risk management and response plans for a variety of industries (e.g., media and television, food and beverage manufacturers, construction, and retailers), including contact tracing and case management efforts. To learn more about the ways Cardno ChemRisk can support your business, please contact Natalie Egnot, or visit our website.