I-TEAM: Has COVID-19 followed you home? Contact tracing can show you

Tuesday, May 19, 2020
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

Now that Georgia and South Carolina are open for business again, both states are also in the business of trying to stop the virus from spreading. That means training thousands of people -- to become contact tracers. (Source: WRDW)

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- Now that Georgia and South Carolina are open for business again, both states are also in the business of trying to stop the virus from spreading. That means training thousands of people to become contact tracers.

The idea is to arm people with information about if they might have been exposed, but we also found it's also helpful for people who haven't had contact. That's because the data paints a much bigger picture of risk, so we took a closer look to help you decide what's safe and what isn't.

When you compare to the U.S. to some other countries, we've done relatively little contact tracing. That's starting to change in the two-state.

In Georiga, Gov. Brian Kemp says the Department of Public Health has 250 people working as tracers for them.

"Under the leadership of Dr. Toomey, DPH plans to have a thousand staff deployed in the weeks ahead," Kemp said.

South Carolina also has the goal of 1,000 tracers by June.

"As of today, we now have 400 contact tracers on staff, and we've retained another 1,400 contact tracers through contracts with two private staffing companies," Dr. Linda Bell, S.C. State epidemiologist, said.

Employees in both states will alert people who had close contact with someone who tests positive. They can monitor symptoms, and more importantly, self-quarantine.

That breaks a chain of transmission, one by one, in an effort to break the coronavirus cycle. But contact tracing in other parts of the world have an added benefit, the studies also show us where people are getting infected.

This might come as a relief: it's likely not happening during a quick trip to the grocery store or if you're outside.

Instead, Singapore's government reports tracing outbreaks back to a staff meeting at a church, a Sunday service at another church, and a Chinese New Year celebration.

AIn China, data also pointed to a business meeting, but the CDC found clusters in several families thanks to the air conditioner in one restaurant.

"The airflow direction was consistent with droplet transmission," a CDC report said.

Researchers in Taiwan used contact tracing to show "a relatively short infectious period" and "a higher transmission risk" once symptoms started, but then also a "lower transmission risk at the later stage of the disease."

In the U.S., we had an early example in Georgia. Experts traced the outbreak near Albany to two well-attended funerals.

It's important to remember this is optional in both Georgia and South Carolina.

Also, this information is protected by HIPAA laws. A contact will be told when they were exposed, but never who exposed them. That info is kept private.

This also isn't the contact tracing you've likely heard about done via technology where your phone uses location services to map out everywhere you've been. There are some voluntary apps in development for this, but Georgia and South Carolina are not collecting that controversial data.​

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