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The COVID-19 pandemic has largely disrupted our lives and has required us to adapt to these historic and ever-changing times.

I have a special understanding of this. I am a contact tracer with UF Health Screen, Test & Protect, so I see this pandemic from a perspective many others do not.

While navigating this uncharted territory can be daunting, public health officials are working around the clock to slow the spread of the virus and ensure the safety of the population. Contact tracing, a time-honored and highly reliable practice, is at the heart of this effort through directly conducting investigations and providing up-to-date information and education to the public.

Here are a few things that my colleagues and I would like you to know:

You should get tested if you have symptoms or have been exposed.

This helps us identify and contact you as soon as possible to gather information that will help slow the spread of the virus in your community. Although discovering that you are positive can be unsettling, it also means you will not need to be tested or quarantined if you have another exposure within the next 90 days due to short-term immunity from the initial infection.

All positive test results for reportable diseases, including COVID-19, are required to be sent to the health department.

All laboratories send these results to the appropriate health department, regardless of where the test is done. Once we receive these results, we are required to contact you.

All information shared with us remains completely confidential.

We will ask you a variety of questions to help us better understand the disease and help us slow the spread by reaching out to individuals who may have been in contact with positive cases during their potential infectious period. It is important because we will then reach out to these contacts as soon as possible to alert them of the potential exposure and ask them to quarantine in an effort to prevent further potential infections. This information is fully protected by health privacy laws and will never be shared with anyone outside of the officials handling your investigation. Your name will also not be shared with any potential contacts without your permission.

If you were in contact with a positive case during their infectious period and test negative during your quarantine period, you still need to quarantine. 

While this may seem counterintuitive, this protocol is in place due to the incubation period of the virus. When a person is exposed to the virus, they may develop an infection anywhere between two and 14 days post-exposure. This means you can potentially test negative on day five but then begin experiencing symptoms and test positive on day seven.

While answering our questions and providing information can be uncomfortable, it is extremely important. Our efforts are only successful with accurate and timely information. You play a key role in helping us combat this pandemic.

We can’t do it without you.

Emily Klann has her master’s in public health and is a third-year doctoral student in the Department of Epidemiology. She is currently working part-time as an epidemiologist for the UF Screen, Test & Protect program.