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Contact tracing gets a new home.

A move to a new location sets up Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s investigations team to respond to the recent rising number of COVID-19 cases in Pierce County.

Case and contact investigators, facilities investigators and support groups recently moved from a building across the street from the Health Department’s headquarters at 3629 S. D Street to the Pierce County Human Services building downtown. Human Services is loaning its space to support the growing investigations team.

It’s taken us from late May until now to outgrow the current location. We had no more room to continue to grow our team, and yet our case counts were not going down. We were spread across three floors. While we were maintaining social distancing, it was not easy. If case counts went up further, we were out of options.

We worked with Pierce County to identify a new location. The new space is larger and more flexible for the 90-100 people on the team.

The site is not open to the public. We trace the contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 by phone.

Mask Phone-cropped

Our investigations team is doing a fantastic job as it is. This gives them a little bit more safety and ability to do their work a little bit better.  The contact tracing effort is an essential element of our work to limit the spread of COVID-19. We must meet certain metrics to advance through the phases of the state’s Safe Start plan.

As we look forward into the fall, whether schools physically reopen or not, we can expect a surge in concerns and testing for COVID-19 because of flu and other COVID-like respiratory illnesses. If we see a surge in COVID-19 cases, we will be able to activate more trained contact tracers to meet the demand. And, we’ll have the space for them to work.

What is contact tracing? Why is it important?

Case and contact investigation—contact tracing—is one of the most effective tools public health has to identify COVID-19 activity in our communities and stop the disease from spreading.

Until we have a COVID-19 vaccine, we will lean heavily on contact tracing to help keep Pierce County residents healthy and safe.

We start by calling people who have a positive COVID-19 test and talk to them about their disease. We discuss the importance of isolation to stop the disease from spreading.

We also determine when they were contagious and most likely to spread COVID-19. We ask who they were in close contact with during this time.

We protect this confidential information and only share it with other public health and healthcare professionals.

How the investigations team works.

Case and contact investigation works with two other teams: care coordination and facilities investigations.

A case and contact investigator contacts the care coordination team if a case or close contact needs temporary help. This could be either financial of food assistance or use of Pierce County’s Temporary Care Center for a safe place to isolate or quarantine.

If a case had contact with a business or medical facility, the investigator contacts the facilities team. This team has the expertise and resources to work with businesses and medical facilities on case and contact investigations.

We all must take responsibility.

Everyone should take these steps to protect the people you care about:

  • Stay close to home.
  • Wear a mask when you leave home.
  • Limit your interactions to a small circle of friends and family.
  • Keep gatherings small, and outside if possible where fresh air circulates.
  • Stay 6 feet apart from others. Wear a mask when you cannot maintain 6 feet of space.
  • Get tested for COVID-19 if you are experiencing symptoms, are a member of a heavily impacted community—Black, Latinx, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, American Indian, Alaska Native—or have participated in any gatherings—social, civic, business, political, athletic, or others.
  • Wash your hands, cover your cough, and keep up your best hygiene and sanitation.