What is Contact Tracing?
Contact tracing is a public health practice that is used to identify and notify people who have been exposed to someone with an infectious disease. Through contact tracing, people who may have been exposed to certain infectious diseases are contacted and given information to help them protect themselves and their loved ones. Public health departments have used contact tracing for decades to fight the spread of infectious diseases like measles, tuberculosis, syphilis, HIV/AIDS. More recently, contact tracing served an essential role in responding to COVID-19 and mpox and may still be used by local health departments (LHDs) in certain situations for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
How Will I Be Informed About a Possible Exposure?
There are a few ways that you might be informed about a possible exposure to an infectious disease. You might:
- Be notified directly by a person who was recently diagnosed.
- Be notified by your work or school setting.
- Receive an anonymous notification from TellYourContacts.org.
- Receive a call from a contact tracer working for a public health department.
- Receive a digital alert or text message from California's notification tool, the Virtual Assistant.
Contact tracing communication may include an automated survey sent to you by text message from either CDPH or your local health department.
Some topics that may be covered in a contact tracing communication include:
- What symptoms you may have, what to look out for, and how long you should monitor your health.
- How to get support for testing, treatment, or other medical care, if necessary.
- What additional steps you should take to protect yourself and your family, friends, and community.
You will never be asked for information about your finances or payment options, social security number, or immigration status.
How Can I Participate?
Contact tracing works when you answer the call or text and follow the recommendations to protect yourself and others.
Contact tracing is an important and confidential way to do your part to slow the spread of infectious diseases. The more people answer the call or text and follow the recommendations, the better we can reduce the risk of infectious diseases in California. Your participation is critical to these essential public health efforts and your information is always kept confidential.
The sooner you are reached, the sooner you can get advice, testing, and the support you need. Early awareness helps you protect your community and loved ones from exposure, illness, and severe disease.
With the Virtual Assistant, all you have to do is answer the phone call or respond to the Virtual Assistant's text message survey (number 23393) and follow their recommendations.
The Virtual Assistant is an automated system that CDPH uses to support you as part of your local health department's contact tracing efforts. The Virtual Assistant may ask you to complete a contact tracing survey and can also provide confidential and safe symptom check-ins through text messages.
You may receive a text with a link sent by the Virtual Assistant from the phone number 23393. It is safe to click on the link in this text message to start communicating with the Virtual Assistant. You may also receive links for surveys, FAQs, or the Symptom Monitoring System. You can reply STOP at any time to stop receiving messages. All information collected is protected and will be used exclusively for public health purposes.
Please see the Virtual Assistant's Legal Policies (Terms and Conditions) at the end of this page for additional information.
Privacy and Legal Policies
Your identity and any health information that you provide is always kept confidential.
California's strict privacy laws and security standards protect all your information. The information is only collected and stored for use as part of the public health response.
California Civil Code section 1798.17 et seq. requires notice to individuals providing information as part of this program. This includes information collected by the Virtual Assistant Case Survey, Virtual Assistant Exposed Contact Survey, Virtual Assistant Symptom Monitoring Service, or by phone calls, email, text messages, and School/Shared Portal for Outbreak Tracking (SPOT).
The information is being requested by:
The Division of Communicable Disease Control
PO Box 997377, MS 0500
Sacramento, California, 95899-7377
The information requested as part of this program is authorized by California Health and Safety Code section 120130 and 120140, and Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations section 2505. Submission of the information is voluntary. The principal purposes for the collection of this information are: (1) to conduct contact tracing, (2) to conduct case investigations to evaluate and improve contact tracing in the state, (3) to do other activities related to monitoring and control of contagious, infectious, communicable or reportable diseases and conditions in the community, (4) for examining the cause of the contagious, infectious, communicable or reportable diseases and conditions (“diseases and conditions"), and (5) to ascertain the nature of the diseases or conditions and prevent the spread.
According to California law, the information collected shall be confidential and shall be collected in a manner that protects your privacy. However, it could be disclosed pursuant to state or federal law, or when there is a judicial order, judge-signed warrant, or when requested by the California State Auditor.
All individuals have the right to access records containing their personal information, which are maintained by the California Department of Public Health. To get this information, or for more information about this program, please contact the Division Chief of the Division of Communicable Disease Control at the address above.
Message and data rates may apply. Message frequency varies. Reply STOP at any time to cancel. Reply HELP at any time for customer support information. Carriers are not liable for delayed or undelivered messages.
The Virtual Assistant is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you develop symptoms or the status of your health changes, please contact your local healthcare provider. If you have an emergency and need immediate medical care, please dial 9-1-1.
The personalized secure link provided to you is intended to be used for your health situation only. Please do not share your link with anyone else or use it to get infectious disease or COVID-19-related information for anyone else.
The Virtual Assistant is only available to individuals who are over the age of 18.
Please be aware that personal health information will be sent to your phone through the Virtual Assistant. There is a risk that others could see this information if you have a shared phone.
For customer support, contact your local public health department. This service is a part of the California Connected program.
Originally Published on February 3, 2021