COVID-19-Contact-Tracing What is Contact Tracing?

What is Contact Tracing?

What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is a public health practice that health departments use to identify and notify people who have been exposed to someone with an infectious disease. Public health workers reach out to these exposed people to tell them that they've been in close contact with an infected person and to give them information and support to help them keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Public health departments have used contact tracing for decades to fight the spread of infectious diseases like measles, tuberculosis, syphilis, and HIV. 

How does it work with COVID-19?

People who have tested positive for COVID-19 infection receive a phone call or a short survey by text or email from the health department, asking them who they may have exposed while they were contagious. Those "close contacts" are then called or sent a text to let them know about their possible exposure to the virus. When contacts are told about their exposure, public health workers keep the name of the person who tested positive and exposed them confidential.

COVID-19 contact tracers will:

  • Notify you that you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and discuss possible next steps.

  •  Ask if you have symptoms and how you're feeling.

  • Ask if you have been vaccinated or have had COVID-19 before.

  • Provide you with support to help you get tested or vaccinated and give you information on when to get medical care, if needed.

  • Offer you supplies, resources or other help that you might need so you are able to quarantine or self-isolate.

Contact tracing in California

California Connected


California Connected is our state's contact tracing program.

By supporting infected and exposed people as they self-isolate or self-quarantine, we can slow the spread of COVID-19 and help avoid outbreaks. When infected or exposed people stay home and separate from others, they help their loved ones and communities stay safe from further spread of disease. This also supports our hospitals and healthcare systems in managing care for the patients who develop serious illness. Contact tracing is a necessary activity that allows us to safely reopen schools and businesses and keep them open.

How you can participate

Contact tracing works when you answer the call or text.

All you have to do is answer the phone call or respond to the text message survey sent by your local health department.

The sooner we can reach you, the sooner you can get advice, testing, and the support you need. Early awareness helps you protect your friends and loved ones from exposure and illness. And early medical care can improve your outcome if you do get sick. So, it's important for you to answer the contact tracer's call!

Contact tracing is an anonymous way to do your part. The more people answer the call or text, the better we can stop this disease from impacting more lives and jobs in California. Your participation is critical to making this effort succeed, and your information is always kept confidential.

What a contact tracer will ask and offer

You'll get free, confidential testing and assistance in accessing medical care, regardless of income, health insurance, or immigration status.

You will never be asked for information about your finances or payment options, social security number, or immigration status.

If you test positive for COVID-19:

  • You will be asked basic questions like what is your name and age, how are you feeling, where have you been, and who have you spent time with.

  • Those people will be contacted and told they may have been exposed to COVID-19, but your name will not be shared with them.

  • You will get advice on how to isolate yourself from others to avoid infecting loved ones and those in your community, and your local health department may provide you with resources to support you during self-isolation.

If you were exposed to COVID-19:

  • You'll get a call, text, or email from your local public health department, saying you were near someone with COVID-19.

  • They will not share information about who may have exposed you. This information is confidential.

  • They will help you understand your risk of getting sick. They'll tell you what to do immediately to prevent further spread of the virus.

  • They will stay in touch to see if you develop symptoms.

  • You will get information and resources to help you with self-quarantine.

  • They may ask questions about the places you've been and the people you've spent time with.

How your information is kept private

Your identity and health information that you provide to a contact tracer is always kept confidential. It will not be shared with anyone who may have been exposed. 

California's strict privacy laws protect all your information. California Connected maintains information with strict privacy and security standards. The information is only collected and stored for use by local and state public health departments.

Please see the California Connected Privacy Policy, CDPH Privacy Policy and Web Use Policy for additional information. 

What to do if you are infected

Protect yourself and others

If you have COVID-19 or test positive for coronavirus infection, 

  • Isolate yourself from others, especially those who are not vaccinated.

  • Stay away from people who are at high risk for serious illness (e.g., those who are pregnant, older, or very overweight; have a chronic disease (like diabetes, cancer, sickle cell disease, or heart, kidney or lung disease); or have a weakened immune system).

  • Wear a mask when around others.

  • Try to stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom.

  • Open windows or doors to increase air flow from outdoors, if possible and safe to do so.

  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly using soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces or have your caregiver do so.

If you tested positive but have no symptoms, you should self-isolate at home for at least 10 days, starting from the day of your test.

If you develop symptoms, you should stay home until:

  • at least 10 days have passed since symptoms started, AND

  • you have had no fever for at least 24 hours, without taking any fever-reducing medicine, AND 

  • your symptoms (like cough and shortness of breath) have improved

Answer the call or text to help with contact tracing and to get support

Your local health department will try to reach you to offer support as you self-isolate by staying home and apart from others. They will also ask you who you have been near during the time when you may have been able to spread COVID-19 to others. If you were close enough to someone and had contact with that person for more than a very short period of time, especially indoors, you may have unknowingly exposed them to the virus and they could become infected. Your local health department will want to reach out to your "close contacts" to see if they should stay home in self-quarantine in case they have gotten the virus, so they don't spread it to others.

What is a "close contact"?

Anyone who was within 6 feet (2 meters) of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more within 24 hours is considered to be a "close contact." This usually includes people living in the infected person's home, as well as caregivers and others who may have been close enough to the infected person to be exposed to the virus and possibly infected.

What to do if you are told you have been exposed

Self-quarantine and get tested to protect yourself and others

If you are a "close contact" of someone infected with COVID-19, you should stay home and separate from others (self-quarantine) and should get tested. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should get tested right away. If you are not feeling ill, you should get tested when you find out you were exposed and, if you test negative and still have no symptoms, retest 5-7 days after the day you were last exposed.

However, you may not have to self-quarantine or get tested if at least one of the following is true:

  • You tested positive and recovered from COVID-19 within the past 3 months and have had no new symptoms since your recent exposure.

  • You were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before being exposed and have had no symptoms since your recent exposure.

Even if you do not have to self-quarantine, you still need to monitor yourself for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days following your last exposure. If you have a new symptom, you should immediately self-isolate and get tested.

Answer the call or text to help with contact tracing and get support

Your local public health department can connect you to 

  • Testing

  • Medical care

  • Housing and other resources to self-quarantine, if you need them

When can you safely end self-quarantine?

If you do not develop any symptoms, you may end quarantine after 10 days from the date of your last close contact with someone with COVID-19, unless you received other instructions from your health department.

You must monitor yourself for symptoms, wear a mask at all times around others, wash hands, and stay at least 6 feet from others for 14 days after exposure. If you develop symptoms during this time, self-isolate and contact your medical provider or health department to get tested.

California (CA) Notify

CA Notify is a digital COVID-19 contact tracing tool based on the Google and Apple Exposure Notification system. CA Notify helps to notify participants who have opted into the program that they were recently near another participant who has since tested positive for COVID-19. 

The exposure notification system works by using Bluetooth technology to exchange anonymous keys between cell phones that come close to one another. Identities and locations are not shared, so everyone's privacy is protected.

Only people who opt in and activate the system will be able to receive these exposure alerts.  CA Notify assists with contact tracing by providing exposure notifications to people who the infected person may not even know.  If you want to learn how to activate it on your phone, or if you have received an alert saying you may have been exposed, visit the CA Notify website for more information.

Virtual Assistant

The Virtual Assistant is an automated system from California Connected used 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 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 and the Virtual Assistant Questions & Answers: Answering the Text from 23393 for additional information. 

Other resources

Safe Schools for All Hub

California's Safe Schools for All Hub consolidates key resources and information related to COVID-19 and schools. It includes interactive maps to see school district, charter school, and private school status on reopening, safety planning, and COVID-19 resources. New resources will be added to the Hub on a regular basis.

Support for workers

If you work, your employer may be required to provide you with paid sick leave and other benefits. Read more about California reopening regarding workplace policies on reducing risk and reporting outbreaks.

If you need childcare, visit MyChildCare.ca.gov to find licensed child care near you. Subsidies may be available. Check your local childcare resource and referral agency to see if you qualify.

If you're an immigrant, you can find support on the Help for Immigrants webpage.

Know that you are not alone

Pandemics can be stressful. Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions. 

Coping with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger. See this CDC video about managing anxiety and stress.

If you feel like you need to talk to someone for emotional support, see this list of resources. The California Surgeon General has released two playbooks for managing stress and tips for caregivers and kids.

California Connected Privacy Policy

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; 

(833) 422-4255;  testing.taskforce@state.ca.gov

The information requested as part of this program is authorized by California Health and Safety Code section 120130, 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 to conduct contact tracing and other activities related to monitoring and control of COVID-19 in the community.

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 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.  

Virtual Assistant Legal Policies (Terms & Conditions)

Communication with the Virtual Assistant is secure and only accessed through the secure link that is different for each user.  All information shared with the Virtual Assistant is kept confidential and protected by California's strict privacy laws. The full privacy policy is also available on this website. 

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 health 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 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.