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

What is Contact Tracing?

Contact tracing is a common public health practice used to identify and notify anyone who has been exposed to someone with an infectious disease. Contact Tracers reach out to people who have been identified as having been in close contact with an infected person to inform them of their exposure and provide them with information on what they can do to 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. If people participate in the contact tracing process, it can be a very powerful strategy for slowing the spread of disease transmission in a community.

How Does Contact Tracing for COVID-19 Work?

Contact tracing for COVID-19 starts with public health workers reaching out to people who have tested positive for the infection. They might do this by calling these individuals on the phone or by sending them a short survey by text or email. During this call or in this survey, the people who have tested positive will usually be asked about anyone they were close to who they may have exposed while they were contagious. 

Based on this information, public health workers will next call or text those "close contacts" to let them know that they may have been exposed. When they do this, they keep the name of the person who exposed them confidential.

Public health contact tracing workers will:

  • Call, text, or email you shortly after you have tested positive for COVID-19 to see how you are doing and interview you about your recent close contacts and locations you may have been to while infectious
  • Notify you if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and tell you your exposure date
  • Ask whether you have symptoms and how you are feeling
  • Teach you how to self-isolate or self-quarantine and why this is important
  • Ask if you need help or services to self-isolate or self-quarantine and connect you with these supports if needed and available
  • Recommend that you get tested (if you are an exposed contact)
  • Answer your questions

Contract Tracing in California

California Connected is our state's contact tracing program.

California Connected logo

By helping infected and exposed people self-isolate or self-quarantine, we can slow the spread of the infection and help avoid outbreaks (PDF). This helps California support those who are infected and exposed while also keeping their loved ones and communities safe from the spread of infection. This also helps our hospitals and healthcare systems manage caring for the patients who develop serious illness. Contact tracing is a necessary activity that allows us to safely reopen schools and businesses.

Contact tracing works when you answer the call or text.

To participate in contact tracing and support this critical public health intervention, all you have to do is answer the phone call or respond to the text message survey sent by your local health department. 

Contact tracing is an anonymous way to do your part. The more people answer the call or text, the more lives and jobs California will save, and the faster we can re-open schools and businesses and keep them open. Your information is always kept confidential. 

Early awareness helps you protect your friends and loved ones from exposure. And early medical care can improve your outcome if you do get sick. The sooner we can reach you, the sooner you can get advice, testing, and the support you need. 

Ways You May Be Contacted

  • By phone call
  • By text via the California Connected Virtual Assistant, if you opt-in
  • By CA Notify, an opt-in digital exposure notification system on your phone 

What Is the Virtual Assistant?

The Virtual Assistant is an automated system that your local health department might use to contact and support you as part of their contact tracing efforts. The link to start the Virtual Assistant is sent by a text message from the phone number "233-93". It is safe to click on the link in this text message to start your communications with the Virtual Assistant. You can reply STOP at any time to stop receiving messages from the Virtual Assistant. 

How Does the Virtual Assistant Work?

The Virtual Assistant has 3 categories. Based on a person's unique circumstance, they may receive a different text message and Virtual Assistant experience:

  • The Virtual Assistant Survey is a questionnaire that helps local health departments collect key contact tracing information from people who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or who have been exposed to someone who tested positive.
  • The Virtual Assistant FAQ provides people with answers to their frequently asked questions about contact tracing and links them to COVID-19 information and resources.
  • The Virtual Assistant Symptom Monitoring System helps people who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who tested positive check-in regularly with their local health department to share updates about their symptoms during their isolation or quarantine period. This system also lets people know when their isolation or quarantine period has ended. 

The Virtual Assistant will never ask for your Social Security Number, income, credit card information, passwords, or immigration status. Any information you share with your local health department through the Virtual Assistant will be kept confidential by California's strict public health privacy laws. 

What Is California (CA) Notify?

CA Notify is a COVID-19 exposure notification digital tool based on the Google and Apple Exposure Notification system. CA Notify helps to notify participants who have opted into the program that someone they were recently near has since tested positive for COVID-19.  The system works by using Bluetooth technology to exchange anonymous keys between cell phones that are near one another. 

Only people who opt in and activate the system will be able to receive these exposure notifications.  CA Notify augments the contact tracing process by providing exposure notifications to people you may not even know.  For more information about this system and how to activate it on your phone, visit the website.

Other Tools for Alerting Individuals About Exposure

  • School Portal for Outbreak Tracking (SPOT) 

SPOT is a user-friendly technology that helps school staff share key data with their local health departments about a school-affiliated COVID-19 exposure or outbreak. Information entered in SPOT is routed in real time to the local health department to trigger their review and initiation of contact tracing follow up. Early identification of school based COVID-19 exposures is part of the State's efforts to keep California schools open and safe for students, staff, and communities. 

Virtual Assistant Legal Policies (Terms & Conditions)

The Virtual Assistant is an automated system used by California Connected and local health departments to contact and support you as part of their contact tracing efforts. The system communication begins with a text message from the phone number "233-93."  It is safe to click on the link in this text message to start your communications with the Virtual Assistant.  You may receive links for Surveys, FAQs, or the Symptom Monitoring System.  All information collected is protected and will be used exclusively for public health purposes.  

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. 

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;

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.  

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