Coronavirus: Tracking Your Contacts Is Good, Limiting Your Social Circle Is Better

Jul 3, 2020

Health officials say it’s possible we won’t see a vaccine or cure for the coronavirus for awhile. So in the meantime, they’re recommending testing and contact tracing as ways to help control the spread of the infectious disease.

Contact tracing is the process of informing people that they may need to self-isolate or get tested because they’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for the coronavirus.

The contact tracing concept isn’t a new one. "This is a practice that is commonly used and has been used for probably [a hundred] years," Amanda Simanek says. She is an associate professor of epidemiology at the Zilber School of Public Health at UW-Milwaukee.

Simanek says public health professionals use contact tracing to aid in controlling outbreaks of a number of infectious diseases.

That prompted a Bubbler Talk listener to ask whether people should keep their own contact tracing calendar to help speed up the investigation process.

While Simanek thinks that's not a bad idea, she says, "I think people should be trying to make an effort to keep their social circles small and consistent right now in the first place."

"And, yes ... keeping track of who you might have been in contact with, it's good practice just in case you're contacted because then you know exactly who you've been in touch with," she adds.

Wisconsin, like many states, is seeing an increase in cases of the coronavirus.

The number of new COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin is, again, on the rise.
Credit Wisconsin Department of Health Services

The infection rates among younger adults are especially notable, Darren Rausch says. He's the director of the Greenfield Health Department.

Thursday, Rausch shared an update during the media briefing coordinated by the Milwaukee County Unified Emergency Operations Center. He said, "When we look at the data this week, the rates among the youngest two age groups — the 18 to 39 year olds and the 40 to 59 year olds — is starting to creep up. So the rate amongst 80-year-olds and older is 16.3 COVID-19 cases per thousand population. The rates for those two youngest population groups ... are appreciably the same at 14.6 ... Their rate has certainly increased and is likely to surpass, perhaps, the rates of the 80-plus year population as we look forward in the coming weeks."

Percentage of confirmed cases in Milwaukee County, city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County suburbs by age group.
Credit Darren Rausch / Greenfield Health Department

Gov. Tony Evers is so concerned about the growing number of coronavirus cases that he’s urging people to stay home on the Fourth of July.

But for people who insist on going somewhere, it might be safer to attend outdoor gatherings than those inside. UWM epidemiologist Simanek says the wind and air flow may disperse the virus.

“You may still come in contact with them but not the quantity sufficient to get you infected. And so it's not like perfect but imagine standing next to someone smoking an elevator versus standing next to someone smoking, you know, out in the park, like the amount of smoke that you'll come in contact with will be much more concentrated in the small elevator," she explains.

>>A User's Guide To Masks: What's Best At Protecting Others (And Yourself)

But Simanek stresses it’s also important to limit the number of people you come into contact with, wear a mask and practice social distancing.

“If you're sitting right next to somebody on a blanket outdoors, it's not going to be as beneficial as, you know, being 6 feet away from them. So it's not like those other guidelines for distancing don't also matter," she says.

Something to keep in mind during get-togethers, as summer stretches on.

Editor's note: In the original version of this story, we said, "Simanek says government and medical professionals use contact tracing when dealing with outbreaks of diseases that are new or don’t have a cure yet." We updated this line to say, "Simanek says public health professionals use contact tracing to aid in controlling outbreaks of a number of infectious diseases."

Have a question you'd like WUWM to answer? Submit your query below.

_