Notification of Exposure: A Contact Tracer’s Guide for COVID-19


A successful notification of exposure allows for an exchange of information with the person (contact) exposed to COVID-19 and offers an opportunity to answer questions and provide referrals for testing, medical evaluation and other necessary support services.  The goals of this interaction are to inform the person that they may have been exposed to COVID-19, assess their medical condition and other risk factors, and gather information for continued monitoring and support. Developing trust and a warm, empathetic rapport, while maintaining a professional relationship, is key to providing effective support and collecting accurate information to inform the next steps in the contact tracing investigation. State and local public health officials will decide how to implement these activities and how to advise specific people, or groups of people, to be tested.

Principles for interactions with a person exposed to COVID-19:

  • Ensure and protect confidentiality.
  • Demonstrate ethical and professional conduct.
  • Create a judgement-free zone.
  • Be open-minded (everyone has a unique story).
  • Be attentive and respectful.
  • Be aware of your own bias (cultural humility).
  • Establish open dialogue and pause often to listen.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Use reflective listening techniques.
  • Use culturally and linguistically appropriate language.
  • Employ critical thinking and problem solving.
  • Adapt to address concerns/information that naturally arise during conversation.
  • Identify areas of need and link to appropriate resources.
  • Don’t overstep or overpromise.
  • Set the stage for ongoing communication and support during quarantine.

Language is important. It sets the stage to build rapport with contacts and opens the door to honest dialogue. It is critical to establish open communication with people exposed to COVID-19 so that they feel comfortable expressing what they need in order to safely self-quarantine and seek help if they develop symptoms. If supportive statements and genuine concern are combined with active listening and open-ended questions, powerful information can be gathered to interrupt the spread of the virus. Asking open-ended questions prompts a dialogue and elicits more detailed information, and often the information is helpful in learning more about the person and their circumstances.

This document provides suggested communication approaches for Local Health Jurisdictions (LHJs) to consider as they craft their own scripts for contact tracers. Local scripts may need to be modified to address local needs, including but not limited to highlighting available resources, cultural nuances, exposure sites, and the capture of epidemiological data. Interviewers should use what is helpful and the best fit for the interaction; all questions or statements may not be required and additional probing questions may be necessary. Programs are encouraged to share best practices in framing and phrases as they are identified.

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