DHEC is calling on South Carolinians who have tested positive to notify their own close contacts.
DHEC has adjusted its disease prevention efforts from containment to community mitigation. The shift from containment to mitigation occurs when cases of a disease are too widespread and difficult to investigate one by one. DHEC previously implemented a mitigation approach after the holidays in January 2020.
During a containment phase of disease prevention, public health efforts to control spread of the disease are focused on investigating each case and all who come into contact with that person. Due to the dramatic surge in COVID-19 cases and the rapid spread of the Omicron variant containment is no longer possible.
This means that DHEC is now prioritizing case investigations that will yield the maximum public health benefit. DHEC case investigators may receive reports of positive test results after infected individuals have already spread the virus to others, limiting the public health benefit of individual case and contact investigations. We are now prioritizing the investigation of clusters of COVID cases where there are vulnerable populations in high-risk, congregate settings with potential risk for ongoing transmission (e.g., people living or working in congregate living facilities (nursing homes, assisted living, correctional facilities), high density workplaces or other settings with potential ongoing transmission.)
Contact tracing, a disease control measure utilized by public health officials worldwide for many decades, is a key component of DHEC’s strategy for preventing further spread of communicable disease within a community. The mission of contact tracing is to ensure that people who are exposed to a contagious person are provided education regarding the next steps and how to seek testing if indicated.
Contact tracers are hired and trained to gather information on the spread of the infection. Your participation is voluntary and confidential.
Contact tracing isn't new to DHEC. During normal operations, we have approximately 20 contact tracers who perform this methodology to help limit the spread of diseases like tuberculosis and hepatitis. Our infectious disease experts investigate hundreds of disease outbreaks each year.
DHEC has been conducting contact tracing for COVID-19 cases since the first reports in the state. Contact tracing includes two components: case investigations and contact monitoring. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, DHEC had more than 740 individuals trained to perform case investigations across the state, supplemented by 230 active contact monitors.
Public health staff attempt to notify all identified contacts of their potential exposure as rapidly as possible, while maintaining confidentiality.
Contacts are provided with education, information, and support to understand their risk as well as what they should do to separate (“quarantine”) themselves from others who have not had an exposure. They are given guidance on how to monitor themselves for illness, and they are informed that they could spread the infection to others even if they themselves do not feel ill.
You will receive a call from 803-529-1551.
If you test positive for COVID-19, a contact tracer from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) will call you. They will:
- Connect you to medical care and help you find resources and support if needed.
- Ask about places you have been and the people you have spent time with recently.
- Make sure the information you provide is kept confidential and not shared with others. They will not ask about your immigration status.
- Call the people you recently were in close contact with and let them know they have been exposed to COVID-19. A “close contact” is someone you have been within 6 feet of for at least 15 minutes. • Not share your name and your personal information with any of your contacts.
- Inform your contacts that they have been exposed to COVID-19 and what they need to do during the next few days to take care of themselves and others.
Privacy is a core principle upon which contact tracing is built. Information about the identity of the ill person is not shared with the contacts, nor is any information about contacts shared with other contacts. DHEC, as the state's public health authority, is very sensitive to the protection of personal and protected health information and is very accustomed to the strict control of such information. Providing information to DHEC is voluntary.
Because the virus can be transmitted without causing symptoms, notifying people about a possible exposure is critical to stopping the spread of the virus. Without contact tracing, there is significant risk of the uncontrolled spread of any infectious disease. In contact tracing, our public health staff work with people who have tested positive for an infectious disease. Our staff work with those who have tested positive to help them recall everyone with whom they have had close, prolonged contact with during the timeframe in which they were capable of spreading the germ. These people who have potentially been exposed to the ill person are known as contacts.
Contact tracers are staff who are trained in proper protocol related to following up with contacts. One trained staff member can reach, on average, 10 to 15 contacts per day.
There are two trainings, both from professional public health institutions: (1) Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and (2) the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. We are thankful that both of these nonprofit organizations are offering the trainings at no charge during this public health emergency. DHEC worked with South Carolina Area Health Education Consortium (AHEC) to ensure that the training is custom tailored for use in South Carolina.
Contact tracing as a means to control disease spread is very effective when there are a relatively small number of cases. We call this containment. However, when there is widespread community transmission, contact tracing is less effective in preventing spread. At that point, the work needed to combat this disease must take place at the population level, not the individual level. That means focusing on group settings and institutions where people congregate, such as nursing homes, correctional facilities, beaches, and certain businesses or other facilities. The intent is to prevent local outbreaks that can affect large groups of people.
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, DHEC implemented a new patient management software that expanded our capacity to rapidly reach contacts, provide education on the importance of quarantine, and allowed us to stay connected with them during their quarantine period to help answer questions and provide additional information.
Yes, you can edit a daily report once it has been submitted. You also have up to two additional days to make any updates.
DHEC is not using a contact tracing app; we maintain our data separately, for privacy and data security purposes, from any technology that might be available to the general public. There are several publicly available apps for people to self-report illness, or choose to share the information with other people, but they are not for the purpose of allowing DHEC to perform contact tracing. Instead, they rely on the user to download the app, and they do not send any information to public health officials in South Carolina.