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FAQ: What is contact tracing and how does it work?

Catherine Hopkins, director of community outreach and school

Catherine Hopkins, director of community outreach and school health at St. Joseph's Hospital in Yonkers, handles test samples in a COVID-19 triage and testing tent at the hospital in April. Credit: AP/John Minchillo

It’s called contact tracing, and it’s one of the most crucial steps to figuring out where the spread of COVID-19 infection came from — and whom it might attack next, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New York State, as many as 17,000 tracers are expected to be enlisted. For all the latest information, check out the state’s website: coronavirus.health.ny.gov/new-york-state-contact-tracing.

Contact tracing is a new term to most of us. But the CDC notes contact tracing has been “a core disease control measure employed by local and state health department personnel for decades,” and calls it “a key strategy” now in the fight against COVID-19.

So, what exactly is it and how does it work? And just what can it do to help contain the spread of the coronavirus?

What is contact tracing?

How does contact tracing work?

What happens next?

What’s the benefit of knowing?

What’s the ultimate goal of contact tracing?

How can you be hired as a contact tracer?

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