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Contact tracing is an important tool for slowing the spread of COVID-19.

On this page:


What is contact tracing?

illustration of a contact tracer

Contact tracing is when public health workers identify and notify the people who were exposed to infected people. They let them know that they’ve been in close contact with an infected person, and what to do next to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Public health departments have used contact tracing for decades to fight the spread of infectious diseases.

How does it work?

Public health workers get in touch with those who have tested positive. They might do this by calling on the phone or sending a short survey by text or email. People who have tested positive may be asked about people they were with who they may have exposed while they were contagious. Public health workers then 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 tested positive confidential.

illustration of COVID close contacts

Contact tracers will:

  • Notify you that you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19
  • Ask if you have symptoms and how you’re feeling
  • Recommend you get tested
  • Discuss next steps like testing, quarantine, self-isolation, and medical care

Contact tracing in California

California Connected is our state’s contact tracing program.

California Connected

By helping infected and exposed people self-isolate or self-quarantine, we can slow the spread of the infection and help avoid outbreaks. This helps California support those who are infected or 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.

How you can participate

Contact tracing works when you answer the call or text.

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.

illustration of man on phone

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.


What a contact tracer will ask and offer

You’ll get free, confidential testing and assistance in accessing medical care, regardless of income, health insurance, or immigration status.

If you test positive for COVID-19:

illustration of a test swab
  • You will be asked basic questions like your name and age, the places you’ve been, and the people you’ve spent time with.
  • Those people will be contacted and told they may have been exposed to COVID-19, but your name will not be shared with them.
  • You will never be asked for information about your finances, social security number, or immigration status.
  • You will get advice on how to isolate yourself from others to avoid spreading the disease to loved ones and your community.

If you were exposed to COVID-19:

  • You’ll get a call, text, or email from your local public health department to inform you of this exposure.
  • They will not share information about who may have exposed you. This information is confidential.
  • They will help you understand your risk of getting sick. They’ll tell you what to do immediately to prevent further spread
illustration of a public health worker
illustration of a phone
  • They will stay in touch to see if you develop symptoms.
  • You will get resources to self-quarantine or self-isolate.
  • They may ask questions about the places you’ve been and the people you’ve spent time with.

How your information is kept private

Your identity and health information that you provide to a contact tracer is always kept confidential. It will not be shared with anyone who may have been exposed. 

No one will ask for your

  • Immigration status
  • Social Security number
  • Payment information

California’s strict privacy laws protect all your information. California Connected maintains information with strict privacy and security standards. The information is only collected and stored for use by local and state public health departments.

Read the Privacy Policy at the CDPH Contact Tracing web page.


What to do if you are contacted

Protect yourself and others

If you have COVID-19 or test positive for coronavirus, 

  • Isolate yourself from others, especially those who are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.
  • Try to stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces or have your caregiver do so.

People you live with are close contacts. They should also self-quarantine and get tested.

You do not have to quarantine or get tested even after close contact, if:

  • You recovered from COVID-19 within the past 3 months and have no new symptoms.
  • You are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and show no symptoms (outside the workplace setting).

Find support

Your local public health department can connect you to 

  • Testing
  • Medical care
  • Housing and other resources, if you need them, to self-isolate or self-quarantine

You will get medical care, regardless of income, health insurance, or immigration status.

Virtual Assistant

The Virtual Assistant is an automated system from California Connected used to support you as part of your local health department’s contact tracing efforts. The Virtual Assistant may ask you to complete a contact tracing survey and can also provide confidential and safe symptom check-ins through text messages. 

You may be contacted by text via the Virtual Assistant. The link to start 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. 

Read more at the CDPH Contact Tracing web page.

Support for workers

If you work, your employer may be required to provide you with paid sick leave and other benefits.

If you need childcare, visit MyChildCare.ca.gov to find licensed child care near you. Subsidies may be available. Check your local childcare resource and referral agency to see if you qualify.

If you’re an immigrant, you can find help in the Guide for Immigrant Californians .

Know that you are not alone

Pandemics can be stressful. Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions. 

Coping with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger. See this CDC video about managing anxiety and stress.

If you feel like you need to talk to someone for emotional support, see this list of resources. The California Surgeon General released two playbooks for managing stress and tips for caregivers and kids.


Questions and answers

How can I participate in CA Notify, Google and Apple’s exposure notification system?

You can add your phone to the COVID fight by turning on CA Notify, California’s exposure notification system. This system does not track your personal information or location. For details, see the CA Notify website or call 888-421-9457 (888-4C19-HLP).

What is a close contact?

A close contact is someone who was within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period starting from 2 days before symptoms appeared (or, for patients who do not have symptoms, 2 days prior to their test) until the time the patient is isolated.

You are also a close contact if:

  • You provided care at the home of someone who is sick with COVID-19
  • You had direct physical contact with the person (such as hugging or kissing them)
  • You shared eating or drinking utensils
  • They sneezed, coughed, or somehow got respiratory droplets on you.

Am I considered a close contact if I was wearing a mask?

Yes, you are still considered a close contact even if you were wearing a mask while you were around someone with COVID-19. Studies suggest masks offer some protection to the wearer, as well as help to protect other people in case you are infected but they are not 100% guaranteed to stop
transmission.

Will contact tracers track my location?

No, California’s contact tracing program does not use any cell phone tracking technology. Laboratories who identify positive cases are required to provide contact information to Public Health. Someone from your local public health department will speak privately with you. All information is confidential and protected by California’s strict privacy laws. They may stay in touch to make sure your symptoms aren’t worsening.

Is contact tracing help available in my language? 

Your local health department can communicate with you in many different languages.

How do I find a coronavirus testing location?

Visit the Testing page. You can search for testing locations there using your zip code. Your local health department website may have additional testing sites listed.

What if I have COVID-19 symptoms and have not been contacted by the health department?

Get tested immediately. Isolate yourself until:

  • at least 10 days have passed since symptoms started, AND
  • your fever has been gone for 24 hours without taking medication, AND
  • your symptoms (like cough and shortness of breath) have improved.

Contact your local health department for contact tracing. This is true whether you’ve tested positive, negative, or are untested.

What if I came in contact with someone who has COVID-19 symptoms, but my local health department is not aware of it?

You should get tested. Contact your local health department for contact tracing. Quarantine yourself while waiting for your test results.

If you tested positive but have no symptoms, you should isolate at home for at least 10 days.

If you develop symptoms, you should stay home until:

  • at least 10 days have passed since symptoms started, AND
  • your fever has been gone for 24 hours without the aid of medication, AND 
  • your symptoms (like cough and shortness of breath) have improved.

This is true whether you’ve tested positive, negative, or are untested.

If you had close contact with someone who tested positive but you tested negative, you should still quarantine at home for at least 10 days.

  • Close contacts who have never had any symptoms may discontinue quarantine after Day 10 from the date of last exposure without testing.
  • If you are released from quarantine before Day 14 after exposure, you must:
    • Monitor yourself daily for COVID-19 symptoms through Day 14 and if symptoms occur, immediately self-isolate and contact your local public health department or healthcare provider to get tested.
    • Wear a mask or facial covering around others, continue to wash your hands frequently, and stay at least 6 feet from others through Day 14.

You do not have to quarantine or get tested even after close contact, if:

  • You recovered from COVID-19 within the past 3 months and have no new symptoms.
  • You are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and show no symptoms.

How is the state supporting schools with contact tracing?

Contact tracing in schools is driven by local policies and conducted in collaboration with each school’s local health department (LHD).  Local public health departments will be the primary point of contact for schools to obtain more information about local contact tracing requirements and resources. 

CDPH is supporting LHDs in their efforts to support their local schools as they reopen through:

  • Training for LHD staff to enhance their school collaborations  
  • Offering redirected state employees trained as school specialists to expand local capacity in triaging school-related requests, data management, and contact tracing help
  • Providing technical assistance and technology to assist LHDs in managing school-affiliated COVID-19 exposures.

A toolkit and webinar series are in development for California school personnel to learn more about contact tracing and keeping their school community safe. The California Safe Schools For All Hub has additional resources and information related to COVID-19 and schools.


Stay informed