How Contact Tracing Works


Indiana Public Radio

Contact tracing is a frequent topic of discussion amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the global COVID-19 pandemic worsens, contact tracing is becoming a more and more frequent topic of discussion. But many may not even know the basics of contact tracing, let alone how it works at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, in the town of Sudbury, or in Massachusetts as a whole. 

To start, contact tracing is defined by the World Health Organization as “the identification and follow-up of persons who may have come into contact with a person infected with the Coronavirus.” The bottom line is that contact tracing is being used to try and stop the spread of COVID-19 around the world. 

When the Massachusetts Department of Public Health gets the name of a resident who tested positive for the Coronavirus, they load the person’s information into a state database called the Massachusetts Virtual Epidemiologic Network (MAVEN). Then the Sudbury Board of Health sees the case information and decides whether they should investigate it or send it to the Contact Tracing Collaborative (CTC). This is a group run by Partners in Health (PIH), who Massachusetts has contracted to manage the large, statewide operation of contact tracing. If the case is sent to this organization, a case investigator reaches out to the infected person to get an update on symptoms and give a recommended isolation period. The case investigator then goes on to find close contacts and other people the infected person saw in the last fourteen days. He or she tells the contacts the situation and instructs them on quarantining or COVID-19 testing. A close contact is defined by the CDC as “someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.”

Currently in Sudbury, there have been 261 Coronavirus cases, and 60 cases in Lincoln. While the identities of those people are all confidential, we know that 10 of those 321 cases were Lincoln Sudbury High School students. At L-S, contact tracing is run by the Nurses from the School Health Department. By following Sudbury and Massachusetts Board of Health Guidelines as well as CDC guidelines, the nurses use student information from Aspen, as well as seating charts, bus assignments, and other confidential student information to complete the contact tracing process as described above. In this case, the nurses are the case investigators who reach out to the student’s close contacts and other students who are seated close to the infected student in classes, on buses, or play on the infected student’s sports team. While the school nurses are notified by the Sudbury Board of Health of any Coronavirus cases, it is also appreciated when students notify the school of their case because it helps the nurses get ahead of the long contact tracing process.

Overall, contact tracing seems to be working successfully at LS, even when COVID-19 cases are still rising worldwide. Please continue to keep up safe COVID-19 preventative habits such as social distancing, mask-wearing, and good hand hygiene. For more information about contact tracing, close contacts, and good virus preventing habits, visit the CDC, World Health Organization, and Sudbury Board of Health websites, or call 211.