Tracing, Isolation, & Quarantine

Contact Tracing

Slowing the spread of COVID-19 requires all of us to work together. Contact tracing is a way to identify people who may have COVID-19 so they can avoid spreading it to others. Contact tracing and self-isolating/quarantining of people who have COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 is critical to help slow transmission of COVID-19 in our communities.

History of Contact Tracing

Public Health’s contact tracing activities have prevented the spread of diseases for decades. As an example, we were successful in eliminating smallpox because of exhaustive contact tracing to find and isolate all infected persons, and immunization among the surrounding community. Diseases for which contact tracing is commonly performed include tuberculosis, vaccine-preventable infections like measles, sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), blood-borne infections, ebola, some serious bacterial infections, and novel infections (e.g. SARS-CoV, H1N1, and COVID-19).

What does the interview process look like?

When public health learns that someone has tested positive for COVID-19, an interviewer reaches out to talk to that person by phone – this is known as a case investigation. When talking to the person who tested positive for COVID-19, interviewers work to determine their close contacts, which includes anyone who has been within 6 feet of them for 15 minutes or more while they were infectious. This is based on social distancing guidelines from the CDC. Interviewers will also advise the person to alert their close contacts that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and to answer the phone when Public Health calls. Interviewers then reach out to inform close contacts of possible exposure. This is the next step to prevent the spread of disease, known as contact tracing. Your name will not be revealed to those you came in contact with, unless you give permission. Public health does not use your phone’s location or any other electronic devices to track where you have been.

What will interviewers ask?

Interviewers use pre-approved questions for case investigations and contact tracing. They ask every person for their date of birth, address, race, and ethnicity, and other questions. Interviewers will never ask for or write down immigration status, Social Security number, financial information, or marital status. Information collected during interviews is used only by public health agencies. The information is protected in secure systems and individual information is not shared with anyone else. Interviewers operate under strict confidentiality rules. Every person interviewed receives guidance about how to keep themselves and others safe. Interviewers can also help connect people with resources they may need while they stay home for 14 days to ensure they are not sick (quarantine), or stay home to recover from being sick (isolation).

Why are these interviews important?

If a contact tracer reaches out to you, our county needs you to say respond! Your participation will help to keep others from getting infected and control the spread of the virus. It is important to answer calls you receive from public health. Your participation in contact tracing helps us:
  • Understand communities affected by COVID-19. Inform public health actions.
  • Understand who is at risk.
  • Follow up with high-risk groups.
  • Track COVID-19 activity in Okanogan County.
  • Determine when it is safe to return to public life.
More information on case investigation and contact tracing is available in the Washington State Department of Health Frequently Asked Questions.

Isolation & Quarantine

Isolation Isolation is used for people who are currently ill, able to spread the disease, and need to stay away from others in order to avoid infecting them. Isolation from other people should last until three days after fever resolves without medication and other symptoms improve, and ten days after symptoms first appeared. People with no symptoms (called asymptomatic) should isolate themselves for 10 days after they test positive.


Quarantine is for people who are not currently showing symptoms but are at increased risk because they have been exposed to COVID-19. Quarantine is for people who could become sick or may be carrying the virus and could spread the infection to others. When people are quarantined, they are kept separate from others until they pass the period when they could get sick. This prevents the possible spread of disease from the exposed person to new people. Health officials track the health of people who are quarantined so that if they do develop symptoms, they can get them to a healthcare provider quickly for evaluation, testing if needed, and care. It is important to quarantine for 14 days after the most recent exposure to COVID-19: COVID-19 can incubate for 2-14 days, which means you could become sick up to 14 days after the last time you were exposed to COVID-19.

Who should Isolate or Quarantine?

Isolation: If you have COVID-19 symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19, you should self-isolate until three days after fever resolves without medication and other symptoms improve, AND ten days after symptoms first appeared. People without symptoms should isolate themselves for 10 days after they test positive.

Quarantine: If you have been exposed to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, you should self-quarantine for 14 days after the last day you were exposed to COVID-19.

In addition, the CDC recommends that anyone who has traveled internationally should self-quarantine for 14 days after their arrival.

Why is it important to stay home if you have been exposed but don’t feel sick?

Unlike the flu, People with COVID-19 can still spread the virus even if they don’t have any symptoms. If you came in close contact with someone who had COVID-19, it is critical that you stay home for 14 days from the last day that you were in close contact with that person. Staying home and distancing (at least 6 feet) from others at all times helps your health department in the fight against COVID-19, and keeps you, your family, and your community safe.

What if I can’t safely isolate or quarantine at home or don’t have a home?

An isolation and quarantine site is available for residents who are not able to isolate and quarantine in their own homes. Examples of people who may need this assistance include those who cannot safely isolate in their home away from family members or those who are experiencing homelessness.

Individuals can only be placed into the isolation and quarantine site if Okanogan County Public Health has determined that isolation or quarantine is necessary.

If you need a safe place to isolate or quarantine, contact Okanogan County Public Health at 509-422-7140

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