What you need to know about COVID-19 contact tracing in Erie County

Posted at 2:57 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 14:57:23-04

ERIE COUNTY (WKBW) — As New York State continues its phased reopening under the New York Forward program to help control and stop the spread of COVID-19, the Erie County Department of Health has released information on its contact tracing program which it says will be an important part of reducing community spread of COVID-19.

When an individual is tested for COVID-19, the results are sent to a statewide lab reports database. ECDOH reviews the results daily and then the ECDOH contact tracing team contacts those with a positive COVID-19 diagnostic test and begins case investigations.

“Contact tracing is a standard tool in public health to identify and isolate individuals with a communicable disease,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein. “With COVID-19, we are working with these individuals to identify their close contacts, advise those contacts of the need to quarantine and offer them diagnostic testing.”

What happens when you have a positive COVID-19 test?

  • An Erie County resident who tests positive for COVID-19 will receive a call from the ECDOH contact tracing team
  • The contact tracer will ask you who you have been in contact with and ask you to isolate at home
  • They will explain what isolation involves and ask questions about your household and your ability to isolate from other people

What is isolation?

  • Staying at home in a specific room, away from other people
  • Using a separate bathroom if possible
  • Individuals in isolation who need help with things such as groceries, medications and other basic needs, can get support from ECDOH
  • Isolation is similar to quarantine, except that isolation is for individuals who have a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis
  • Quarantine is for individuals who are potentially exposed to someone with this disease during a period when they are infectious

What is a close contact?

  • Someone who was within six feet of a person with COVID-19 for at least 10 minutes, starting from 48 hours before they started to feel symptoms
  • For asymptomatic cases, someone who was within six feet of a person with COVID-19 for at least 10 minutes from two days prior to specimen collection
  • If you have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19, an employee from ECDOH might call to inform you that you have potentially been exposed

What is quarantine?

  • Staying home
  • Monitoring for symptoms
  • Maintaining social distancing (at least 6 feet from others at all times)
  • Remain in a specific room separate from other non-exposed people and pets in the home, and using a separate bathroom, if possible
  • Individuals under quarantine who are deemed “essential” for their workplace may continue to work, with restrictions. Those restrictions include:
  1. Employee must remain free of COVID-19 symptoms (asymptomatic)
  2. It would not be feasible for employee to work from home or if not working would adversely affect the facility operations
  3. Employee undergoes temperature and symptom monitoring twice a day, including immediately before arrival to work and when at home
  4. Employee wears a face covering while working until 14 days after last exposure.
  5. “Essential” workers are required to maintain quarantine when they are not at work for a full 14 days after their last known exposure
  6. If COVID-19 symptoms develop, they must stop work immediately and isolate at home
  7. Regardless of symptoms, all contacts should consider getting a COVID-19 diagnostic test five days or more after their last known exposure
  8. Individuals under quarantine who are not considered essential by their place of employment or who are currently not working or working at home must remain at home for 14 days after their last known exposure. They will be asked to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, and consider getting a COVID-19 diagnostic test five days or more after their last known exposure
  9. Nursing home employees have different requirements for quarantine and returning to work, determined by the New York State Department of Health

What should businesses do?

  • If one of your employees has a positive test result, an ECDOH contact tracer will interview that employee as part of the disease investigation
  • A contact tracer may contact the business owner, supervisor, or human resources department to identify potential close contacts among other employees and customers, clients or visitors to the workplace

“With more and more industries opening up in Erie County, we expect that our contact tracing investigations will involve more individual businesses, their employees and customers,” said Dr. Burstein. “We are going to rely on the cooperation of these businesses to help our contact tracers complete their vital work, and to reduce COVID-19 community transmission.”


  • Medical information that is shared with ECDOH contact tracers is kept confidential
  • A contact tracer may share information about an employee diagnosed with COVID-19 with a business owner, supervisor, or human resources department in order to identify and contact potential close contacts
  • Since a COVID-19 diagnosis is protected health information, businesses are advised to maintain confidentiality and avoid disclosing the identity of the employee diagnosed with COVID-19 to other staff
  • The locations of businesses with a confirmed COVID-19 will not be announced by ECDOH unless there is a concern about an exposure to the public, and we are not able to identify close contacts through our investigation

ECDOH says there are paid leave options which vary based on the size and income of an employer, available through state and federal sources for those who have their employment interrupted by a period of isolation or quarantine.