Support effort to trace COVID-19 contacts

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Washington state is deploying an army, outfitted with telephones, to call every person infected with COVID-19.

The 1,400 metaphorical soldiers — as well as more than 700 real National Guard soldiers — are working as “contact tracers” to find out who those infected with coronavirus have been in close contact. Those people will then be contacted to be urged to get tested and quarantine themselves for 14 days in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.

This effort is critical to making it safer for Washington state to reopen.

Yet, because pandemics often spread more than disease, these phone calls could also fuel paranoia in some.

Not to worry. These folks have all been well trained and are following carefully crafted procedures. Participation is optional.

The process, one of the fundamental tools of public health, dates back decades, if not centuries, according to a Seattle Times story on the effort, named Task Force Kokanee for the landlocked salmon.

“Case investigations and contact tracing are key pieces of the effort to keep Washington residents safe,” state Health Secretary John Wiesman said. “Both have been critical tools to suppress the virus in other parts of the world.”

The goal, which the state has not yet reached, is to contact each person who tests positive within 24 hours, and call each of their close contacts within 48 hours, the Times reported.

Diana Cervantes, a professor of public health at the University of North Texas, said that “if done correctly, it is a thorough process that helps identify and quarantine exposed individuals so they cannot then transmit the virus to others. It breaks the chains of transmission.”

The state has acknowledged that even the announcement of an army of “contract tracers” has fueled conspiracy theories about mandatory participation and enforced isolation, according to the Times.

“This strategy has been used for decades,” state health officials said last week in an effort to quell concerns.

“The public’s participation is voluntary,” they reiterated this week.

Yes, it is voluntary. However, it would be wise to participate if contacted. You would be helping yourself, your friends and family — and ultimately everyone in Washington state, the nation and the world.

The effort to slow the spread of coronavirus is real and must be supported.