‘We need to do it’: CPWR webinar puts spotlight on contact tracing in construction
Silver Spring, MD — Effective contact tracing can be a challenge on construction sites, where supervisors, contractors, workers, vendors and visitors may be onsite at any given time.
Still, this disease control measure – used to identify, support and monitor individuals potentially exposed to an infected person – remains essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say.
“It is not a panacea. It’s not a perfect system,” said Travis Parsons, associate director of occupational safety and health for the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America. “But it does help curb the spread of the virus, and we need to do it.”
Parsons spoke during a July 16 webinar on contact tracing basics and applications in construction hosted by CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training. His presentation followed remarks by NIOSH medical epidemiologist Sara Luckhaupt, who said that although the concept might be new to some, contact tracing has been part of the public health sphere for decades.
The authority and responsibility for implementing contact tracing lies with state, tribal, local and territorial health departments, Luckhaupt said. As detailed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contact tracing is recommended for anyone who has come within 6 feet of an individual with COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more within 48 hours of diagnosis.
In a hypothetical situation, a health department official would ask an individual with COVID-19 about the people with whom he or she recently has had close contact. Making sure not to share the name of the infected individual, the health department then would alert contacts and assess symptoms.
Should a health department official conclude that a case of COVID-19 impacts a work environment, the department would notify the employer. Luckhaupt and Parsons stress the importance of employer collaboration.
“The sooner that you can get a case and a contact who may potentially become a case out of circulation to the general public, then the sooner you can stop the spread,” Luckhaupt said. “The greater chance you can prevent further cases.”
Symptomatic or asymptomatic contacts who test positive for COVID-19 should be treated and managed as a confirmed case, CDC advises. CDC recommends COVID-19 testing for all close contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients. Other recommends:
- Asymptomatic contacts who test negative should self-quarantine for 14 days from their most recent exposure.
- Symptomatic contacts for whom testing isn’t available should self-isolate and be managed as a probable COVID-19 case.
- Asymptomatic contacts for whom testing isn’t available should self-quarantine and be monitored for 14 days after their most recent exposure, with linkage to clinical care for those who develop symptoms.
Luckhaupt outlined additional steps that CDC recommends employers take to prepare for a possible case investigation and contact tracing:
- Identify a COVID-19 coordinator or team to oversee pandemic-related activities.
- Identify and, if possible, contact or visit the health department website.
- Create a COVID-19 preparedness, response and control plan.
- Review CDC guidance on case investigation and contact tracing.
- Encourage employees to cooperate with the health department.
Additionally, Parsons said, workers shouldn’t feel a stigma about reporting symptoms, because contact tracing should be kept anonymous and confidential.
“We encourage our workers. They have a role in this. They need to report symptoms,” Parsons said. “They need to report if they’ve had exposures. Everybody needs to work on this together. And the intention is not to interrogate or pass judgment on any one worker whatsoever. It’s to curb the disease and to collect information to keep everyone safe.”
CDC has developed a fact sheet for various digital contact tracing applications that may enhance contact tracing data management, daily temperature and symptom checks of patients during isolation and contacts during quarantine, and exposure notification using proximity apps.
The National Safety Council recently released an issue paper on contact tracing as part of its SAFER: Safe Actions for Employee Returns initiative.