Workplace exposures

Contact tracing

‘An important thing for employers to do’

Photo: elenabs/iStockphoto

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How it works

Travis Parsons, associate director of occupational safety and health for the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America, shared Terry’s sentiment during a July 16 webinar on contact tracing basics and applications in the construction industry, hosted by CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training. Parsons said although effective contact tracing can be challenging given the bustling nature and wide cross-section of people on a worksite, it’s still a necessity.

“It is not a panacea. It’s not a perfect system,” he said. “But it does help curb the spread of the virus, and we need to do it.”

NIOSH medical epidemiologist Sara Luckhaupt, a participant in the webinar, emphasized the importance of employer collaboration with local health departments.

Under 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. The department then would alert the contacts and assess symptoms, making sure not to share the name of the infected individual.

“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.”

It is not a panacea. It’s not a perfect system. But it does help curb the spread of the virus, and we need to do it.

Travis Parsons
Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America

CDC suggests that employers, if they haven’t already done so, designate a COVID-19 coordinator or team within their organization to oversee pandemic-related activities and create a related preparedness, response and control plan.

Employers also should visit and be familiar with their corresponding health department website, along with CDC guidance on case investigations and contact tracing.

CDC recommends that symptomatic or asymptomatic contacts who test positive for COVID-19 be treated and managed as confirmed cases.

The agency advises all close contacts of confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients to be tested for the disease.

Other recommendations:

  • 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 access to clinical care for those who develop symptoms (fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, etc.).

Parsons said workers shouldn’t feel a stigma about reporting symptoms, because contact tracing should be kept anonymous and confidential.

“We encourage our workers,” Parsons said. “They have a role in this. They need to report symptoms. 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.”

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