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Contact tracing is an important tool for slowing the spread of COVID-19.

On this page:

What is contact tracing?

illustration of a contact tracer

Contact tracing is when public health workers identify and notify the people who were exposed to infected people. They let them know that they’ve been in close contact with an infected person, and what to do next to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. Public health departments have used contact tracing for decades to fight the spread of infectious diseases.

How does it work?

Public health workers get in touch with those who have tested positive. They might do this by calling on the phone or sending a short survey by text or email. People who have tested positive may be asked about people they were with who they may have exposed while they were contagious. Public health workers then call or text those close contacts to let them know that they may have been exposed. When they do this, they keep the name of the person who tested positive confidential.

illustration of COVID close contacts

Contact tracers will:

  • Notify you that you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19
  • Ask if you have symptoms and how you’re feeling
  • Recommend you get tested
  • Discuss next steps like testing, quarantine, self-isolation, and medical care

Contact tracing in California

California Connected is our state’s contact tracing program.

California Connected

By helping infected and exposed people self-isolate or self-quarantine, we can slow the spread of the infection and help avoid outbreaks. This helps California support those who are infected or exposed, while also keeping their loved ones and communities safe from the spread of infection. This also helps our hospitals and healthcare systems manage caring for the patients who develop serious illness. Contact tracing is a necessary activity that allows us to safely reopen schools and businesses.

How you can participate

Contact tracing works when you answer the call or text.

All you have to do is answer the phone call or respond to the text message survey sent by your local health department.

Contact tracing is an anonymous way to do your part. The more people answer the call or text, the more lives and jobs California will save and the faster we can re-open schools and businesses and keep them open. Your information is always kept confidential.

illustration of man on phone

Early awareness helps you protect your friends and loved ones from exposure. And early medical care can improve your outcome if you do get sick.

The sooner we can reach you, the sooner you can get advice, testing, and the support you need.

What a contact tracer will ask and offer

You’ll get free, confidential testing and assistance in accessing medical care, regardless of income, health insurance, or immigration status.

If you test positive for COVID-19:

illustration of a test swab
  • You will be asked basic questions like your name and age, the places you’ve been, and the people you’ve spent time with.
  • Those people will be contacted and told they may have been exposed to COVID-19, but your name will not be shared with them.
  • You will never be asked for information about your finances, social security number, or immigration status.
  • You will get advice on how to isolate yourself from others to avoid spreading the disease to loved ones and your community.

If you were exposed to COVID-19:

  • You’ll get a call, text, or email from your local public health department to inform you of this exposure.
  • They will not share information about who may have exposed you. This information is confidential.
  • They will help you understand your risk of getting sick. They’ll tell you what to do immediately to prevent further spread
illustration of a public health worker
illustration of a phone
  • They will stay in touch to see if you develop symptoms.
  • You will get resources to self-quarantine or self-isolate.
  • They may ask questions about the places you’ve been and the people you’ve spent time with.

How your information is kept private

Your identity and health information that you provide to a contact tracer is always kept confidential. It will not be shared with anyone who may have been exposed. 

No one will ask for your

  • Immigration status
  • Social Security number
  • Payment information

California’s strict privacy laws protect all your information. California Connected maintains information with strict privacy and security standards. The information is only collected and stored for use by local and state public health departments.

Read the Privacy Policy at the CDPH Contact Tracing web page.

What to do if you are contacted

Protect yourself and others

If you have COVID-19 or test positive for coronavirus, 

  • Isolate yourself from others, especially those who are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.
  • Try to stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom.
  • Disinfect frequently touched surfaces or have your caregiver do so.

People you live with are close contacts. They should also self-quarantine and get tested.

You do not have to quarantine or get tested even after close contact, if:

  • You recovered from COVID-19 within the past 3 months and have no new symptoms.
  • You are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and show no symptoms (outside the workplace setting).

Find support

Your local public health department can connect you to 

  • Testing
  • Medical care
  • Housing and other resources, if you need them, to self-isolate or self-quarantine

You will get medical care, regardless of income, health insurance, or immigration status.

Virtual Assistant

The Virtual Assistant is an automated system from California Connected used to support you as part of your local health department’s contact tracing efforts. The Virtual Assistant may ask you to complete a contact tracing survey and can also provide confidential and safe symptom check-ins through text messages. 

You may be contacted by text via the Virtual Assistant. The link to start is sent by a text message from the phone number 233-93. It is safe to click on the link in this text message to start your communications with the Virtual Assistant. You can reply STOP at any time to stop receiving messages. 

Read more at the CDPH Contact Tracing web page.

Support for workers

If you work, your employer may be required to provide you with paid sick leave and other benefits. Read more in the Employer Playbook for a Safe Reopening.

If you need childcare, visit to find licensed child care near you. Subsidies may be available. Check your local childcare resource and referral agency to see if you qualify.

If you’re an immigrant, you can find help in the Guide for Immigrant Californians .

Know that you are not alone

Pandemics can be stressful. Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions. 

Coping with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger. See this CDC video about managing anxiety and stress.

If you feel like you need to talk to someone for emotional support, see this list of resources. The California Surgeon General released two playbooks for managing stress and tips for caregivers and kids.

Questions and answers

Stay informed