Prospective Case-control Study of Contact Tracing Speed for Emergency Department-based Contact Tracers

West J Emerg Med. 2022 Aug 24;23(5):623-627. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2022.5.53196.


Introduction: In Snohomish County, WA, the time from obtaining a positive severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) test and initiating contact tracing is 4-6 days. We tested whether emergency department (ED)-based contact tracing reduces time to initiation and completion of contact tracing investigations.

Methods: All eligible coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)-positive patients were offered enrollment in this prospective case-control study. Contact tracers were present in the ED from 7 AM to 2 AM for 60 consecutive days. Tracers conducted interviews using the Washington State Department of Health's extended COVID-19 reporting form, which is also used by the Snohomish Health District (SHD).

Results: Eighty-one eligible SARS-CoV-2 positive patients were identified and 71 (88%) consented for the study. The mean time between positive COVID-19 test result and initiation of contact tracing investigation was 111 minutes with a median of 32 minutes (range: 1-1,203 minutes). The mean time from positive test result and completion of ED-based contact tracing investigation was 244 minutes with a median of 132 minutes (range: 23-1,233 minutes). In 100% of the enrolled cases, contact tracing was completed within 24 hours of a positive COVID-19 test result. For comparison, during this same period, SHD was able to complete contact tracing in 64% of positive cases within 24 hours of notification of a positive test result (P < 0.001). In the ED, each case identified a mean of 2.8 contacts as compared to 1.4 contacts identified by SHD-interviewed cases. There was no statistically significant difference between the percentage of contacts reached through ED contact tracing (82%) when compared to the usual practice (78%) (P = 0.16).

Conclusion: When contact tracing investigations occur at the point of diagnoses, the time to initiation and completion are reduced, there is higher enrollment, and more contacts are identified.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Contact Tracing*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2