Healthcare professionals are well acquainted with the public health practice of contact tracing. This tool has been used for decades to contain the spread of diseases such as HIV and measles.
To contain the spread of COVID-19, the New Jersey Department of Health has been working to boost the corps of contact tracers in New Jersey since March to help quickly identify COVID-19 exposure and stop the cycle of transmission.
New Jersey Contact Tracers
In our communities across New Jersey, a corps of approximately 2,000 contact tracers with local health departments is working to reach individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 to provide them with information to protect their families and themselves, and to decrease the spread of the virus.1
It is a mission centered solely on protecting public health and, along with testing, is a key pillar of the state’s continued reopening. Contact tracers provide information on how to safely isolate to protect family members, how to monitor for symptoms and how to access available social services. Just as important, contact tracers also ask individuals to list people with whom they have been in close contact, who may have been exposed to the virus. Close contact is defined as someone who has been within six feet of you for at least 15 minutes.2 A tracer connects with these contacts and provides them with the critical information they need to help protect themselves and their loved ones and to help stop community spread.
As healthcare providers, you know how vital it is to contact individuals who have been exposed to a virus to share important public health guidance that will protect the public. However, despite pleas from community leaders and state and local officials, a steady percentage of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 refuse to take the call from a contact tracer.1 In addition, 58 percent of those contacted have consistently refused to provide information on those they might have had close contact with, which leaves contact tracers unable to reach out to alert those individuals about their potential exposure.1
COVID Alert NJ
To help bolster our local contact tracing efforts, New Jersey has joined neighboring Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York in launching an exposure notification mobile app. COVID-19 knows no borders, and COVID Alert NJ embraces a wider regional effort. The technology is shared by apps in use in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York and provides cross-state interoperability, allowing the apps to work together.
COVID Alert NJ is free, fully protects data and privacy, and does not track locations. The app uses Bluetooth Low Energy technology, which recognizes other Bluetooth mobile devices with the app that users come in close contact with and exchanges anonymous codes.
The app is especially helpful if users travel on public transit, if they are essential workers who are serving members of the public or if they have been in a crowded location.
If an individual tests positive, that person enters a verification code, and the app anonymously alerts other app users who have had close contact with the individual with COVID-19 so that they can start to protect their families and themselves. More than 230,000 residents have downloaded the app. The greater the participation, the more effective COVID Alert NJ will be in helping all of us beat this virus.
We Need Your Help
The Department of Health needs your help to build wide adoption of this app. Healthcare professionals’ advice carries great weight with the public. As the pandemic evolves, the Department knows that your patients will continue to turn to you for advice. We ask that you talk to patients about the importance of contact tracing and encourage them to download the COVID Alert NJ app to help reduce the spread of the virus in our state. Residents can learn more about COVID Alert NJ at covid19.nj.gov/app and download it from the Apple App store or Google Play store.
As the Department works to contain COVID-19, we are also preparing for the possibility of a “twindemic” of seasonal flu overlapping with a second wave of the novel coronavirus. Currently, it is estimated that 54 percent of New Jersey residents receive the flu vaccination.3 It is critical that as many residents as possible get a flu vaccine—as soon as possible. Please join the Department in encouraging residents to get the flu shot to conserve healthcare resources in the state. Working with the Partnership for Maternal & Child Health of Northern NJ, earlier this month we launched the Power to Protect Against the Flu NJ campaign. This campaign includes billboard, print and digital advertising. Please share the campaign messaging on social media. You can find it by searching: #PowertoProtectNJ.
New Jersey leaders and residents have been working together for more than seven months to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This new normal will persist for the foreseeable future, causing what is called pandemic fatigue—the feeling of exhaustion from the effects of the COVID-19 health emergency on our lives. Despite our weariness, now is not the time to let down our guard. New Jersey needs—and is counting on—everyone to do the right thing to help our efforts to break the chain of transmission.
Doing so means using every tool at our disposal. Please emphasize to your patients that we must continue to remain physically distanced, wear a mask, take the call from a contact tracer to share necessary information and add COVID Alert NJ to our mobile devices.