If you’ve been within six feet of someone who has COVID-19 for 15 minutes or longer, you may get a phone call from a contact tracer working for a county health department — and health officials say it’s critically important that people answer the calls.

“We count on you answering the phone,” said Lieske Giese, director of the Eau Claire City-County Health Department. “We also know you may be worried about a phone call from an unknown number.”

A contact tracer is an employee — of either a county health department or the state Department of Health Services — who interviews people who have tested positive for the virus, reaches out to their close contacts and tells them to self-quarantine and monitor symptoms.

If people don’t answer a phone call from a contact tracer, Eau Claire County contact tracers will leave a voicemail message, Giese said at an Eau Claire news conference Wednesday. In that message, they’ll identify themselves and ask you to call back.

“If we don’t hear back from you, we will text you a message on that phone we have, and will ask for you to call,” Giese said.

Each new case of COVID-19 in Eau Claire County in the past two weeks has an average of 5.6 close contacts the Health Department must contact, according to county data.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul warned this week that scammers may try to pose as contact tracers to try to steal people’s personal information.

Don’t give someone saying they’re a contact tracer your Social Security number, bank account or credit card information, said Andrea Palm, DHS secretary-designee.

Authorized contact tracers who work for the county or the state will contact you via telephone, identify themselves with a first and last name, say what government entity they are calling from and tell you you may have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Authorized contact tracers may ask you for information such as, according to Kaul’s office:

  • How you are feeling.
  • Where you went and who you’ve been in contact with in the last few weeks.
  • Contact information for those you’ve been in contact with recently.
  • Occupation and work status.
  • Contact information and contact preferences.

If the person contacting you is an authorized contact tracer:

  • They will not ask for money or for personal information, like a Social Security, bank account or credit card number.
  • They will not disclose the identity of the person who tested positive.
  • They should be able to immediately give you up-to-date testing locations, with addresses, phone numbers and information about whether you need to make an appointment at a particular location and what you will need to bring to that visit.

Scammers pretending to be contact tracers may also send text or email messages asking residents to click a link. Those are “phishing” scams that help a scammer to gain access to a person’s computer, your financial information or personal information, according to Kaul’s office.

Giese called contact tracing a “critical strategy moving forward.”

“If we’re not able to contain disease … we’ll frankly have an enormously challenging situation in this community,” she said. “Please answer those phone calls. If you have questions or concerns about a potential scam, call our COVID-19 hotline.”

Eau Claire County residents who are unsure if they’ve been contacted by an authorized contact tracer can call the county’s COVID-19 hotline, 715-831-7425. If someone suspects they have been contacted by a scammer, they can alert the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection by emailing DATCPHotline@Wisconsin.gov or calling 800-422-7128.

Contact: 715-833-9206, sarah.seifert@ecpc.com, @sarahaseifert on Twitter

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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