How contact tracing works in DeKalb County


Patrick Murphy

Fourteen additional students and one employee has tested positive for the coronavirus.

By Yari Tapia, News Reporter

DeKALB – With students back on campus, the DeKalb County Health Department and NIU are working together to follow through on COVID-19 cases in DeKalb through contact tracing.

Here is what you need to know:

How are contact tracers hired?

The DeKalb County Health Department works to trace COVID-19 cases with every member of DeKalb County, including students. Early on in the pandemic, the health department tried to hire contact tracers that would focus solely on NIU, said Stacia Runge, coordinator of communicable diseases. 

Since there was a rise in cases early on in the semester when the pandemic started, the health department chose to hire contact tracers to be trained to deal with specific needs, Runge said. 

Runge said they generally hired nurses, CNAs, medical assistants or even NIU graduates with public health backgrounds. 

What is the process a contact tracer goes through when someone tests positive for COVID-19?

“Anytime there’s a positive case, it is then put into a database for DeKalb County specifically,” Runge said. 

Contact tracers are assigned specific cases once the health department has received new cases for the day. 

“What contact tracers do then is reach out to the individual who tested positive,” Runge said.

Contract tracers try to reach out to individuals with COVID-19 within 24 hours. Runge said the goal of contact tracing is to try to prevent the further spread of illness.

Contact tracers educate individuals with COVID-19 about their symptoms and ask when their symptoms started so they have a better understanding of their isolation timeline and who else could have possibly been exposed, Runge said.

They also discuss the use of resources so that the person infected with COVID-19 has access to food sources and cleaning supplies.

Once the infected person has answered all of the contact tracer’s questions, they are then set up with a daily symptom monitor. Runge said they receive a daily survey they can complete via email or text.

If a person is no longer experiencing symptoms, then a “release from isolation” letter is written. However, if they are still experiencing symptoms, contact tracers extend the isolation time.

During this time, contact tracers are also responsible for getting in touch with close contacts and educating them about their quarantine. 

How long is a student with COVID-19 in quarantine?

“NIU as a congregate setting, early on, opted to go for 14 days in quarantine, 14 days isolation,” Runge said. 

Runge said the CDC often changes their guidelines when new information is found about COVID-19. The CDC has reduced their quarantine time to 10 days, but NIU continues at 14 days since it is such a large community. 

“NIU has been fantastic as well,” Runge said. “They deal with us too in terms of ‘well, the rules have changed today, how can we make this best for your community?’’’