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On contact tracing in Washington

On contact tracing in Washington

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CLAIM: Individuals in Washington state who refuse to cooperate with contact tracers, or those who refuse testing, will not be allowed to leave their homes for necessities.

Virus Outbreak Washington UW Medicine

FILE - In this May 8, 2020, file photo, registered nurse Katie Hammond looks up as she talks on the phone in the COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit at Harborview Medical Center, which is part of Seattle-area health care system UW Medicine, in Seattle. UW Medicine, which has played a leading role in responding to the coronavirus outbreak, is now facing a huge financial hole because of the fallout from COVID-19. The Seattle Times reports UW Medicine's losses could be more than $500 million by the end of the summer. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

THE FACTS: Numerous posts circulated on Facebook falsely claiming that people who refuse to participate in contact tracing in Washington will “not be allowed to leave their homes to purchase basic necessities such as groceries and/or prescriptions.”

Not so, said Amy Reynolds, communications director with the Washington State Department of Health, who said the posts “are not accurate summaries of contact tracing or enforcement.” Reynolds confirmed to The Associated Press in an email that contact tracing is voluntary. “Anyone can choose not to participate in an interview if they are contacted by public health professionals,” she said. “We hope to make it easy for people who test positive or who are identified as close contacts to voluntarily follow public health recommendations, which may include staying home for a period of time.”

Jay Inslee, governor of Washington, announced the launch of a contact tracing plan this week to keep track of the spread of COVID-19. The state has 1,371 contact tracers ready to assist local health departments. According to AP reporting, Inslee said that the goal is to “box in” the virus by first having people who think they have symptoms quarantine themselves and seek testing. The goal is to contact those who test positive within 24 hours of testing and to contact those the people encountered within 48 hours. “At the sign of any symptoms, people should confine themselves at home. Voluntary confinement for both ill persons and the members of their households will be a major challenge, but it is one of the most critical portions of this entire endeavor,” Inslee said. Last week, Inslee announced that stay-home restrictions will be extended through at least May 31. “As the Governor mentioned, our experience with infectious disease shows that the vast majority of people voluntarily comply when asked to stay home,” Reynolds said. “We believe most people are eager to take steps to protect their own health and that of their loved ones and communities.” She added that local health officers have some authority related to individual enforcement but they rely on people voluntarily following public health recommendations. “The authority to enforce involuntary isolation or quarantine rests with local health officers,” she specified. “Each local health jurisdiction in Washington has existing plans and processes should involuntary isolation or quarantine be needed. They would need to speak to their authority in more detail.”

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