Are you receiving calls from an unknown number? You could be missing out on critical health information regarding potential exposure to the novel coronavirus if you don’t pick up, health experts say.

Public officials are urging residents to answer when an unknown number calls as contact tracers struggle to notify people who may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus over the phone.

Contact tracers are employed to identify people who have tested positive for the coronavirus, tell them to isolate, and tracing back whom they’ve been in contact with who should quarantine as well to mitigate the risk of exposure. The outreach is time sensitive, given the spread of the coronavirus and public health risks involved.

But if residents aren’t answering the phone because they assume the unknown number to be a robocall or phishing attempt, they can’t be notified quickly after exposure.

There’s currently no federal contact tracing program, so local and state health officials have patched together teams of contact tracers to spearhead the effort. Some departments have worked with phone companies to set up caller ID to clarify who’s calling: in D.C., it’s “DC covid-19 19 Team”; in Maryland, it’s “MD covid-19.” But not all residents’ phones have caller ID. Virginia, which uses the contact tracing app, does not use a caller ID system.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance for health departments to communicate effectively to residents about anticipating calls from covid-19 contact tracers in September, including the message, “Answer the call to slow the spread.”

The Washington Post

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