Governor Inslee lays out statewide contact tracing plan for COVID-19

By Mario Lotmore | Lynnwood Times Staff

  • May 20, 2020: Clarified the statement with WA state DOH, “refuse to cooperate with contact tracers and/or refuse testing, will not” to “refuse testing or self-isolation, may not” in the latter portion of the article. Also included a statement by the Washington State Department of Health
  • May 19, 2020: Added the revised slide, “Confine at home” from Inslee’s press release
  • May 19 2020: Updated with a statement by John Wiesman, Secretary of Health and Dr. Kathy Lofy, State Health Officer

At his May 12 press conference, Governor Jay Inslee laid out the plans for the statewide contact tracing initiative.

“[The initiative] is robust, it is vigorous and it is comprehensive, and it needs to be all three to be successful,” Inslee said. “If we do not succeed in this second stage of our efforts, this virus could come bright back and bite us.”

Inslee said that the state has seen early success in its efforts against COVID-19, and this initiative will represent a transition from one strategy to another. Social distancing was the primary tool against the virus, and when the state is looking to open the economy, contact tracing and isolation of those who test positive will be the next tool.

“If this is successful, it will allow us to open our economy,” Inslee said. “This next stage… actually will be more difficult, and its success will depend on both the state and local public health officials and families who will need to be committed to this effort to help their community.”

Box the virus

The information Inslee provided was labeled as “Contact Tracing: Box in The Virus.” The steps were listed as follows:

contact tracing

Contact tracing involves interviewing people with positive COVID-19 tests to identify who they’ve been in contact with, getting those people tested and then making sure they isolate themselves and their families.

Isolation/Quarantine upon first symptoms

The Governor recommends that people are to quarantine immediately for 14-days upon experiencing the first systems. This includes entire households – e.g. all members of the household must isolate with the possible infected person.

Anyone who has had contact with that person will be quarantined until they have tested negative, even if they have not tested positive or shown symptoms.

People should confine at home immediately upon first symptoms. People testing positive need to confine at home until at least 10 days have passed since first symptoms and at least 72 hours have passed without a fever (without use of fever-reducing medication) and they see improvement in cough or shortness of breath.

When someone tests positive for COVID-19, an interviewer will reach out by phone. They will ask who that person has been in close contact with, then reach out to those other people to let them know they have been exposed.

Close contacts need to confine themselves at home for 14 days after the exposure and monitor for fever, cough and shortness of breath for the duration of confinement. The state encourages testing of all close contacts, regardless of symptoms. Support is available for people who must confine at home.

“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. “Individuals and their households will need to be confined for 14 days if they are exposed to the virus. We know this will present challenges for some families and we are looking at ways to address them.”

Below is the original slide presented by the governor during his May 12 contact tracing press conference. According to Washington State Department of Health spokesperson, the slide conflated “isolation” and “quarantine” and was not made by health officials. The revised slide was submitted in the governor’s official press release as a correction.

Below is the revised slide provided in the Governor’s official press release several hours after his live press briefing on May 12. Please note the differences.

contact tracing

Test widely

Contact tracers will reach out to notify those that may have been exposed to COVID-19 within 24 to 48 hrs of a positive test result. The governor compared the contract tracers or “COVID brigade,” to the operation of a “fire brigade.”

contact tracing

Isolate quickly, identify, and quarantine contacts

To isolate quickly, 1,371 contact tracers will be trained to implement steps 2-5. The plan is to hire additional contact tracers including volunteers to relief national guardsman.

The national gaurd’s function will not be that of law enforcement, only public health.

contact tracing

This effort will be a partnership between local health districts and the Washington State Department of health. Individuals should quarantine immediately upon first symptoms and stay quarantined until receiving a negative test result. 

Those who test positive will need to isolate for 14 days; that includes everyone who lives in the household. An interviewer will call those who test positive for COVID-19 to identify and inform close contacts of potential exposure.

Inslee also spent time talking about the privacy measures related to contact tracing. Individuals’ data will only be accessible to public health professionals; it will not be shared with anyone else. Contacts will not be told the name of the person who may have exposed them to COVID-19.

By the end of the week, Inslee said the state will have 1,371 contact tracers trained and ready; 351 of those will be national guard, 390 will be Department of Licensing and 630 will be State/Local health professionals.

Contact tracers will not ask for the following information: immigration status, social security number, financial info or marital status.

Community Health Volunteers help public health agencies with customer care/service, data gathering and entry and analysis, language skills, and much more. Volunteer assignments may vary in scope, location, time and length of commitment. A current healthcare license or medical background is not required to volunteer. Email for more information or visit the Washington State Emergency Registry of Volunteers (WaServ) website to register and indicate your interest.


For those businesses/individuals that don’t comply, the governor stated that he confirmed with Attorney General Bob Ferguson, there will be sanctions in civil or crimal court.

At timestamp 38:55 in the video of the press conference below, one reporter asked: “When it comes to contact tracing, how are you guys going to handle people or families who want to refuse to test or to self isolate? If they want to leave their home to get groceries I know you’ve said they can’t do that; how will you make sure they don’t?

Below is Jay Inslee’s response:

“We will have attached to the families a family support person who will check in with them to see what they need on a daily basis… and help them. If they can’t get a friend to do their grocery shopping, we will help get them groceries in some fashion. If they need pharmaceuticals to be picked up, we will make sure they get their pharmaceuticals… That’s going to help encourage them to maintain their isolation too.

“As far as refusal, it just shouldn’t come to that, and it really hasn’t. We’ve had really good success when we ask people to isolate, and they’ve done so in really high percentages, so we’re happy about that, and we believe that will continue.”

Therefore, those individuals that refuse testing or self-isolation, may not be allowed to leave their homes to purchase basic necessities such as groceries and/or prescriptions. Those persons will need to make arrangements through friends, family, or a state provided “family support personnel.” According to the spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Health, there has not been any direction to require individuals be tested for COVID-19.

Below is from a statement released on May 15 provided by John Wiesman, Secretary of Health and Dr. Kathy Lofy, State Health Officer on the clarification of involuntary isolation or quarantine.

“Our experience during the COVID-19 pandemic and with other infectious diseases shows the vast majority of people we ask are willing to follow recommendations and isolate or quarantine themselves. Isolation and quarantine at home continues to be the best option and our recommendation for those who can do so safely. However, all of these actions are voluntary and confidential, despite the misinformation being spread by some.”

The statement concludes, “The authority to involuntary isolate or quarantine an individual rests with local health officers. Each local health jurisdiction in Washington has plans and processes in place should involuntary isolation or quarantine be needed. This authority is rarely used as a last resort when someone is intentionally putting others at risk.

Therefore, any person not voluntarily complying could be deemed to be a person “intentionally putting others at risk,” in which case involuntary isolation or quarantine is within the authority of health officials.

Video of contact tracing briefing

Gov. Jay Inslee will address the media today at 1:30 pm to talk about the state's phased approach to re-opening the economy and provide an update on contact tracing.

Posted by Governor Jay Inslee on Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Futher information to Governor’s Briefing

Further updates will be on

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