John Preddy

The SMS Experts

How to Set Up Contact Tracing for Any Organization

May 11, 2022 SMS Tips 0

guide to contact tracing

Text messaging is proving invaluable for organizations of all types as they enhance their contact tracing programs, an important part of reopening post-pandemic. Contact tracing can help monitor and prevent the spread of COVID-19, and it’s something consumers are asking for. Contact tracing ranked as the number two most important procedure consumers say they want in place before they are ready to meet in large groups. 

So what is contact tracing and how can you implement a cost-effective contact tracing program for your organization at scale? This guide will help you understand COVID-19 contact tracing best practices and how to get started. 

What is contact tracing?

Here’s the most simple contact tracing definition: It’s a process through which individuals who have come in contact with an infected person are notified of their potential exposure. Contact tracers will text or call exposed contacts of an infected person so they can test, quarantine and track their symptoms. This process can also be automated so it can be conducted quickly at scale. Contact tracing identifies all the individuals an infected person has exposed within the last two weeks.

Guide to contract tracing with text messaging

COVID contact tracing has become more important than ever as restrictions loosen. Statistics show it’s something consumers don’t feel businesses are doing well enough as they reopen, even though contact tracing is a requirement for resuming public activities in some jurisdictions. COVID-19 contact tracing is crucial for the health and safety of our communities, and the good news is it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or resources to do well. Here’s how you can start a simple and scalable contact tracing program, no matter how big or small your organization is.

Step 1: Choose your sending number

When setting up any text campaign, there are several sending numbers you can choose from:

  • A toll-free number: Toll-free sending numbers are a great option to get started with contact tracing fast. You can send high volume messages. A high throughput toll-free number can send 25 messages per second and only takes several days to verify. If you don’t need to send that many messages, a normal toll-free number can be provisioned instantly and with it you can send three messages per second. 
  • A local number: Standard, long-code, local numbers can be used to send your contact tracing text messages. These could work well for local businesses that don’t intend to send multiple messages, or might never have to send contact tracing messages but need to have an emergency plan in place. You can instantly provision a long code and can send one message per second.
  • A dedicated short code: Dedicated short codes can take several weeks to provision, although some carriers are expediting the process for COVID-19 contact tracing. They are ideal if you intend to send very high volume contact tracing text messages, as you can send up to 100 messages per second with a dedicated short code. Keep in mind that there is an increased cost associated with dedicated short codes. 

If you’re not highly familiar with which sending number is best, our team is able to assist you with understanding the pros and cons of each option before you move forward. 

Step 2: Understand your goal

The CDC has developed strong best practices for how to conduct a contact tracing program. Not every COVID-19 contact tracing program is going to have the same goals, but in general, most contact tracing has three purposes

  • Obtain information about further contacts: Those exposed to COVID-19 can self-report people they were near or establishments they frequented using a form you text them.
  • Monitor symptoms: Contact tracing that is facilitated by a government or health authority would definitely want to include an element of symptom monitoring. You can automate to be done at scale by creating a custom workflow that feels like a one-on-one conversation. You can also send links and further contact information or flag the contact for personal follow up. In some cases, the CDC recommends to follow up daily. 
  • Contact those who were exposed: Those who are at risk of contracting COVID-19 due to exposure should be notified and triaged. They can be referred for support services or entered into the workflow for close monitoring. 

Keep in mind that text message contact tracing is particularly helpful for those who are deaf or hard of hearing and cannot access resources or provide contact tracing answers over the phone.

Step 3: Obtain consent 

Once you understand the purposes of your contact tracing program and how you will send text messages, your final step is to obtain consent from the people you wish to contact. Obtaining consent is a legal requirement of any mass texting campaign, even contact tracing. 

There has been some confusion on this point as it relates to COVID-19 messaging, as the federal government did rule that health authorities could send specific COVID-19 related messages without prior approval. However, the scope of these messages is quite narrow. The message must be from hospital, or be a healthcare provider, state or local health official, or other government official and directly related to health safety concerns caused by COVID-19. 

For any messaging outside of this, including contact tracing, you must have proof of opt-in. An example would be a school board that wishes to notify parents via text message of COVID-19 exposure within the child’s class, or a business that wants to notify employees of potential COVID-19 exposure. In both these cases you would have needed to obtain prior consent before messaging. 

Here are a few ways you can obtain consent:

  • Email contacts and provide a link where they can opt-in to COVID-19 contact tracing messages. 
  • Provide a text word on marketing materials such as pamphlets and outdoor signage that includes a number people can text to join. 
  • Include a link to your opt-in form on all your social media. 

Step 4: Create a custom workflow

Text messaging communications have advanced to the point where you can fully automate a natural, one-on-one conversation. When you’re trying to implement contact tracing or COVID-19 communications at scale, you’ll want to build this type of a workflow to do so. This eliminates the need to manually send text messages, and it makes all of your communications feel personal. Creating that feeling of a one-on-one interaction is particularly important when discussing potentially sensitive health topics. 

Setting up an automated workflow on SlickText is intuitive; you don’t need any coding experience. On our platform, you’ll find four building blocks that you can connect to build a sequence:

  • Triggers: These triggers are the actions that jump start your workflow. For example, a trigger could be someone joining your contact tracing list. 
  • Wait objects: You might not want to instantly send a message to anyone who joins your workflow. Perhaps you need to wait for them to take action, such as click a contact tracing link to fill out information about close contacts. You could implement this wait so that they receive the most appropriate information after they have clicked on the link. Wait objects help the timing of your messages come across as natural.
  • Conditions: Conditions help you segment your list based on the actions or responses of the people you are texting. For example, you could use a “condition object” to assess the sentiment of a response to your text message about contact tracing, and push your contact in a different direction depending on whether they replied with a positive or negative sentiment.
  • Actions: This is actual action that is taken after a trigger occurs. This could be anything from sending a text message to sending an internal email or flagging the contact for additional follow up from a health professional. 

Contact tracing example uses

Not sure how to apply contact tracing to your workplace? Here’s how some industries are integrating contact tracing to keep people safe:

  • Restaurants: Use contact tracing to determine the exact time patrons arrived and left the restaurant. Patrons text “in” when they’ve arrived and “out” as they pay their bill and leave.
  • Gyms: Use contact tracing to determine the exact time gym members were working out, and what part of the gym they were working out in. Gym-goers text “in” before receiving admittance to the gym and “out” as they leave. 
  • Construction sites: Know which crew members are in which buildings at what times. This might have previously been done by using a pen and paper sign in sheet, but digitizing this process via text can streamline contact tracing while creating a truly touchless experience.  
  • Assembly lines: Know which employees are active at what point in the assembly line at any specific time. 

Common contact tracing questions

Still have questions about how to get started with a contact tracing program? Here are the common contact tracing questions we’ve encountered. 

Do you need a contact tracing app?

There are many COVID-19 apps on the market, but you can conduct contact tracing without an app by simply setting up text messaging protocol. 

Can you do iPhone contact tracing?

Contact tracing on iPhone can be done using an app or, more simply, via text messaging. There is also anonymous contact tracing on iOS 13.7 and iOS 14. It’s referred to on an iPhone as “Exposure Notifications” and defaults to “off.” If your local health department is using exposure express notifications and you turn your setting to “on” manually, you can receive automatic contact tracing notifications on your iPhone.