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Help stop the spread

Contact tracing is one of the most important ways of fighting outbreaks of contagious diseases like COVID-19. But unfortunately, the outbreak of COVID-19 in Virginia has become so large that the state’s health department has said it can no longer handle contact tracing for each and every case.

Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver announced on Monday that the Virginia Department of Health will be prioritizing certain types of cases for contact tracing — for example, those in congregate living facilities or part of a known outbreak — and will ask everyone else to notify their contacts themselves.

It’s important to understand that contact tracing is not the government’s attempt to police where you’ve been, what you’ve done or who you’ve seen. They simply want to notify people you may have infected so those people can keep away from others and not infect them. We all would do well to see this virus, and the attempts to control it, more about science and solid public health policy and less about politics.

Even though this is a new virus, we still know a great deal about how to prevent its spread — and it’s quite simple, on paper. People should stay home whenever possible and avoid gatherings outside one’s home, the state health department implores. When they must go out — say, to shop for groceries and other essentials — they should wear a mask, keep their distance from others and wash their hands on a regular basis.

Of course, all that’s easier said than done. It’s hard to deprive ourselves of visits to family and friends, especially during this holiday season, but the best way to stop the spread is simply to stop seeing others in person.

It is also recommended that people download COVIDWISE, the state’s exposure notification app, which can tell you if you’ve potentially been exposed to someone else who later tests positive for COVID-19. This is one quite simple way Virginians can improve the contact tracing process. Another one is to actually answer the phone and cooperate if a contact tracer calls you.

You can still do your part to help stop the spread.