'Close contact' alert received by Donegal teenager nine days after the contact took place

HSE explains the timeline for contact tracing and close contact alerts

Covid Tracker app

Covid Tracker App is a big asset in tracing close contacts but people are advised not to be complacent

A significant amount of time can pass between being in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 and receiving a ‘close contact’ notification.

A parent has expressed her concern about the delay. Her 15-year-old daughter had received a notification earlier this month telling her that she had been a close contact nine days earlier.

The text message from the HSE received on January 9 read: “The Covid Tracker App has identified you as a close contact of someone with Covid-19. There is a high risk you will develop Covid-19 too. You must restrict your movements (stay at home) for 14 days from  31/12/2020.

“You will not be tested for Covid-19. All close contacts must assume they have Covid-19 and restrict their movements.“ 

The message included advice on what the recipient needed to do as a close contact and if they developed symptoms.

The teenager’s mother said: “It is good that we got the notification and it shows that the app works but it is very worrying to think that my daughter could have been carrying Covid-19 for that time. We are in a social bubble with my father who is elderly and has underlying health problems and it really troubles me that we could have carried Covid-19 to him. 

“Fortunately we have taken the attitude since the start of the pandemic to always assume that we could be the ones carrying the virus. This has hopefully reduced the risk of us spreading the virus if we were asymptomatic and were not aware that we were carrying it.

“Thankfully, my daughter hasn’t shown any signs of Covid and the 14-day isolation period has now passed.”

The mother stressed the importance of not relying on being told that you were a close contact.

“We have no idea who the close contact was that had it,” she said. “We didn’t meet up with anyone on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, or in the days before and after. All we did on the 31st was go shopping locally so it must have taken place then. 

“It shows that you can’t ever be complacent and you should always behave as if yourself and everyone around you could potentially be carrying Covid.”

When asked why the person was not notified until nine days after the contact with the person who tested positive, a HSE spokesperson explained: “The app will notify someone that they have been in close contact, once the confirmed case has received their positive test result, been called by contact tracing and uploaded their random IDs.

“If the person who became the confirmed case tested positive because they were symptomatic, they are asked when their symptoms first started.  Anyone that was in close contact within 48 hours of that date would be notified. 

“There are a number of factors that impact on the time between the close contact event and the app notification, the main one being the amount of time it takes for the confirmed case to decide that they may have symptoms of Covid-19. 

“The symptoms are not always obvious and it is much easier to identify when symptoms started with hindsight rather than as they are developing. 

“Other factors include things such as if the confirmed case doesn’t answer their phone when contact tracing first attempts to call them.”

The spokesperson said that five attempts would be made over two days to contact someone who tested positive. 

They gave an example of someone whose symptoms got worse over four or five few days and who  decided to contact a GP for a test. They would then be   tested the following day. Another day would pass before they got results, and it could take up to  two days to reach the person and for them to then upload the necessary information to facilitate contact tracing. It is only when all this is done that those who were in close contact with the person can be notified.

The parent welcomed this explanation from the HSE, adding: “We wouldn't have known at all had it not been for the app so it shows that it does work.”

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