Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee Unveils Novel Coronavirus Contact Tracing Plan

by Carolyn Bick


Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled the state’s novel coronavirus contact tracing plan in a press conference on May 12.

The plan is meant to “box in the virus,” Inslee said, and work in tandem with the state’s phased reopening plan. The contact tracing plan will involve almost 1,400 contact tracing team members, including 351 members of the Washington State National Guard and a combination of more than 600 local and state health department officials. The effort will not directly involve law enforcement, and the National Guard will not have law enforcement capabilities.

Inslee walked through the steps of the contact tracing plan, which begins with individuals and their families immediately quarantining themselves if they are experiencing symptoms or if they’ve been exposed to someone who has the virus. It’s followed by testing and reaching out to that person’s contacts within 48 hours of the person reporting contact with an infected person or experiencing symptoms. Those people will be contacted and told to quarantine themselves immediately, and the cycle will begin again from there.

During quarantine, Inslee said, someone will be checking in every day with families, in order to support them both physically and emotionally. If they need groceries or pharmaceuticals, and don’t have anyone to call on, the state will provide someone to deliver these things to them, he said. They will also be checking on families’ emotional wellbeing, he said, but did not provide further details. 

Should there be a spike in cases, Inslee said, the state would increase the number of contact tracers it’s currently calling upon to participate in this effort.

The plan also includes contact tracing at restaurants, but Inslee did not provide details about how the restaurants will go about collecting information. He said that information will be put out within the next few days. He also said that restaurants will not be allowed to use customers’ information for targeted advertising, and will only be able to confidentially share it with the state for contact tracing efforts.

“That would be legally enforceable. We would make sure people know the seriousness of that issue. We would monitor it. We would audit it,” he said. “It’s very important for us to maintain privacy in this entire endeavor.”

Inslee said that there has been “amazingly high” compliance with the current restrictions surrounding businesses, and the businesses who have chosen to reopen, even though they are supposed to remain shut “haven’t got the memo yet,” and are “an aberration.”

However, if these businesses that refuse to comply with the order continue to do so, they will face sanctions either in civil or criminal court, Inslee said. He did not give details, but said he spoke with Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and plans to speak about this in more detail in the coming days.

Inslee emphasized that all information collected will be kept confidential, including the identity of the person whom others may have come into contact with. He said that when people are contacted about their potential exposure to a person who is or may be infected, they will not learn the name of the person who may be infected. 

Inslee also said that though basic demographic data will be collected, it will also be kept confidential. People will not be asked about their documentation status, their financial status, their marital status, or for a social security number.


Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here.