As states across the country consider easing stay-at-home orders, many health experts are pushing for increased contact tracing. But what is contact tracing, and how can it help us fight the COVID-19 pandemic?

With contact tracing, health officials interview people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to figure out who they may have recently been in contact with. Then they inform those people they may have been exposed and encourage them to stay home and self-monitor for symptoms.

Contact tracing isn’t new. It has been used with previous viral outbreaks, namely Ebola and SARS. It’s often used to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

But how do we define a contact? According to the CDC, a close contact is someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 30 minutes from 48 hours before they got sick until the time the patient is isolated.

The challenge with contact tracing lies in how cumbersome it is. Interviewing patients infected with COVID-19 and reaching out to everyone they might have come in contact with takes time and manpower.

Plus, contact tracing for this coronavirus is especially difficult, as some people with COVID-19 can spread it despite not showing symptoms.

These are key reasons tech companies like Apple and Google could help. Basically, your phone could provide a better way of registering a contact, using Bluetooth to log when your phone has been within 6 feet from an infected person for a certain amount of time.

Finding people who have been exposed to COVID-19 and ensuring they don’t interact with others will be an important strategy to protect our communities from further spread.