Health provider wearing a mask looks through a spreadsheet on his laptop.

Contact tracing is a critical tool for controlling and reducing the spread of viruses. It has been used for decades by state and local health departments to slow or stop the spread of infectious disease.

What is contact tracing?

Contact tracing is used to identify and inform those who have potentially been exposed to an infectious disease. Those who have been potentially exposed are called close contacts and for COVID-19 they include anyone who has been within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes. This includes people who have active symptoms as well as those who are asymptomatic (not showing symptoms but are still infected with the illness). 

For students, a close contact could be roommates, housemates, intimate partners - anyone who they have been within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes. It could also be someone with whom they shared personal items such as a cup, lip balm or vape.

How does contact tracing work?

There are four unique steps in contact tracing. All information collected during contact tracing is considered confidential and will not be shared with anyone other than public health staff.

1. Case Investigation
When someone tests positive for COVID-19, public health staff work with the person to help them recall everyone they have had close contact with during the time they may have been infectious or prior to receiving a positive test result if they are asymptomatic

2. Contact Tracing
Public health staff begin notifying people (close contacts) of their potential exposure. This is done as quickly and sensitively as possible. The infected person’s identity is not revealed.

3. Contact Support
Contacts are provided education, information and support to help them understand the risk, what they should do to separate themselves from others who have not been exposed, and how to monitor themselves for illness. In addition, they are informed of the possibility that they could spread the infection to others even if they do not feel ill.

Contact Support Services include housing referrals and information for isolation and quarantine space for students who live on campus. 

4. Stay Home (Isolation and Quarantine)
Close contacts are encouraged to self-quarantine by staying home, monitoring their health and maintaining physical distance (at least 6 feet) from others for at least 14 days after their last exposure. Those who exhibit symptoms or who have a positive test will be asked to self-isolate.

What happens if you test positive?

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, a public health staff member will call you to check-in on your health, discuss who you’ve been in contact with and ask where you’ve spent time. You will also be asked to stay at home and self-isolate for 10 days, if you are not doing so already. 

All information collected during contact tracing is considered confidential and will not be shared with close contacts or the university.

What happens if you are contacted?

 Important notice:

Members of the campus community are expected to cooperate with contact tracers. All information collected by contact tracers is considered confidential and protected. Students can choose to share this information. However, the information will not be shared by contact tracers with the university, those who are considered close contacts or anyone else. 

If you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, a public health staff member might contact you to inform you that you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.

You should stay at home and self-quarantine for 14 days, starting from the last day you were possibly exposed to COVID-19. The public health staff member will help identify the dates of your self-quarantine. They can also provide resources about COVID-19 testing in your area. Clinical staff at the Public Health Clinic on campus can also work with students to determine testing needs and provide additional information based on the results.

If contacted, you should also take your temperature twice a day, watch for symptoms of COVID-19 and notify your health care provider if you have symptoms. You should also notify people you have had close contact with recently if you become ill, so they can monitor their health. If your symptoms worsen or become severe, you should seek medical care.

Learn more about contact tracing.

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