Novel coronavirus information

How contact tracing works at the UW

As we get ready for more employees and students to return to campus this September, our first priority is the health and safety of all UW community members. With autumn quarter approaching, the Environmental Health & Safety department (EH&S) has been hard at work refining protocols to address COVID-19 cases and concerns.

Let’s review how contact tracing works at the UW and what happens when a student in your class tests positive.

What to Do if You Have a Confirmed or Suspected Case of COVID-19

Whether or not you currently work on site at a University location, all UW community members are required to notify EH&S immediately after:

  • Receiving a positive test for COVID-19
  • Being told by your doctor that they suspect you have COVID-19
  • Learning that you have been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19

You can notify the COVID-19 Response and Prevention Team by emailing covidehc@uw.edu or calling 206-616-3344.

Note: UW students, faculty and staff can enroll in the Husky Coronavirus Testing (HCT) program for easy, accessible testing. HCT will automatically notify the COVID-19 Response and Prevention Team of any positive test results. HCT is a research study and participation is voluntary.

How UW Contact Tracers Respond to a COVID-19 Case

Within 24 hours of learning about a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 case, EH&S contact tracers leap into action and connect with the individual to identify any situations where they have been in close contact with other people while they were infectious.

They also provide the individual with guidance on how long to isolate and monitor symptoms.

  • Close contact means being within 6 feet of a person who has confirmed or suspected COVID-19 for a total of at least 15 minutes during a 24-hour period (even if both people were wearing face coverings), living with or caring for a person who has COVID-19, or having direct contact with infectious secretions (e.g., being coughed on, kissing, or sharing utensils).
  • The infectious period starts approximately 48 hours before the first symptoms appear. For people without symptoms, the infectious period starts 48 hours before they were tested for COVID-19.

Using this information, the contact tracers then quickly reach out to any UW community members who were in close contact with the person who tested positive and help them take action to protect themselves and others. Considering the close contact’s exposure dates, vaccination status, and symptoms, they will make recommendations that may include:

  • Staying home and away from others for a period of time
  • Getting tested for COVID-19
  • Watching for symptoms of COVID-19

For privacy reasons, EH&S contact tracers will not reveal the identity of the individual who tested positive for COVID-19.

The King County Public Health Contact Tracing Team will also reach out to any individuals who test positive for COVID-19. They will ask about all potential close contacts during the infectious period, including those outside the UW community.

If the person has the WA Notify – Washington Exposure Notifications app on their phone, they will be able to enter a verification code that will send anonymous notifications to any other app users who have been near the COVID-19 positive person in the past two weeks, without revealing any names, dates or locations.

What happens when a student or employee tests positive?

If you were in a classroom, lab, office or other University location where a COVID-19-positive person spent at least 10 minutes during their infectious period, even if you were not a close contact of that person, you will be notified of your potential exposure and receive guidance to help prevent spread.

EH&S will notify instructors directly if a student in their in-person class has a suspected or confirmed case, and provide them with a notification to send to all other students who attended the class. The notification includes information about the date of the potential exposure, as well as guidance on how to watch for symptoms and quarantine, if necessary.

Only those who have been in close contact with a COVID-19-positive individual may need to quarantine. And in most cases, fully vaccinated people who are not experiencing symptoms do not need to quarantine following an exposure.

While in quarantine and isolating, students must not attend class. Instructors and students are both encouraged to communicate needs for accommodations and questions or concerns regarding their ability to fulfill the class’s academic requirements.

UW staff will receive a similar notification about potential exposures in the workplace.

If you are not directly contacted by a contact tracer, that means you were not identified as a close contact.