How contact tracing works at the UW


Updated and reposted on 8/11/21

When the Environmental Health & Safety Department (EH&S) learns that a member of the UW community tested positive for COVID-19, our COVID-19 Response & Prevention Team follows up to provide guidance to the individual who tests positive and conducts contact tracing, to prevent transmission among UW community members.

The University’s contact tracing protocol is aligned with federal (CDC), state and local public health agency protocols. 

How does contact tracing work?

The COVID-19 Response & Prevention Team interviews UW community members who tested positive, including asking them to name UW-affiliated individuals who were close contacts while they may have been infectious (able to transmit the virus).

  • close contact is a person who is within 6 feet for a cumulative total of at least 15 minutes during a 24-hour period (even if they were both 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.

We also ask about UW-related activities and University locations where the COVID-19 positive person spent at least 10 minutes during their infectious period.

After the interview, we send written information to the person who tested positive summarizing the public health instructions and guidance for their isolation and for preventing transmission.

If the person who tested positive has the WA Notify - Washington Exposure Notifications app on their phone, they receive a verification code they can enter into the app. If the person does not have WA Notify activated, we provide them with the instructions to activate it. WA Notify sends 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. You can get more information about how the WA Notify app works from the Washington State Department of Health.

What happens with close contacts during contact tracing?

The COVID-19 Response & Prevention Team reaches out to UW community members who are identified as close contacts to notify them of their potential exposure so they can take action to protect themselves and others. If you are identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 positive UW community member, the COVID-19 Response & Prevention Team will reach out to you within 24 hours of receiving your contact information.

The COVID-19 Response & Prevention Team does not disclose the identity of the COVID-positive person.

Contact tracers will ask whether you have symptoms of COVID-19 and will provide guidance on staying home and away from other people (in quarantine) and getting tested. After talking with the contact tracer, you will receive a summary of your public health guidance:

If you were in a University location where a COVID-positive person spend at least 10 minutes, even if you were not a close contact of that person, you will receive an email notification with public health guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Your participation in the UW contact tracing process is essential for maintaining the health and safety of our campus communities and for preventing the spread of COVID-19. COVID-19 positive UW community members and their close contacts may also be contacted by a local public health department, as part of their COVID-19 prevention and control activities. The University reports all positive cases to Public Health-Seattle & King County per state and local requirements.

What happens when a close contact is notified of an exposure by the WA Notify app?WA Notify App poster

If you have enabled the WA Notify – Washington Exposure Notifications app for COVID-19 on your phone, you may receive a notification if you have been near a person in the past two weeks who tested positive for COVID-19. If you receive a notification from the WA Notify app, you should do the following:

Follow public health guidance with extra vigilance, such as wearing a face covering and maintaining 6 feet of distance from other people

What should I do if I am a close contact?

After being identified as a close contact, you will receive public health recommendations that include:

  • Staying home and away from others if you are not fully vaccinated or if you have symptoms, regardless of vaccination status as instructed by the public health contact tracer, who will take into consideration your exposure dates, vaccination status, and any COVID symptoms you may have. If you have to quarantine:
    • The quarantine period starts the day after your last contact with the COVID-19 positive person.
    • If you are a UW employee working on site at a UW location, discuss options for time away from work with your supervisor. You will be contacted by UW HR about your leave and pay options.
    • If you are a student, discuss alternative assignment options with your instructor(s) as needed.
    • If you are a student living on campus, contact Residential Life staff to assist you with your quarantine.
  • Get tested for COVID-19. For testing options, including options that are of no cost to you, read the FAQ “I want to get tested for COVID-19. Where can I go?"
    • If you are enrolled in the Husky Coronavirus Testing program, a voluntary research program, report your symptoms in your daily symptom survey, and you will receive testing instructions. Do not go to school or work until you receive your test result, even if you feel better

    • If you test positive for COVID-19, immediately contact the COVID-19 Response & Prevention Team at or 206.616.3344.
  • Watch for symptoms of COVID-19.
    • If you develop symptoms, contact the COVID-19 Response & Prevention Team at
    • Get immediate medical attention if you have trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face.

Read the Quarantine and Isolation Guidance for more information about keeping yourself and others safe during your quarantine.


The identity of individuals who are suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 and their close contacts is protected and is disclosed only on a need-to-know basis to those involved in the public health response, which may include UW Human Resources, and unit or department leadership and supervisor(s)..


If you have questions about contact tracing or COVID-19, contact the COVID-19 Response & Prevention Team at or 206.616.3344.