How contact tracing works at the UW


Updated 12/9/20

When the Environmental Health & Safety Department (EH&S) confirms that a member of the UW community tested positive for COVID-19, our COVID-19 Response & Prevention Team conducts contact tracing, a critical component of the UW's COVID-19 case response to prevent transmission among UW community members.

How does contact tracing work?

EH&S interviews UW community members who tested positive, including asking them to recall individuals who are close contacts while they were infectious (able to transmit the virus).

A 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, sharing utensils).

The infectious period starts 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.

After the interview, we send written information to the person who tested positive summarizing the public health guidance.

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

What happens with close contacts during contact tracing?

The EH&S 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 person who may have been exposed to an individual with COVID-19, the EH&S COVID-19 Response & Prevention Team will attempt to contact you within 24 hours of receiving your contact information.

You will receive a notification in writing if you were potentially exposed to COVID-19 at a University location. The information will include a summary of public health guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The following are sample notification letters:

We do not disclose the identity of the COVID-positive person to the close contacts.

We will ask whether you have symptoms of COVID-19. We will provide guidance on staying home and away from other people (quarantine) and getting tested.  

Your participation in the contact tracing process is essential for maintaining the health and safety of our campus communities and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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

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:

  • Get tested for COVID-19.
  • Limit contact with other people.
  • Monitor your health and watch for symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Be extra vigilant to follow public health guidance, such as wearing a face covering and maintaining 6 feet of distance from other people.

COVID-19 positive UW community members and their close contacts may also be contacted by the local public health department as part of their COVID-19 prevention and control activities.

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:

  • Stay home away from others for 14 days or as instructed by the contact tracer as public health quarantine guidance is being been updated. Do not go to work or class.
    • The quarantine period starts the day after your last contact with the COVID-19 positive person.
    • If you have close contact with any COVID-19 positive person during your quarantine period, you will need to restart your quarantine.
    • 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 to discuss your leave and pay options.
    • If you are a student with in-person classes, 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.
  • Watch for symptoms of COVID-19.
    • If you develop symptoms, contact the EH&S 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 EH&S COVID-19 Response & Prevention Team at or 206.616.3344.