COVID-19 Case Response

Updated 12/10/20

The Environmental Health & Safety Department (EH&S), in coordination with local and state public health agencies, responds to suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the UW community and takes action to prevent further transmission.

The public health response activities include a case interview, risk assessment, providing guidance for self-isolation, notifications to those impacted and contact tracing.

The University’s response protocol described below follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Washington State Department of Health, and local public health guidance for community-related exposure.

UW Medicine responds to COVID-19 cases involving personnel at the University medical centers.

Reporting requirements

University units and personnel are required to report the following:

  • Suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19; this includes any infected individual who has spent time in a University location, including, but not limited to, all individuals whose healthcare provider has suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection, and anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19, even if they have no symptoms.
  • Close contact with individuals who have COVID-19; this includes being within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for a cumulative total of at least 15 minutes during a 24 hour period (even if bother persons 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, sharing utensils). 

when to report graphic

View the graphic When Do You Report? for more information about reporting requirements.

Faculty, staff and students on the Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma campuses should contact the EH&S COVID-19 Response and Prevention Team at covidehc@uw.edu or 206.616.3344.

UW medical center personnel should contact their respective employee health group.

All reports of positive test results among UW community members received by EH&S are reported on the University’s COVID-19 Case Tracking Dashboard page. The identity and personal information of individuals who test positive for COVID-19 is protected and not released to the public.

Case investigation

When the University is notified of a UW community member with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, EH&S takes the following steps to protect the health and safety of the campus community. We strive to contact COVID-19 positive individuals within 24 hours of notification to EH&S, and close contacts within 24 hours of receiving their contact information.

First, we gather information from the COVID-19 positive individual to help us understand the period of transmission and who may have been at risk for exposure. The information gathered may include, but is not limited to:

contact tracing infographic
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  • Health status and date of onset of symptoms (or, if asymptomatic, date of test)
  • UW locations where the person was present for at least 10 minutes while having symptoms and up to 48 hours before symptoms began (or, if asymptomatic, up to 48 hours before date of test and any time after being tested)
  • Activities conducted while infectious
  • Face coverings and personal protective equipment worn
  • Names of UW close contacts and others who may have been around the person while infected (see the Contact tracing section for details)

We provide the individual with guidance on self-isolation and precautions for preventing the spread of COVID-19. We also provide information on testing options if the individual has not yet been tested.

We also provide guidance on ending home isolation. We may ask the COVID-19 positive individual to stay home and away from other people until:

  • At least 10 days since symptoms first appeared and
  • At least 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medication and
  • Symptoms have improved

People with certain medical conditions might need to stay home longer than 10 days. Talk to your healthcare provider for more information.

Students living in University residence halls who test positive will receive assistance with self-isolation from EH&S in coordination with residence hall staff.

We follow up with COVID-19 positive individuals during the self-isolation period to assess symptoms and provide public health guidance as needed.

Read the Quarantine and Isolation Guidance for more information.

Visit the CDC Contact Tracing Steps page for more information about what you can expect to happen if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Per state and local public health guidelines, University units are asked to refrain from requiring a doctor’s note, a negative test result or positive antibody test following COVID-19 infection.

What's the difference between quarantine and isolation?

Contact tracing

EH&S notifies UW community members who may have been in close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual while they were infectious. Close contact includes being within 6 feet of a person with COVID-19 for a cumulative total of at least 15 minutes during a 24 hour period (even if both individuals 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, sharing utensils).

When following up with close contacts, we may reveal the time, date and location the contact occurred; however, we will not disclose the identity of the COVID-19 positive individual.


From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Close contacts receive public health recommendations that include:

  • Staying home away from others (quarantine) for 14 days (or as or as instructed by the contact tracer)
  • Watching for symptoms of COVID-19
  • Getting tested for COVID-19

We follow up during the quarantine period to assess symptoms and provide public health guidance as needed. Read the Quarantine and Isolation Guidance for more information.

If you had close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual, please stay home and contact the EH&S COVID-19 Response and Prevention Team at covidehc@uw.edu or 206.616.3344.

Visit the CDC Contact Tracing Steps page for more information about what you can expect if you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Read the article How contact tracing works at the UW for University-specific information.

Evaluation of spaces for additional cleaning and disinfection

Enhanced cleaning and disinfection is conducted on a daily basis in the common areas and high touch points of all occupied University buildings as part of the University’s COVID-19 Prevention Plan.

EH&S will evaluate the location(s) where a COVID-19 positive individual spent time on campus to determine if cleaning and disinfection is needed following the EH&S Enhanced Cleaning and Disinfection Protocol.

The spaces under consideration for additional cleaning and disinfection include University locations where a COVID-19 positive individual spent more than 10 minutes, if those surfaces have not been cleaned and disinfected since the person was last in the space within 48 hours before their symptoms started (or, if asymptomatic, 48 hours before their test date) and until seven days have passed since they were last in the space.

If EH&S, in coordination with the impacted unit, determines that cleaning and disinfection is needed, EH&S will coordinate with the impacted unit and the custodial unit to determine roles and scope for cleaning and disinfecting spaces and equipment following the guidance outlined in the Enhanced Cleaning and Disinfection Protocol.

Areas needing additional cleaning and disinfection may be restricted for access; EH&S will assist the building coordinator/facility manager and unit representatives with notifying building occupants as appropriate.

Notifications and privacy

UW community members (e.g., a class or work unit) will be notified after spending time in the location(s) where a COVID-19 positive individual was present while potentially infectious. An exposure notification will occur if the COVID-19 positive individual spent at least 10 minutes at a University location starting from 48 hours before symptoms began (or 48 hours before their test date if asymptomatic) through the period of time they were able to transmit the virus to other people.

Individuals and groups who receive notification of potential exposure to COVID-19 will be provided with information about the actions taken by the University to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and recommendations for steps for individuals to take as a precaution.

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.