Answer the call: How IU is using contact tracing to fight COVID-19 : News at IU : Indiana University


Just six months ago, contact tracing was primarily a concern of health officials using the strategy to stop epidemics such as tuberculosis and HIV. Now, like so many other pandemic-related activities, contact tracing also seems to be a priority for all journalists, government officials and community leaders working to stop the spread of COVID-19.

So what exactly is contact tracing?

Contact tracing helps isolate cases and identify close contacts of people who have tested positive for a disease to stop the chain of transmission. For COVID-19, close contact is defined as someone who has been within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes.

The health experts leading the Indiana University Medical Response Team, which is managing COVID-19 pandemic testing, mitigation, and tracking for all IU campuses, believe that a robust contact tracing system is essential for the safe return of students and employees to IU campuses. across the state this fall.

“Contact tracing superimposed on aggressive COVID-19 prevention and testing efforts creates the best strategy to keep all IU campuses as safe as possible,” said Dr. Adrian Gardner, director of contact tracing and disease management for the UI medical response team. and director of the IU Center for Global Health.

The contact tracing process begins with a call for someone who tests positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Contact tracers hired by the university will ask about the person’s activities over the past few days. Contact tracers can ask those who have tested positive to check their calendars, text messages and emails to recall anyone they may have had close contact with during their infectious period.

Current research shows that people are able to transmit the coronavirus from two days before they show symptoms and are likely to be most infectious the first day they show symptoms. People who have tested positive for COVID-19 are thought to be able to transmit the virus for up to 10 days after symptoms appear, as long as their symptoms improve. Asymptomatic people are also thought to be contagious for 10 days, so they should consider themselves contagious for at least 10 days after testing positive.

Contact tracers will also provide education, referral, and isolation metrics based on guidance from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and provide the resources needed to make isolation and quarantine possible.

What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

Isolation concerns people who have tested positive for the coronavirus. It is used to separate infected people from uninfected people. People in isolation should stay home and separate from uninfected household members.

Quarantine is for people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. It is used to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which can happen before a person knows they are infected with the virus, whether they are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. People in quarantine should stay home and separate from others (infected and uninfected people).

If someone is identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, they will receive a phone call to let them know. Due to privacy laws, the name of the person who has tested positive for COVID-19 will not be shared with contacts. Contacts will be directed to quarantine for 14 days from their exposure and will closely monitor their own health for signs or symptoms of possible illness.

If these people start showing symptoms of COVID-19 and test positive for the infection, they will be contacted again by a contact tracer and asked to self-isolate or – if they live on campus – moved to spaces designated isolation. Students who live in on-campus accommodation also have the option of returning to their permanent homes to self-isolate.

How you can help

Gardner said one of the most important ways to ensure successful contact tracing is for members of the IU community to answer the call of the contact tracer and provide the most accurate information possible.

“We all know it’s uncomfortable to share detailed information about your life,” he said. “Rest assured that your personal information is always protected and that your participation could literally save the life of another member of the IU community.”

Calls to IU’s contact tracer team will come from an Indiana University phone number.

Members of the IU community are required to cooperate with the contact tracing process and failure to do so will result in disciplinary action.

Students and employees can also help IU’s contact tracing efforts by sharing information about their positive COVID-19 test results or if they are a close contact through the accessible COVID-19 Self-Declaration Form. through

Gardner encouraged all students, faculty, and staff to approach their daily activities from the perspective of a contact tracer.

“If you go through your day trying to limit the number of people who would be defined as your close contacts, not only will you be less likely to get a call about being someone else’s close contact, but you greatly limit your own risk of infection,” Gardner said.

Large gatherings and social events present a nightmare scenario for contact tracers and pose the highest risk of infection, Gardner said.

The medical response team is working with the university’s customer relationship management technology to streamline the reporting and tracking of all COVID-19 cases and close contacts.

IU is also hiring a cadre of contact tracers who will service each campus, which will complement state and county health department contact tracing teams. It’s possible for an individual to receive contact tracing calls from more than one set of contact tracers, so they’re encouraged to cooperate with each, Gardner said.

“Universities operate within communities that also have a stake in stopping transmission,” he said. “We try to streamline our systems as much as possible, but ask for patience as these efforts continue.”

Visit IU’s Fall 2020 website to learn more about plans to keep the University community safe.

Other resources:

Debbie Ungar is the communications manager for the IU Center for Global Health.


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