FAQ: Quarantine, Isolation, and Contact Tracing

Posted September 3, 2020 (Updated October 8, 2020)

What are the details on quarantine periods? 

Individuals who are deemed by the contact tracing team to be a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case will need to quarantine for 14 days, starting with when they last had close contact with the positive individual. Close contacts of positive cases can be tested at ISU but should not be tested until 48 hours have elapsed since the last close contact occurred. 

Even if a close contact  tests negative, they still need to quarantine for 14 days, as it can take up to 14 days for COVID-19 symptoms to develop. Students living in residence halls have the option of moving to Oak-Elm Hall or returning home for the quarantine period. This will be discussed with the contact tracing team during the interview process. 

What are the details on isolation?

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 need to isolate for at least ten days from the collection date of a positive test (if they are not having symptoms) OR from the date symptoms began (if symptomatic); AND be fever-free for 24 hours (without using fever-reducing medications); AND have improving symptoms. Individuals do not need to be screened by a medical professional to end their isolation period. Students living in residence halls have the option of moving to Linden Hall or returning home for the isolation period. This will be discussed with the case investigator during the interview process. 

What is a close contact?

A close contact, as defined by the CDC, is someone who has had at least 15 minutes of continuous contact within six feet of an infected individual. As per the CDC, this includes individuals who were wearing face coverings at the time the contact occurred.

What if the person who tested positive was wearing a mask?

If the case investigator determines that the person who tested positive and someone who was within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes were consistently and correctly wearing their cloth face coverings, then quarantine is optional for the other person.  These individuals are still strongly recommended to test 48 hours after exposure and are required to report symptoms daily to the Thielen Student Health Center. Individuals can also choose to voluntarily quarantine and will have the support of the University if they choose to do so. 

Who should get tested and where?

Anyone exhibiting symptoms should be tested. Individuals who were in close contact (within six feet distancing for at least 15 minutes) with someone who has tested positive have the option to get tested after waiting 48 hours since the exposure. ISU students, faculty, and staff who meet these criteria can be tested at the testing site at Johnny’s in Hilton Coliseum (starting 9/8), and also have the option of going to their healthcare provider or a Test Iowa site. Going forward, students, and employees not meeting the criteria may have the option of getting tested at ISU as well. 

If I test positive at one location, can I get retested to avoid isolation?  Was this a ‘false positive’? 

The PCR test that ISU is using is very sensitive and will detect a very low level of virus in the body. Re-testing is not recommended by the CDC. 

My roommate and/or partner was a close contact to someone who tested positive. Do I need to get tested or quarantine?

If your roommate and/or partner is asymptomatic and has not tested positive, you are considered a proximate contact only. You should continue to monitor any symptoms, but do not need to quarantine or be tested unless symptoms develop. 

What should I do if I get tested at a location other than at ISU?

If your results were positive for COVID-19, you should report your positive results to the ISU Public Health Team via this form. If your results were negative, you do not need to report your results unless you are contacted by a contact tracer identifying you as a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case.

A student told me (faculty/staff) that they tested positive, but I think they were tested at a non-ISU location. What should I do?

Encourage the student report their positive result to the ISU Public Health Team via this form. If you are unsure if they will do so, then forward the information to cyclonehealth@iastate.edu.

If a person tests positive through ISU testing what happens next? 

A case investigation will be started by the ISU Public Health Team. The person will be asked to identify their activities and any potential close contacts.  The contact tracer will then interview the potential close contacts, without revealing the name of the person who tested positive, to determine if they meet the definition of a close contact (<6 ft for at least 15 continuous minutes).

If a person tests positive elsewhere what happens next? 

If they reported the positive test to ISU, the ISU Public Health Team will follow up just as if they had tested at ISU. If they tested outside of Iowa State, the Story County Health Department or Iowa Department of Public Health will follow up with the person and provide guidance.  

What is the ‘period of interest’ for the contact tracer when doing an investigation?

Contact tracers will focus on the 48 hours prior to symptom onset for a symptomatic case, or 48 hours prior to the date the positive test was collected for a asymptomatic case.

What notification will occur if there is a positive case in the classroom? 

If an in-person class participant tests positive, and it is determined that they were in the classroom during the period of interest, an email will be sent from Classroom_Notify@iastate.edu to the instructor of record, as well as their department chair. This notification will not include the participant’s name. (These will start 9/2 for classroom contacts since 8/27). 

What notification will occur if a student needs to quarantine or isolate?

The instructor of record (including online courses), the student’s academic adviser, and the instructor’s department chair will receive a notification from the Dean of Students office identifying students who are not to attend class in-person because of the need to quarantine or isolate. This notice will not distinguish between students who tested positive and students who are close contacts; it will only specify that the student will not be attending class in-person for a specified time period. The expected date of return to the classroom will appear in the notice. (Note the department chair was not included on these messages prior to 9/3).  

This information is confidential. TAs that have responsibility for a lab or recitation can be advised which students are excused without providing specific details. This notice comes after the initial contact tracing and investigation already occurred and serves as a notice for attendance purposes. 

Why is there sometimes a delay in getting notifications?

The contact tracing team needs time to do their work thoroughly and accurately. The process is greatly expedited if complete contact information is properly loaded and stored in AccessPlus or WorkDay (for students and employees, respectively). The largest delay is caused by individuals not following up on communications and messages left by the contact tracing team. 

I received a notification from the Dean of Students that a student will not be attending class but I never received notification that there was a positive case in my classroom. Why not?

The most likely answer is that this person was a close contact outside of your class and needs to quarantine, and did not actually test positive. It could also be that this is a person who tested positive, but was not in the classroom during the period of interest, so by the CDC definition, there was not a positive case in the classroom. 

What should the instructor do if they receive the notification of a positive case in the classroom? 

The primary purpose of this email is to have the instructor upload or confirm that a seating chart has been placed in the instructor’s Cybox folder, as well as provide any other information that could help the contact tracing team, such as attendance records or participation notes such as from a lab or studio section. 

What if a positive case was just identified in my class and the class is scheduled to meet the next day? Should we be worried about additional exposures and close contacts in the class?

If the instructor and students in a class are following the mitigation strategies that are in place (i.e., physical distancing, wearing a face covering, washing hands, staying home when sick), then the risk of exposure is minimal. These CDC-recommended mitigation strategies have been demonstrated to be effective in decreasing the risk of spread of COVID-19. Accordingly, in most cases the identification of a positive case does not warrant a change in course modality. If there is a specific concern, the faculty member should consult with their Department Chair and Associate Dean before making any changes.

What if a student comes to class during the period when they were supposed to quarantine or isolate?

If it can be carried out discreetly and privately, inform the student that they are not allowed to attend the class session until their quarantine or isolation period is complete. If a discreet and private conversation is not possible, faculty may dismiss the class for an unspecified reason, and faculty may report the situation to the Dean of Students Office who will contact the student. 

What if a person was in close proximity of a positive person but both were properly wearing a face covering, will the instructor be notified?

If the positive case was in the classroom, the notification and contact tracing process will not change.  If the person who was close to the positive case was properly wearing a cloth face covering as well as the positive person, then the other person can choose to be in quarantine or not.  If a person chooses to be in quarantine, they cannot later opt out.  If they choose to quarantine, then their instructors will get a notification from the Dean of Students stating that this person will not be attending class, but further details will not be provided. 

I received an email from a student saying that they can’t come to class because of symptoms but I did not receive a notification? What should I do?

As outlined in the Cyclones Care campaign, students and employees are instructed to stay home if they are not feeling well. In some cases, individuals may stay home because of their symptoms but later determine they were related to another condition (e.g. allergies, etc.). This is considered an excused absence. You will not receive notification from any central source. 

What do I do with my designated seating charts?

A Cybox folder was created for each instructor of record to upload their designated seating chart. Faculty can, but are not required, to submit these proactively. Faculty should not post a seating chart in CyBox if the classroom situation will change throughout the semester (e.g. due to team-based learning).

If there is a positive case in your class, you will be asked to submit (or confirm) the seating charts and submit any other information that may assist the contact tracer by uploading it to the Cybox folder, including attendance records or notes on participation. Notes about interactions with peer mentors or other teaching assistants are also useful. 

Should I take attendance? What else could I do? 

You are not required to take attendance for the purpose of contact tracing. If you do have this information, please submit it if asked. This may be especially important for labs or studios, including if you have any notes on who interacted with whom on specific days. Be mindful that if your grading scheme is strongly tied to in-person attendance, this may encourage students who are feeling ill to still attend class and risk possible increased exposure. 

In addition to what I am already doing, what could I ask my students to do proactively to assist the contact tracer if there is a positive case in my lab or studio? 

It would be a good idea for students to keep a log of interactions they have had in class, such as during lab or studio times, where their location may not be static during the class period. In addition, they should keep track of their own attendance and participation in other non-class activities. Of particular importance are interactions of greater than 15 minutes within 6 feet of someone.

A student wasn’t in class because they were instructed to quarantine, isolate or because they had symptoms. Do I need to provide all of the materials and allow them to make up all missed work?

Faculty have been asked to be as flexible as possible during this challenging and unprecedented time, but it may not be possible in all cases to have a substitute for the missed material. Many classrooms have been equipped with classroom capture technology. ITS can also assist with software recommendations that instructors may install on their laptops for capture capability in other classrooms. Nonetheless, it may become necessary for a student to take an incomplete in situations when a substantial amount of the course is missed. It is the student’s responsibility to communicate proactively and make up the material. 

I’m a faculty member and trying to organize my class in a fair manner. However, it is not possible to handle all of the special requests from students needing to miss my class due to COVID-19 issues. How can I cope?

We understand the stress created by situations such as this. We urge faculty to focus their efforts on helping students attain the course learning objectives, and treat the other requests as secondary. Other guidance:

  • Try to administer deadlines and makeups as fairly as possible across the class, but understand that this is not a typical semester. You may wish to consult with your department chair for additional guidance.
  • CELT provides a variety of resources to support faculty.
  • These trying times involve many stresses and difficulties, both professional and personal. ISU’s Employee Assistance Program is a valuable resource that is available to assist you.