Contact Tracing: Key Terms and Definitions

Key Definitions

  • Close Contact
    • A close contact is defined by the CDC as a person who has been within 6 feet of a laboratory confirmed or probable COVID-19 patient for at least 15 minutes starting from 2 days before the person developed symptoms (or 2 days prior to the date the positive test was collected in asymptomatic patients).
  • Self-isolation
    • Isolation is used to separate people infected with the virus (those who are sick with COVID-19 and those with no symptoms) from people who are not infected. This includes people with symptoms and people who are asymptomatic but have had a positive test. People who are in isolation should stay home until it’s safe for them to be around others. In the home, anyone sick or infected should separate themselves from others by staying in a specific “sick room” or area and using a separate bathroom (if available).
  • Self-quarantine
    • Quarantine is used to keep someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 away from others. Quarantine helps prevent spread of disease that can occur before a person knows they are sick or if they are infected with the virus without feeling symptoms. People in quarantine should stay home, separate themselves from others, monitor their health, and follow directions from their state or local health department.
  • Self-monitor
    • Check temperature twice a day
    • Watch for fever over 100° Fahrenheit, cough, shortness of breath, and other symptoms of COVID-19
  • Criteria to discontinue isolation
    • 24 hours with no fever (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and
    • Respiratory symptoms have improved (e.g. cough, shortness of breath) and
    • 10 days since symptoms first appeared (or 10 days from the collection date of the positive test)
  • Criteria to discontinue quarantine
    • 14 days from last exposure to the person that tested positive for COVID-19 and
    • Remain symptom free

COVID-19 Exposure Risk Assessment

When people report exposure to symptomatic people, or people with lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19, the following factors are used to determine the level of exposure risk to the campus and the appropriate response.

High Risk (ask to SELF-ISOLATE)
Living in the same household as, being an intimate partner of, or providing care in a non-healthcare setting (such as a home) for a person with symptomatic, laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection.

Moderate Risk (ask to SELF-ISOLATE)

  • Returning from any international travel.
  • Close contact with a person with symptomatic, laboratory-confirmed COVID-19.
    • Close contact can occur while caring for, living with, visiting, or sharing a healthcare waiting area or room with a COVID-19 case – or
    • having direct contact with infectious secretions of a COVID-19 case (e.g., being coughed on).
  • Living in the same household as, an intimate partner of, or caring for a person in a non-healthcare setting (such as a home) a person with symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection while consistently using recommended precautions for home care and home isolation


Low Risk (ask to SELF-MONITOR)
Being in the same indoor environment (e.g., classroom, hospital waiting room) as a person with symptomatic, laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 for a prolonged period of time, but not meeting the definition of close contact.

No Identifiable Risk (ask to SELF-MONITOR)
Interactions with a person with symptomatic, laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection that do not meet any of the high, medium, or low-risk conditions above, such as walking by the person or being briefly in the same room.

Contacts of Contacts (ask to SELF-MONITOR)
The CDC does not recommend testing or special management for people exposed to asymptomatic people who have had potential exposures to COVID-19, i.e., “contacts of contacts.” These “contacts of contacts” are not considered exposed to COVID-19 and isolation or quarantine is not necessary unless the status of the original contact changes (develops symptoms or tests positive).

Note: Increased awareness through targeted communications could help educate the public about what constitutes high-risk/low-risk interactions.