Contact tracing is key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 and helps keep you, your friends and family, and the NYU community safer.  Led by the NYU COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team (CPRT), in coordination with NYC Test & Trace Corps, contact tracing within the NYU community involves identifying people who have COVID-19 (cases) and people who they came in contact with (contacts) and working with them to interrupt disease spread. This includes making sure that people with COVID-19 can safely isolate and notify those deemed close contacts to quarantine at home.

NYU tested all students and employees before or as they returned to campus, and the University is testing thousands of students and employees each week as part of an ongoing program.

Contact Tracing Process

The steps that take place when a student or employee tests positive for COVID-19 include:

1. Notification

When a student or employee tests positive, both the student and the CPRT receive notification of the test result.

  • The CPRT immediately reaches out to the student or employee.
  • Notification of a person’s positive test results is medical information; the privacy of such information is protected by federal laws such as HIPAA, which safeguards the privacy of medical records, and FERPA, which safeguards the privacy of academic records. In the context of an infectious illness, such as COVID-19, the notification and contact tracing processes must manage the public interest in preventing spread of the disease as well as legal mandates regarding patient privacy.

2. Isolating the Individual with the Positive Result

In the case of students, the CPRT evaluates the student’s housing situation, arranges for the student to isolate (whether in NYU housing or off-campus), instructs the student on the rules and requirements of isolation, and deactivates the student’s ID card (preventing entry to NYU facilities).

  • The length of isolation varies by case. If the person is asymptomatic and remains asymptomatic, the period is typically 10 days. If the student is symptomatic at the time of testing or becomes symptomatic during isolation, the length of isolation is determined by clinical criteria in line with CDC guidance.
  • During isolation, CPRT nursing staff regularly check in with the student. The Wellness Exchange also reaches out to the student. Depending on the student’s circumstances, so may staff from the Housing and Dining offices.
  • In the case of employees, the response is similar, with CPRT staff referring employees to their own medical providers (or offering referrals as needed), discussing the employee’s housing situation, and giving instructions for isolation.

3. Contact Tracing

Contact tracing begins immediately after a person with a positive test is identified. Students and employees with positive tests are asked about their living situation, their in-person classes, and any other settings where they may have come into contact with others. From this questioning, a list of potential “close contacts” is developed; the contact tracing team then follows up to determine who is deemed a close contact.

  • The City health authorities are notified of positive cases and steps being taken for contact tracing. The CPRT handles contact tracing within the NYU community; the City handles any outreach external to the NYU community.
  • Only close contacts are contacted. Contact tracing involves balancing the privacy of the infected individual and the public health need to reach out to those who might be exposed and need to be quarantined. Accordingly, not everyone with whom a test-positive employee or student may share a floor of offices or a classroom or a residence hall floor will be contacted by the contact tracing team — only those people (including students and faculty) who have been deemed close contacts (i.e., most prominently, those who have been within a 6-foot proximity to the test-positive individuals for over 10 minutes, a NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene standard). In short, if you have not been contacted by the contact tracing team, it is because the contact tracing team has not placed you in the category of "close contacts." The faculty member of a class the student attended, for instance, would not automatically be contacted by the contact tracing team, but would be contacted if deemed a close contact.
  • Based on our consultation with peer universities, these protocols for contact tracing and notification are in the mainstream of practices being used by US universities. And contact tracing, notification, and isolation decisions at NYU are made in collaboration with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).

4. Close Contacts and Quarantining

Those within the NYU community deemed close contacts are contacted by the CPRT contact tracing team and are informed that they are a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Close contacts are required to quarantine for 14 days, in line with NYC DOHMH standards.

  • Arrangements are made for quarantining those deemed close contacts. Students would make preparations to attend classes remotely; employees would make arrangements for their work to carry on.
  • Close contacts are tested as soon as possible.
  • Close contacts are monitored throughout the quarantine period.

5. Clearance to End Isolation and Quarantine and Return to Regular Housing and Activities

Based on CDC guidelines and clinical findings, the CPRT advises employees and students who had a positive finding or were deemed close contacts when they may return to work, class, housing, and activities. Arrangements are made to reactivate their ID cards.

When to Contact the COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team

Notify the COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team if you:

  • Have symptoms of COVID-19
  • Were diagnosed with COVID-19
    – or –
  • Were in close contact with a person who has a confirmed case of COVID-19

For questions about symptoms or exposure, students should contact the Student Health Center and employees should contact their medical provider.