One of the primary goals of viral testing is to identify infected individuals as early as possible and to isolate them from the broader community. If an individual tests positive, Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) will begin contact tracing for the greater Harvard community. Anyone with known exposure to a positive case will be required to quarantine and may need additional testing, as these individuals may also be infected.

HUHS contact tracing process

The contact tracing process includes two distinct processes: 1) to notify individuals who test positive and need to isolate; and, 2) to notify individuals who are exposed to a COVID-positive individual and need to quarantine.

1) Case investigation for individuals who test positive

For individuals who test positive for COVID-19, HUHS will:

  • Conduct an in-depth interview (typically 20-30 minutes)
  • Educate, support, and identify your needs and barriers to self-isolation
  • Connect and refer you to additional resources
  • Ensure your confidentiality
  • Identify your close contacts during your potentially infectious time period; this may include proximal contacts as well as close contacts.
  • Check in with you daily until your isolation is over
  • Provide you with return to work/school clearance and instructions

Learn more about isolation procedures and support services.

2) Contact tracing for individuals exposed to a COVID-positive person

For individuals who may have been exposed to a COVID-positive community member, HUHS will:

  • Notify you of your exposure
  • Maintain confidentiality for the infected person
  • Educate, support, and identify your needs and barriers to self-quarantine
  • Connect and refer you to additional resources
  • Refer you to additional testing as appropriate
  • Check in with you daily until your quarantine is over
  • Provide you with return to work/school clearance and instructions

Learn more about quarantine procedures and support services.

Note: A "contact tracing" procedure would convert to a "case investigation" procedure if the individual in quarantine develops illness or receives a positive test result.

HUHS contact tracing using Wi-Fi

Timely notification of possible exposure to a Covid-positive individual is crucial to minimizing others' exposure, mitigating outbreaks, and keeping Harvard healthy. To aid in the University's contact tracing efforts, HUHS and Harvard University Information Technology (HUIT) are piloting a program called Tracefi—a Wi-Fi-based contact tracing system.

A limited pilot program is underway from July 9–September 9 in two locations: Hoffman Lab and Sherman Fairchild. In those locations, Tracefi uses Wi-Fi triangulation to identify persons whose devices have come into close proximity with those of an individual who tests positive for COVID-19. With this information, HUHS can notify individuals by email, phone, or text who were co-located with the individual who tested positive.

Learn more about Tracefi, including how Wi-Fi proximity monitoring and triangulation work and the Tracefi privacy policy.