Close Contacts

At Suffolk, we track COVID transmission patterns very closely. Our classrooms are quite safe due to high vaccination rates, adequate ventilation, and adherence to the university’s face covering policy. Our practice (detailed below) of sending broader notifications with contact tracing is part of our policy to act conservatively and do more, rather than less, when it comes to safety and transparency.

What To Do If a Student or Employee Informs You That They Have Tested Positive

If a student or employee informs you that they have tested positive, please encourage them to notify Counseling, Health and Wellness, if they have not already done so. CHW will contact the individual and conduct a contact tracing interview, and then notify close contacts. The reason the notification should come from CHW is so that close contacts can get follow up information from medical staff, and CHW will also know if one of the close contacts is unvaccinated. Since our community has a high vaccination rate, there is no need to move classes or offices to remote work after an exposure. Please do not attempt to conduct the contact tracing yourself.

Close contacts of a COVID-positive student, faculty or staff member

Regardless of where the positive test result was obtained, contact tracing will be performed by Counseling, Health, and Wellness (CHW), in a process consistent with public health guidelines using the CDC definition of a close contact, defined in terms of Proximity and Duration of Exposure. (A close contact is defined as someone who spent time within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period within 2 days of the individual’s positive test or symptom onset if symptoms developed before the positive test date.)

CHW staff work diligently to reach each patient, including outside of normal work hours and, if CHW staff is unable to reach the person by telephone after multiple attempts, they will contact the individual in the form of a secure message and they inform the individual that they will receive a call from the nurse practitioner the following morning.

During the first conversation with the patient, CHW conducts a thorough “contact tracing” interview to identify every potential close contact who may have been exposed dating back 2 days before their positive test date or 2 days before symptoms developed, whichever is earlier. Because CHW seeks information on earliest symptoms, no matter how benign the symptoms may have seemed to the individual at the time, the date of exposure may be several days before the test date.

Every close contact of someone with a positive result will be notified by Suffolk officials as quickly as possible, including the date of exposure and medical advice, but not the name of the individual who tested positive. Close contacts who are vaccinated will be notified in the form of a secure message to their Suffolk email and/or through the student health portal. Close contacts who are unvaccinated will be notified by phone — please make sure your voicemail is set up to receive messages.

If the infected individual is uncertain about their close contacts, CHW errs on the side of broader notifications, and will send a “potential exposure” letter to larger groups of individuals who may have been exposed. Potential exposure letters are sent out to the entire class if the patient is uncertain about who their close contacts were, for example, if a student was unsure who they were sitting near. CHW obtains a class roster and sends the broader potential notification letter, which contains guidance about next steps.

If you are not contacted by CHW, that means that the individual did not identify you as a close contact.

Close contact notification process timeline

CHW does not always have information about a student or employee who has tested positive for COVID-19 until well after the individual is tested – for example, if the individual was not tested at the University, but instead through an off-campus health care facility. If the individual fails to notify CHW that they have obtained a positive test elsewhere until several days into their infectious period, then CHW will have to conduct contact tracing covering a much longer period of time. As a result, the letter may be sent out as much as a week or more after the date of exposure listed in the letter.

Since the incubation period for COVID-19 is known to be 2-14 days, CHW feels strongly that even a letter received late in this 2-week incubation period could be helpful to the recipient. For this reason, CHW encourages anyone in the Suffolk community who has tested positive for COVID-19 in a test administered off campus to reach out to CHW to report their symptoms as soon as possible.

If you receive a close contact notification

If you are fully vaccinated, you are not required to quarantine following an exposure. This means that you can go to work as usual, following all of the safety guidelines, unless and until you develop symptoms. Fully vaccinated close contacts should monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID for 14 days following an exposure.

Guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health

If you have a religious or medical exemption or have not reached fully vaccinated status, you will be required to quarantine. Guidance will be provided by the medical team specific to your clinical presentation, vaccination status, and medical needs.

If you develop symptoms after having been identified as a close contact, you should assume you have contracted COVID and isolate yourself from others right away. Faculty and staff should notify their manager and contact a healthcare provider for guidance. Students should log onto the Student Health Portal to make an appointment to discuss their symptoms with a nurse practitioner. Testing and isolation will be advised in accordance with public health guidance.

If you are symptomatic, but not identified as a close contact, guidance will be provided based on the likelihood that your symptoms meet the definition of a probable COVID case. If COVID is suspected, you will be instructed to stay home until test results are obtained and a decision is made about whether or not a longer isolation period is necessary.