Effectively limiting spread from any potential COVID-19 cases requires aggressive contact tracing following a reported positive SARS-CoV-2 test or COVID-19 diagnosis. Initial determinations of where SARS-CoV-2 positive people have been on campus are used by the COVID-19 Response Team to quickly review and implement disinfection and closure protocols as warranted. To effectively identify people who may have been in contact with the SARS-CoV-2 positive person, both a manual tracing (interview) and digital tracing solution is strongly recommended. The University of Denver uses an app-based digital contact tracing solution, which allows tracking of contacts using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology and badging. Top considerations in this decision were our community’s security and privacy alongside demonstrated effectiveness of the vendor. We selected EverBridge, with over a decade of experience with both contact tracing and higher education. More information on the app, its features and privacy and security are available here.
Manual contact tracing has been conducted at DU since the first positive case on March 13, 2020. Our first priority when an individual in our community falls ill or tests positive is to support them in seeking medical attention and communicate our concern for their well-being. We also review with them the need to isolate and remain off-campus (or, for campus residents, we isolate them on campus). In each instance, interviews and follow-up conversations determine when and where the person who tested positive (or presumed positive) for SARS-CoV-2 has been on campus, with whom they might have come into contact, whether that contact included physical proximity within six feet for at least 15 minutes cumulatively across 24 hours, and whether the parties were wearing face coverings. Individuals who may have been in contact with the person are then called to discuss the possible contact and to provide them with information regarding the need to quarantine for up to 14-days and stay off campus. This high-touch manual tracing effort has occurred successfully at DU via designated University staff. As needed for each case, additional individualized support is provided by the Student Affairs and Inclusive Excellence (SAIE) team, the Health and Counseling Center (HCC), the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, and/or Human Resources and Inclusive Community (HRIC), as appropriate.
Keeping the DU community safe and limiting spread from any potential cases requires fast and accurate contact tracing. Best practices for businesses, including university campuses, involve digital contact tracing. This can involve sensors and wearables, be app-based, or work from other existing technologies (scheduling software, Wi-Fi, badging). The DU campus has more than 90 buildings, 125 acres, and 17,000 people at full capacity. To effectively reduce the chance of an outbreak, we have engaged a digital tracing vendor, EverBridge. Everyone returning to campus in person has been asked to install the application on their mobile device. This tracking, alongside badge access will be used to quickly identify who a person has been in contact with should they test positive or be presumed positive for the virus causing COVID-19. We recognize the strong concerns of our community regarding data security and privacy and have intentionally focused on choosing a vendor that prioritizes these concerns. Data is stored securely and only temporarily, location information is not collected via the app, and proximity information is only accessed when someone is confirmed or expected positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. Individuals have control over whether and how to use the app. (For more information on privacy and information security, please see Privacy & Data Security.)
Backward Contact Tracing
As the University opened in the fall, members of the COVID Coordinator team learned to use data regarding positivity measured from subpopulations determined by course schedules, group organization membership, program of study, residential living assignments, wastewater surveillance and event attendance, among other attributes, to trace probable additional COVID-19 cases. Proactive and targeted requests for retests in these suspected subpopulations resulted in effective control of outbreaks, effectively placing a bubble around that subpopulation and rapidly controlling the spread of the virus. With these technologies, the largest set of connected cases was 16, and this residential outbreak was contained in 19 days (no new cases following a full 10-day isolation of the final case). These techniques are being expanded and enhanced by collaboration with our health partner, National Jewish Health.