Contact tracing is a process used to understand how an infectious disease is spreading in a community. Contact tracing has two purposes. The first is to figure out from whom a person caught an illness, and the second is to find out the individuals he or she has been in contact with while infectious. When a person at KAUST is diagnosed with an infectious disease like COVID-19, we use contact tracing to figure out the people he or she may have passed it on to.
How does contact tracing for COVID-19 work?
When a person at KAUST is diagnosed with COVID-19, KAUST Health will be notified by the Ministry of Health (MOH). KAUST follows, as a minimum, the guidelines from the MOH, and as a result, these may change.
KAUST Health has a team of experienced clinicians, including an infection control physician, whose job it is to understand how COVID-19 might spread. The clinicians work with the person who tested positive to trace his or her movements back to the potential person from whom he or she caught the virus, or from when the person travelled back to KAUST and then on to any contacts he or she had since that time.
It's important that we do the backward tracing so we can understand how the virus is spreading in the KAUST community.
Notifying people at risk
The second stage of contact tracing involves getting in touch with people who may have been in contact with and infected by the person confirmed to have the disease.
When it comes to COVID-19, people can incubate the disease for several days before showing symptoms (even if they are very mild) and realize they have been infected. This means they need to backtrack to remember all the people they've recently been in contact with, which can be tricky work. The KAUST Health team will help them be as clear as possible about where they've been and people they've seen.
Where possible, the people who are at risk of having been infected will be contacted directly by KAUST Health and given instructions about what they need to do. This will initially involve being quarantined in their homes. The quarantine will also include any other individual resident in the property.
Anyone who meets the MOH criteria will be tested for COVID-19 at this time. If the results are negative, then the individual will either be able to leave quarantine or, if it has not been 14 days since contact with the positivecase, he or she will be required to complete the quarantine period. There may be a requirement for additional testing, as required by the MOH. If the result is positive, then the individual will be transferred to an allocated medical facility for treatment, and the contact tracing process begins again.
KAUST will not share specific information of the confirmed cases outside of those who need to know from a contact tracing or support perspective. If you are contacted as part of the tracing process and are asked about any potential exposure, then please refrain from communicating this information with others.
What constitutes contact
Because of how COVID-19 spreads, we know it’s very unlikely a person will catch it from someone without spending a significant amount of time with him or her. You are at higher risk of infection if you have had face-to-face contact with a confirmed case for 15 minutes or more, or you’ve shared an enclosed space with that person for more than two hours. However, there are other factors taken into account to determine the output of the contact tracing. The risk for people that may have passed a confirmed case on the street or in a shop is extremely low, because we know you probably won’t catch this particular virus in those situations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated March 26, 2020
Why would we need to contact trace individuals who have been confirmed with COVID-19 but were in quarantine?
Although all the individuals who were confirmed to have COVID-19 were in quarantine, contact tracing is required for two main reasons:
The confirmed person may have conducted activities prior to being placed into quarantine but within the incubation period for COVID-19 (currently 21 days). For example, if an individual went into quarantine on March 15 and was confirmed positive on March 20, then we would contact trace activity back to March 1.
The confirmed person may have had contact with other individuals while in quarantine. This might involve contact with individuals such as healthcare providers or contact with others (if the person broke his or her quarantine restrictions).
Why can’t we test for antibodies?
The antibody test is still not part of the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) guidance. Because we send our samples to MOH laboratories (as per the procedure), we need to comply with MOH guidance and rules. It may become available, and once that happens, we will start doing the test here.
Why does it take so long to get a result?
The samples are sent from KAUST Health to a collection point in Jeddah. From Jeddah, they are picked up by an approved service to be delivered to an MOH-approved laboratory. Initially all the samples were going to Riyadh, so it was taking longer. As the samples are now being processed in Jeddah/Makkah, we are expecting a quick turnaround.
Why don’t we test everyone?
There are certain criteria and case definitions that must be met for anyone to have a test done. We follow the case definition criteria for taking samples of suspected cases. We understand that in other parts of the world, their case definitions might be different to ours, but our case definition has been much broader than most of the settings in the world. Depending upon the prevalence and spread of the infection, the government and the MOH may decide to extend/change the test criteria and case definitions.
Why can’t KAUST do its own testing?
KAUST is bound by the rules of the MOH. As such, all testing and processing of results must be carried out through the MOH’s laboratories. This may change in the future as the demand for testing increases, and at that time, other laboratories might be given permission to test.
Thank you for helping to keep our community safe.