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Public Health Protocols for a Positive COVID-19 Case


*Published on March 27, 2020*

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:

Many of you have expressed questions and concerns about positive diagnoses of COVID-19 within the Northeastern community. Namely, people learn about someone being diagnosed and are wondering, understandably, what it means for them or their colleagues, particularly if they think they may have been in contact with a person who has tested positive.

First and foremost, it is important to underscore that, consistent with state and federal privacy laws, Northeastern will neverdisclose the identity and medical condition of an individual member of the university community.

Below is some important information to be aware of about how the testing and notification process generally works in the United States:

  • Physicians can order COVID-19 testing for patients who meet the guidelines for testing.
  • State and local public health authorities have rigorous protocols for dealing with positive COVID-19 cases.
  • The applicable local public health agency where a patient resides is alerted to the positive test result by the patient’s health care provider, which triggers an investigation of each case by public health authorities.
  • This investigation includes contacting every person with whom the diagnosed individual has been in close contact recently. 

In Boston, for example, individuals who test positive are contacted by the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC). The BPHC begins its investigation by interviewing the patient about every single contact the patient has had during the last 14 days. Public health officials conduct what is called “tracing;” they map the network of the patient’s recent contacts, determine close contacts and contact those who are deemed to be high risk due to exposure to provide information and instructions.

This general protocol is very similar across the United States, including in the states of California, North Carolina, andWashington. You can find information relevant to the UK here, British Columbia here, and Ontario here.

If you test positive for COVID-19, or believe you have been exposed, you should follow the guidance of your healthcare provider and your local public health department regarding treatment and home isolation. Please refer to CDC guidanceabout caring for yourself or someone who is sick.

If you become aware of a Northeastern student or colleague who has received a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, you should do the following:

  • Preserve the person’s privacy and anonymity as required by the Americans With Disabilities Act.
  • Refrain from sharing this information unless instructed to by public health authorities.
  • If a student requires accommodations for classes, please refer them to WeCare:

Again, please know that Northeastern University will not disclose an individual’s identity and medical condition to anyone. The relevant local public health authority will undertake direct outreach to individuals who may have had recent contact with someone that has tested positive for COVID-19, as necessary.


Kenneth Henderson

Chancellor and Senior Vice President for Learning and Co-Chair of the University COVID-19 Task Force

Michael Armini

Senior Vice President for External Affairs and Co-Chair of the University COVID-19 Task Force

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