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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions


TRACE-COVID-19 is a public health project conducted by Oregon State University to gather timely information about the prevalence and spread of the virus causing COVID-19 in Oregon communities. Since spring, TRACE prevalence testing has taken place in several communities around the state of Oregon. This project informs nationwide statistics as well. The project is providing information that is currently missing but essential for measures to slow the spread and minimize the impact of the disease. Federal and state guidance prioritizes testing of individuals with symptoms of COVID-19. As a result, no one knows how widespread the virus really is in communities. TRACE helps fill that gap in communities engaged in the TRACE project.

There is strong evidence that the virus is being spread in part by individuals who are asymptomatic and unaware they are infected. These individuals may be in the early stages of an infection, or they may never show virus symptoms at all. Data about what fraction of the population is infected will help public health officials to make more informed decisions. This information is key to slowing the spread of the disease, lessening pressure on clinics and hospitals, and reducing the health and economic impact of COVID-19. Because the individuals tested by TRACE will be informed of their test results and provided with guidance to minimize the chance of spreading the infection, they also can also take steps to care for their own health and the health of those around them. In addition, local public health officials can use TRACE data to find and offer assistance to infected individuals, monitor the spread of the epidemic in a community over time and improve models that forecast what the pandemic might look like in the coming weeks to months. TRACE data will also help public health officials better understand whether public health measures are having an effect, when measures such as stay-at-home orders can be relaxed, or if other measures are needed.

You will be informed of whether the test shows that you have the virus that causes COVID-19. That information can help slow the spread of this disease. If you participate, you will have access to your personal test results. You will not be able to see other individuals’ results except those of your dependents under the age of 18. (Note that there are false negatives with any COVID19 tests, and so a negative result does not mean that you do not have the virus that causes COVID19.)

With decades of experience in studying infectious diseases from tuberculosis to malaria and AIDS, OSU is well positioned to lead this effort. OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences is the first accredited school of public health in Oregon and is collaborating closely with county health departments to ensure the project adds significant value to local public health efforts. TRACE project leaders reside in five OSU colleges and are experts in disease epidemiology, public health, the spread of viral diseases, and epidemic modeling. They have the expertise to collect, analyze and interpret samples collected within a community. They provide unique information and complement what local health care providers and institutions are already doing.

COVID-19 is spread in part by individuals who are infected with the virus but do not show symptoms. Knowing how many of these asymptomatic individuals in the community are infected is urgently needed to inform smart decisions about response by public health and elected officials.

Participants in TRACE Community will have access to their own test results. No other participants will be able to see an individual’s results or personal health information. The state of Oregon requires all laboratories that test for the virus to report individual results to the state and county health departments, in this case to your county health department.

The TRACE-COVID-19 test for the virus is similar to tests conducted by hospitals and clinics. However, OSU’s project provides more information about the prevalence of the virus in an entire community than does the information that clinics and hospitals are gathering. Clinics and hospitals primarily test individuals with symptoms. The TRACE-COVID-19 project focuses on the prevalence of the virus in the entire community and provides important insight into how many people and what fraction of the population have the virus regardless of the presence or absence of symptoms. By sampling over multiple weeks, TRACE will provide insight into how community prevalence changes through time.

Many people infected with this virus don’t have symptoms, but they are still able to transmit the disease to others in their family, circle of friends, neighborhood or workplace. To slow the spread of COVID-19, public health officials and researchers require more information about who has the virus and how quickly the virus is spreading. The TRACE-COVID-19 project will be able to estimate how many individuals have the virus regardless of their symptoms. Information about the whole population is the key to slowing the spread of the virus and minimizing its impacts. This information is essential, it’s missing, and, with participants’ help, we can get it.

Thanks to collaboration between the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at OSU and Willamette Valley Toxicology, TRACE can test hundreds of samples each day.

OSU’s TRACE-COVID-19 project team is working closely with the county health authorities in communities where TRACE prevalence testing is conducted to ensure that TRACE-COVID-19 is useful and consistent with the county departments' public health efforts and that it has their support. Together, OSU and county health departments are ensuring that the medical and health-care community, elected officials and others are aware of the project and are briefed on its results.

The state government has compiled a list of great ways that you can help fight the coronavirus in Oregon that are available here.

Our first priority is your safety and that of the TRACE testing team. We use trained personnel to gather basic health-related information, and we use products and processes designed to safely collect swab samples. Samples are analyzed using equipment and protocols approved by the state and federal authorities.

All participants are able to obtain their individual test results and informed how to get them. The results will be generally be available two to four days after samples are collected. Please remember that there are false negatives with any COVID19 tests, so all other health practices (face coverings, physical distancing, hand-washing, etc…) must be maintained even if you receive a negative result.

TRACE field staff also provide participants with information from county health departments and the CDC, for example, on how to stay healthy, how to care for themselves or a household member who tests positive for the virus, and how to manage stress and maintain good mental health during the pandemic.

No. Presently, there are no reliable estimates of the number of people who are infected in Oregon or the U.S. This is because testing has not been widely available, and the numbers reported are primarily for those who have tested as positive. Asymptomatic individuals are rarely tested despite the potential for them to be infected and to transmit the disease. For this reason, the community-based testing that TRACE is conducting provides important new information that helps both individuals and populations.

Yes. The TRACE project is based on voluntary participation and informed consent by those being tested. Before being conducted in a community, the TRACE project is approved by the county health department and by OSU leadership. The project uses FDA-authorized laboratories, equipment and protocols.

The test is free.

Funding for OSU’s TRACE-COVID-19 project is provided by OSU, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, PacificSource Health Plans, and in some communities by the Oregon Health Authority.

TRACE Community

For each sampling period, members of OSU’s TRACE-COVID-19 team identify a statistically representative set of neighborhoods (U.S. Census blocks) in communities to gather samples. The number of neighborhoods is typically 30 but can vary depending on the size of the community. Team workers visit residences in those neighborhoods and invite residents to participate in the project. In each community tested, the goal is to sample eight to 12 households in each of the neighborhoods during each sampling period.

TRACE workers going door-to-door are properly trained and tested for the virus that causes COVID-19. They follow health guidance and requirements, including the use of face coverings, gloves and social distancing. They maintain physical and social distancing throughout their work. They do not enter residences. At each household, residents who agree to participate sign a consent form and provide basic information and then are given a home test kit. Participants go inside their residence, follow the directions with the kit to take their own nasal swabs, seal the container provided and return the container to their doorstep. TRACE workers then collect the container and proceed to the next residence.

Participants in the project have access to their test results once researchers have verified them. Results from each week’s survey are reported to the state and to the local county health department as required by the state.

If your household is among the preselected neighborhoods, TRACE workers may visit your residence and ask if you are willing to participate in the project. If you agree, they will provide you with a consent form to sign, ask you to provide basic information and leave a home test kit and instructions on your doorstep. At all times, they maintain physical and social distancing to help keep everyone safe. They will not enter your residence under any circumstance.

The test is painless and easy to perform yourself. It involves swabbing your nose with a specially prepared swab provided in the home test kit. The kit is self-contained, and you do not need any other equipment. Simply follow the directions in the kit. While the workers wait outside, you will be asked to:

  1. Self-administer a nasal swab (or administer a nasal swab to a dependent minor).
  2. Deposit the nasal swab in the plastic tube swab side down (in the liquid).
  3. Break off the swab handle that protrudes beyond the plastic tube.
  4. Close the plastic tube and place it in the provided plastic bag.
  5. Disinfect the plastic bag with the wipe provided.
  6. Wash your hands thoroughly.
  7. Place the plastic bag on your doorstep in a sanitized tub provided by the field team.
  8. Close your door, allowing the field team to retrieve the sample while maintaining a physical distance from you.

TRACE field staff transport the swabs to the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine at OSU. In a collaboration with Willamette Valley Toxicology, scientists screen for the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19 using tests authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

An important feature of the TRACE project is a random sampling design that allows us to obtain a statistically significant and representative sample of a community being tested for the prevalence of the virus. The study’s door-to-door approach within randomly selected neighborhoods is the best way to achieve that result.

The test is not at all painful. The self-administered nasal swab collects material from the entrance of the nose. If you are invited to participate, you need to sign a consent form and provide basic information (name, date of birth, contact information, demographic information, and symptoms such as fever or other signs of illness). We will provide you with information about the project and instructions about how to get your individual results. Community members then use the provided home test kit to swab the inside of their nose and return the kit to the field team.

It is not possible to request participation. Rather, households are selected randomly for participation. Only by testing a randomly selected set of neighborhoods can OSU determine the prevalence of the virus in a community. Although individuals tested are informed of their results, the primary purpose of this project is to obtain critical information about the prevalence of the virus in the community. We do not have the capacity to test everyone who requests a test.

All residents of randomly selected households who consent to participate can be tested.

The research team has identified a randomly selected set of neighborhoods. A certain number of households in each of those neighborhoods are invited to participate. This sampling design will give researchers the robust, statistically significant information needed to determine the prevalence of the virus in the community.

What we have learned in testing conducted in Corvallis, Bend, Hermiston and Newport is very useful elsewhere because it will provide public health officials information about the number and demographics of individuals infected by the virus. This information is needed to make smart decisions in the interest of the public’s health and the community’s well-being. With this knowledge, we all benefit. Having the information speeds up our ability to return to normal routines and business. Information is immediately useful, enabling society to better respond and make appropriate decisions at all levels.

OSU is sharing these methods and procedures with other universities in Oregon and across the nation so that they can quickly replicate this monitoring of the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 in other communities.

We are providing near real-time data to local, state and national health officials monitoring and responding to the spread of COVID-19, which will help advise and improve mitigation strategies locally and nationally.

If your test result is positive, personnel from the county health department will call you to gather additional information about people with whom you may have been in contact. This will allow an assessment of your contacts' potential risk and provide them with information to reduce the chances of spreading the infection. The health department will keep your identity confidential and does not and will not disclose your name to contacts that you identify.

The TRACE team will be wearing clearly identifiable OSU name tags and lanyards. They will be in OSU vans with a large OSU sign on the outside of the van. They will carry identification and have OSU/TRACE documents to share with you, including a signed letter from the local county health department.


TRACE will collect samples from students, staff and faculty weekly at OSU in Corvallis and every other week at OSU-Cascades in Bend and at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. A total of up to 1,000 samples will be collected weekly. In addition, TRACE will sample wastewater at nine locations on the Corvallis campus and on the Bend campus and at HMSC. The results will help the university community address the risk of virus transmission and take action to protect public health.

Current OSU students, staff and faculty can enroll here. TRACE staff will randomly select participants from those who have enrolled. A new set of participants is selected each week.

In Corvallis, at the Reser Stadium ticket booths and at Johnson Plaza near the Kelley Engineering Building.

In Bend, at 205 Tykeson Hall.

In Newport, at the HMSC apartment complex.

Yes. Participation is voluntary. OSU is seeking participants to enroll and help us achieve an accurate picture of virus prevalence in each part of the OSU community.

Current OSU students, staff and faculty can enroll here.

Through email.


No. Participation in TRACE is considered a regular part of the OSU employment. Moreover, the testing is designed to be quick, taking approximately five minutes from check in to departure.

Every weekday in Corvallis and every other week in Bend and Newport.

This is not an automatic decision, as sending people home could risk exposing more people. The county health department and OSU Student Health Services work with each student to determine the best approach for their case. For students living in OSU residence halls, isolation space has been allocated on campus in Corvallis and at OSU-Cascades. Students currently living in HMSC housing are in single-occupancy, one bedroom apartment with external entrances and will not need an alternate isolation assignment. Individuals who are confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 should isolate until 10 days have passed from the onset of symptoms, and 24 hours have passed with no fever (without use of medication), and other symptoms have improved. Those who test positive for COVID-19 but have no symptoms, should isolate for 10 days from the date of their diagnostic test. Students living off campus who test positive will be provided information by their local county health department on proper personal and public health measures, including isolation.

OSU employees who test positive will be provided information by their local county health department on proper personal and public health measures, including isolation. They will also be informed that OSU policy requires them to stay home.

TRACE OSU will post general, university-wide information about the number of tests conducted, the number of positive tests, the prevalence of the virus in the populations and the results of wastewater sampling. All of this information will be on the TRACE website.