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Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions


TRACE-COVID-19 is a public health project conducted by Oregon State University to obtain timely information about the prevalence and spread of the virus causing COVID-19 in Oregon communities. At the invitation of county health officials and community leaders, the TRACE team tests a representative sample of individuals in those communities to determine the prevalence of the virus. The team also tests community wastewater to evaluate the abundance of the virus in the whole community. And the team analyzes the genetic code of the virus from these samples to better understand how the virus travels around and to inform public health measures.

Since April, 2020, TRACEhas conducted its door-to-door testing in several communities around Oregon as well as on OSU campuses and facilities (in Corvallis, Bend and Newport). The resulting information has helped county, state and OSU leaders make more informed decisions about how best to slow the spread and minimize the impacts of the disease.

One of the challenges that public health officials have wrestled within the U.S. and elsewhere is lack of knowledge about how widespread the virus is in communities. This is partly because much of the testing prioritized individuals with symptoms of COVID-19. But it is well known that many individuals who are infected with the virus do not show symptoms. As a result, information about the true prevalence of the virus in communities has remained elusive. TRACE helps fill that gap through its testing of a representative selection of individuals in a community, regardless of symptoms. Participants in TRACE are chosen randomly, which results in more scientifically valid estimates of the spread of COVID-19 than testing done among individuals who chose to attend community testing sites, such as drive-through testing, for example.

TRACE information is beneficial at both the community and the individual levels. Data about what fraction of the population is infected helps public health officials to make more informed decisions. And because individuals tested by TRACE are informed of their test results and provided with guidance to minimize the chance of spreading the infection, they 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 information to offer assistance to infected individuals, monitor the spread of the epidemic in a community and improve models that forecast what the pandemic might look like in the coming weeks and months. TRACE data also help public health officials better understand whether public health measures are working, when measures such as stay-at-home orders can be relaxed or if other measures are needed.

TRACE wastewater testing provides additional benefit because it is a quick method of determining the relative level of infection in a community. As such, it can guide public health decisions and help evaluate the merits of additional door-to-door testing of individuals to determine community prevalence.

There are two compelling reasons to participate. First, you will be informed of whether the test shows that you have the virus that causes COVID-19. That information can help you, your family and friends take care of yourselves and slow the spread of this disease. Second, participating also helps your community. When more people participate, the quality of the community-level information is much better, the public health authorities are better prepared to manage the epidemic, and everyone in the community benefits, including you. In short, when you participate, you benefit, your family and friends benefit and your community benefits.

Note that there are false negatives with any COVID-19 tests, and so a negative result does not mean for certain that you do not have the virus that causes COVID-19.

TRACE OSU posts general, university-wide information about the number of tests conducted, the number of positive tests, the prevalence of the virus in the population and the results of wastewater sampling. All of this information is on the TRACE website.

If it has been more than 72 hours since your test and you have not received your results, email with your test date and your OSU ONID. (Your ONID is made up of letters from your first and last names.) Results will be sent to your OSU email address.

The schedule is available at

TRACE testing is done by invitation only by random selection. In other words, we are not able to offer tests upon request. If you feel you need a COVID-19 test, please visit to find a list of community testing sites. You may also want to contact your primary care provider.

For information on COVID-19 in Oregon, call 211 or visit 211info. We also suggest reviewing the Oregon Health Authority or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websites.

Yes. We encourage participation regardless of vaccination status. It is important to continue to monitor the prevalence of the infection in the population as the vaccination rolls out. While the vaccines currently authorized in the U.S.are very good at preventing disease, it is less certain how well they prevent infection and onward transmission, so testing vaccinated individuals provides valuable information for public health.

No, QR codes are only for the specific week of invitation.

No. Vaccinated individuals will not shed viruses into the wastewater as a result of the vaccine. However, it is expected that as more vaccinations are administered the overall viral load to the wastewater should decrease as community prevalence decreases.

No. The vaccine will also not lead to false positive results in nasal swab samples.

Participants in TRACE Community will have access only to their own nasal swab test results and those of their dependents under age 18. They do not have access to anyone else’s results. 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 a participant’s local county health department. Confidentiality issues are not a concern for wastewater samples because it is not possible to identify specific individuals from TRACE’s wastewater samples.

Testing occurs generally every week in Corvallis and every other week in Bend and Newport, on the days and at the times indicated on the invitation sent to participants. Wastewater samples are collected twice a week on the Corvallis campus and once a week on the Bend campus and at HMSC.

Our first priority is your safety and that of the TRACE testing teams. 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.

The results will generally be available two to four days after samples are collected, and all participants are informed how to get their results. Please remember that there are false negatives with any COVID-19 test, so all other health practices (face coverings, physical distancing, hand-washing, etc.) should be maintained even if you receive a negative result.

TRACE field staff also provide participants with information from county health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 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 mental health during the pandemic.


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

TRACE Community

There are two basic components. The first entails obtaining a representative sample of individuals in a community via door-to-door sampling. The second obtains a snapshot of the entire community by sampling the wastewater in the community. Both are described below.

For the wastewater sampling, TRACE team members take a composite sample of the wastewater over a 24-hour period from the wastewater treatment plant and sometimes also from pumping stations in neighborhoods within a community. They work closely with municipal wastewater treatment personnel to obtain the samples. Back in the laboratory, the sample is filtered and then tested for the presence of fragments of the virus that causes COVID-19. This testing provides a quick way to determine the overall wellness of the community with respect to COVID-19.

In the door-to-door sampling, members of OSU’s TRACE-COVID-19 team identify a statistically representative set of neighborhoods (U.S. Census blocks) in which 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 who go door-to-door are 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 display TRACE identification and name tags. 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 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 are reported to the state and to the local county health department as required by the state.

If your household is in one of 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.

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.

The test is not painful. The self-administered nasal swab collects material from the entrance of the nose.

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.

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

Yes. Your house was randomly chosen and your participation will help us calculate an accurate, statistically significant estimate of prevalence in the community. In addition, the result of your previous test represents your infection status at the time the sample was provided. You could have been infected with the virus after you provided the sample or it was too early in your infection for the test to detect the virus.

What we learn in one community is useful elsewhere because it will provide public health officials information about the number and demographics of individuals infected by the virus. In addition, researchers at OSU, working with the Oregon Health Authority, test the wastewater in a much larger set of communities around the state. Understanding how the door-to-door sampling compares to the wastewater sampling allows us to better interpret the information from communities where only wastewater is sampled. All of this information helps public health officials understand what is happening around the state.

OSU shares its methods and procedures with other universities in Oregon and across the nation so that they can adopt this monitoring of the spread of the virus in other communities.

We also provide near real-time data to local, state and national health officials monitoring and responding to the spread of COVID-19, which helps 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.

TRACE team members wear clearly identifiable OSU name tags and lanyards. They will be in OSU vans, carry identification and have OSU/TRACE documents to share with you, including a letter from the local county health department.


No. TRACE-OSU held its last OSU-wide testing the week of June 7, 2021 (finals week). TRACE-OSU ends completely on June 30, 2021. The successor to TRACE-OSU, CTP (COVID Testing Program), will begin in the summer, under Dan Larson’s leadership.

The usual sampling on OSU campuses and facilities is called ‘routine surveillance.’ TRACE collects 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. The actual number varies from week to week but is usually thousands of tests per week. In addition, TRACE samples wastewater at 25locations on the Corvallis campus, Bend campus and at HMSC. The results will help the university community assess the risk of virus transmission and take action to protect public health.

At the request of the university, TRACE also conducts rapid response testing if there is a need for a more targeted testing effort.

OSU students, staff and faculty can enroll. TRACE staff will randomly select participants from those who have enrolled. A new set of participants is selected each week. Participation is voluntary. We encourage you to enroll and participate so we can obtain the best possible picture of the presence of the virus in each part of the OSU community.

Samples are collected in Corvallis at the Reser Stadium ticket booths and at the MU Ballroom.In Bend, at 205 Tykeson Hall. In Newport, at the Hatfield Marine Science Center apartment complex. Testing locations, days of the week and hours of the testing stations are indicated on the invitation that you receive to be tested.

Through email.


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

The county health department and OSU Student Health Services work with each student to determine the best approach for each case. For students living in residence halls, isolation space has been allocated on campus in Corvallis and at OSU-Cascades. Students living in HMSC housing are in single-occupancy, one-bedroom apartments with external entrances and will not need an alternate isolation assignment. Current public health guidelines for any positive tests are found here. Individuals who are confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 should isolate until 10 days have passed from the onset of symptoms, 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 are provided information by their local county health department on proper personal and public health measures, including isolation. OSU policy strongly encourages adherence to county and state policies.

With decades of experience in studying infectious diseases, responding to disasters, working with communities, and disease testing and modeling, 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 bring knowledge and experience from five different OSU colleges and are experts in epidemiology, public health, the spread of viral diseases, epidemic modeling, detection of pathogens in wastewater, molecular analysis and testing, disaster response, wastewater engineering and genetic analysis. 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.

The actual test that the TRACE team uses is similar to those used by hospitals and clinics. However, OSU’s project provides four additional and valuable kinds of information. First, TRACE testing goes beyond the testing of individuals; it also provides information about the prevalence of the virus in an entire community. Second, TRACE tests individuals regardless of whether they have symptoms and thus often identifies individuals who test positive but did not report symptoms. By sampling over multiple weeks, TRACE can show how community prevalence changes through time. Third, TRACE’s testing of wastewater for the virus provides additional, independent information about the level of wellness of an entire neighborhood or community. And four, TRACE looks at the genetic sequence of viral samples from individuals and wastewater to evaluate how the virus spreads. These four additional kinds of information are a nice complement to the testing conducted by other groups. And this additional information is highly useful to public health officials.

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 team works closely with county health authorities, the Oregon Health Authority, community wastewater treatment personnel and local elected and other community leaders to ensure that the project is useful and consistent with their efforts. Together, OSU, OHA and county health departments ensure that the medical and healthcare communities, elected officials and others are aware of the project and are briefed on its results. The TRACE team also regularly communicates or collaborates with colleagues at the University of Oregon and Oregon Health & Science University to help ensure our efforts are complementary and useful.

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

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 positive. Asymptomatic and presymptomatic individuals are rarely tested despite the potential for them to transmit the disease. The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 is an underestimate of the total number of people infected, but we don’t know by how much. And the total number infected is a key determinant of the pace of onward spread. For this reason, the community-based random testing that TRACE is conducting provides important new information that helps both individuals and populations.