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Contact Tracers Overwhelmed; Calling On Students for Help

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The Department of Population and Public Health Sciences (DPPHS) at Wright State University (WSU) is hiring student employees for a Supplemental Contact Tracing Team. This team’s goal is to assist local health departments with contact tracing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

Contact tracing is a procedure where a group reaches out to those who have either contracted or been in contact with someone who has contracted an infectious disease and asks them about who they have come in contact with.

This is done to minimize the spread of a contagious disease such as tuberculosis, HIV and coronavirus.   

How the project began 

Students were sent an email on Sep. 1. Around this time, WSU received its first cases of coronavirus, with eight students and one employee infected as of Sep. 3.  

Public Health Workforce and Community Engagement Director Camille Edwards is a leading figure in the hiring project and said that it was started to aid health organizations in the area with tracking coronavirus cases. 

“We noticed that some of the local health departments are being overwhelmed with the number of cases that they’re getting in, and so we wanted to be able to provide support for those health departments in more of a supplemental manner, seeing which ones are in need of our support and trying to partner with them,” Edwards said. 

DPPHS is looking to hire about 40 or 50 students to assist with contact tracing. 

The contact tracing process 

The CDC website explains that “public health staff begins contact tracing by notifying exposed individuals (contacts) of their potential exposure as rapidly and sensitively as possible, not revealing the infected patient’s identity.” 

According to the department’s job posting on Handshake, a script will be followed that “educates individuals about their exposure, asks individuals to quarantine as needed, and share information to support a quarantine.” 

“It’ll just be kind of educating contacts on the difference between quarantine and isolation, the importance of following the quarantine protocols, things like that. We will be educating them on some signs and symptoms of COVID-19, and then, if necessary, providing them with information for resources in our area,” said Edwards. 

Where and when contact tracers will work 

The contact tracers will work with local health departments, either remotely or through a call center. WSU is looking into setting up call centers near campus. DPPHS will be providing training for students upon hiring. 

Students will be assigned to work in teams, scheduled for 3 to 4-hour shifts any day of the week. The number of hours they will work each week depends on the need their department has for them during that period. 

Educational coursework or prior employment experience in public health, global health, medicine or related fields is preferred when applying for the position, according to the job posting. 

The duration of the contact tracing position 

The department’s contract regarding the hiring of student contact tracers will expire on Dec. 31, though there is the option for an extension. Edwards believes that there is a chance the extension will not be necessary.   

“If people in communities follow the guidelines in a stricter manner, then I do think that we can definitely get back to some sense of normalcy. If not, I do see [the pandemic] extending into next year,” said Edwards.