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Friday, May 29, 2020

Academics & Research

UH medical school starts contact tracing training program to fight coronavirus


The College of Medicine has started a contact tracing training and case identification program to help reduce the spread of the new coronavirus and other potential infectious diseases, the University announced Monday.

The free program, which all UH students, faculty and staff are eligible for, collaborates with the Houston and Harris County health departments to teach the basics of pandemic, signs and symptoms of COVID-19, actions and requirements associated with each step of the contact tracing process and how to apply contact tracing protocols to a range of health scenarios.

The need for contact tracers was recently highlighted by Johns Hopkins University report that says the public health workforce in the United States needs to add approximately 100,000 contact tracers to keep the virus’ spread at bay.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott aims to hire 4,000 contract tracers by mid-May as part of his plan to ease coronavirus-related restrictions and reopen the state.

“Contact tracing, along with large-scale testing, is a critical component to reopening our state and to stimulate the economy, but the national and local public health infrastructure does not have the capacity to handle this task alone,” said the College of Medicine founding dean Stephen Spann. “As a public university dedicated to serving the community, it’s incumbent upon us to step up and provide the necessary training so we can get through this crisis together.”

The program provides participants with a certificate after they complete the 12-hour course, which UH recommends participants finish the program within four days from starting it.

The course will be available to the UH community through Blackboard. The University plans to release a reduced version of the program available to the greater community in the near future.

UH is also offering students the opportunity to earn credits or complete internships with the Houston Health Department or Harris County Public Health Department as an incentive to take the course.

Both health departments plan on adding 300 contact tracers each to their ranks.

After finishing the program, participants will be certified contact tracers and could potentially work as one as the need increases.

The program will be taught by Bettina Beech, the medical school’s research dean. Training and the information presented in the course will be updated to reflect the current state of the coronavirus pandemic throughout its duration, according to Beech. 

“We’re grateful to be working with the city and county as contact tracing is a tried and true approach to dealing with public health crises,” Beech said. “With no vaccine available right now, this will help get us through the crisis until a pharmaceutical solution is ready.”

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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