Public Health Students Continue COVID-19 Contact Tracing Efforts

Certain types of phone calls you might want to avoid, but one call you will not want to miss might come from a contact tracer hired by the city or county health department who could be calling to say you have been exposed to COVID-19.

As part of the university’s strategy to stop the spread of COVID-19, the College of Public Health at Kent State University partnered with the Kent City and Portage County Health Departments to conduct contact tracing for students and faculty on Kent Campus. Contact tracing occurs immediately after large testing events, such as the events hosted at the Kent State Field House Thursday, Jan. 28 and Friday, Jan. 29.

Melissa Zullo, Ph.D., an associate professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health, reached out to students within the college to ask for volunteers for the testing events. The health departments then ask the students to assist with contact tracing across the university.

“We had a good response from students for all of the events,” Zullo said. “I helped organize the contact tracing efforts, but Amanda Bretzin at the DeWeese Health Center provided the training and is in charge of contact tracing for the university.”

Bretzin trained 10 public health students in the process of contact tracing.

Hannah Colwell, who is pursuing a Master of Public Health degree, and LaKetta Wilson, a doctoral public health student and the environmental health and safety specialist in the Compliance and Risk Management department, were among those who volunteered.

“The past two times I volunteered, there was an hour-long training,” Colwell said. “We were given a template with important information to ask people like contact information, symptoms and where they had been before the test.”

Student contact tracers are required to ask these questions so that they can report back to Zullo, who then shares the information with the health departments.

“I was assigned Kent State community members that tested positive,” Wilson said. “My job was to contact them to see who they had been in contact with the last 14 days, so that we can then reach out to those people to give them the resources that they needed to either get tested or quarantine. We were tasked to give them all the information they needed to protect and support themselves, and know whether they had COVID.”

Students were also trained to deal with various scenarios, such as working with people who were upset by the news or who refused to answer the contact tracer’s questions.

“We’re all making an effort and doing our part to keep people safe,” Colwell said. “Some people I have called don’t fully realize the need to isolate, and it's surprising when I hear some people think they can go to the grocery store even if they’ve been around someone with COVID. Contact tracers know that's not the case, but some people don't know that, and it’s our job to keep them properly informed about safety protocols.”

Colwell said the knowledge gained from the testing event will translate into her public health career.

“It allowed me to learn in different ways, and it gave me a valuable hands-on experience,” Colwell said. “Actually getting to do it is what helps you gain greater insights, perspectives and more knowledge to use in the field.”

Wilson believes that Kent State has been well-organized and proactive with the handling of contact tracing and on-campus COVID-19 testing. She emphasized that the Flashes Safe Seven and CDC guidelines are important to slow the spread of the disease around the community.

“Students, faculty, staff and the community need to be very careful and conscious about where they have been and who they have been in contact with,” Wilson said. “While some people may go unharmed, there's that minimal population that will be deeply affected. If you can reduce everyone’s exposure by simply staying at home and following the university’s advice, you will be able to protect a lot of people and make a big difference.” 

For more information about the College of Public Health, visit https://www.kent.edu/publichealth.

For more on Kent State’s pandemic response and testing opportunities, go to https://www.kent.edu/coronavirus.

POSTED: Monday, February 22, 2021 - 11:07am
UPDATED: Wednesday, March 3, 2021 - 10:58am
WRITTEN BY:
Brady Warmbein