Another 100 NDSU students will be trained over several weeks to assist with contact tracing for the COVID-19 pandemic in North Dakota as businesses and other organizations plan to re-open.
In addition to the initial NDSU graduate students in public health trained on how to help track the virus among communities, another 100 students from NDSU’s nursing, pharmacy and other health professions programs will assist, along with students from the NDSU emergency management program.
“As people gradually begin taking part in regular activities while following physical distancing guidelines set forth by the state of North Dakota, this type of vigilant tracing remains crucial in managing virus exposures,” said Pamela Jo Johnson, chair of the NDSU Department of Public Health.
Students who currently assist with tracing are contacting people who may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus, and they are assisting with phone surveys of long-term care facilities prior to testing in such facilities. Multi-lingual students also help, if needed.
“I am gaining more knowledge from this experience than any textbook or presentation could provide for me,” said Sarah Swartz, NDSU public health student who is finishing her master’s degree.
She said the skills will help her be successful as a public health professional.
“I have learned how to properly conduct case investigations and identify close contacts of positive cases, and I’ve learned time management. Some of us are on-call seven days a week, up to 12 hours a day. During my time in graduate school, we were trained on the idea that infectious disease outbreaks can happen anywhere and at any time,” said Swartz. “There is not one specific job we do. We all work together, take on any task given to us and adapt as needed, regardless of title.”
During her time at NDSU, she has focused on management of infectious diseases, Ebola, sexual health and immunizations. Swartz, a North Dakota native, said, “To be able to support my home state during a crisis is a meaningful experience for me.”
Another NDSU public health graduate student, Sargam Ghimire from Nepal, said, “Contact tracing helps us get back to the potentially exposed individuals and helps us make decisions about quarantine. Quarantine and isolation are very important in a disease surveillance process. They actually help us mitigate the impacts of disease and prevent our health systems from being overwhelmed.”
Ghimire plans to work in infectious disease outbreaks and epidemiology upon graduation.
At NDSU, Kylie Hall, project manager in the Department of Public Health, coordinates efforts of the students who are helping the state with contact tracing. “Students are gaining practical public health experience and seeing a large-scale public health response in real time. I hope they can take their contact tracing experience and use the lessons learned in their future public health careers,” Hall said.
Students also are learning to quickly adapt to an ever-changing situation.
“They are seeing how an all-hands-on-deck, collaborative approach brings together individuals from the medical field, public health, and academia to address a pandemic,” said Hall. “I hope this helps them realize that you often need people from many different areas to solve a problem. Each person brings a different skillset to the table, but each one is a valuable contributor when addressing coronavirus in North Dakota.”
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