LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Contact tracing is a tool Kentucky health departments use to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. For University of Louisville senior, Lydia Tanque, it’s now a job that’s teaching her real-life experience in working in public health, which is her major.
"I remember last year when we were learning about pandemic so it’s actually interesting to be in a pandemic now,” Tanque said. The senior is in her fifth and final year at the University of Louisville studying public health.
Last spring Tanque attended school virtually. This fall, she’s one of 10 student contact tracers working out of UofL’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety, in collaboration with Campus Health, to help curb the spread of COVID-19. It's a role she’s been in for about two weeks.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience. Everyday everything changes so we have really just had to stay on our feet and be adaptable, and it’s definitely a job where you just have to be very flexible and patient," she told Spectrum News 1.
Sivarchana Mareedu is a Ph.D. candidate in public health who oversees the UofL team of contact tracers. She says collectively they contact up to 70 people a day, which can be about asking a positive case to isolate to following-up and asking how someone is doing.
The team also traces close contacts to a positive case to let them know they may have been exposed to the coronavirus. Mareedu says each positive case usually means one to two close contacts are called and asked to quarantine for 14 days.
This student-led team only focuses on contact tracing students, faculty, and staff at UofL, but sometimes they call close contacts beyond that.
Health departments already use contact tracing for things like measles, tuberculosis, and HIV so this isn't a new method or containing a communicable disease.
“What’s new this year is the scale at which we are doing [it]," Mareedu explained. "Nobody did contact tracing at such a level because it’s a pandemic and it’s at a global level.”￼
Each student contact tracer receives training on various skills such as how to conduct a call to HIPPA laws to protect privacy.
Even though there’s a formula they follow, each person is still treated as an individual.
“They have different symptoms, different test results so sometimes it’s not an easy two-minute call. It could be a 20-minute call, and we might have to talk to Campus Health, might have to talk to the health department. So we do all that," Mareedu told Spectrum News 1.
Tanque said the most challenging part of the job is the hours. She contact traces 30 hours per week, in addition to going to school full-time. However, she said after having the spring semester "snatched away" from her, this gives her something to work towards.
She explained, "It’s made me feel like I am doing my part in really fighting against COVID-19.”