Colleges add contact tracing to the curriculum

University of Houston offers free course to track spread of coronavirus
By: | May 11, 2020
A slide from The University of Houston College of Medicine's free contact tracing and coronavirus case identification certificate program.A slide from The University of Houston College of Medicine's free contact tracing and coronavirus case identification certificate program.

Contact tracing of individuals diagnosed with coronavirus has become a new academic program at colleges and universities as states and communities attempt to reopen despite the continued spread of COVID-19.

The University of Houston’s College of Medicine is offering a free contact tracing and case identification certificate for students considering jobs in public health. The collaboration with city and county health departments is called the “The Epi Corps,” for epidemiology corps.

Experts say the country needs to hire more than 100,000 contact tracers to alert people who have been exposed to the coronavirus and help stem the spread of the illness. The state of Texas plans to hire 4,000 contact tracers by mid-May.

The University of Houston’s 12-hour online course will train so-called “disease detectives” to go to work helping COVID-19 patients identify everyone they’ve been in contact with as they became infected.


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Students will learn about COVID-19 signs and symptoms, epidemiology, medical terminology, cultural competency, interpersonal communication and interviewing skills, and patient confidentiality.

“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,” Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the UH College of Medicine, said in a statement.

The Epi Corps, which is based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s contact tracing training program for tuberculosis, will soon be expanded to the community at large, including small businesses.

The Community College of Allegheny County near Pittsburgh is also developing a contact tracing program that will train students to help public agencies track the spread of coronavirus, President Quintin B. Bullock says.


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The 45-hour, non-credit course will be conducted on Zoom over a two-week period.

Contact tracers will sometimes work remotely and trace contacts via phone or other technologies. Some contact tracers will need to visit people’s homes to conduct interviews, the college says.

The course support Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe’s plan to create a Commonwealth Civilian Coronavirus Corps to boost coronavirus testing efforts and create new public health jobs, the college says.

Oakton Community College in the Chicago suburbs has launched a Public Health Contact Tracer Paraprofessional program to train students to track coronavirus.

“The life-saving impact of this program will be felt for years to come,” Oakton President Joianne Smith said in a statement.


UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.