LOUISVILLE (KT) — Nearly a dozen undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Louisville’s School of Public Health and Information Sciences are playing an important role in keeping their campus safe from the spread of COVID-19.

They’ve spent hours training, including completing Johns Hopkins University’s online contact tracing course, and have put that training to use for UofL students, faculty and staff.

Among them is Maymie Owens, who will graduate in December with a Bachelor of Science degree in public health.  She’s been working 28-30 hours a week providing information to close contacts of COVID-19 positive status students, faculty and staff.

“It gives me the chance to be part of something that can improve the health of the community, as well as gain background knowledge for my future career,” Owens said.

“In the absence of a vaccine, contact tracing is paramount,” said Dr. Craig Blakely, dean of the School of Public Health and Information Sciences.  “If we can stop the spread of the virus at points of contact, then everyone else is freer to move about while practicing physical distancing and wearing masks.

“Our students are gaining incredible experience for their future public health careers.  This work is a resume builder for the students, some of whom earn practicum or capstone experience credit.  More importantly, it is crucial to helping our community fight COVID-19.”

For Owens, it’s her second time working as a contact tracer.  She was one of 40 UofL public health, biomedical science and medical students, along with medical residents, who volunteered the past few months with the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health & Wellness contact tracing team.

“We would make sure residents of Jefferson County who tested positive were staying isolated and quarantined, while ensuring they had someone who could bring them groceries and toiletry items.  If not, we would connect them with resources to try and help meet their needs,” she said. 

The student workers have greatly expanded the offerings of Campus Health Services, says Cheri Hildreth, director of the Department of Environmental Health and Safety (DEHS).

Campus Health makes initial calls to members of the UofL community who test positive for COVID-19, and then Hildreth’s team makes phone calls to positive cases and close contacts, providing education and information on up-to-date isolation safety measures and guidelines.

“All the students working with us are proactive, have great communication skills, and are detail-oriented; we couldn’t do it without them.”

For Owens, the experience has provided the hours needed for her capstone experience, a requirement of graduation.  “I’ve exceeded those hours, but I am not stopping because the help is still needed,” she said.

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