Since March, UT Health Austin and Dell Medical School have had a program where volunteers can sign up to be contact tracers. The program partnered with Austin Public Health so they can cover different segments of Austin's population.
From making calls to taking down the data of COVID-19 cases, Dr. Darlene Bahvnani, an MPH epidemiologist with the Dell Medical School, said contact tracing can be effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
"What if you could cut off that chain of transmission by following that first case very carefully and trying to understand who they came into contact with and making sure that those contacts never spread the infection?" Dr. Bahvnani said. “We started off with just a handful of medical students volunteers, and we’ve now grown to 76 active volunteers and 200 and some in [the] queue."
Anyone can sign up to volunteer, but it's noted that being a public health, social work, clinical or having bilingual experience is a plus.
“I think this can be [a] very very effective approach to opening up Austin and opening up the rest of Texas. I think this is absolutely necessary if we’re going to start walking around and going about,” Dr. Bahvnani said. “I think it will be important to have volunteers sign up and come and do their part."
For the contact tracing program, a minimum of 24 hours per week for at least four weeks is expected, and there's also a home monitoring program.
According to UT Health Austin's website, volunteers must meet the following expectations:
- Can work remotely and has access to a computer and reliable internet connection
- Have the ability to effectively communicate health information and provide excellent customer service
- Can use cultural competencies when working with diverse populations
- Have the ability to organize and document detailed case data
- Are familiar with using a computer, internet, and other applications (Word, Excel, Microsoft Teams, etc.)
- Can maintain confidentiality and complete HIPAA training requirements
Addison Allen, a UT Health Austin volunteer in the program, said she's been doing it for several weeks now. According to Allen, somewhere between 45 and 60 calls are made every day, but the weekends are a bit slower.
Allen said volunteers wil ask for things like the daily routine of the people they call.
"Go through their day, what did they do, who did they see did they go anywhere and just try to figure out if they had close contact with anyone before they started to self isolate," Allen said. "Seeing that a contact that became a contact had less contacts potentially because we reached out – and I think that's really big."
The program is exploring possibly paying people for the work in the future but as of right now, it is all volunteer.
"If you do get a call from a contact tracer, please pick up and please try to cooperate because we're doing out best to keep you safe," Dr. Bahvnani said.
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