EWU Teams with Health District to Ramp Up Contact Tracing

May 27, 2020 By David Meany
Buildings on the EWU Spokane campus

Eastern Washington University’s Bachelor and Master of Public Health programs are partnering with the Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) to train dozens of contact tracers to help investigate the spread of the coronavirus in the community.

Relying mostly on volunteers, contact tracing involves identifying people who have been exposed to a disease and urging them to isolate and prevent further spread.

Such tracing is very common in the public health field, but the general public is getting its first real look at how this practice is critical to stopping a highly infectious disease like COVID-19 from spreading when there is no vaccine or treatment.

In coordination with SRHD, Eastern’s BSPH and MPH instructors will lead the way in training many student volunteers while following Centers for Disease Control and Washington State Department of Health guidelines.

“Offering our experience in contact investigation training to SRHD came out of a desire to help students contribute to the COVID-19 response,” says David Line, PhD, Master of Public Health program director at Eastern.

David Line, PhD, MPH Director at Eastern

Line points out the MPH program already includes contact tracing as part of its curriculum, when students learn about outbreak investigation in an introduction to epidemiology course.

“This foundational competency of public health is part of our accreditation process and is something stakeholders have been asking us to include in the curriculum of both the BSPH (bachelor of science) and MPH programs at EWU,” he says.

While the health district already has many contact tracers ready to assist them, the EWU training will help them build a team of more than 75 volunteer tracers by July.

Maintaining confidentiality in the contact tracing program is a central tenant of SRHD. That’s why Line plans to utilize the instructional methods already used in the MPH epidemiology course. Small classes of 4 to 6 students will support the development of the tracing interview skills and the services provided to the community and SRHD.

“The small group discussions and practice sessions will allow us to emphasize confidentiality requirements and bring the SRHD HIPAA training into focus,” adds Line.

And other universities, such as Whitworth College and Gonzaga University, have reached out to arrange for their own campus volunteers to be trained. People interested in training should complete the SRHD volunteer form, or contact Amber Gangon at agangon@srhd.org with questions. If you’re interested in supporting an EWU contact tracer response, please contact Tricia Hughes, EWU’s senior director of Wellness and Recreation at thughes11@ewu.edu.

SRHD has started a blog to educate the public on how contact tracing is one of the key components to safely reopening business and limiting community exposure to COVID-19.