Irvine, Calif., July 22, 2020 — To help track and slow the spread of COVID-19, the University of California, Irvine is launching a health equity contact tracing workshop for Orange County Health Care Agency staff, UCI students and community members.
The four-week series of remote training sessions will help meet the growing need for contact tracers who can do the detective-like work of figuring out how COVID-19 is transmitted from one person to another. And it will teach participants to approach the task with sensitivity and an eye toward health equity.
“It’s crucial that contact tracers understand the social, economic and cultural dynamics of the communities they’re working in and that they can handle delicate situations. We have to come at this from a place of sociocultural and economic humility,” said Daniel Parker, a UCI assistant professor of public health who helped design the curriculum. “The basic skills involved aren’t complicated, but tracers need the right interpersonal abilities to really do the job effectively. Oftentimes, the best person for a given community is someone actually from that community.”
The 500-plus participants – including about 30 people from the Orange County Health Care Agency and more than 150 UCI students – will learn some fundamental epidemiology, explore health equity approaches and engage in role-playing activities.
Currently, test results in California can be delayed for over a week, and reported cases could take another week to wind up in the system that county public health workers are using, Parker said. This means that an infected person can infect other people, and those individuals can infect even more people, before contact tracers are even aware of the first case.“If contact tracing is going to be a strong component of Orange County’s COVID-19 response – and it should be – we really need a system that allows contact tracers to reach potentially infected people in a timely manner,” Parker said.
As part of its overall coronavirus strategy, UCI has partnered with local organizations in the low-income areas of color that have been hit hardest. These groups have contributed to the curriculum of the contact tracing workshop, which aims to better enable a community-driven COVID-19 response.
When contact tracers are alerted that someone has tested positive for COVID-19, they find out who that person was in close contact with, i.e., who he or she might have infected. Then tracers inform those individuals of their possible exposure and help them find the resources to get tested and self-isolate. It can be a challenge for tracers to reach people and stay in touch with them to ensure that they haven’t become seriously ill and are still in quarantine. But by empowering residents of local communities, the workshop hopes to strengthen those lines of communication.
“This is about more than simply teaching a skill. This is education as a public health intervention,” Parker said. “If we do this right, we could have an impact on our epidemic and more.”
About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.
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