To help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department collaborated with the MPH program to perform contact tracing on positive cases in Hamilton County. To date, 15 MPH students have contacted dozens of Hamilton County residents who have been exposed to a patient that tested positive for COVID-19.

Contact tracing is an essential disease control measure employed by local and state health departments for decades (CDC). The main goals of a contact tracer is to protect patient privacy, educate, support, refer, and monitor the health of potentially infected patients. To participate, volunteers must receive HIPAA and contact tracing training. Dr. Dawn Ford, Clinical Associate Professor in the MPH program, serves as the liaison between UTC and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department in a county-wide contact tracing effort. To date, Dr. Ford has trained over 65 UTC students, staff, and faculty contact tracing volunteers. In addition to MPH students, students in the Graduate Athletic Training program, and pre-med undergraduate students have also been involved.

Among the trained volunteers, MPH students have been engaged in the contact tracer role for since April 3rd. This opportunity has allowed them first-hand experience in monitoring and data collection during the coronavirus pandemic. When a COVID-19 case is identified by the Health Department, a list of potential contacts are gathered and provided to Dr. Ford. Dr. Ford then assigns the list of contacts to volunteers, who are responsible for conducting an initial interview. After the initial interview, volunteers follow-up with the contacts through daily monitoring calls for up to 14 days. The daily monitoring calls ask about the contact’s health, tracking the development of any symptoms, and offering resources. The contacts are also sent quarantine letters.

Contact tracing is one of the most important recommended strategies for re-opening our society. Conducting adequate contact tracing to try to spot new cases and prevent transmission of COVID-19 is a pivotal public health task in our community. Therefore, increasing contact tracing capacity to continue to do this work will become increasingly more important in the coming months.

A few MPH student volunteers shared their overall experience in conducting contact tracing:

Brandon Denney, MPH 2021 Candidate

“One of the reasons I decided to pursue an MPH was to find meaningful work that had a direct impact in the community, and contact tracing has allowed me to do just that! It is a minor commitment, and all of the people I have reached out to have been friendly and understanding. I’m honored to work alongside my classmates and put our education into practice.”

Ryan Ledford, MPH 2021 Candidate

“I am excited to have the opportunity to help the community during this pandemic. Working with the contacts and the health department has been a rewarding experience!”

Rosie Loesser, MPH 2021 Candidate

“I am thankful for the opportunity to work with the Hamilton County Health Department to protect the public. As a public health student, I feel contact tracing is a perfect example of public health in action. It is a great feeling knowing we are making a difference in Hamilton County’s fight against COVID-19.”

The contact tracing efforts of our students has received a great deal of local media attention including the Chattanooga Times Free Press, UTC News, and Channel 12 News.

As a program, we are proud of our students, staff, and faculty involved in the contact tracing efforts in our community. Together, we look forward to continue to assist the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department in combating this public health pandemic