Campus News

Keeping Our Community Safe: Contact Tracing

Contact tracer
One of the Health Corps contact tracers working in the Boone Center. The Boone Center has been completely reorganized to comply with physical distancing requirements. | Pete Comparoni, UK Photo.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 14, 2020) – COVID-19 testing is now fully underway for the UK community. The Health Corps team, which serves as the support hub for accessing services, information and referrals related to COVID-19 for students, faculty and staff, is leading the charge to support a safe reinvented normal on campus.

Part of that reinvented normal will include contact tracing for many. Contact tracing occurs after an individual receives a positive COVID-19 test result. It is the process of case managers gaining a better understanding of the communities of which an individual may be a member. Letting people know they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 makes the process of self-isolation or self-quarantining easier and faster. This gives the UK community a better chance at fighting and beating the virus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contact tracing is designed to support the individual who received a positive test result, as well as anyone who may have been infected as a result of exposure to the patient. Historically, contact tracing has been fundamental to slowing the spread of infectious diseases, which is why it is a priority at UK.

Contact tracers, also known as case managers, are working tirelessly to maintain some level of comfort and safety in a time that feels just the opposite. Health Corps has hired a mix of folks to be contact tracers; some of them have advanced degrees in public health or social work, and others have case management experience. All of UK's case managers have been through the Johns Hopkins contact tracing course, and have shadowed public health officials that are fighting the same fight. They are also trained by UK and local health care leaders to make informed decisions on issues like quarantining that match up with CDC guidelines. When they contact an individual who may have been exposed to COVID-19, they do so by following the CDC community based exposure protocols. Health Corps has created a streamlined process for case managers to follow while on our front lines.

When an individual tests positive for COVID-19, a contact tracer will receive a virtual notification with the patient’s information. Contact tracers then will educate the patient – inform them of what their test result means, provide them with resources and help them begin to handle the situation in the safest way possible.

“Case managers are the first person to tell the patient life-changing information,” said Lance Poston, the Health Corps project manager. “It is of the utmost importance that our people are well taken care of, and given all the information upfront.”

Once informed, the community member with COVID-19 will then be given their self-quarantine options. These include self-quarantining in your off-campus home, leaving campus to self-quarantine in a family home or a different off-campus location or self-quarantining in one of UK’s full service on-campus isolation halls. These options still allow students with COVID-19 to heal and recover, as well as focus on their academic endeavors.

The team of case managers does more than contact tracing and assistance with isolation arrangements. Through this process, UK is offering students a unique level of support and options that non-university goers may not have. Contact tracers serve as a regular connection with a wellness contact for individuals who test positive. Caitlin Webster, a Health Corps case manager, says while the job is always busy, she knows she is doing everything she can to help the cause.

“My background is in casework and case management, and I’m always wanting to do more and help more,” said Webster. “I heard about UK’s search for contact tracers and thought it would be perfect for me – it’s like being a soldier, but the enemy is COVID-19.”

UK is fully committed to doing everything in its power to keep its machine running. Tyler Gayheart, a technical and processing manager for Health Corps, says that at the root of all this, UK wants to get back to work. Following and understanding the big four (wearing masks, washing hands, physical distancing and screening) is going to make a big difference here.

“Everything Health Corps is doing is all an effort to protect this community, and all of it is 100% necessary to keep its members safe and functioning,” said Gayheart. “We want students to be able to have the entire UK experience, but we also want our faculty and staff to be able to fully focus on doing their life-changing work.”

Contact tracing at UK will continue throughout the Fall 2020 semester and will continue as long as necessary. UK is taking the advice of and working closely with local health departments and public health officials during this time.

“While the world is waiting for a vaccine, our best weapons against COVID-19 are physical distancing, masks and contact tracing,” said Webster. “This is really the only way we can get back to something resembling normal, and it’s crucial to keep campus safe and the virus at bay.”

How can you continue to help during this time? It is important to keep your contact information up to date in the MyUK portal, should a case manager ever need to contact you as a precaution. If you have questions or concerns about COVID-19 on campus, please email healthcorps@uky.edu.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.