Contact tracing is a public health initiative used for decades to slow the spread of infectious diseases, including HIV, Ebola and tuberculosis. Contact tracing allows communities to flatten the curve that builds with each undetected virus transmission. Contract tracers (1) help identify and support infected community members, (2) trace their possible contacts and (3) encourage isolation and quarantine of those who are at risk of infection through contact with an infected person.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf and Dr. Rachel Levine, state Secretary of Health, still require social distancing, the wearing of face masks in all businesses and outside when social distancing is not possible, and other measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, as Pennsylvania’s quarantine list of states grows, school administrators debate whether to reopen in the fall in the face of a predicted second wave of infections. As we continue to address the ongoing pandemic, the need for trained contact tracers remains critical.
HACC Responded to the Need
In May 2020, HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, rose to the challenge by swiftly developing and launching a Contact Tracer Training Program in response to the urgent need for resources to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. We responded to Governor Wolf’s call to action for a corps of civilians by developing this comprehensive training program to prepare students to properly trace contacts between people to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. This program provides an employment opportunity for hospitality workers and others who suddenly found themselves without jobs as businesses were shuttered and people sheltered in place. During a recent virtual job fair for the first 37 graduates of HACC’s Contact Tracer Training Program, a representative from the Pennsylvania Department of Health said that up to 1,000 jobs are open for contact tracing staff. The state announced a partnership with Insight Global to recruit, hire, train and support 1,000 paid contact tracing staff to further COVID-19 contact tracing efforts in collaboration with local and regional health entities to respond effectively to COVID-19.
Secretary Levine navigates all of Pennsylvania through this pandemic with this simple saying: stay calm, stay alert and stay safe. Being alert ties right into the work of contact tracing. Levine supports that contact tracing is a proven public health strategy to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which is why Pennsylvania is investing to expand the public health infrastructure. Levine is grateful for the dedicated individuals, organizations and education systems, like HACC, who are now trained to further protect our neighbors across Pennsylvania.
Description of HACC’s Program Working with Dr. Sri Banerjee, a Johns Hopkins-trained epidemiologist, and other subject matter experts, HACC created its Contact Tracer Training Program to prepare individuals to become qualified contract tracers while working from the safety and comfort of their homes. The 45-hour program is presented in a blended format using remote instruction that allows students to complete the course from home.
The curriculum was designed in alignment with CDC guidelines and through consultation with local and regional healthcare professionals to ensure the training meets state contact tracing training needs in this pandemic. These employees need skills in a variety of areas as they serve the different people and cultures that make up our region.
HACC is proud to join with our communities to be part of the solution to address the COVID-19 crisis.
John J. “Ski” Sygielski, MBA, Ed.D., is president and CEO of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College. He can be emailed at [email protected] or contacted on Twitter at @HACCSki.