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Become a ‘disease detective’ in COVID-19 era: Here’s how you can do it at UH

Contact tracer Astrid Zeroual works at Harris County Public Health contact tracing facility Thursday, June 25, 2020, in Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the state is facing a "massive outbreak" in the coronavirus pandemic and that some new local restrictions may be needed to protect hospital space for new patients. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Contact tracer Astrid Zeroual works at Harris County Public Health contact tracing facility Thursday, June 25, 2020, in Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that the state is facing a "massive outbreak" in the coronavirus pandemic and that some new local restrictions may be needed to protect hospital space for new patients. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

HOUSTON – The University of Houston College of Medicine has a new course for people looking to become “disease detectives” in the era of COVID-19.

The university announced Monday it has an online contact tracing certificate program called “Population Health During a Pandemic: Contact Tracing and Beyond” to “help reduce community spread of COVID-19.”

So what is a contact tracer? These workers speak with COVID-19 patients to recall everyone they’ve had close contact with leading up to their infection and then notify those contacts of their potential exposure – connecting them with health care systems while providing education, support and information to understand their risk.

A news release notes that its 22-hour course is available to the public for free on the learning platform Coursera until July 31, after which there will be a fee to receive a certificate upon completion.

The course “aims to prepare a new type of public health worker uniquely educated about COVID-19 and broadly trained to identify and alert individuals who have potentially been exposed,” a news release says. “Contact tracing – along with social distancing, stay-at-home mandates, wearing masks and good hygiene practices – is a core public health strategy being used by public health systems across the country to combat COVID-19.”

The news release, citing a report by Johns Hopkins University, says that more than 100,000 trained contact tracers could be needed across the country to address COVID-19, while other medical experts have predicted even more need.

“Contact tracing is a tried-and-true approach to dealing with public health crises and this will help get us through the crisis until a vaccine is ready,” Bettina Beech, course co-organizer and professor and associate dean for research at the College of Medicine, is quoted as saying in the news release. “Health care experience is not required to become a contact tracer. However, it’s critical to have good communication skills and cultural humility. We’ll cover it all in this comprehensive class.” 

The UH contact tracing course is divided into 13 sections or “modules” and participants will learn to:

  • Identify the signs, symptoms, modes of transmission and epidemiology of COVID-19
  • Characterize underlying risk factors experienced by vulnerable groups that are predisposed to COVID-19 and available resources for high-risk communities
  • Describe the drug development process, clinical trial phases and current COVID-19 vaccine candidates
  • Describe the purpose of contact tracing, the context in which it is conducted and identify challenges and effective communication strategies

After July 31, the public can still take the course at no cost by enrolling in the audit option, without receiving a certificate upon completion. The course can be taken for $49 to receive a certificate. To learn more or sign up for the course, visit the College of Medicine website.


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