SAN ANTONIO – A new program at the University of Texas at San Antonio this fall semester is allowing students to be part of the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The course on contact tracing gives students hands-on experience on how to track people who were exposed to COVID-19.
“They’re not just going to be listening to online modules and learning what it is, but they’re going to be actually doing contact tracing,” said Dr. Erica Sosa, associate professor of Public Health at UTSA.
Sosa said students will be tracking down UTSA faculty, staff and students. She said they will contact people who had close contact with a UTSA employee or student who tests positive for COVID-19 to notify them of their potential exposure and provide information regarding testings.
The students will not disclose the identity of the UTSA-affiliated person who tested positive for COVID-19.
“If a student, for example, contacts student health services and tells them that they’re experiencing symptoms and then they subsequently get tested and test positive, then that case is referred back to myself, and then that will be what we use to go out and to get a hold of the contacts,” Sosa said.
So far, about 20 people have enrolled in the program.
“We will be doing a number of efforts to really educate the UTSA community on contact tracing, and they may have somebody reach out to them and (talk about) what it means, because we do want to get rid of those stigmas and big concerns from people to where they’re not responding to it,” Sosa said. “It’s very important that we get that response so contact tracing can occur, and we can try to curb any spread of the disease.”
The course is for upper-division health and public health majors. UTSA senior Allison Olfers said she is enrolled in the new class.
“I used to work in a hospital system, and I really saw the impacts of COVID-19 on our community and just the lack of education. I was really wanting to get integrated into the San Antonio community and particularly the UTSA community,” Olfers said.
The course will be taught virtually. Sosa said officials don’t know if it will be offered in the spring as it depends on how the pandemic progresses.
Sosa said Metro Health has helped in the development of the course. The health agency has shared resources for the class to use for contact tracing, and they will share updates and data throughout the process.
UTSA has COVID-19 information on its website, including a self reporting portal, for the campus community to report the following:
- If they have been tested for COVID-19 or have been advised to test
- If they have been in direct contact with a COVID-19 positive person
- If they have symptoms of COVID-19
- If an individual has advised them on or off-campus that they are under evaluation for COVID-19
A spokesperson for UTSA said they anticipate to post soon how many staff and students have tested positive for COVID-19 on the university’s website.