COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS/NBC News) – Contact tracers have become an integral part of combating the spread of COVID-19.
Their job is to trace those who have come in contact with a positive case and notify them of their exposure.
The University of South Carolina is ramping up their own contact tracing program.
“The higher ed experience is designed to be a close contact one, the close contact is what we as a society love about higher ed,” said Dr. Rebecca Caldwell, director of Strategic Health Initiatives with the University of South Carolina.
But Dr. Caldwell says close contact in the classrooms, dorms, cafeterias, and libraries presents unique challenges for combating potential outbreaks on campus.
Contact tracers will be a key tool to combating this in the fall.
“The nature of the collegiate experience is that you might move through six or eight buildings in an average day, so I think our interviews will be longer and more extensive,” said Dr. Caldwell.
Dr. Caldwell says the way the process works is once the university is notified of a positive case, a contact tracer will call the student.
First the tracer will make sure that the student’s medical needs are met, and they have a plan for quarantining.
She says the contact tracer then conducts an interview about where the student might have been exposed.
From this, the tracer identifies who the student has been within 6 feet of for 10 to 15 minutes or more.
“Eventually, we will have a list of folks we will reach out to and say, without breaking anyone’s confidentiality wanted to let you know that you may have been exposed and let’s talk about… medical, what testing makes sense, this is what quarantine is, do you have a safe place to go, and so on,” she explained.
Dr. Caldwell says the University is in close contact with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
She says testing for the virus and antibodies will be an integral part of their contact tracing efforts.
“If there is an active infection then we also want to be tracing their contacts and if they have antibodies, then we think it probably means it’s not someone we necessarily need to quarantine,” she said.
Dr. Caldwell says that formulas indicate they need about four full time contact tracers for the size of the study body.
She says university officials are also working on strategies to increase social distancing within the classroom and in common areas around campus.
Earlier this week, the University of South Carolina announced an accelerated fall semester with plans to end after Thanksgiving.