Assumption Students Training as Contact Tracers to Assist Worcester in Pandemic Response

Feb 16, 2021

In an effort to bring real-world experience into the classroom and assist the City of Worcester in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, several Assumption students are  spending the spring semester training to become contact tracers. In their upper-level biology course, Infectious and Epidemic Disease, students will explore the basic biology of COVID-19 while completing 20-hour trainings required to become a Massachusetts contact tracer. The University has partnered with the City of Worcester Division of Public Health’s (WDPH) Academic Health Collaborative to deploy the students as contact tracers later this spring.

The special topics course explores the history, epidemiology, clinical and biological elements of significant epidemics such as smallpox, cholera, the plague, tuberculosis, and coronaviruses, and will focus on the current global health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the coursework, a community service-learning component of the course features a partnership with WDPH Academic Health Collaborative, who will mentor students as they complete the Johns Hopkins Training program as well as the Massachusetts training program, MAVEN.

“This course explores in detail the history of infectious diseases while including a current public health dimension to the classroom instruction,” said Professor Aisling Dugan, Ph.D., associate professor of biology who relied on her infectious disease expertise to design the course. “This unique way of learning about pandemics will provide relevant opportunities for students to become contact tracing interns in late spring, volunteer as contact tracers for the City of Worcester during the summer, or pursue additional roles in the City’s coronavirus response, including vaccination efforts.”

“Through this innovative collaboration, students will engage in actual projects and research related to the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than conducting hypothetical research and coursework,” said Kelsey Hopkins, coordinator of the City’s Academic Health Collaborative.

Hopkins explained that the WDPH team of 25 individuals focuses on a range of issues relative to public health and the pandemic, and requires additional resources to adequately administer a comprehensive contact tracing program. The city relies on the generosity of trained volunteers and community partners, including college students and Worcester Public School nurses. 

The students began the training offered by Johns Hopkins University last week, with the goal of completing the training by March 4. 

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