Seventy-five student volunteer investigators are playing a key role in the University of Michigan’s COVID-19 response by serving as contact tracers.
Members of the Contact Tracing Corps will receive specialized training to reach out, monitor and offer support to people in the Ann Arbor campus community who had close contact with students testing positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
“It’s important that we have an efficient means for contact tracing so that we can quickly provide students who are close contacts with the resources that they need,” said Angela Beck, associate dean for student engagement and practice at the School of Public Health. “In some cases, that may include access to individual housing spaces. The goal of the student group is to try to make sure that happens as efficiently as possible.”
Contact tracing is used to ensure that people at risk of having been infected are rapidly identified in order to help prevent unnecessary spread of the virus.
When a student tests positive for the virus, a member of the Contact Tracing Corps will contact that person’s close contacts, who are identified by U-M Environment, Health & Safety in conjunction with the Washtenaw County Health Department.
A close contact is defined as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from two days prior to the person showing symptoms, said Danielle Sheen, executive director of EHS. For asymptomatic patients, the time frame is two days prior to positive specimen collection.
Close contact could also include people who provide care for someone with COVID-19, had direct physical contact or shared eating or drinking utensils with a sick individual, or who were sneezed on, coughed on or got respiratory droplets directly on them from an infected person.
The contact tracer will inform the sick person’s U-M-associated close contacts about their potential exposure and educate them about quarantining, assist with providing resources so they can successfully complete quarantine and initiate symptom tracking. The contact tracer will keep the individual’s name confidential through this process.
People who have been identified as close contacts are asked to stay home for 14 days after their last contact with the infected individual. They should also check their temperature at least daily and watch for COVID-19 symptoms. Since an exposed person could become infectious up to 14 days after exposure, obtaining a negative test in this period does not end the need to quarantine for the full 14 days.
A student who has been identified as a close contact and develops symptoms should contact University Health Service. Faculty and staff or student employees who are close contacts and develop symptoms should contact Occupational Health Services.
Those who test positive for the virus should isolate themselves from others for 10 days after the start of symptoms, or, for asymptomatic people, 10 days after a positive test. Isolation can end after symptoms have improved, there is no fever for 24 hours (without the use of fever-reducing medication) and the 10 days are complete.
U-M has set aside 600 single rooms in University Housing to isolate or quarantine Ann Arbor campus students, if needed.
The Contact Tracing Corps is working under the auspices of EHS, which is legally authorized to perform contact tracing by the Washtenaw County Health Department. The health department is handling contact tracing for COVID-19 among faculty and staff.
Sheen said the Contact Tracing Corps is expected to start actively training the week of Labor Day, with the program at full-scale by mid-September. Many corps members are health sciences students participating as part of a course or clinical rotation requirement, Beck said.
Officials say it’s important to provide detailed information to contact tracers.
“Sharing the names of colleagues or friends you were in contact with at work, the gym, or a party will not get anyone in trouble,” reads the contact tracing section on the university’s Campus Maize & Blueprint website. “Providing this information will provide a notification so they can seek testing, and guarantee they get the support and resources they may need during quarantine.”