UAB Huntsville medical students contact tracing for state public health department

Updated: May. 4, 2020 at 6:55 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Political and health leaders in Alabama are relying on the Alabama Department of Public Health for data on the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic.

The ADPH is relying on contract tracers, or trained individuals who make calls to patients to track who they’ve come in contact with and ultimately the spread of the virus.

Monday, eight UAB Huntsville Medical Students and two faculty members began picking up the phone.

One of them is third year student Paul St. Clair.

“It’s a little bit, almost intimidating to jump in and say hey here’s a really important job we need to know who is sick, who could be sick, it’s a little bit intimidating but it’s kind of exciting as well,” he said.

St. Clair and his classmates went through the departments’ ethical and procedural training before being approved for contact tracing.

The first volunteer shifts began Monday at the Madison County Health Department.

UAB Huntsville Campus School of Medicine Dean Roger Smalligan said the students are up to the challenge.

“I really believe they are. These are young people that are really just about a year from hitting the hospital and taking care of you face to face. They’ve had the training in ethics, they understand the science, they understand the disease to the extent anyone does at this point,” he said.

Each shift is four hours, and St. Clair said he will either work 1 or 2 shifts, depending on his course load.

He expects to be able to complete four to six calls per shift, because of the dense information.

“When did you first have symptoms, what were those symptoms, how severe were those symptoms, when did you stop having symptoms, what were the last symptoms you had?” he said.

It’s unclear when the COVID-19 pandemic will end. Smalligan said he had not discussed long-term volunteering with the students.

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