Untangling the mystery: What we’ve learned from our COVID-19 contact tracing team

Nearly a year after its creation, we’re now able to reflect on what the University Employee Health Clinic’s contact tracing team has learned about the COVID-19 virus—and how it spreads.

The contact tracing team was formed to help better understand and track the spread of COVID-19 within UI Health Care to help keep our patients, visitors, and staff safe.

“As our nurse manager likes to say, ‘We built the car as we were driving it,’” says Molly Jennings, contact tracer. “We have continuously reshaped, refined, and standardized our processes as we’ve learned more about the virus.”

Cheryl Carter, Molly Jennings, and Holly Meacham from the University Employee Health Clinic’s contact tracing team.

That focus on continuous improvement helped the team better track potential exposures and was instrumental in keeping our UI Health Care community safe.

“It was really a two-fold process,” says Jennings. “We investigated positive cases to see where individuals may have been exposed to the virus, and we also traced potential exposures to try to break the chain of transmission.”

What we’ve learned

Jennings emphasizes that while some of the contact tracing questions may have seemed a bit invasive, honest answers helped to keep us safe.

“With contact tracing, we try to get to the point where we can identify where else we need to look to get in front of any disease transmission and keep it from being passed onto other people on campus or in the community,” she says. “There was a lot of trust between us and our staff and patients. We never asked questions to get anyone in trouble—we just wanted to ask all the right questions to keep everyone safe.”

Not only did contact tracing keep our UI Health Care community safe, but it also helped us better prepare for possible outbreaks of other diseases.

While each disease has its own vehicle for transmission, the contact tracing team can take what it has learned with COVID-19 and apply it to other types of communicable diseases to limit future outbreaks.

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