Many students in the Colorado School of Public Health have taken on the role of contact tracer and case investigators for COVID-19. It has allowed students not only to get real-world public health experience, but also help people in their communities. Some students have become inspired to pursue contact tracing further in their future careers, while others are just thankful for the experience.

Will Rausch, a second year MPH student in the Global Health and Health Disparities concentration at CSU, worked as a contact tracer for the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. For Will, the most rewarding part of being a case investigator and contact tracer was following a case from start to finish and seeing them get better. Will does not have any clinical experience, but he imagines it is a similar sensation.

“It feels really good to call a case to clear them to return to campus and hear them thank me for all my efforts. By the end of following a case I get a sensation that I have really helped an individual, and that is very rewarding” he said.

Will’s public health background has been more focused on policy at the federal and state level, as his undergraduate degree was in Health Policy and Management. One of the biggest reasons he wanted to become a case investigator and contact tracer was to get more public health experience at the local level.

“The way this job has expanded my view of public health is that you can see the immediate ramifications of federal and state policy. Specifically, in terms of the federal government making the decision to slow down testing. This became evident in July in how long tests were taking to come back. This has really shown me the importance of good policy writing as it has immediate effects on individuals” he said.

Deb Green, a first year MPH student in the Epidemiology concentration at CSU, started contact tracing with AmeriCorp and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment this summer, before starting her MPH degree. She found out about the opportunity from Kendra Bigsby, Assistant Director for the ColoradoSPH at CSU, and participated in a number of trainings before starting as a contact tracer. For Deb, the most rewarding part of the job was giving people negative test results, because she could sense the anxiety and fear people were feeling while waiting for their results.

“I was happy to think that I could actually be doing something that helped others during this difficult time. So many people I talked to were so kind and appreciative of our efforts” she said. “It was energizing to think of going into public health after having some experience in the actual field. I hope to be working as a contact tracer as a part-time job during the school year”

Laura Landrum, a second year MPH and MSW student at CSU, was a contract tracer at Summit County Public Health this summer. She worked closely with care coordinators at the Family and Intercultural Resource Center (FIRC), a non-governmental non-profit in Summit County, and gained a big appreciation for their work.

“Without these care coordinators making sure that quarantined and isolated individuals had the supplies they needed to stay home (things like food and medication deliveries) and giving them the tools to ensure they received CARES Act funding from their employers or unemployment payments for the work they missed, we literally could not have contained the spread of COVID”  she said.

COVID-19 has affected us all in many ways, and even though it has come with many negatives, it has given students an opportunity for practice-based learning, as well as an opportunity to give back to their communities. It has helped shape students like Will, Deb, and Laura’s understanding of public health and the complexities of keeping communities safe during a pandemic.

Written by Megan Jansson