The Charger Blog

Students on Front Lines of Coronavirus Pandemic in Connecticut

As contact tracers with the state of Connecticut’s Department of Public Health, several University of New Haven students are offering support to those who test positive for COVID-19. While helping to slow the spread of the virus, they are gaining meaningful experience in the healthcare field.

September 23, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of different students helping with contact tracing.
Rabia Hamid ’23 MHA, Bijaya Dhital ’21 M.S., Sharon Elza Raju ’22 MHA, Emily Bean ’21 MPH.

Rabia Hamid ’23 MHA is passionate about making a positive impact in community healthcare. She is now doing just that while on the front lines of the coronavirus global pandemic.

A candidate in the University of New Haven’s Master of Healthcare Administration program, Hamid has been working with the Connecticut Department of Public Health as a COVID-19 contact tracer since June. Her work, which is part of an internship, has deepened her desire to work in the public sector and serve the community.

“I chose to become a contact tracer because of the pressing need during these times,” said Hamid, who previously earned a juris doctor from Western New England University School of Law. “I am adamant about working in the public sector. My experience as a contact tracer has shown me that many constituents with limited means lack medical insurance and are the most unrepresented group in the state.”

Hamid is one of several University of New Haven students now serving as contact tracers for the state’s DPH. Using ContaCT, a confidential software system, they monitor the health and well-being of those affected by COVID-19, connecting with their close contacts, and helping to stop the spread of the virus across the state. The database includes every positive test reported to the state, as well as each person’s contact information and the date of the positive test.

Contact tracers call those who test positive for the virus to confirm they are aware of the test result. They then discuss their symptoms and give them instructions on how to self-quarantine. They also ask about each person’s unmet needs, such as food, safety, and access to healthcare.

Karl Minges, Ph.D.
Karl Minges, Ph.D.
‘I am able to offer them a level of comfort’

Emily Bean ’21 MPH says that, in some cases, especially as COVID-19 testing was picking up in Connecticut, it was her delivering the news of a positive test.

“The most fulfilling piece of contact tracing for me has been our ability to offer support and compassion to those impacted by COVID-19,” she said. “I have been met with tears, anger, sadness, and hopelessness, and I am able to offer them a level of comfort. If people do not have a primary care provider, we may be the first people who are truly checking in on them and answering their questions, and we choose to take that as an opportunity to offer support and comfort while being informative.”

In addition to connecting with those who test positive for COVID-19, contact tracers get the names and contact information of anyone who has been in close contact with the COVID-19 positive individuals during the time they have been sick or contagious. Contact tracers then reach out to those who may have been exposed to the virus to notify them and give them instructions on how to quarantine.

“Communicating with people from different backgrounds is something I have especially enjoyed,” said Bijaya Dhital ’21 M.S., a candidate in the University’s graduate program in data science. “I have also enjoyed sharing important information and sharing with people the knowledge needed to reduce the spread of disease. I have learned a lot from this experience, and I have a better understanding of how people are coping with COVID-19.”

‘I believe that our students had a significant role in improving the state’s overall health’

Karl Minges, Ph.D., chair of the University’s Health Administration and Policy Department, is the students’ internship instructor, and he has been overseeing their experiences.

“I am so proud of our students who spent their summer months – and beyond – volunteering as contact tracers for the State of Connecticut,” he said. “These students understand the importance of improving population health through disease prevention and health promotion efforts. As contact tracers, the students have been on the front lines of our state’s surveillance system geared to trace contacts of those who tested positive for COVID-19.

Sharon Elza Raju ’22 MHA.
Sharon Elza Raju ’22 MHA.

“It is no wonder Connecticut made national headlines with comparatively low rates of infection relative to other states,” he continued. “I believe that our students had a significant role in improving the state’s overall health and reducing the burden of COVID-19.”

Contact tracing is considered to be one of the best ways to identify and notify people who may be infected with COVID-19 in order to slow the spread of the virus. This is especially true since not everyone who is infected with the virus has symptoms.

“Our students are committed to improving the health of communities and are passionate about helping others,” said Summer McGee, Ph.D., dean of the University’s School of Health Sciences and the University’s COVID-19 coordinator. “It is no surprise that our students are volunteering their time and expertise to serve as contact tracers for the state. Contact tracing is arguably one of the most important public health tools we have to stop community spread of COVID-19, so it is wonderful that our students are contributing to this vital effort.”

‘We won’t be able to move past this pandemic without contact tracing’

After their initial contact, contact tracers remain in touch, monitoring those who test positive for COVID-19, as well as those who have been in contact with them, for the duration of the quarantine period. They do daily check-ins to see how people are feeling. They are careful to provide information, resources, and support while protecting everyone’s privacy.

“As contact tracers, they serve a vital role in identifying people who have been exposed to COVID-19 and letting them know that they must quarantine for the safety of the community,” said Jessica Holzer, Ph.D., an assistant professor who helped enable students to gain the experience of working as contact tracers. “We won’t be able to move past this pandemic without contact tracing, and it’s labor-intensive work. I’m so glad our students are taking part and learning firsthand about public health prevention and education.”

Sharon Elza Raju ’22 MHA credits her time at the University with preparing her for her work as a contact tracer. As an international student from India, she considers her work as a contact tracer to be an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the American healthcare system.

“I am thankful to all my professors at the University who guided me during this journey,” said Raju, who also is serving as a COVID-19 health ambassador at the University. “I learned how to systematically organize my tasks for the day and how to communicate with individuals while building trust and managing cases. This has offered me a great platform to expand my knowledge. As a future healthcare administrator, I think I am on the right track.”