I recently completed an online Covid-19 Contact Tracing course through John Hopkins University. John Hopkins has been a world leader in epidemiology during this crisis with its comprehensive website. Dr. Emily Gurley from the Bloomberg School of Health at JHU is teaching the course and it is available for free on Coursera.org. The class is designed to be completed in about 6 hours and leads to certification as a Contact Tracer. I took the course to help guide me in re-opening the school in 2020-2021.
Unit 1 “Basics of Covid-19” SARS-Cov-2 is the third coronavirus to emerge since 2002, with SARS (2002, China) and MERS (2012, Middle East) being the antecedents. Medical and public health experts are still learning about the disease and its spread. It has a wide variety of signs (can be physically measured (temperature, breathing rate) and symptoms (not measured, but how a case feels) that include the usual influenza symptoms. One specific symptom for Covid-19 is a loss of taste and smell.
Unit 2 “The Basics of Contact Tracing” Covid-19 has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days with 50% of symptomatic cases showing signs of the disease after 5 days. People are most infectious on day 1 of the onset of the illness and it lessens over time. They are also infectious two days prior to a positive test for infection. We should assume between 10-14 days someone is infectious. There is a small window of opportunity for contacts to be notified and start quarantine before they can infect someone else. It is usually around 3 days. It is still not clear if asymptomatic people are infectious. There are three types of exposure contacts:
- physical – actual touch
- close – within 6 feet/1.8 meters (distance virus can travel in air) for more than 15 minutes
- proximate – same room more than 6 feet away, but with the infected person for an extended period of time
Isolation of a sick person usually takes place at home, hotel or hospital. The duration is from 2 days before the onset of their illness and at least 10 days from the onset, with all symptoms improving and no fever for three days. Contacts should be quarantined (movement restricted) for at least 14 days since the last contact with an infected person. To repeat, isolation is for a case (infected person) and quarantine is for contacts, healthy people that have been exposed to an infected person. In the final portion of unit 2, they identified “high-risk” situations, one category is dense contact environment which includes schools, mass transit (school bus), concerts (theatre/music), and sporting events, all of these occur at schools.
Unit 3: “Steps to Investigate Cases and Trace Their Contacts” Straightforward procedures from calling the infected person (case) to then following up the contacts. The important points are to determine the infectious period and identify contacts. They went through many role plays of calling a case and contact.
Unit 4: “Ethics of Contact Tracing and Technological Tools” Because Covid-19 has a RO (R-naught) of infecting 2-3 people, even stopping one infection has large effects down the line of transmission. Covid-19 has a similar rate to influenza, but a disease such as measles, has an RO of 15. My big takeaway from this unit was that the “public good” should trump individual rights. As a school leader, this comes up with requiring vaccinations to enter school. It is something that I will pay more attention to going forward.
Unit 5 “Skills for Effective Communication” This unit was a solid review of building rapport, types of questions and a good reminder of active listening. This would be a beneficial unit for young people.
I am happy to have taken the time to complete the course. The course provides a solid understanding of one of the most common tools that public health officials use to combat a pandemic, contact tracing. My critique of the course would be to add more outside resources, like photos, videos, articles from outside resources. Dr. Gurley’s slides were informative but a bit dry. The role play was excellent however, and a reminder that it is such a strong teaching technique. It also was 100% online teaching and learning, exactly what billions of K-12 students are going through right now. I felt like a student again waiting for the results of the final exam, a multiple-choice test of 40 questions. I recommend school leaders to take the course.