Johns Hopkins University has launched a free online course to train an “army” of contact tracers to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The new Coursera class developed by the Bloomberg School of Public Health is available now to train contact tracers on the principles of the public health strategy.
The six-hour course is open to anyone and it may be a good option for those who have found themselves unemployed because of the pandemic. States are beginning to hire people to conduct contact tracing.
Across the nation, an estimated 100,000 people could be required to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and safely reopen the economy, according to a report by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Some say contact tracing is critical to getting a handle on COVID-19. The strategy aims to break the chain of transmission of infectious diseases. The new class, "COVID-19 Contact Tracing," teaches the basics of interviewing those diagnosed with the virus, identifying their close contacts who might have been exposed, and providing them guidance for self-quarantine for two weeks.
Johns Hopkins says taking and passing the course will be a requirement for thousands of contact tracers being hired by the state of New York to combat the virus.
The course is part of ambitious push for contact tracing backed by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg. The New York program will include a baseline of 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents in the state and is expected to have 6,400 to 17,000 tracers statewide depending on the projected number of cases.
"Other communities may similarly adopt this particular course, or maybe they'll give students a few options," said Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at the Bloomberg School. "Anyone in the country now can take this course and get a certificate to demonstrate that they … understand these key aspects of contact tracing."
The contact tracing course is divided into five sections or "modules," covering:
1. Basic information on the virus and COVID-19, including symptoms of infection and how the virus is transmitted
2. Fundamentals of contact tracing, such as how to define a case, identify their contacts, and calculate how long a contact should isolate;
3. Steps involved in investigating cases and tracing their contacts, including simulated scenes performed by professional actors who illustrate potential interactions that tracers may experience with infected individuals and their contacts
4. Ethics of contact tracing, including balancing privacy and public health considerations, and examples of basic technology tools that can facilitate contact tracing, such as using text messaging for check-ins and reminders;
5. Skills for effective communications in the tracing process, such as what it means to be an "active listener" and how to deal with common challenges that arise when investigating cases.
The class includes simulations of contact tracing calls to give trainees a sense of the complex personal dynamics at play with the strategy, including in some cases a reluctance to self-quarantine for two weeks.