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NDSU students involved in contact tracing for COVID-19

A number of NDSU students have been working on “contact tracing” during this coronavirus pandemic.

Initially, graduate students in Public Health were trained – and that expanded to nursing, pharmacy, and other health professions – as well as with the NDSU Emergency Management program.

"We initially got 20 students up and running on contact tracing work," NDSU Public Health Department chair Dr. Pamela Jo Johnson said in an interview. "We have been tasked by the state Health Department to add another 100 to our ranks."

Johnson said a call was put out for volunteers, throughout the College of Health Professions.

"We have around 130 volunteers overall," Johnson said. "We're now trying to bring on groups of around 20 or so -- nursing students, pharmacy students, allied health sciences, and move into emergency management students as well."

The students go through on-line training, which includes videos from the state Health Department.

Johnsons said it’s important for contact tracers to establish a rapport with the people they call.

"There's a fair bit of fear and a fair bit of uncertainty right now," Johnson said. "You hear about scams going on because of COVID-19, and you may not know who these people are you are potentially talking to. Being able to establish that rapport -- being able to help people understand why we're calling, and giving them resources or places they can check, to find out who we are, and then they would call us back, helps to reassure people a lot."

Sargam Ghmire is a graduate student in Public Health. She’s from Nepal. Ghmire said she wanted to get involved in contact tracing to improve her communications skills. She speaks several languages – and she said that’s been very helpful.   

Ghmire said she started getting cases involving refugees and new Americans.

"It made me feel so good, because they were glad to talk to me," Ghmire said. "They expressed concerns ,and asked questions, which I didn't have answers to. But because we speak the same languages, I can show them how empatheic I am towards them, and I understand they're going through a hard time."

Ghmire said she tries to be patient, talking to them and calming them down.

"It makes me feel good at the end of the day," Ghmire said.

Johnson said UND and Mayville State University are also getting programs for contact traing set up.

"They were looking to us on how to get things set up, best practices, and getting the students up and doing the fabulous job you guys are doing," Johnson said.

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