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UNLV scientists, students help with contact tracing in Las Vegas

Posted at 7:44 AM, Jun 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-19 12:19:12-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.

According to the Southern Nevada Health District, more than 200 new cases were reported on Wednesday.

As more places reopen across the valley, a method known as "contact tracing" could become a big part of slowing the spread of the virus. But, it's not an easy task.

That's why a team at UNLV is helping the health district with contact tracing for patients who test positive for COVID-19.


"The idea behind contract tracing is - you are calling the people who are positive for coronavirus and then figuring out who they come in contact with that they may have infected. And then you get in touch with those people as well with all of their contacts find out if they're are sick and give them recommendations on how to stop the spread of disease," Brian Labus explains. He is an associate professor at the School of Public Health at UNLV. He also served on Gov. Steve Sisolak's medical advisory team for the COVID-19 response.

Labus says the team assisting the health district are all public health students. They've been working the phones, finding out where COVID-19 patients may have been.

Then they call their contacts who may have been exposed, and stay in touch for health updates, and advise them on isolation and quarantine protocols.

While getting that phone call may be scary, Labus says your risk of exposure varies depending on the scenario you were in.

"Simply just paying for something on the way out of the store, that's a minor contact that's low risk. But say you were waiting in line next to somebody for 15 minutes and talking to them at Starbucks or something like that -- that could be a higher risk and we would want to find that person."

Labus says the people the contact tracers get in touch with are also enrolled in the health district's program for self-reporting. There they have the option to use an app with information and report any symptoms.

UNLV is planning on expanding the contact tracing teams and its working with the state to do so since we have a high need for contact tracers statewide right now.