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UNLV's COVID-19 Contact Tracing Team named Program of the Year by Nevada Public Health Association

Posted at 11:35 PM, Sep 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-23 03:08:10-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The UNLV Contact Tracing Team took home a high honor. It was named Program of the Year by the Nevada Public Health Association.

The group of students investigated tens of thousands of COVID cases in Southern Nevada, putting their classroom knowledge to the test helping real people.

It started with seven volunteer students in Spring 2020 and worked its way up to more than 240 in August 2021.

“Oh, my God, I was so, so proud of our team,” said April Cruda, UNLV’s COVID-19 case surveillance coordinator. “The fact that we did this [with] all students.”

“I was joking earlier that I hoped I wouldn’t get too emotional in this interview,” said Katie Burris, a UNLV graduate student.

“It was amazing,” said Casey Barber, a UNLV graduate research assistant. “Especially to be recognized by the Nevada Public Health Association.”

A team that just continued to grow and train students how to do contact tracing—getting them a foot in the door of public health.

“We started this team from scratch,” said Cruda. “We created protocols, we created guides and spreadsheets, and it was just completely student-led.”

They assisted our local health department, and eventually, one out of every six cases in Southern Nevada went through the team, which was gaining real experience with real people.

“It went from a team of volunteers to a whole team with HR, with managers,” said Cruda.

“We had students who were no public health students,” said Barber. “But when they were introduced to public health through this work, we actually had some people change their majors to public health afterward.”

And after contact tracing more than 43,000 cases, it is safe to say they made a difference.

“I think we made quite an impact on the community with our efforts to help the health district and trying to slow the spread of COVID transmission in our community,” said Burris.

“To be a part of the beginning of what made public health so important here in Nevada, to be part of it is amazing,” said Cruda. “And I know that all of the students can probably relate.”

And the school’s plan is to make this team a permanent resource for the state.