UNLV students helping fight COVID-19

Posted at 3:23 PM, Oct 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-30 10:48:56-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Hundreds of UNLV students are getting involved in the fight against pandemic. 13 Anchor News anchor Tricia Kean looks at how the Southern Nevada Health District is putting these students to work, helping to keep all of us safe.

"We had almost 1,000 applications that were submitted to us. There were a lot of people who were interested," says Graduate student Casey Barber, Manager with UNLV's Contact Tracing Team.

Thanks to a $3.4 million grant from the State of Nevada, her team is hiring 200 students to help the Southern Nevada Health District.


"We start from scratch to get them oriented about COVID-19 so they're familiar with all of the information they need to know," says Casey.

The students are being trained as contact tracers. They're job is to interview Southern Nevadans testing positive for COVID-19 and identify who else they may have infected.

It's a job where time is of the essence. COVID patients are typically contacted within 24 hours of being identified.


"It's of course not pleasant for that person we're calling. You're receiving a phone call from someone that you don't know calling from the Health District. Sometimes people get afraid," says Graduate Research Assistant, Kristina Mihajlovski.

She's on the team training new hires who undergo: Simulated phone calls with supervisors. Learn new software for tracking data. Plus learn how to be HIPAA compliant while collecting sensitive information like names and birth dates to verify a person's identity.

"The goal is to reach as many people as you can because we're working on the intervention to stop the spread of the virus. Sometimes just one case takes a lot of time, an hour or two hours. Depends on the number of contacts, places of exposure, etc," says Kristina.

The newly hired Contact Tracers work part-time while still going to school. Altogether, the team makes calls 7 days a week and speaks 16 different languages.


Casey says along with collecting essential data, they're also there to help the patients.

"We try to just walk them through it and ask them particularly what symptoms they've experienced, and help them identify contacts that have been within 6 feet of them for 15 minutes or more in accordance with CDC guidelines... and also answer questions that people may have," says Casey.


In the end, Kristina says it's also a great learning experience for the students involved in the effort.

"They will definitely learn more about the outbreak investigation and infectious disease control prevention. This is something new for the whole world. So we don't know what may happen 10 years from today. So we will have a generation that is prepared to help the community if God forbid something like this happens a decade from today," says Kristina.

Along with COVID patients making sure to stay in quarantine, UNLV's Contact Tracing Team says it's important for anyone on contact with a patient to also self-quarantine for two weeks, since you can be infectious even before developing symptoms.