HONOLULU — Hawai‘i state officials are doubling down on COVID19 contact tracing efforts, with a new training program from University of Hawai‘i (UH) and the Hawai‘i Department of Health (DOH).
The program aims to train personnel and community health workers to support DOH in conducting COVID-19 contact tracing. Health experts say extensive contact tracing is a key component to prevent the spread of the virus while relaxing stay-at-home-orders and restarting Hawai‘i’s economy.
DOH at the peak of the first COVID-19 wave had over 100 contact tracers, including at least 30 volunteers from UH and other DOH divisions with backgrounds in public health, epidemiology, medicine, and nursing. This one-year, $2.5 million program will leverage UH faculty expertise and existing courses across the 10-campus system to quickly develop content for the contact tracing training.
“This has been a brainchild of State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park and UH’s own Dr. Aimee Grace, who leads our UHealthy Hawaii Initiative at the UH System,” said UH President Lassner. “We believe that these programs to expand the number of contract tracers and community health workers will really help protect all of Hawaii‘s communities,”
The plan is to then train approximately 300 contact tracers in two to three days, or two to three months, depending on their educational backgrounds, as well as increase the university’s capacity to prepare 100 community health workers each year. DOH can then activate the trained individuals as needed, including as emergency hires, in the event of a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“With 300 staff to extend the capacity for monitoring and investigation, we expect to build the capacity up to at least 1,000 cases a day,” said DOH Director Bruce Anderson at a May 13th news conference with Governor David Ige. “Hopefully, we will not be approaching anything close to that, but we are planning for the worst and building up our capacity, accordingly.”
The university will offer two tracks for contact tracing training: a course for clinical professionals (approximately two to three days to complete for those with at least an undergraduate degree and a clinical health background) and an intensive contact tracing program (approximately two to three months for those with undergraduate degrees, health sciences preferred). All training content and materials will be approved by the DOH.
Support will be provided to trainees that complete the appropriate program and join the DOH’s volunteer Medical Reserve Corps.
The UH Community Colleges will add capacity in the community health worker programs and update curricula so that community health worker graduates will be prepared to support COVID-19 contact tracing as needed.
Community health workers are a critical component to contract tracing with their special community-based training and ties to work effectively with identified high-risk populations. Those populations include Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander communities, which are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, along with the unemployed and homeless.
The course for clinical professionals will be led by Kristine Qureshi, Associate Dean for Research and Global Health and emergency preparedness expert at the UH Manoa School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene. The intensive contact tracing program will be led by Ricardo Custodio, Associate Professor of Health Science at UH West Oahu.
Anyone interested in the contact tracing or community health worker training can contact Sunja Kim in the UH System Office of Strategic Health Initiatives at firstname.lastname@example.org.