Free online training for contact tracers launched by Johns Hopkins

The course will be used to train thousands of contact tracers being hired by the state of New York


By Laura French

BALTIMORE — A new online course developed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has been made available for anyone to learn the basics of contact tracing to help slow the spread of COVID-19. 

The free course available on Coursera will help train contact tracers, including the thousands being hired by the state of New York, to identify those who may have been exposed to the virus and advise self-quarantine to help prevent further exposure. Since the course launched on Monday, more than 400 people have registered for the online training, according to Bloomberg School Vice Dean Joshua Sharfstein. 

In this April 20, 2020 photo, Catherine Hopkins, Director of Community Outreach and School Health at St. Joseph's Hospital, right, performs a test on a patient in a COVID-19 triage tent at St. Joseph's Hospital in Yonkers, N.Y. The state of New York is hiring thousands of contact tracers in its effort to slow the spread of the virus. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
In this April 20, 2020 photo, Catherine Hopkins, Director of Community Outreach and School Health at St. Joseph's Hospital, right, performs a test on a patient in a COVID-19 triage tent at St. Joseph's Hospital in Yonkers, N.Y. The state of New York is hiring thousands of contact tracers in its effort to slow the spread of the virus. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The course teaches the basics of interviewing COVID-19 patients, identifying their close contacts and providing guidance on how to self-quarantine for two weeks, according to a university press release. Passing the course will be a requirement for contact tracers hired by the state of New York. 

"Even if you stop one or two new infections, you're preventing many new cases down the line," Johns Hopkins Infectious Disease Epidemiologist Emily Gurley, the lead instructor of the course, said during a press briefing. 

Gurley said the curriculum was developed in collaboration with Tolbert Nyenswah, who served as incident commander in response to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. 

The program is backed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who announced the statewide contact-tracing program last month. The state plans to hire at least 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 residents in the state but may hire up to 17,000 tracers depending on the projected number of virus cases. 

"Contact tracing allows us to communicate with people infected with COVID-19, identify those who may have been exposed, and provide all of them with guidance to limit the spread of the disease," Bloomberg said in a statement. "This new training course, which we're making available online for free, will teach contact tracers how to do this work effectively – and help cities and states across the nation undertake these critical efforts."

A recent report by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security estimated that about 100,000 contact tracers may be needed nationwide to limit the spread of the disease and reopen the economy. 

"Other communities may similarly adopt this particular course, or maybe they'll give students a few options," Sharfstein said in a statement. "Anyone in the country now can take this course and get a certificate to demonstrate that they ... understand these key aspects of contact tracing."

The course is separated into five main sections: COVID-19 basics, fundamentals of contact tracing, steps in investigating cases and tracing contacts, ethics of contact tracing and skills for effective communication during the tracing process. 

Johns Hopkins has been tracking COVID-19 cases worldwide since early on in the pandemic, through a live map initially developed by the school's Center for Systems Science and Engineering. The university later began tracking cases by county in the United States and critical trends throughout the pandemic. 

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