University of Houston offering free 'disease detective' course

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The University of Houston is now offering a free online contact tracing and case identification certificate program, in collaboration with Houston Health Department and Harris County Public Health.

The 12-hour, self-taught course is currently open to students and staff at UH, but will soon be available to the public in a shorter version.

According to the university, contact tracing is a core public health strategy to combat COVID-19, along with social distancing, stay-at-home mandates and good hygiene practices.

The "disease detectives" trained during the online course could be deployed to work on-site at the city and county health departments to help COVID-19 patients recall everyone they've had close contact with leading up to their infection.

The contact tracers could then notify these contacts of their potential exposure, providing education, support and information to understand their risk.

"We are all in this together, and if it takes all of us to move this virus along its merry way, then contact tracing is the key right now," said Bettina Beech, UH associate provost for planning and strategic initiatives and associate dean for research at the College of Medicine.

Over 100,000 trained contact tracers will be needed across the country to address COVID-19, according to a report by Johns Hopkins University.

Gov. Greg Abbott's plan to reopen Texas calls for 4,000 contact tracers to be hired statewide by mid-May.

The contact tracers-in-training will learn about COVID-19 signs and symptoms, epidemiology, medical terminology, cultural competency, interpersonal communication and interviewing skills, patient confidentiality and more.

Those who successfully complete the course will receive a digital certificate, and some students will be eligible to earn credit hours.

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