Shoe prints in the sand

Piedmont Tech Adds Contact Tracing to QuickSkills Course Options

Piedmont Technical College (PTC) has added one of the latest tools to help combat the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate the rapidly emerging workforce needs related to it.

“We have a brand-new course that we are offering called Contact Tracing. It’s the first of its kind for South Carolina,” said Steve McDade, health care program manager in Continuing Education. “We worked very closely with DHEC (the state Department of Health and Environmental Control) in developing it.”

“Contact tracing” has become part of the world’s collective lexicon over the past year as the global pandemic continues. The practice of contact tracing essentially involves purposeful health care detective work intended to reduce community spread of a disease or virus. It’s a powerful non-pharmaceutical method to mitigate disease transmission, which currently is focused on COVID-19.

Investigators work to identify all people who have come in contact with a confirmed infected patient and notify those contacts that they have been exposed to someone who tested positive. These individuals then are asked to voluntarily quarantine (in the case of COVID-19, for no less than 14 days). It’s also important that they are linked to available testing and care.

“We are two weeks into the first cohort, and it’s going great,” Instructor David Porter said. “The class involves skills that a lot of people are looking for when they hire contact tracers.”

Contact tracers need to understand policies regarding patient confidentiality and respect that privacy in the course of an investigation. In fact, contacts are not even provided the identity of the infected patient. They will need a good grasp of medical terminology and should be trained in interviewing skills that include tact, crisis counseling and multicultural sensitivity. They also will need to be resourceful in locating contacts who may be difficult to reach or reluctant to cooperate.

Those who successfully complete the four-week course will receive an ASTHO (Association of State and Territorial Health Officials) certificate in contact tracing, which is a requirement for employment with organizations that conduct contact tracing.

The course is self-paced over the college’s D2L operating system. “Students need to be motivated and able to work independently,” Porter said. “A lot of contact tracer jobs are work-from-home jobs, so they must be able to work independently.”

While the course is online, there are ample opportunities for engagement.

“We do discussion posts every week so I can interact with the students,” Porter added. “We pre-record contact tracing interviews. There is lots of opportunity for engagement.”

The demand is very real. “Communities must scale up and train a large workforce and work collaboratively across public and private agencies to stop the transmission of COVID-19,” DHEC stated on its website. And now PTC is responding to this rapidly emerging workforce need.

“We are excited to be able to offer the first cohort,” McDade said. “We will offer one Contact Tracing course per month. If you are 18 or over and a resident of South Carolina, you likely qualify for this course, tuition-free. It even covers books. The only thing the student must pay for is the certification exam.”

To learn more, please visit www.ptc.edu/quickskills.

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