11:35 AM

UHD Contact Tracers Reaching Out to Those Affected by COVID-19


By Mark Kramer

In May, the University of Houston-Downtown’s Office of Emergency Management launched a Contact Tracing Program to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and support the UHD community.

Contact tracing is considered best practice for informing people they may have been exposed to an infectious disease. Presently, the program is comprised of 22 UHD employees who are volunteering their time to reach out by phone to employees and students who may have been exposed to COVID-19. Contact tracers receive special training on how to do this effectively.

According to UHD Director of Emergency Management Cynthia Vargas, the program has helped slow outbreaks over the past three months.

The goal is to interrupt the spread of the illness by reaching out to individuals who test positive and to those they have been in close contact with as well as provide needed support for them to isolate,” she said. “It has to be done quickly. It takes the efforts of many people working together. We are actively seeking employees to help us by serving as contact tracers.”

The Contact Tracing Process

Contact tracers call employees and students who have been exposed to someone on campus infected with COVID-19.

The contact tracer requests employees' or students' UHD identification number and inquires if the infected person has traveled as well as with whom they came in close contact — generally defined as being within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more — from about two days before they started showing symptoms until they isolated themselves. The contact tracer also will ask the exposed individuals to stay at home and self-quarantine for 14 days.

Vargas noted that information given to the contact tracers is kept confidential and used only for the purpose of identifying anyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19.

“Providing information to the contact tracers is voluntary, but it's the only way the program will work,” Vargas emphasized. “During the initial call, the tracer makes sure the person is okay and understands the disease and what to expect. Ideally, the contract tracer builds a relationship with the person and informs him or her of local resources or services, such as food delivery or needed medical supplies, which can make it easier for them to stay isolated until they have recovered from the virus.”

Individuals who develop symptoms should promptly isolate themselves and submit a UHD Diagnosis Form. A form also is available for those who believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19. Additionally, they should contact a healthcare provider to assess the need for medical care. If enrolled in classes, students should contact their faculty and the Dean of Students Office at uhdstudentaffairs@uhd.edu and complete a Diagnosis Form.

“The #HoustonStrong hashtag elicits strong feelings and looking back just short three years, Houstonians definitely came together during Hurricane Harvey,” said Maya Ben-Bassat, Marketing Manager in University Relations. “As a member of the UHD Contact Tracing team, I definitely feel like this is my way to help Houstonians during this pandemic crisis.”

Layered Health & Safety Precautions

UHD’s contact tracing process is one of the many layered safety precautions being implemented to ensure a safe campus. Other University precautions include Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including face masks, increased cleaning protocols, hand sanitizer stations, controlled building access, social distancing signage and Plexiglas shields in high traffic areas.

How You Can Help

If you are interested in becoming a contact tracer, contact UHD’s Office of Emergency Management by email at vargasc@uhd.edu.

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.