Contact Tracing, the Colgate Together Way

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The staff, faculty, and administration at Colgate have been hard at work this past year, navigating the return to in-person learning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. As Colgate continues in Gate 4 and vaccines are becoming more widely available to people in the Colgate community, it is important to take a look at some of the initiatives and actions that allowed us to get here.

One initiative in particular that has successfully reduced the spread of COVID-19 on campus was the creation of Colgate’s own Contact Tracing Team in early January, 2021. The team is headed by Dr. Ellen Larson, university physician, and made up of 12 volunteer staff members from across campus, who have donated their time and skills to ensuring students with positive test results are contacted swiftly and their close contacts are identified and alerted as soon as possible.

“We have people from athletics, summer programs, the chemistry department, student accounts, the library, the music department, and the quarantine and isolation team” says Dr. Larson. All of these staff members have been volunteering their time and energy outside of their other campus responsibilities to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of our Colgate community. “We have a daytime team, an evening team, and a weekend team. Each of them is led by a staff member with health care experience,” adds Larson.

 Contact tracing is a practice that has been used for many decades to aid in tracking and preventing the spread of infectious diseases in local communities. Individuals who are trained and certified by the State Department of Health reach out to citizens who have tested positive for, or come in close contact with, someone who has tested positive for a particular illness. Each member of the Colgate Contact Tracing Team underwent extensive online training to become certified. 

“At the end of the day, Colgate has a Colgate-specific team of Department of Health-certified contact tracers,” says Larson. This means that positive Colgate students and their close contacts were able to receive Colgate-specific information from the team member who called them. “The Colgate contact tracers know exactly what resources are available here. It’s allowed us to improve communication with students,” she adds.  

When the original call for contact tracers went out in December, more than 50 Colgate staff volunteered to take on a significant amount of extra work to help keep our community safe and support the students of Colgate.

Why have staff members, chosen to volunteer their free time to become certified contact tracers for the students of Colgate? According to Jason Shumaker, director of student accounts and a member of the Colgate Contact Tracing Team, “the Colgate Together theme definitely was an influence. I believe that individually, we might be able to slog through this pandemic, but it will be so much more successful if we all contribute in whatever ways we can.”

“It’s bringing us a feeling of being closer together and in it together,” says Larson.