President Emeritus Harris Pastides, Student Body President Issy Rushton team up for DHEC contact tracing efforts

Erin Slowey / The Daily Gamecock

Student Body President Issy Rushton and President Emeritus Harris Pastides are combining efforts to recruit contact tracers for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

Pastides, a doctor of epidemiology and a member of accelerateSC, Gov. Henry McMaster’s COVID-19 response team, reached out to Rushton regarding recruiting contact tracers.

“I guess I could have tweeted, but I said, ‘Let's go to the Student Government Association President,’ and that was really a joy, getting to know Issy,” Pastides said. 

Ruston then tweeted out an invitation for students to enlist as volunteer contact tracers for DHEC.

“I thought this was a great opportunity for those students who were interested to kind of help DHEC rebuild South Carolina, but also get some professional experience,” Rushton said. 

Contact tracers will have several jobs. After completing a two- to three-hour online course and an interview with DHEC, contact tracers will speak with those who have tested positive for COVID-19 about the need for isolation, while alerting and monitoring those who may have been in close contact with infected individuals. Confidentiality will be maintained throughout. 

Contact tracing is well-suited to students, Pastides said, due to their technological know-how and speech skills. 

“I think the students and other volunteers will be in charge, telling them, ‘No, now's not the time to panic or worry about it, it’s the time to self-isolate and get yourself tested,’” Pastides said. “I'm excited that Gamecock students will have the opportunity to experience that in real time."

The effort to involve students in fighting COVID-19 is statewide, Rushton said.

“I also reached out to some of my co-student body presidents at other South Carolina institutions, such as Clemson, the College of Charleston, so I know that they'll be recruiting students from their universities as well,” she said.

Although DHEC has reached its goal of 1000 contact tracers, Pastides’ advice to students still interested in helping is to “hang tight.”

“I believe down the road there will be the need for more volunteers as we go forward into the potential for opening schools,” Pastides said.

Students trained by DHEC or Student Health Services, said Pastides, may be necessary to serve as mentors to students in the fall.

In the meantime, DHEC has its next steps of COVID-19 response ready, South Carolina State Emergency Response Team member Cristi Moore said.

“With increased testing there will be an increase in the number of positive cases reported. This means we must also increase the extent of our contact tracing, and DHEC is prepared to do so,” Moore said in an email interview.

The agency plans to increase testing in nursing homes as well as under-resourced minority and urban communities around the state.

Training will be provided to contact tracers by the end of June, Moore said.

“These contact tracers will begin their work once our existing 400 contact tracers have exceeded their capacity to conduct investigations and contact tracing for every identified COVID-19 case,” Moore said.


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