$3.4 million grant will expand COVID-19 contact tracing in Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A $3.4 million grant will allow the UNLV School of Public Health to expand contact tracing efforts.

The money comes from the State of Nevada, according to a UNLV news release.

The Southern Nevada Health District has partnered with the school to create the program, and the new funding will allow for training more than 200 UNLV students as contact tracers. They will assist in identifying and reaching out to people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 through close contact with people who have tested positive.

“Applying what they have learned in the classroom and through training, our students are now at the forefront of COVID-19 prevention efforts in the community,” said Shawn Gerstenberger, dean of the UNLV School of Public Health. “We’re now able to provide our students with another chance to gain relevant, first-hand experience in public health while serving the community during this critical time.”

The school’s contact tracing team was first formed in March with a core group of volunteers who have been supporting SNHD throughout the pandemic.

While the first group of contact tracers were exclusively students from the School of Public Health, this grant has provided the opportunity for UNLV students across several disciplines to also participate. So far, 60 students have been trained through the grant and more are currently undergoing training by a team of experienced graduate students.

The school said 1,000 students initially expressed interest in helping.

The current group of hired contact tracers speak 16 different languages and reflect the diversity of UNLV’s student body and the greater community, according to the news release.

“Contact tracing is a vital part of monitoring and controlling the spread of infectious diseases, and our students are playing a key role in the process and potentially saving lives,” said Brian Labus, assistant professor of epidemiology at the UNLV School of Public Health and a member of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s COVID-19 task force.

Labus serves as the principal investigator of the grant.

“By increasing the number of contact tracers, we can decrease the impact of the virus. We can more efficiently and quickly identify those who may have been exposed and infected,” Labus said.

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