Jordan Burkes wearing a mask while working in an office

 

Corona Corps Supports Sick Students with New Care Team

By Anna Glavash Miller

Meeting the virus head on, more than 50 corps staff members care for hundreds exposed in Lane County

As the number of COVID-19 cases increase in Lane County, the UO’s Corona Corps has expanded to meet the challenge and is leading the effort to monitor and care for those who test positive and their contacts.

In operation since July, the Corona Corps has been working with Lane County Public Health to conduct contact tracing and monitoring for county residents, with nearly 40 students now on the monitoring team. New this fall is a care team of 16 students offering support and services to people with the virus.

The student case load has increased substantially over the last month, and more than half of the new cases since students began arriving for the start of term are still infectious. The care team is focused on student and employee support until the numbers drop enough that it can take on community cases, said Corona Corps co-director and University Health Services Director of Public Health Practices Angela Long.

Members of the Corona Corps working at computers while wearing masks

Long and Corps co-director Jeff Measelle, a professor of psychology and co-director of the UO Center for Global Health, oversee the care team and monitoring team, respectively. Student leads and supervisors manage the teams, on which a roster of more than 50 highly-trained students serve 3- to 4½-hour shifts, seven days a week.

Though everyone is working extra hard, Long described the Corona Corps workspace as vibrant, busy and bursting with energetic students who want to step up to the plate and help head off the virus. Both teams are actively recruiting.

All student staff are given hours of preparatory training, and when beginning their roles, their work is monitored for sign-off by a supervisor. A script is used for most standard procedural calls, Long said, but there are “so many nuances to what we do, that much of this work relies on thorough understanding of public health concepts in addition to having empathy for and an understanding of the situation.”

For students who test positive, it’s very important that they “answer the call” and cooperate with what’s asked of them, especially by being forthcoming with names of people with whom they have been within six feet of for more than 15 minutes, masked or unmasked, Long said.

Here’s a rundown of what the Corona Corps offers to students who are COVID-19 contacts or positive cases.

Report a Case or a Contact

 
50+
Total number of students on the Corona Corps fall term
37
New student trainees since start of fall term
400+
Current number of daily contacts for the monitoring team
150+
Current case load for the care team

Hand sanitizer, a thermometer, a mask, and a card about symptom self-chec

Youri Benadjaoud

“Global health has been a huge passion of mine, and I was feeling really helpless when the pandemic started. I wanted to find ways to combat it and address it, both in my community and globally, and this opportunity came up. The Corona Corps is some microcosm of, you know, global health and public health and medically oriented students at the U of O. And it's a really great community. We work really, really well together, and everyone's really motivated and really hard working. I'm extremely proud to be a part of such a phenomenal team, and it's been a pleasure.

“It’s been a fantastic learning opportunity and I feel like we are doing a lot of good work in the community. It’s really nice to see that when we have symptomatic folks, that they were in quarantine and they weren’t out exposing other people. We need to box in COVID as best as we can so that we can resume normal activities. Anecdotally, in the college population most contacts are asymptomatic, but it doesn’t mean you won’t continue to spread the virus. The only way for in-person classes to continue, for restaurants to remain open is that we have this robust testing and contact tracing program.”

— Youri Benadjaoud, monitoring team lead, senior, human physiology and psychology double major, president of UO Students for Global Health

If a Student Tests Positive

  • If the student was tested at University Health Services, a call comes from a university health care provider from a number beginning with 541-346-XXXX. The UHS health care provider answers the student’s questions about isolation and symptoms.

  • Lane County Public Health will be notified of test results, and a case investigator will call from a number beginning with 541-682-XXXX.

    Because testing sites out in the community aren’t always able to call to confirm test results, this may be the first time the student learns of their positive test results. If it’s not, and the student had prior notice, the student should immediately begin thinking about who they were in contact with 14 days prior.

    That information will be needed by the county investigator, who will take note of those contacts and share them with the contact monitors.

  • A Corona Corps Care Team member attempts to call students who are positive cases. Again, depending on timing and testing site, this may be the first call they get. The care team member explains how to safely isolate.

    On-campus students isolate in Barnhart Hall and off-campus students can move to a hotel, and can apply for support through the COVID-19 Quarantine Fund.

    All care team calls include offers to connect the student with counseling services and other resources including academic accomodations, and a referral to HR if the student is also a UO employee.

  • Even if they did not test at UHS, all students have access to the health center and its 24-hour nurse hotline at 541-346-2770. If symptoms worsen in the middle of the night, nurses are available to help, but for very serious symptoms, Long suggests calling 911.

  • On the last day of isolation, a care team member attempts to make a final call to the student and reminds them that isolation ends at 11:59 p.m. that day and the student can resume normal life the following day.

 

Message for Students

 
“With cases continuing to rise in Lane County, it’s our responsibility to make sure we can look forward to in-person classes in the future, and that’s not going to happen if we continue to see the numbers that we are. It’s our responsibility to follow all of the governor’s guidelines, and hopefully our efforts will lead to a more exciting winter or spring term.”
Jordan Burkes, care team member

Two Corona Corps student staff members wearing masks while working at computers

Hannah Small

“There are so many questions that come to people's mind when they get that phone call about either being a contact or being positive. Having a reassuring voice matters, someone they can turn to in that moment and someone who's trained and educated and can walk them through what the next 10 days or 14 days are going to look like for them.

“We’re that person that reassures them, they're gonna be okay, they can do this, this is to keep their community safe and that if they need absolutely anything, they can call us. We’re that calm voice in the moment of total chaos and panic. They might be really worried about their financial situation, if they're missing work, if they have rent due the next day. Those are difficult conversations.

“But then you do get the calls where you try to keep it light-hearted and, you know, joke around with people, and sometimes you get them to laugh, and they make you laugh, and it reminds me why I'm doing this. Just to be that person for them. If they don't have anyone to turn to, if they just need someone to talk to.”

— Hannah Small, care team member, junior, general science major on prenursing track, global health minor

If a Student is a Contact of a Positive Case

  • If a student’s name is provided as a close contact of another person who tests positive, the student will get a call from Lane County Public Health, and it could be assigned to the Corona Corps Monitoring Team.

    This team gets 50-60 or more new names each day, and the initial call lasts 15-30 minutes.

    The monitors cannot give out the name of the positive case, and while many students will be aware of who it is, some may be surprised by the news.

  • The student will be asked to quarantine safely and is offered to be connected with someone from the care team who can assist with counseling services and the same unemployment and academic assistance available to someone who’s tested positive.

    Students can also get a referral to the care team if they think they’re sick.

  • At this point, contacts can can opt into daily check-ins by text, or they will continue to receive a daily call for the entire monitoring period. The monitoring team will ask about temperature and other symptoms, as well as basic needs, and remind contacts to stay quarantined and away from others.

  • If any student contact flags a symptom, the student will be forwarded to Lane County Public Health for follow up.

  • Once 14 days are up with no symptoms, a final call is made and quarantine ends for the student contact.

 

Message for Students

 
“I know we’re all feeling very socially deprived at this time, and it’s been a really long few months. But we have to remain vigilant and stay strong to make sure that the opportunities that are provided to us remain so. And if we remain careful and we try to limit our exposure, wear masks, have a close social circle, then we can hopefully resume normal activities quicker than if we didn’t do that.”
Youri Benadjaoud

Exterior of the University Health Services building

Jordan Burkes

“I think a lot of our students are blatantly disregarding the governor’s orders and also the university guidelines. It could definitely be a bad light shed on our university nationally, and that's something that I don't want to happen. I'm glad there's a program like this to provide resources to students, to hopefully convince them that they're doing the right thing and they're supported in doing that.

“I’m very fortunate to be accepted into a position like this. I’ve definitely given my all. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s something I feel is worthwhile and is a good way to spend my time and hopefully help out other students in the process.”

— Jordan Burkes, care team member, junior, human physiology major working towards global health minor