LITTLE ROCK — The Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) andUAMS Northwest Regional Campus have been authorized by the Arkansas Department of Health to conduct COVID-19 contact tracing for public and private colleges and universities in Arkansas.

The project is in partnership with the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and the Arkansas Department of Health.

“Our goal is to protect the students and employees on each of these campuses,” said Jay Gandy, Ph.D., associate provost and project lead for the UAMS Northwest Regional Campus. “This group effort will allow us to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic among the higher education institutions in Arkansas.”

Contact tracing is how public health officials track the spread of an infectious disease. If a person is confirmed to have COVID-19, they isolate themselves so they don’t spread the illness. Public health officials contact these people to help them recall who they’ve been in contact with while they are infectious. Then those people are contacted and asked to quarantine themselves to stop further spread.

The effort is supported by $5 million in federal coronavirus aid that was allocated by the by the Arkansas Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act Steering Committee created by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The project will involve establishing two contact tracing centers, one in central Arkansas and one in northwest Arkansas. The work will be done by 75 contact tracers, two center directors, and an assistant center director.

“As colleges begin going back to school in August, we want to change the norms and behaviors of these students,” said Ben Amick, Ph.D., associate dean for research and project lead for the College of Public Health. “That will be the only way to ensure that students are following social distancing practices, wearing masks, and taking other COVID-19 precautions.”

The college has developed a website for resources, materials and best practices. Also, UAMS, Arkansas Department of Health, and Arkansas Department of Higher Education officials are working closely with each institution to ensure their preparedness plans are in place and proper precautions are taken if a student or employee tests positive for COVID-19.

“Contact tracing this population presents unique challenges that require creative solutions,” said Maria Markham, Ph.D., director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. “The partnership between the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, Arkansas Department of Health, UAMS, and these public and private institutions will leverage our individual expertise and collective effort. I am grateful for a collaboration focused on shortening the process of identifying and notifying contacts associated with our students and employees.”