“My role since June has been recruiting, training, and deploying over 300 contact tracers to the Utah Department of Health and standing up a contact tracing unit for the campus. It’s like building two start-up companies at the same time. While difficult, I chose public health as my profession and spent several years post-9/11 preparing specifically for pandemics and public health crises. While it has been a long-haul challenge, it is especially meaningful work for me and I have the opportunity to work with a terrific team of public health heroes. One of the most difficult parts has been doing all of this work 100% remotely, including training, equipment and software. I have yet to meet most of my staff in person. It is also a challenge to keep up with my teaching and research, but there will be teaching and learning dividends about this time and place in public health for the rest of my career.
Now that the vaccine is becoming more accessible my team is also promoting and educating people about the vaccine. While the volume of contact tracing lessens with falling case counts, contact tracing actually becomes more effective. This means that we will be needed for months, even years to come, but it will become less of a crisis and more of routine public health work. It is important that we focus on educating people who are vaccine-hesitant so we can reach herd immunity and get our lives back. I also hope that this pandemic brings more recognition and respect for the public health workforce. Public health workers across the nation and in Utah have been working very hard. While they may not be delivering clinical care in the ICU, they are working tirelessly behind the scenes to roll out testing, contact tracing, and vaccines for the benefit of the entire population.”
—Sharon Talboys, Ph.D., MPH, contact tracing unit lead, U COVID-19 Incident Management Team