USD’s School of Health Sciences has created the Community Action Response Epidemiology (CARE) team to partner with the South Dakota Department of Health and the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board to provide contact tracing, health promotion and comprehensive services to the state of South Dakota.
Susan Puumala, the project director of the CARE team, said the team has also been working with the University of South Dakota in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic on campus.
“The idea is for the team to be involved in a range of different projects for the state and university,” Puumala said. “We want to play a role in public health with not only the coronavirus but other diseases, public health messaging and public education and provide an extra type of workforce to the state of South Dakota.”
Puumala said the first project the team is doing focuses on contact tracing for the Department of Health of South Dakota. Their main two focuses for the contact tracing are on travel communities within the state and contact tracing at USD. At the end of the project the team will be analyzing their date to identify ways the state and university could improve contact tracing.
The CARE team includes undergraduate students, graduate students and staff members at USD. Puumala said there are a total of 20 official members but the team has support from others as well.
Irene Thelma Arango-Gomez, one of the student leaders of the team, said she has received first-hand experience in epidemiology that students don’t normally receive in the classroom.
“The students and faculty will be able to build relationships with each other as well as with tribal communities and the South Dakota Department of Health,” Arango-Gomez said. “This is a great opportunity for students to get their foot in the door with the SD DOH and to gain experience in doing public health work in South Dakota.”
For the next several months, the CARE team will be focusing on the coronavirus, but after the pandemic the program plans to focus on helping the South Dakota Health Department with other epidemiological diseases, Puumala said.
“I’m not sure exactly what the needs are going to be in the future so we are promoting ourselves to help out,” Puumala said. “We are also thinking about public health and health promotion with vaccinations and other promotions of different things in a non-clinical setting to students and the community.”