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Heroes of COVID-19: UArizona’s SAFER contact tracing call center

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TUCSON (KVOA) - News 4 Tucson continues to pay tribute to our own local Heroes of COVID-19 by checking in with students at the College of Public Health at the University of Arizona.

They have set up their own contact tracing call center called SAFER to prevent the spread of the virus.

SAFER stands for Student Aid for Field Epidemiology Response. SAFER used to just focus on the university, but now they are making contact tracing calls all over the state.

Erika Austhof is an epidemiologist at the college of public health helps run the student call center.

"I don't think we can do this without the students who are making those calls day in and day o," Austhof said. "They have been here hundreds and thousands of hours spending making calls since last March."

The students may be making a majority of calls to Arizona residents, but they haven't forgotten about the university. Sana Kahn runs a small group that focuses exclusively on UArizona's campus to stop any potential outbreaks. 

"It is for the dorms and the Greek houses that have seen some COVID outbreaks," Kahn said. "It is really important that we call everybody that is a confirmed case and get their exposure, notify their contacts so we can stop the chain of transmission."

There are other small, specialized teams with SAFER involved with contact tracing including the 10 students who work with the Spanish-speaking population. 

Dora Valencia is one of those students.

"I know it's always difficult for people," Valencia said. "They want to share their stories, but they can't get their stories out there because of the language barrier."

Another benefit of having a contact tracing call center run by students at the university is that they can use the information they gather on researching the virus even further. 

"This is a new disease as of the last ten months so gathering as much information as we can on the health effects and its effects on the population is important for characterizing how the disease progresses so we can be better prepared," Collin Catalfamo said.

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Daniel McFarland

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