The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine will be helping the region’s COVID-19 response through service on the Medical Reserve Corps. The region’s Virginia Department of Health and Medical Reserve Corps organizers noted to medical school leadership an anticipated need for volunteers in the corps to serve as contact tracers.

“The department will need to increase its contact tracing capacity to respond to an expected bump in COVID-19 cases that will come from expansion of testing and relaxation of physical distancing orders,” said Lee Learman, dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Learman encouraged members of the medical school community to help meet the need. “Each new case generates the important work of preventing further spread by identifying contacts who may have been exposed to the virus and may become infected themselves.”

Learman asked all of the members of his leadership team in the Office of the Dean to become members of Virginia’s Medical Reserve Corps and complete the module on contact tracing. Learman also asked all VTCSOM students to complete the same requests by mid-June, as part of a newly proposed service learning requirement. Other faculty and staff have been encouraged to sign up as well to show a real community effort.

“With our support as contact tracers, the Virginia Department of Health can contain small outbreaks and prevent the type of surge that could result in a return to stay-at-home orders,” Learman said. “Without containment, our community’s ability to recover from the social and financial consequences of the pandemic will be hobbled, causing further delays in needed health care and persistent unemployment that disproportionally affect low-income and food-insecure communities.”

Dave Trinkle, associate dean for community and culture, is organizing this new effort and coordinating the medical school’s efforts with VT Engage. “Students are only required to complete the training,” Trinkle said. “After that, it will be up to them to volunteer when the Virginia Department of Health requests help. But, we are overcoming a big hurdle having everyone trained this summer, so that later when the need increases, our community will be ready to say yes.”

After training is complete, there is no requirement for a certain number of hours of service. When contact tracing volunteers are needed, the department will reach out to those who have been trained to check their availability for upcoming weeks. To maintain status as a contact tracer, the volunteer needs to respond if they are able to help for the requested week or not.

Many students had already begun to volunteer in a variety of ways to support the area’s COVID-19 response. Some had already signed up to support the Medical Reserve Corps, organized the Southwest Virginia COVID Response Task Force, worked together to assemble PPE that Virginia Tech engineering teams created on 3D printers, and started a Medical Design Club to share PPE designs for 3D printers, among other volunteer efforts.

“This newest effort gives students who are anxious to do something to help out the community during this pandemic in a real, tangible way to fill a need while also developing skills that will help them later on in their career in medicine,” said Aubrey Knight, senior dean for student affairs.

“I am proud of our students for their engagement. They understand that we are truly in this together. Collectively, by supporting our public health system we can make a big difference for the community,” Learman said.