Pranav Savanur, senior in biology and pre-med, is the student behind a contact tracing survey made through Google Forms that was sent out to Kansas State students and the Manhattan community about two weeks ago.
The responses were unanimous — contact tracing is necessary to prevent COVID-19 spread.
Contact tracing is the process whereby public health officials figure out who a person with a confirmed positive case interacted with and where they went in the community while they might have been shedding the virus. This process identifies other people who may need to be tested for COVID-19 or those who should go into quarantine.
Savanur said the idea was in collaboration with Jennifer Miller, director of health promotions at Lafene Health Center. He came to Miller in search of information about how contact tracing would work when students return to campus.
“We had initial conversations about how K-State’s trying to figure out how to stop an outbreak and how to actually implement measures,” he said. “[We] shared mutual concern that if there is an outbreak, it might be because of students and the decisions they make off-campus or in their living situation. We both feel that the contact tracing program is something which K-State should have.”
After completing his contact tracing certification through Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Savanur said he was curious why K-State wouldn’t have a tracing program in place to help slow the spread of COVID-19. He continued discussion with Miller, who told him the university’s legal team was discussing how they would implement such a program.
Student support was needed for the program to move forward, Savanur said. He knew he had to do something to get his peers on board.
“I thought this was a perfect opportunity to draft a call to action for the administration so that they create a contact tracing program which works with the Riley County Health Department and is led by students, for students,” Savanur said.
The petition to bring contact tracing to the university was meant to help move the approval process along.
The survey included a question Savanur said was very important: “Why do you personally believe that implementing a contract tracing program would be beneficial?”
Students’ responses were “paragraphs long,” he said.
The survey received 415 responses that were unanimously in favor of the petition for contact tracing measures at K-State.
“That was a really happy moment,” he said.
The Health Professions Office has access to all the responses from the Google Form and is currently working on the legal aspect of the program.
Since there’s no vaccine for COVID-19 yet, contact tracing is the best way to prevent transmission, Savanur said. The practice has existed in public health for quite some time.
“People think it’s invading their privacy, and it’s coming across as victim-blaming or it’s just directed at the person who got COVID, but it’s actually not that way,” he said.
Contact tracing is completely confidential. If someone tests positive, the contact tracer talks to them on the phone and helps them safely isolate and get all the information they need. Then, the tracer makes individual calls to anyone the first patient came into contact with, and so on.
Contact tracers also help the infected individuals navigate the process of getting treatment for complications if it becomes necessary, Savanur said.
“It’s more of an empathetic, person-to-person conversation where they help people safely isolate,” Savanur said.
Concerning the multiple active outbreaks associated with K-State, Savanur said solely blaming the administration is the wrong way to go.
“Holding the administration accountable and blaming them are two very different things,” he said. “Just taking that responsibility of being the leader for your community is something I would urge every K-Stater to do.”
Savanur said the motivation behind a contact tracing program should be for K-State, by K-State.
“For me, what education means is actually using what you learn in a real society to actually make your community a better spot to live in,” he said.