UND playing a role in contact tracing amid coronavirus pandemic

The team, comprised of students and staff, is reaching out to those who have tested positive for COVID-19, hoping to learn about the places they’ve been and the people with whom they've had contact.

Zachary Hoggarth, a UND master of public health student, population health research & analytics specialization, is part of the team of students and staff tasked with contact tracing in Grand Forks County. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

As public health officials in Grand Forks deal with an outbreak of COVID-19 at the LM Wind Power facility, a UND group has been tasked with contact tracing for the cases.

The team, comprised of students and staff, is reaching out to those who have tested positive for COVID-19, hoping to learn about the places they’ve been and the people with whom they've had contact. The team also tracks an individual’s symptoms and answers questions those people may have. In some cases, the contact tracing team may be reaching out to a person prior to that person being contacted by a health care provider.

“Contact tracing is time sensitive,” said Ashlee Nelson, lead case manager for the tracing team. “As soon as we find out that somebody has a positive result, we're typically calling them within an hour.”

In the case of the LM plant, Nelson said it’s very likely the contact tracing team is informing the individual of their results.

By the end of the week, Ashley Evenson, program manager for the public health program at the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, said about 40 people will be on UND's contact tracing team. Evenson hires students for contact tracing for the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences. The team will be expanding its reach to include students in the UND College of Nursing, Evenson said.


The group is mostly focused on Grand Forks-area cases, especially as the numbers continue to increase in the county. As of Monday morning, 128 cases of COVID-19 are linked to the LM Wind Power plant in Grand Forks. So far, 143 positive tests have been recorded in Grand Forks County.

Nelson is a masters of public health student at the medical school and will graduate this summer. Nelson said in most cases, students are balancing schoolwork, jobs and contact tracing, which puts them in a unique position compared to the people who do contact tracing full-time.

“There's a lot of life that we have to work around,” Nelson said. “We have a really great team and they work well together. It's nice to have that deep bench so that when life inevitably happens we have well-trained people to pick up and take one for the team when they need to.”

Students spend varying amounts of hours, and sometimes days, doing the tracing. At times, calls can last for a considerable amount of time, especially if the affected person does not recall all of the places they’ve been or people with whom they have interacted. Nelson said that’s why using something like the recently developed CARE 19 app is helpful.

“Contact tracing hopefully will be becoming easier and easier as people are really hunkering down,” she said.

Responding to a pandemic is unprecedented territory for everyone, Everson said, noting there are several complexities to the process, especially as so many are working remotely.

“The University of North Dakota has set us up very well to respond and to be a big part of this and play a vital role,” she said.

Sydney Mook has been the managing editor at the Herald since April 2021. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook has been with the Herald since May 2018 and was first hired as the Herald's higher education reporter where she covered UND and other happenings in state higher education. She was later promoted to community editor in 2019.

For story pitches contact her at or call her at 701-780-1134.
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