A free online course developed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on the basics of contact tracing has enrolled more than one million people over the past six months, teaching hundreds of thousands of individuals around the world how to deploy an epidemiological tool considered critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19.
The six-hour course, COVID-19 Contact Tracing, is hosted by Coursera and is open to anyone. Since its launch in May, it has attracted participants from every U.S. state and territory as well as more than 150 countries around the world. To date, more than 520,000 people have completed the course.
"I'm inspired by everyone who has taken the knowledge and used it to reduce risk in their own lives and for their communities," said Emily Gurley, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Bloomberg School who developed the course's curriculum and serves as lead instructor. "Particularly when numbers of cases continue to increase, it can be difficult to remember that our efforts have an impact. Imagine where we would be without all of these contact tracing programs. We owe gratitude to the public health folks on the frontlines of this pandemic—working tirelessly, under difficult conditions, for our collective benefit."
The course is divided into five sections or "modules," covering:
- Basic information on the virus and COVID-19, including symptoms of infection and how the virus is transmitted
- Fundamentals of contact tracing, such as how to define a case, identify close contacts, and calculate how long a contact should isolate
- Steps involved in investigating cases and tracing contacts, including simulated scenes performed by professional actors who illustrate potential interactions that tracers may experience with infected individuals and their contacts
- Ethics of contact tracing, including balancing privacy and public health considerations, and examples of basic technology tools that can facilitate contact tracing, such as using text messaging for check-ins and reminders
- Skills for effective communications in the tracing process, such as what it means to be an "active listener" and how to deal with common challenges that arise when investigating cases
The class includes simulations of contact tracing calls to give trainees a sense of the complex personal dynamics that can sometimes arise, including in some cases a reluctance to self-quarantine for two weeks.
The course is being used by the U.S. military, and course materials have been adapted for use by multiple countries to launch their own local training initiatives, Gurley said.
"We knew that the course would be an important part of our pandemic response, globally," Gurley said. "The enrollment numbers underscore that point and highlight the ongoing need for credible sources of information about COVID-19."
Additional training resources on contact tracing and COVID-19 can be found on the Bloomberg School's COVID-19 Resources for Practitioners web page.