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Students can learn to trace cases of COVID-19 during a two-week program that will launch Aug. 3.

PMG FILE PHOTO - A lab technician stores a COVID-19 test sample.A program created to help answer the demand for contact tracers will soon launch at Portland Community College, as health officials continue to map the spread of the coronavirus.

Through the college's Institute for Health Professional Program, the contact tracer training is a self-paced, non-credit course made up of six modules, PCC officials announced Wednesday, July 22.

The modules will take eight to 10 hours total and cost $35, according to the course website. Classes will begin Monday, Aug. 3.

Students will have two weeks to complete the modules, after which they will receive a letter of completion. During the course, students will learn what it takes to be a contact tracer, calling confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 to ask who they're recently had contact with.

Students will learn the importance of patient privacy and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). They will also learn about cultural awareness and how to practice it, how to deliver a phone script, and other interviewing techniques.

As part of Oregon's plan for reopening, Gov. Kate Brown in April announced that contact tracing would be critical in combating the spread of the virus. Oregon Health Authority officials emphasized the need to create culturally specific monitoring and response teams of contact tracers.

Since then, county governments have hired hundreds of contact tracers working with state health officials to track how the virus is spreading.

Cases of COVID-19 in the Portland metro region and across the state have steadily risen since early June, after counties began reopening. Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties have all seen their case counts more than double since early June. As of July 21, here are counties' total number of cases:

• Multnomah: 3,683

• Washington: 2,321

• Clackamas: 1,180

• Yamhill: 251

• Columbia: 63

"Contact tracers are critical to ensure the safe, sustainable and effective quarantine of those affected to prevent additional transmission by tracing and monitoring infected people and notifying them of their exposure," said Karen Sanders, division dean of Health Professions and interim dean for Continuing and Community Education. "The foundation for the curriculum of the course was provided by OHA and we supply the instructional expertise and an online delivery method. They were excited to partner with us."

Sanders said there is a high demand for contact tracers, and preliminary reports suggest that more than 100,000 contact tracers are needed nationwide in the near future to help prevent further spread of COVID-19.

In addition, PCC's curriculum is aligned to specific training guidelines per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Oregon Health Authority, according to a statement from PCC.

PCC President Mark Mitsui realized the need for training for local community members, who can provide contact tracing with a culturally appropriate lens, PCC said.

"The information and guidance provided by the governor and OHA have built the foundation for training and the deployment of the large numbers of contact tracers that will be needed to successfully reopen Oregon," said Mitsui in a statement. "However, in order for contact tracing to be the most effective at the local level, each region must have a unique outreach, recruitment and training plan tailored to their culturally specific needs. Portland Community College is well-positioned to contribute to this effort."

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