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NECC Students Help Trace and Track Massachusetts COVID-19 Patients

Submitted by on April 13, 2020 – 8:15 pm
Portrait of Roseanna Lara sitting in an NECC hallway.

Rosanna Lara is one of NECC’s public health students volunteering on a task force that tracks COVID-19 patients.

Nine Northern Essex Community College (Haverhill and Lawrence, MA) Public Health students have joined Governor Charlie Baker’s recently announced initiative to address the spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts.

Adding to their school, family, and work obligations, these students, along with volunteers statewide, are helping to track and trace COVID-19 patients with the goal of isolating the infection and stopping the spread of the virus.

After undergoing online training, they are contacting residents who were recently diagnosed with COVID-19 to see where they have been and with whom they have been in contact.

The Academic Public Health Volunteer Corps (APHVC) is a novel partnership that includes Partners in Health, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services COVID-19 Command Center, the Massachusetts Health Officers Association, and the public health programs from 11 Boston educational institutions of higher education including Northern Essex. Other institutions include Northeastern University, Boston University, Tufts University, Harvard University, University of Massachusetts Lowell, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Simmons University, Regis College, and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and
Health Sciences.

The volunteers, once they complete online training, are deployed in teams to serve 351 boards of health in Massachusetts. The program is designed in four areas of concentrations, according to Jacqueline Dick, professor and program director of the NECC Public Health Associate Degree and Community Health Certificate programs. The APHVC will contact trace and track patients, coordinate with communities’ public health departments, disseminate information via social media/communications, and perform virtual check-ins with patients.

Dick said some of her students lost their internships due to COVID-19, so this is an opportunity for them to complete their mandatory hours not to mention gain valuable public health experience while sharing their own public health knowledge. Partners in Health intends to hire 1,000 paid public health positions in addition to the volunteer corps which will continue. It is hoped some of the NECC students will be considered and transition to employment.

Rosanna Lara of Lawrence, who has already earned a Community Health Certificate and is on track to graduate from the Public Health associate degree program in May, is anxious to get to work. She has already completed the initial training and is working on additional training.

“I hope that all of the knowledge that I have gained throughout my years in the Public Health program, along with all the required online training I received in the past few weeks, can help me contribute efficiently to collaborate in COVID-19 Contact Tracing,” Lara said.

“This was something some of the public health students definitely wanted to be involved with,” Dick said.

Massachusetts is the first and only state to create an APHVC, according to Dick. Since its inception, just a few short weeks ago, New Jersey and California have inquired about its creation and progress.

This model, said Dick, is one of the measures used to stem the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa.

“I told the students,” said Dick. “This is not a dress rehearsal. This is public health.”

Students participating include: Shaliwa Babirye of Lowell; Victoria Cerasuolo and Wendy Castro of Bradford; Chelsea St. Jean of Haverhill; Jatnyn Hernandez Rosanna Lara, Rebecca Shipweya, and Silvia Urena Polenco of Lawrence;
and Margaret Kamau of North Andover.

For more information about the NECC Public Health Program, visit the website or contact the college,, 978 556-3700.

Northern Essex offers and associate degree in public health and a certificate in community health. For additional information on either of these programs go to the program page.