University of Memphis students, faculty monitor virus through surveillance, contact tracing

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Students and professors at the University of Memphis are helping the Mid-South track and fight COVID-19.

Those in the School of Public Health are doing everything from working with contract tracers to monitoring your behavior when you might not even know it.

Jennifer Turchi, a post-doctoral research fellow and master’s of public health student at the U of M, plans to make a difference in the world. 

She’s already making one in her community. 

“Being a student and getting to experience this kind of work at the same time has been really rewarding and really eyeopening,” Turchi said.

Turchi is working with the Shelby County Health Department monitoring team, part of the process of contact tracing those who have or have been exposed to COVID-19.

“So every day we just call people to check in on them to see how they’re feeling, to ask them about their symptoms,” she said.

She’s worked every day this week about 20 to 25 hours on a totally volunteer basis, connecting with people who might be going through a tough time.

“You just kind of sit there, and you be that ear and that bit of support they might need in that moment,” Turchi said.

Dr. Marian Levy, associate dean of the U of M’s School of Public Health, is doing her own service, too.

“I think students are putting their knowledge into action, but they’re also recognizing the important role that public health plays and is recognized for,” Levy said.

Levy monitors Memphis police cameras all over the city that tend to see a lot of people. She’s checking to see how many people are wearing masks.

“I look at the video, three sets of videos, three times a week,” Levy said.

She looks at a few hours of footage pulled from certain cameras. She couldn’t say specific areas but said she can’t see faces, and she’s looking for a facial covering.

“It’s not individual,” she said. “You can’t see people. It’s very anonymous.”

She said that anonymity is very important.

“We’re doing it where there is a large amount of people so that we can make some inference about the usage of masks, and we’re doing it in different locations across the city so that we can kind of get a feeling for which part of the population gets the message,” Levy said. “The older people are wearing masks. They’re getting the message.”

But she said younger people aren’t listening as much.

“We need to get the message out that if you are in public with large groups of people, you need to wear a mask, and if someone is not, you need to ask them to please wear a mask,” Levy said.

It’s unclear how long the mask monitoring will last.

Levy also monitored cameras when the city was tracking how well people were following Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s Safer at Home order.

Other students are volunteering along with Turchi, and other departments are also collaborating in the efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus in Shelby County. 

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