MISSOULA – As the University of Montana readies for a safe return to campus this fall, students are volunteering for a new program, Griz Health, which will give them an opportunity to be part of the campus response to COVID-19.
As participants in the program, students will be involved in symptom checks on campus, providing the most up-to-date information about COVID-19, potentially helping at Grizzly Athletic events and, if the need arises, supporting the Missoula City-County Public Health Department as it conducts surge-capacity contact-tracing on campus.
“For many students, this pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty and a feeling of powerlessness,” said Lily Apedaile, heath science education program coordinator for UM health and Medicine. “Griz Health allows these students to be on the frontlines of mitigating COVID-19 on UM’s campus, as well as in the greater Missoula community.”
Apedaile said response from students has been overwhelmingly positive to the launch of Griz Health, with many signing up to serve soon after the call for volunteers went out. “UM students have a real drive to make a difference in the community,” she said, noting that they’ve filled almost half of the 75 spots ultimately needed for the program.
Sara Bigelow, a senior majoring in public and community health, welcomed the chance to contribute to campus well-being. “This is a good opportunity to educate people at UM about how to stay healthy and safe,” she said.
Professors Curtis Noonan and Tony Ward of UM’s School of Public Health and Community Health Sciences spearheaded the development of the online self-paced contact- tracing training program, with help from the Montana Department of Health and Human Services and the Missoula City-County Public Health Department.
“We relied on our strong collaborative relationship with state and local public health agency experts to build the initial training,” said Noonan. “We will continue to supplement the Griz Health training throughout the year with campus and community experts involved in the pandemic response.”
UM Health and Medicine, in collaboration with the Western Montana Area Health Education Center, coordinated the overall development of Griz Health, with assistance from UMOnline.
Gold Moua, a junior majoring in human biology who plans to enroll in medical school, said the contract-tracing training brought home how important this work is and helped her realized how well it aligned with her values of caring for people’s health. It also will be valuable experience for her future career.
“This is an opportunity to experience clinical language and context,” she said. “And it will help solidify my medical school applications by showing my commitment to health and well-being.”
Apedaile noted that a number of Missoula community partners also have pitched in to help support Griz Health. Dolce Software will provide free access to their Dolce app to help the Griz Health coordinators schedule students for various events. Garage Tees has assisted in the design and ordering of cloth masks for the Griz Health students to wear on-campus and in the community.
Just like the dynamic nature of this pandemic, Apedaile said, the Griz Health Program and student roles will constantly adapt to campus needs for keeping healthy during COVID-19.