Tracking COVID-19: Contact Tracing in the Digital Age

Tracking COVID-19: Contact Tracing in the Digital Age

Lisa Roberts, Interim Deputy Director, Waukesha County Dept. of Health and Human Services And Krystal Buttitta, Carroll University Student, Public Health Major

Lisa Roberts, Interim Deputy Director, Waukesha County Dept. of Health and Human Services


Data driven decision making and strong values of innovation and civil responsibility created a unique partnership during the COVID-19 pandemic. Carroll University and Waukesha County recognize active problem solving and collaboration as key components to helping keep their community healthy and vibrant.

Early into the pandemic response, Waukesha County closely monitored its performance in timely completion of contact tracing, which is essential to slow the spread of the disease. The performance goal was to outreach to all positive COVID-19 cases within 24 hours of identification and communicate with their direct contacts within 48 hours from test result of confirmed case.

With the objective of safely reopening businesses and eventually schools, anticipations included: increasing COVID-19 testing and, subsequently, increasing the number of disease investigations, contact tracing and ongoing monitoring. Projection models showed a potential need to recruit and train nearly 200 disease and contact investigators to meet the contact tracing performance goals.

At the same time Waukesha County was planning its increased response to the pandemic, Carroll University, located in the heart of the County, was looking for ways to be part of the solution. With a long philanthropical history, a mission of community engagement, and valuing innovation, the institution was exploring the need for training programs to address COVID-19 industry needs.


Preparing to operationalize recruiting, training and quality control of a contact tracing team which was projected to grow from 8 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff to over 175 FTE, tested the County’s problem-solving culture. Initially, the County was restricted to a face to face learning structure that could only train nine employees a week. This format was not only ineffective in quickly increasing the workforce but many highly qualified candidates were unwilling to engage in in-person training. To keep qualified candidates and train the projected number of contact trainers, the County needed to move virtually.

“Strong organizational cultures that place a priority on “what gets measured gets improved” become particularly important during a crisis”

During the same period, the University was exploring options of upholding their mission by offering contact tracing as a badge through their alternative credential program. Thus, a mutually beneficial alliance was created as Carroll supplied the tools and resources for a virtual training platform and curriculum design while the County provided the content expertise for the training program and the employees needing to be trained. Within five weeks of establishing the partnership, the first cohorts of contact tracers were trained.

Krystal Buttitta, Carroll University Student, Public Health Major


Early establishment of a strong MoU laid the foundation for the partnership. This developed an understanding of how pooled resources, funding and diverse abilities would be allotted in achieving the desired goals. Like many units of government, Waukesha County received funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES). COVID-19 caused businesses to close and unemployment rates in Waukesha County to soar from 2.5% to above 8%; making it ever more important to leverage the CARES Act funds to create a lasting strategy to reopen businesses and schools safely (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020).

The partnership with Carroll University was key to meeting the economic recovery objectives of the County. The University was able to apply for support from private foundations focused on funding innovative COVD-19 initiatives including contact tracing programs.

The training development process called for an equally strong collaboration. The County supplied the content needed to build the curriculum while Carroll supplied the platform to deliver the training with their expertise in remote learning, curriculum design and assessment. The partnership necessitated multi-disciplinary collaboration across both organizations while also providing opportunities for student internships that created a diverse culture of teamwork.

Teams were comprised of members from both County government and Carroll University forming blended administrative, content and implementation and information technology teams. Within those teams, members came from varied professional backgrounds that allowed for a diverse collective view for problem-solving, decision-making and operationalization of the program. The nature of COVID-19 demanded continuous communication among the teams to ensure adherence to the ever-changing local and state requirements. Cooperation of the two organizations was essential for successfully meeting goals of the program.


As the trainings launched, the assessment and evaluation phases began. To ensure the effectiveness of the contact tracer training program, several forms of assessment were implemented including program delivery effectiveness, trainee knowledge assessment, and quality control reviews. Based on data collected and assessed, improvements were made to the courses weekly.

The contact tracing training program, developed, implemented and maintained through the efforts of the partnership, proved to be successful in meeting the needs of the community. As of September 2020, 225 contact tracers were trained with 155 being trained through the virtual program.

Strong organizational cultures that place a priority on “what gets measured gets improved” become particularly important during a crisis. Carroll University and Waukesha County take pride in their innovative and data driven decision cultures that celebrate active problem solving and collaboration to meet collectively defined objectives and ultimately strengthen the community.

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