Nicole Stone, a 2016 graduate of the MPH in Epidemiology program at IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health, played an integral role in establishing contact tracing for Indiana and continues to make an impact on the state’s COVID-19 response.
She served full time on COVID-19 activities from February 2020, before the first US cases were identified, taking on a variety of supportive and leadership roles. In the spring she lead the investigations team in the Epidemiology Resource Center at the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH), and managed a team of roughly 50 staff members in assisting a subset of local health departments with completing investigations on people suspected of having COVID-19.
“We utilized a REDCap form to house the investigation and managed the entire process as things were moving to all virtual,” she said.
Eventually, Indiana decided to take a more centralized approach and Stone was tasked with building the process for investigating cases and identifying/contacting all close contacts of COVID-19.
“My input was used to build the platform we used to house this information,” Stone said. “I trained and maintained scripts for the contact tracers, and managed the workflow between development, the call center, and the local and state public health workforce.”
Stone lead the statewide contact tracing effort until November 2020 and said the effort was a success.
“The fact that Indiana was able to pull this off to meet the requirements put forth was a huge success initially. There are literally hundreds of individuals involved in contact tracing when all sides are taken into consideration, so putting something brand new together in about a month’s time was no small feat. The early work put into building the contact tracing program by the IDOH staff (including many other FSPH alumni) was truly extraordinary!”
Stone said the biggest success overall was being able to get so many different organizations with varied goals and perspectives on the same page to get contact tracing up and running.
“Before I transitioned off, I saw a lot of growth on the internal IDOH contact tracing team to understand how the process works, the flow of data, and being able to answer difficult questions and make tough decisions regarding the citizens who become cases and close contacts of COVID-19.”
Thinking back, Stone says she is proud to know that the hard work she put into developing the contact tracing program was built from public health best practices and truly kept in mind the science that was known at the time.
“We tried to stay as close to successful investigation and contact tracing activities as we could and consulted with other areas of public health and organizations to make contact tracing the best it could be in a mostly unknown situation.”
She is most proud that she was able to fully and successfully transition off the team knowing that it was in excellent hands.
“I am proud to have been a part of a once in a lifetime pandemic and did what I could to help protect the health and safety of all Hoosiers. This pandemic has opened our eyes to how vital a strong public health structure is to our communities and society, but also how bad things can get when we fail to properly fund or acknowledge best practices in public health.”
Stone thinks now more than ever, students and graduates should be proud to have chosen a field that has always been important, but also opens new doors to innovative thinking and opportunities.
“My advice would be to get out there (maybe not literally right now) and try interning, volunteering, and working in different areas of public health as much as you can. You never know when things will “click” and you will find the perfect niche for your career.”
She encourages students to apply to as many jobs as possible, as it can take a while to get where you want to go. Often, starting as an intern can lead to future opportunities.
“I know that my passion for infectious disease epidemiology is what led me to the opportunities I’ve had, and keeping that passion is what’s kept me going.”