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SORT steps up to help with COVID-19 efforts in Riley County

Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Members of the Student Outbreak Response Team, or SORT, at Kansas State University, as assisting the Riley County Health Department with its COVID-19 efforts, including conducting contact tracing.


MANHATTAN — Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine veterinary students and Master of Public Health students are helping the Riley County Health Department with its COVID-19 efforts as members of the Student Outbreak Response Team, or SORT.

Andrew Adams, public health emergency preparedness coordinator for the Riley County Health Department, said SORT was created with the help of a K-State Master of Public Health student in 2017 to serve as a part of the health department's surge capacity protocol for disease investigations and outbreak control and has been a vital part of the public health response to COVID-19 in Riley County. SORT is an official student organization at K-State.

Second-year veterinary student Maya Djordjevich, Bethesda, Maryland, serves as vice president of SORT. She said she never expected to be called to volunteer on the front lines of a global pandemic as a member of SORT but is grateful for the learning opportunity.

"Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I scheduled and hosted outbreak response training with Andrew Adams and our members," Djordjevich said. "I was thinking we would be working more along the lines of a local foodborne outbreak or natural disaster as opposed to a viral pandemic."

Djordjevich volunteers her time twice weekly conducting contact tracing interviews with individuals, hospitals and businesses. Contact tracing involves gathering symptoms, travel habits and locations visited before and after onset of symptoms of those who are affected by the virus, as well as any names and contact information for their close contacts.

"I am empowered by the vital work that I am doing with the knowledge that contact tracing is an integral factor in reopening communities and businesses," Djordjevich said. "Volunteering with the Riley County Health Department has furthered my interest in public health. I will be entering a Master of Public Health program in fall 2020."

Second-year veterinary student Molly Allison, Overland Park, said learning how to conduct contract tracing has been a valuable experience.
She said it has allowed her and other student volunteers to learn and grow in the public health aspects of their education while making an impact within the community.

"For myself, conducting contact tracing has not only allowed me to become more acquainted with the many jobs our health department does to ensure our health and safety as a community, but it has also given me insight on how to provide public health education and how to effectively communicate with people who are looking for answers and provide some encouragement to those who have and are currently struggling with this disease,: Allison said. “All of these things are powerful and speak to the impact of SORT's partnership with the Riley County Health Department."

Adams said the health department is thankful for the help members of SORT have provided.

"Having a trained cadre of volunteers ready to jump in at a moment's notice has been hugely impactful," Adams said. "The students are helping the Riley County Health Department to quickly contact confirmed cases of COVID-19 and identify their close contacts — all as a part of controlling the pandemic locally  and helping to flatten the curve, raise the bar and push past the negative impacts of COVID."

Students interested in participating can contact Ellyn Mulcahy, director of the K-State Master of Public Health program and SORT departmental advisor, at emulcahy@vet.k-state.edu.


Ellyn Mulcahy

News tip

Overland Park, Kansas, and Bethesda, Maryland


Master of Public Health program

Written by

Cheyenne Swoope