Miami wins award for innovation in contact tracing

The Department of Information Technology (IT) and University Services at the University of Miami have won the Top CIO 100 award for their contract research innovations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Miami was the only university to win the award, along with multinational corporations.

Kendall Leser, director of Miami’s public health program and co-director of its contact tracing efforts, supervised 169 student employees. She referred to their employment as applied public health training.

“Normally the students worked in three-hour shifts, each day of the week,” she said. “If their shift ended, it could easily be transferred to another student, and they could pick up where the last contact tracer left off.”

Leser and his team thought of new ways to improve Miami’s contact tracing results. By moving to an all-electronic method and implementing a 24/7 live hotline, which Butler County volunteers served on, the Miami methods became much more efficient and better qualified for the award than other universities.

“We had a process in place where if a Miami student needed housing, a case was automatically created, and COVID case managers could come in and grab that case and work on it without having to go back and forth. returns between different lists with the health department,” Leser said.

David Seidl, vice president of information technology and chief information officer of Miami, managed the project. He also helped the university solve other technological problems caused by the pandemic.

When Miami moved to virtual learning, Seidl and his team had to teach professors how to use Zoom, set up classrooms for hybrid instruction, and run software for COVID reporting and tracking exemptions.

“It was all kind of an emergency response work overload,” Seidl said. “We were already shooting 100 percent.”

Brian Henebry, assistant vice president of solutions delivery in Miami, accepted the award on behalf of Miami. He said it illustrated Miami’s larger efforts to fight COVID-19.

“There has been a lot of effort to isolate students during this time so we can keep classes active,” Henebry said. “But the biggest challenge I faced was the ever-changing guidelines.”

Butler County General Health District representative Erin Smiley said the partnership with Miami has benefited the contact tracing effort, especially early in the pandemic.

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“The infrastructure that was needed to do contact tracing for so many people was impossible for us to keep up with,” she said. “We had a really unique opportunity to partner with a bigger institution like Miami to take on something like this.”

Seidl said the project succeeded because of a special sense of collaboration. Every individual contribution counted.

“It couldn’t have been sustained without the dedication and commitment of this group and also their flexibility when something needed to be adjusted,” he said.

Leser said the award shows the importance of Miami’s less important research areas.

“IT often does things behind the scenes that we don’t really recognize,” she said. “So that really highlights his importance as a collaborator, when it comes to bringing about significant change in public health.”

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