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Alumni and staff help prevent spread of COVID-19

2021-04-07-Greg Williams
Greg Williams, associate director of emergency preparedness, said UNG implemented a detailed process to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the university offered instructions on how to receive a COVID-19 test from Student Health Services on UNG's Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses. UNG also provided free asymptomatic testing on all five campuses.

When Garrett Davis graduated from the University of North Georgia (UNG) in May 2020, he dreamed of an entry-level job in public relations. But the COVID-19 pandemic made finding a job difficult.

Therefore, Davis became a contact tracer for the Georgia Department of Health (GDPH) to gain some work experience.

"I thought I could do this for a little while and then find my dream job," said the 22-year-old resident of Athens, Georgia.

Since then, Davis has thrived in the public health sector. After he started as a contact tracer, Davis transferred to the COVID-19 hotline. His ease of communicating with patients led to a promotion as a case investigator followed by a supervisory role.

Jonathan "J.J." Gilleland, a May 2020 UNG graduate with a master's degree in international affairs, also was among recent graduates having trouble finding a job. The unemployment rate for recent college graduates reached a high of 12.9% in June 2020, according to Statista, the leading provider of market and consumer data. Gilleland got a job as a contact tracer last year before being trained as a case investigator in December.

"I talk to people who have been diagnosed with COVID," Gilleland said. "I find out their symptoms, who they may have been around to contract the virus, and who their close contacts are."

A Cleveland, Georgia, resident, Gilleland instructs patients about isolation and quarantine guidelines and answers questions. As a supervisor, Davis helps case investigators troubleshoot issues. Both are proud to be part of a local effort to prevent the spread of a deadly virus and provide some personal aid.

"Some of the people who I called were elderly, 75 and older. It seemed like they needed or wanted to talk to someone," Gilleland said. "I like talking to people and helping break up the monotony of their days."

Davis' experience has led him to consider working in public health.

"I planned to do this short term, but it has blossomed into a passion," Davis said. "Educating people about health is a wonderful feeling. I feel fulfilled at the end of the day, because I know I am doing something that makes a difference at the local level."

Gilleland and Davis are not the only contact tracers and case investigators with UNG ties. The university has employed several of its own to monitor and track students, faculty and staff who have been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19.

Jack Powell is a part-time case manager at UNG. He credits UNG's Campus Police and its emergency preparedness resources, Student Affairs, and Student Involvement for the low number of cases at UNG.

"We have kept a lot of parents and grandparents safe by getting reports of students, faculty and staff who may have had direct or indirect exposure," he said, explaining UNG has a self-reporting system in place.

Greg Williams, associate director of emergency preparedness, said the safety and well-being of the UNG community is the top priority. He explained UNG implemented a detailed process to handle the situation.

"We are also proactive," he said. "We give people instructions on how to receive a COVID-19 test, which is available at Student Health Services. And we offer asymptomatic testing for free on all five campuses."

The actions have proved successful. From Aug. 1 to Dec. 31, 2020, more than 750 positive cases of COVID-19 were reported. Since Jan. 1, there have been 572 confirmed cases, equaling 2.5% of UNG's population.

"Since the first of the year, that's a really low number," Williams said.

On April 7, the Hall County Board of Commissioners, in coordination with UNG and District 2 Public Health, opened a new mass COVID-19 vaccination site in the Hugh Mills Physical Education Center on the Gainesville Campus.

More information about the testing and vaccinations at UNG is available at

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