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USD to Serve State through New Community Action Response Team

A drone shot of Old Main and East Hall. The sun is rising, peaking through Old Main The USD CARE Team provides contact tracing, health promotion and comprehensive services throughout South Dakota.

VERMILLION, S.D. – The University of South Dakota School of Health Sciences has developed a new team of students, faculty and alumni to provide support and public health services to the university and communities and tribes across the state.

The South Dakota Community Action Response Epidemiology (CARE) Team, created in collaboration with the South Dakota Department of Health and the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board (GPTCHB), will offer contact tracing, health promotion and comprehensive services.

“Leveraging partnerships during this unprecedented time has been key to South Dakota’s COVID-19 response,” said Cassie Deffenbaugh, administrator of the Department of Health’s Office of Disease Prevention Services. “We are looking forward to the CARE Team’s contributions to preventing and slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”

The CARE team will assist the Department of Health with contact tracing to identify individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19. Team members will work directly with the Department of Health to focus on two populations – the South Dakota tribal communities who have requested additional contact tracing from the state and the USD community.

“Service and community engaged learning is at the core of the School of Health Sciences’ mission,” said Haifa Samra, Ph.D., R.N., C.N.L, F.A.A.N., dean of the USD School of Health Science. “This project is a perfect example of how our faculty build synergetic partnerships and leverage resources, while using their expertise and students’ passion to advance health and knowledge to problem solve and improve population health.”

“Identifying close contacts of COVID-19 cases and having them quarantine and monitor for symptoms is extremely important to help stop outbreaks from becoming widespread,” said Susan Puumala, Ph.D., senior lecturer in the Master of Public Health (MPH) program and faculty lead for the CARE team said. “Keeping the number of cases and spread controlled helps communities to be able to have a more ‘normal’ level of activities, such as in-person classes.”

The team consists of MPH students, current undergraduate health sciences students and recent graduates as well as several School of Health Sciences faculty members. Through their work on the team, students prepare for careers in public health by participating in interdisciplinary collaboration and health education for rural and underserved populations.

Minga Vargas, a first-year graduate student in the MPH program and one of the student leads on the CARE team, joined the initiative to get hands-on epidemiology experience.

“The CARE team offers the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of an epidemiological team at work, from testing and contact tracing at the start to data analysis and education later on,” said Vargas. “The CARE team gives us a real-world opportunity that involves mobilizing a team, talking with and getting information from those affected, and then using that information to improve prevention.”


USD’s School of Health Sciences is a national leader in interprofessional health sciences education. South Dakota’s comprehensive School of Health Sciences develops scholars, practitioners and leaders in health and human services, including addiction counselors, dental hygienists, health science practitioners, medical laboratory scientists, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, physician assistants, public health practitioners and social workers.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 84 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Hanna DeLange
USD News