Posted November 11, 2020, 3:12PM

Inspiring Internship: Student Serves as a Coronavirus Contract Tracer


NCCU biomedical sciences major Megan Gaines didn’t give education the back seat when the coronavirus pandemic began. She continued to study and complete an internship as a virus contract tracer for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. 

In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, M.D., reported a need for as many as 100,000 contact tracers to fight the pandemic in the United States.

Megan Gaines
Photo by Chioke Brown

The state Health and Human Services Department is working with Community Care of North Carolina and the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers on a new initiative to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Carolina Community Tracing Collaborative.   

As part of her job, Gaines conducted contract tracing in Randolph County. Her responsibilities included conducting assessments of individuals who might have been exposed to the virus and those who had tested positive, as well as tracking down their contacts to urge those people to quarantine. She also worked to establish rapport with her clients so she could encourage them to seek support, resources, and services. 

 “Being able to assist others in need during this difficult time for our nation is a great feeling,” Gaines said.  Gaines also provided insight into the importance of adhering to safety measures that prevent disease transmission.  

Gaines credits the experience with prompting her to minor in public health.   

 “I really enjoyed the public health and clinical aspect of the job,” she said. “It has been a major influence on choosing a minor.”  

The Whitsett, N.C., native, whose goal is to become either a radiologist or dermatologist, attributes her interest in medicine to the academic exposure to hands-on programs such as the Partners Cancer Biology Program at NCCU, where she previously served as a research fellow and intern. 

She is also a Cheatham-White merit scholar.  


New Collaboration Revives NCCU Veterans Clinic 


Thanks to a new collaboration between the law schools at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and NCCU, the Veterans Clinic on the Eagle campus has been revived to meet the ongoing needs of current and former service members. 

vetsThis partnership will assist active military personnel, veterans and their families who might otherwise not be able to afford proper representation. “We are thrilled to collaborate with UNC-Chapel Hill and NCCU School of Law as we further our commitment to those who valiantly protect our country and have contributed so much to communities across North Carolina,” NCCU Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye said. “This partnership will provide a strong safety net to help ensure that the needs of our veterans are served.” 

The UNC School of Law transfered more than $784,000 to NCCU’s Veterans Clinic, which is the remainder of a previous appropriation to UNC-Chapel Hill from the North Carolina General Assembly to support programs for active-duty service members and veterans. 

 “By working to correct deep injustices suffered by veterans, our clinics will advocate for and provide justice to citizens who are marginalized and face innumerable challenges in our current  
system,” UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz said. “It is an honor to work with our fellow system school to serve our community here in the Triangle and beyond.” 

ELAINE O'NEAL Former Interim Law Dean NCCU School of Law
Elaine O'Neal
Former Interim Law Dean, NCCU School of Law

Active military personnel and veterans have a significant presence in North Carolina as the state is home to five major military bases and stations. According to the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, North Carolina ranks No. 7 in the U.S. in its total population of veterans with more than 730,000 who reside in the state, representing nearly 10% of North Carolina’s adult population. Yet 7% of North Carolina veterans are unemployed and live in poverty. 

Former NCCU Interim School of Law Dean Elaine O’Neal led the effort to reestablish the clinic, which opened in 2007 and was subsequently closed. O’Neal said reopening the clinic felt like a personal mission, as her late father was a World War II veteran. 

 “The reestablishment of the Military and Veterans Clinic is a worthy cause that speaks to the core mission of North Carolina Central University’s School of Law in meeting the needs of underserved communities,” O’Neal said. 

The NCCU Veterans Clinic will handle benefit claims in various stages of appeals. Cases may revolve around disability claims, survivors’ benefits, pension and other issues. Additionally, the NCCU School of Law operates specialty clinics in eight other areas: civil litigation, criminal defense, family law, intellectual property (patent and trademark), juvenile law, tax law and consumer issues. Services are free to those who qualify as in need or who are able to meet the financial eligibility standards as determined by the appropriate legal standards. 

  • North Carolina ranks no. 7  in the U.S. in its total population of veterans  
  • 7% of North Carolina veterans are unemployed and live in poverty. 

Dark Clouds Part for Unexpected Points of Light 


Shortly after the spring 2020 semester began, we started hearing about a new virus strain in Asia. Then reports of cases began appearing in the United States. By March 11, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of coronavirus a pandemic and our world suddenly changed. 

Students and faculty who had left for spring break the previous weekend were instructed that the University of North Carolina System would transition to all-online courses. Stay-at-home orders were then issued by the governor.   

Throughout all the changes, NCCU professors pushed ahead to amend their coursework for virtual learning environments. Students, many of whom were now living back at home with their parents, began taking classes online. The 2020 graduates would be unable to attend an in-person graduation, and it seemed an unsettling end to what started as a regular semester. 

Yet throughout the last few months, the Eagles of NCCU have consistently risen to the challenges imposed by the pandemic and looked for ways to help themselves and others. 

Siegee Dowah
Photo by Chioke Brown

As communications student, Siegee Dowah, an intern for WRAL, wrote in an April blog post: “I've been thinking about all the things I could do while I'm at home during this time. I'll probably teach myself how to use other Adobe applications or catch up on some shows I told myself I would watch a few months ago. Either way I don't see all of this ‘lockdown’ stuff as a bad thing.” 

Students and professors shared tips for distance teaching, learning, and studying. The university’s Division of Extended Studies and Department of Information Technology Services pulled out all the stops to make sure educational materials, lesson plans, and lines of communication were available so that the Spring 2020 semester could be completed successfully. And it was. 

In May, his graduation month, senior Chance Kennedy posted a dance video in his graduation gown. Its playful exuberance cheered up the nation as the clip went viral, claiming spots on popular outlets such as “Good Morning America” and BET. 

NCCU researchers have been working diligently to study the virus and its effects, especially among people of color, who have so far been the hardest hit. The university’s faculty has received almost $2 million in COVID-19-related research grants and is now conducting research and testing, developing new health care protocols, and even working on a tool to detect biological threats at the border. 

Our experts in business, education, early childhood development, health, science, and other specialties have also been generous in sharing their knowledge with media, making appearances in news reports and on panels to provide insights into the pandemic and its impacts.

  • Psychology professor Jonathan Livingston, Ph.D., spoke with ABC-11 WTVD about the mental health benefits of having plants and a gardening space during the pandemic. 
  • Business professor and director of entrepreneurship Henry McKoy, Ph.D., provided insight into the economic impact of COVID-19 for several local and national outlets. 
  • Political science professor Jarvis Hall, Ph.D., analyzed the potential impact of COVID-19 on the North Carolina gubernatorial race for the News & Observer. 
  • Assistant Vice Chancellor for Health and Wellness Mari Ross-Alexander, Ph.D., discussed how to keep HBCU students safe in light of COVID-19 with The Washington Post. 
  • Professor Chris Paul, Ph.D., and William Pilkington, DPA, contributed an article to the Independent Tribune of Cabarrus County regarding the impact of COVID-19 on food insecurity. 

Whatever may lie ahead for the remainder of 2020, rest assured that the NCCU Eagles will be alert and always ready to soar! 


COVID-19 Outreach Helps Underserved Communities  


More than 1,800 people in nine counties were provided free coronavirus testing in fall 2020 as part of an NCCU-led research program addressing health inequities in communities of color. 

The drive-up testing sites were initiated through the Advanced Center for COVID-19 Related Disparities (ACCORD) at NCCU, which was funded by the N.C. Policy  Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill in response to the coronavirus pandemic, said Deepak Kumar, Ph.D., lead researcher on the project. Kumar, who also directs the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical and Biotechnical Research Institute, said the center also gets support from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, which seeks to “address the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on underserved communities.”  

ACCORD research is focused on communities of color because many African American and Hispanic communities have been disproportionately affected by the virus. Counties served by the pop-up test sites are Anson, Cabarrus, Durham, Granville, Halifax, New Hanover, Rowan, Vance, and Warren.  

All county residents were welcomed to be tested, but those from the African American and Hispanic/Latinx communities were especially encouraged to participate. 

 “African Americans are more likely to acquire the infection, have more severe symptoms, and are twice as likely to die,” Kumar wrote in the ACCORD grant proposal. 

“African Americans are more likely to acquire the infection, have more severe symptoms and are twice as likely to die.” 
-Deepak Kumar, Ph.D. lead researcher, ACCORD 

Providing better access to testing helps public health departments keep track of any potential outbreaks and lets individuals know whether they may be carrying the virus and could pose a risk to family and friends. The researchers also hope to break some ice with community members who feel reluctant about participating in medical research or, in some cases, even to seek medical services, said William Pilkington, DPA, who heads NCCU’s health disparities team at the North Carolina Research Campus at Kannapolis. 

This hesitation is often linked to news of the medical studies conducted in the 20th Century that harmed or killed African Americans, such as in the federally backed Tuskegee Study in which researchers left syphilis patients untreated to learn more about the disease.

Further exacerbating the crisis in some communities is a lack of medical providers nearby and the absence of public transportation. Some face a combination of disadvantages, such as no full-service grocery store to buy healthy foods and proximity to environmental hazards, Pilkington said. 

In addition to the testing service, residents who attended the ACCORD clinics received health information and were asked to take a survey about their attitudes toward testing and taking a vaccination for coronavirus once it is developed. 

The researchers hope this feedback will allow them to understand and better respond to the communities and their health care needs. 


“African Americans are more likely to acquire the infection, have more severe symptoms and are twice as likely to die.” 

-Deepak Kumar, Ph.D. lead researcher, ACCORD 


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