Demi A. Danso-Odei, M.P.H.
Together for Florida

A villain is on the loose. And Demi A. Danso-Odei, M.P.H., is the detective on the case. Her quarry: the novel coronavirus.

Danso-Odei is part of a team of more than 30 disease investigators, or contact tracers, at the University of Florida, under contract by the Florida Department of Health, whose job is to help stop the progression of the coronavirus. She’s part of the UF Health Screen, Test & Protect initiative.

Danso-Odei, an epidemiologist who studied at UF, tracks down and interviews students, staff and faculty who have tested positive for the coronavirus or been exposed to someone who did. She works out of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute.

Her job isn’t a harsh inquisition. The work involves being personable, understanding, nonjudgmental. It’s about winning cooperation from sometimes leery people who might be uncomfortable discussing their movements and contacts, even when the process is confidential. Winning trust is crucial.

“The investigative part of the job is what really intrigues me,” Danso-Odei said. “I like to ask probing questions. But I like to do it in a way that seems conversational and not like an interrogation.”

It’s about asking the right questions. Did you go to any gatherings? Do you know who might have infected you? Do you remember where you went Friday? Can you check your calendar if you don’t remember?

The goal isn’t to embarrass anyone, even in those instances where someone sheepishly admits they went to a party and did not wear a mask. “We’re not there to penalize you for it,” Danso-Odei said.

The work is done by phone for the safety of the disease investigator and the people with whom she interacts. Interviews with someone who has tested positive for the virus can take up to an hour. If the person being interviewed was just in contact with someone who tested positive, the conversation might take only 10 minutes.

Danso-Odei is also there to answer questions for folks who are understandably shaken by the news they are infected or been in contact with someone who is.

The disease investigators can encourage people to get coronavirus tests, or to self-quarantine if they had substantial contact with someone who is infected.

“I love that our overarching goal is to keep the university open and healthy,” Danso-Odei said. “For us to be still open and still rocking is amazing. Everybody on the team is doing the best work they can to keep everybody safe.”

By Bill Levesque