New technology enhances Penn State's COVID contact tracing, data tracking effort

February 17, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At the start of the spring semester, Penn State launched a new platform across all of its campuses that increases the University’s ability to manage coronavirus case investigations and helps speed up contact tracing processes for students and employees who are COVID-positive or a close contact.

The platform, called Salesforce Health Cloud, is designed to assist personnel in quickly identifying and addressing outbreaks in order to limit COVID’s impact on Penn State and local communities, said Kelly Wolgast, director of Penn State’s COVID-19 Operations Control Center. “The Salesforce platform is an important operational tool for the University — it integrates the various critical streams, such as data, communication and task management, to support the health and well-being of our students and employees.” 

Salesforce is an international firm specializing in customer relationship management, or CRM, technology with tools for contact management and other business relationships.

David Gindhart, Penn State Information Technology’s associate chief information officer for University partnerships, said, “The health cloud is designed around the individual and their needs, so if a student or employee tests positive, we can quickly get the results, get the person into isolation, start contact tracing and begin other processes. This enhances our response time, helping us to limit spread in the campus and local community.”   

The platform has built-in email capabilities, so it’s able to send messages and prompt users with follow-up tasks. For example, if a student tests positive and is sent to isolation, the Residence Life office can be notified that the student is using a University-designated isolation space.

The Salesforce Health Cloud incorporates COVID test result data from the different vendors and integrates with the University’s LionPATH and WorkDay systems with built-in safeguards for individual privacy protection.

The health cloud is a critical tool for the University as Penn State sought to test all of its students ahead of the resumption of in-person classes on Feb. 15, and retest them in the two weeks after they return

The platform complements the recently launched Testing and Surveillance Center, which provides Penn State with an in-house Clinical Laboratory Improvements Amendments certification to perform COVID-19 diagnostic tests, significantly boosting Penn State’s COVID mitigation efforts.

Beyond faster and more effective contact tracing, and more efficient case management, the Salesforce Health Cloud creates opportunities for more detailed data reporting.

Penn State’s leaders and experts can use the technology to examine trends and subsets of University populations. For example, data can be broken down to examine specific residence halls, or portions of downtown State College to investigate emerging patterns among those groups. The COVID-19 data team can also pull customized reports from the health cloud to conduct more detailed analyses.

Gindhart said the University envisions using Salesforce Health Cloud beyond the current pandemic.

“In the long term, we see this health cloud as a way to enhance how we interact with students and employees in promoting their health and wellness,” he said.



Last Updated February 18, 2021