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Student Outbreak Response Team (SORT) Makes an Impact on the Community and SLU Campus

by Joseph Beem on 03/01/2021


SORT meeting
SORT Members Ashley Gomel, Ed Chau and Christopher Hopkins.

Saint Louis University prides itself on having students who are involved in different extracurricular activities and groups. One group making an impact in St. Louis Public Health is SORT (Student Outbreak Response Team). 

SORT is a student-lead organization where students passionate about infectious disease epidemiology can gain new skills to identify and respond to disease outbreaks and aid local and State Health Departments in outbreak response.

"SLU's SORT is unique to public health programs nationwide," said Terri Rebmann, PhD, RN, CIC, FAPIC, Special Assistant to the President & Director of, Institute for Biosecurity. "It provides public health students with the opportunity to receive real world experience while still in school as well as contributing to actual outbreak investigations, which benefits local public health departments that lack the infrastructure to respond rapidly to these events."

When the COVID-19 pandemic put a threatening strain on the Saint Louis City and County health department’s resources in early 2020, SORT was called into action.

“The organization’s job was to assist in the COVID-19 pandemic in any way that we could; we were able to assist at both the St. Louis County and St. Charles County Health Departments with contact tracing and case investigation,” former SORT Vice President Ashley Underwood (MPH 2020) said.

SORT’s success in helping local health departments respond to the COVID-19 pandemic is due in part to the training students receive before an emergency public health situation arises.

Current SORT President, Morgan LeBaige (MPH 2021), believes that their work within the last year has helped the group be more effective than they would have been otherwise. 

“We train students in outbreak response so we have students available to answer if we’re “tapped” by local or state agencies in the case of an outbreak,” LeBaige said. 

The group was also activated in 2019-2020 in response to the CDC examining the relationship between vaping and pneumonia.

Currently, SORT works alongside the Public Health Ambassador’s (PHA) program to help students on SLU’s campus stay safe through campus audits of compliance with social restrictions, mask wearing, and sanitation supplies.

During past outbreaks, SORT members have helped collect case exposure data, conduct contact tracing, analyze outbreak epidemiological data, and develop interventions to halt outbreaks.

SORT not only gives its members hands on experiences in public health through the PHA program, but it also gives them experiences that help them tackle future endeavors when they begin their careers as well as networking opportunities. Participation in SORT has allowed members like Morgan LeBaige to develop leadership skills. 

“I’ve learned about outbreak response, especially through our state outbreak training and point of dispensing training, which has helped my leadership and organization experience,” LeBaige said. 

Others like Ashley Underwood believe that working with local health departments gave them knowledge they could not get anywhere else. 

“My membership in SORT helped with my career because I was given the opportunity to work with health departments and have access to training I would not have been exposed to otherwise,” Says Underwood. “As a leader, I also learned about how to host events, plan training, and network with those in the Public Health world,” Underwood said. 

Both LeBaige and Underwood believe that their involvement in SORT, particularly during its activation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has prepared them to be successful when they begin their careers, no matter what challenge they face. SLU prides itself on having students who are involved in extracurricular activities that further their professional development, like SORT. 

College for Public Health and Social Justice

The Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice is the only academic unit of its kind, studying social, environmental and physical influences that together determine the health and well-being of people and communities. It also is the only accredited school or college of public health among nearly 250 Catholic institutions of higher education in the United States.

Guided by a mission of social justice and focus on finding innovative and collaborative solutions for complex health problems, the College offers nationally recognized programs in public health, social work, health administration, applied behavior analysis, and criminology and criminal justice.