Faculty Apply Their Expertise

SPHHP researchers immediately put their skills to use addressing key questions and offering informed expertise around the global pandemic.

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COVID-19 and changes in the public health curriculum

SPHHP has added a new course through the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior. “Public Health Pandemics, Preparedness and Response: An Exploration Across Time and Place” will guide students through an exploration of various health-related topics with an understanding of public health preparedness and response. In particular, the course will examine how, in the last two centuries, the global community has experienced several changes and trends--like urbanization, climate change, and global travel and trade--that can boost the risk of disease outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics. Sarahmona Przybyla, PhD, assistant dean for Undergraduate Public Health Programs and assistant professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, is teaching the new special topics course with a particular focus on pandemics using historical and contemporary lenses. “We, as an academic public health community, bear responsibility in helping educate future public health practitioners and researchers in a greater awareness of and appreciation for the role of public health in disaster and emergency preparedness,” she said.

How and why of acting to reduce risk in the COVID-19 era

Associate Professor Heather Orom, associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion, is collaborating with researchers from the University of Kentucky on a study called “Me, You, Us, or Them: Shifting Reference Frames for Perceived Risk and Personal vs. Community Action to Prevent Coronavirus-19 Infections.” Part of the COVID-19 Prevention Project, researchers will ask study participants about their efforts to protect themselves from infection and their perception of risk for contracting the virus. The study, which should take about six months, will ultimately broaden understanding of the nature of perceived risk and its impact on behavioral actions at the personal and population level.

Physical therapy’s role in COVID-19 patient recovery after ICU stays

At least half of patients who survive treatment in an intensive care unit will experience at least one of a triad of problems associated with post-intensive care syndrome, or PICS, and this may be true for people recovering from COVID-19 following ICU care. 

According to Patricia Ohtake, PT, PhD, SPHHP associate professor of physical therapy, PICS is a relatively under-recognized issue despite the fact that it affects a large number of people treated in an ICU. She has tailored her recent research on the rehabilitation of ICU survivors to reflect working with COVID-19 patients, particularly on how physical therapy can aid recovery at home. Ohtake is senior author on a paper published in the Physical Therapy Journal in which researchers presented a framework for managing PICS in patients—one that potentially applies to the approximately 15% of COVID-19 patients who require hospitalization and whom might be treated in the ICU. The journal fast-tracked publication of the paper due to its relevance to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Children’s needs worldwide during the COVID-19 pandemic

Katarzyna Kordas, PhD, associate professor in SPHHP's Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, is working with the International Society for Children’s Health and the Environment on a statement highlighting the environmental health impacts and needs of children in relation to pandemic. Kordas is affiliated with the organization, made up of children’s environmental health professionals who use research, training, policy, clinical care, community outreach and education to reduce the impact of adverse chemical, physical, biological and social influences on children’s health. 

Statistical models and local COVID-19 transmission

An interdisciplinary team of UB researchers, including Gregory Wilding, PhD, professor and chair of biostatistics, and Matthew Bonner, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health, has reoriented its focus from academic pursuits to model the local transmission of COVID-19 cases. When the first wave of cases subsided, they turned their attention to modeling the effects of reopening the local economy. Statistics they are incorporating into their models will reflect changing realities on the ground, such as the reduction in social distancing. That, in turn, allows them to give more accurate information to hospitals and the DOH, which will then be used to develop policies.

COVID-19-related shutdowns, the environment and health

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health Meng Wang, PhD, is co-author of a paper looking at the strict traffic measures China implemented at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in January. The goal was to reduce the spread of the disease, but the countrywide ban on traffic mobility had another effect. It significantly reduced vehicle emissions, which “led to improvements in air quality that brought health benefits in non-COVID-19 deaths, which could potentially have outnumbered the confirmed deaths attributable to COVID-19 in China,” said Wang. 

COVID-19, teens and women around the world

Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health Tia Palermo, PhD, is working with UNICEF on mobile data collection to understand the effects related to COVID-19 on livelihoods and well-being among adolescents in Southern Tanzania. She also co-wrote an issue brief for the International Food Policy Research Institute special series of analyses on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on national and global food and nutrition security, poverty and development. The brief examined how programs and policies aimed at preventing or protecting people against poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion that are sensitive to gender issues should be a critical component of the COVID-19 response in low- and middle-income countries.

Palermo has also contributed an article to the Center for Global Development blog on COVID-19 and violence against women, reviewing studies and summarizing the data to date to understand the learning thus far.

The pandemic and rates of intimate-partner violence

Ghazala Saleem, assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Science, has completed two studies related to domestic violence and COVID-19. One paper, "Global Surge in Intimate Partner Violence: Implications for Pakistan,” has been submitted to a special issue of the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association on COVID-19’s impact on the incidence and severity of domestic violence. The second paper, “An Overlooked COVID-19 Crisis: The Increase in Intimate Partner Violence Against Women Might Increase the Risk for Repeated Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries” has been submitted to the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.

Saleem will also conduct a telehealth-based neurological exam and brain injury symptom screening in female survivors of intimate partner violence whose access to care has become even more limited due to COVID-19. She collaborated with the UB Concussion Management Clinic to prepare and modify their existing neurological exam for a telehealth setting. The hope is that this exam, the first of its kind in this population, will be able to identify brain injury and adverse related consequences in these survivors.  

SMART assistance around antibody testing

A team led by Professor and Chair in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior Greg Homish is assisting with operations at COVID-19 antibody testing sites run by the Specialized Medical Assistance Response Team (SMART) of the Erie County Department of Health. Homish, leader of SMART’s Emergency Mental Health Sector, and his team are helping people being tested with information and support, as well as aiding staff. Homish’s role includes daily briefings from representatives from the county health department, Homeland Security, emergency services, EMS, logistics, finance, emergency preparedness, public information, and others, and is part of SMART’s ongoing efforts to support mental health of the community and the team’s staff.

Quarantines and mental health

Researchers from SPHHP and several other universities were authors of a paper, “COVID-19 and Mental Health,” that found a high prevalence of depression and anxiety among people in China who experienced quarantine due to COVID-19. The work also suggested that promoting social support, better family relationships, healthy entertainment and limiting epidemic-related media exposure could reduce the pandemic-related anxiety and depression. The UB authors were Zhongzheng Niu, MS; Zeinab Farhat, MPH; Professor Gregory Homish, PhD; Professor Jo L. Freudenheim, PhD; Kexin Zhu, MBBS; Clinical Assistant Professor Shauna C. Zorich, MD, MPH; Associate Professor Lina Mu, PhD, MD; and Assistant Professor Ying Cao, PhD. Co-principal investigator Mu and her students are continuing to look at the issue, surveying people in the United States for their input.

Effectiveness of masking and social distancing

Epidemiology and Environmental Health Research Professor Holger Schunemann, MD, PhD, is one of the authors of a study, published in The Lancet, reviewing all the available evidence of the effectiveness of physical distancing, face masks and eye protection to prevent spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases. has quantified the effectiveness of these protective measures. The study found that physical distancing of 1 meter from an exposed person reduces risk of transmission but that 2 meters is probably more effective, and that N95 masks, particularly for health care workers, are more effective than other face coverings. “Eye protection might provide additional benefits,” said the study. The authors of the study are members of the COVID-19 Systematic Urgent Review Group Effort (SURGE).

AJPH Editorial Explains Vietnam's COVID-19 Success

maurizio trevisan.

Maurizio Trevisan, MD, MS, SPHHP’s founding dean and research professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, recently co-authored an editorial for the American Journal of Public Health on Vietnam’s success dealing with COVID-19. The editorial asserts that Vietnam’s experience “points to the fact that even a low-cost approach based on close monitoring, identification, and isolation can be successful, if implemented quickly and with resolution.” It also outlines the specific steps the country took to cope with the pandemic. Renowned as a cardiovascular disease epidemiologist, Trevisan is currently dean of health sciences at VinUniversity, Hanoi, Vietnam. He served as dean of SPHHP in from 2004 to 2007 and is a member of SPHHP’s Delta Omega Honorary Society Gamma Lambda Chapter.