As Georgia prepared for COVID-19, we took action

The UGA College of Public Health faculty, staff, and students are actively contributing to Georgia’s COVID-19 response through engagement with local and state health departments, municipal and state policymakers, public health organizations, healthcare providers, and business and industry partnerships.

What follows is a listing of current activities involving various members of the UGA CPH community. Read on for a summary of UGA CPH-led COVID-19 projects currently underway, organized by area of need.


Community Support

Dean Marsha Davis is serving on an Athens-Clarke County (ACC) Advisory Board to leverage her expertise to help guide local emergency management responses. Additional members include Grace Bagwell Adams, Jose Cordero, Lauren Baggett, and Jessica Muilenburg.

Grace Bagwell Adams is leveraging data she gathered through the Athens Wellbeing Project to brief ACC Mayor Kelly Girtz on the current healthcare status to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Bagwell Adams also provided data and forecasting to County Commissioners and to the Oconee County Government. Their team will start working with the Colquitt County Government.

Grace Bagwell Adams provided data and analysis to ACC for its emergency response plan to COVID-19, as well as expertise on homeless services to ACC and Advantage Behavioral Health.

Faculty members Grace Bagwell Adams, Justin Ingels, Micah Gell-Redman and students Meg Bramlett, Ishaan Dave, and Nicholas Mallis recently authored a report for Athens’ two local hospitals, which modeled hospitalization scenarios through April to help providers prepare for cases from their 17-county service area. The team also authored a report for the Southwest Georgia Public Health District modeling COVID-19 prevalence within the community as well as potential hospital burden.

Faculty and staff in the Institute for Disaster Management are participating in the state public health response to COVID-19 at the State Operations Center.

Adam Chen organized webinars for healthcare professionals featuring presentations from Chinese physicians who shared their experiences and lessons learned from the frontlines of the Wuhan COVID-19 outbreak. Learn more here.

Mark Ebell is tracking COVID-19 cases in Clarke and neighboring counties to measure the effectiveness of “flatten the curve” efforts. See spreadsheet.

Erin Lipp and members of her lab – graduate students Megan Lott, Megan Robertson and Billy Norfolk – have developed a surveillance method to track SARS-CoV-2 burden in Athens, using wastewater. This data, available on the Lipp Lab website, provides insight into the community-level spread of COVID-19 cases.


Public Policy

Mark Ebell and Grace Bagwell Adams conducted a hyper-local study on the impact of distancing in Clarke and surrounding counties, which was published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Janani Thapa, along with Donglan Zhang, Mu Lan, Adam Chen, visiting scholar Gang Li and graduate students Kiran ThapaJue Yang, and Heejung Son, are using county-level data to identify Georgia COVID-19 cases and map them over healthcare resources, socio-economic vulnerabilities as well as CVD risk to help decision makers know where to allocate funding and resources. The findings are available at https://eerg.publichealth.uga.edu/

Andreas Handel, a member of UGA’s Center for the Ecology of Infectious Disease and Coronavirus Working Group, has developed models to understand COVID-19 transmission risks, as well a unique COVID-19 tracker, looking at how many cases and hospitalizations to expect, in Georgia and throughout the U.S.

Kerstin Emerson at the Institute of Gerontology surveyed older adults to learn how they have been coping with COVID-19 and prolonged social distancing.

The Institute for Disaster Management is providing expert guidance to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp.

Toni Miles received an invitation to collaborate on the 2021 Georgia Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and the 2022, 2023 national BRFSS. The BRFSS is a state-based surveillance system, administered by the Georgia Department of Public Health, in collaboration with the CDC.


Masks/PPE

Travis Glenn and Erin Lipp and doctoral students Megan Beaudry, Julia Frederick, Megan Lott, and Billy Norfolk are working with Atlanta-based Zono Technologies to test ozone treatment as a method to decontaminate N95 masks and other PPE.


Testing, Treatments & Vaccines

Melissa Hallow is using mathematical modeling to determine potential side effects of proposed COVID-19 therapeutics.

Mark Ebell has assembled a consortium of researchers from institutions that include UCLA, Duke, Wisconsin, VCU, Florida, and others to evaluate models of prognosis for COVID in hospitalized patients and testing a model developed by Adam Chen and Changwei Li.

Mark Ebell is studying outpatients with clinically suspected COVID who have been tested. He and his research team will be checking biomarker (CRP), pluse signs and symptoms, and following for up to a month. The goal is to predict those with a benign versus bad course.


Business & Technology

The College is coordinating with the UGA Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to create content that will provide businesses with information and resources on how to reopen their establishments as safely as possible.

Institute of Gerontology faculty members Jenay Beer, Kerstin Emerson, and Lisa Renzi-Hammond mentored UGA students participating in a university-wide COVID-19 Virtual Design Sprint, which challenged three dozen interdisciplinary student teams to identify a problem related to the pandemic and develop a design solution. Two of the five finalist teams were mentored by IOG team members.

CPH doctoral student Jessica Shotwell participated in the Sprint, and her team, Community Connections, was among the group of five finalists.


Case Tracking

The College’s Academic Affairs Office is setting up a formal internship (10 students) with Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) that will start May 1 and support contact tracing in Northeast Georgia.

The College is offering an Experiential Learning Course (HPAM 3750) that will be assist with contact tracing. The course will take place during the summer thru session and have approximately 25 students in the course. This course will be in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), DPH, and others.


Education

The College hosted a Virtual COVID-19 Hackathon from 3/25/20 to 3/27/20. Ninety students participated across 49 teams with 11 faculty mentors to produce public health education infographics, videos, one-pagers, and more. Deliverables provide free educational resources and more to the public. Download them here.

Mark Ebell is writing daily research briefs with colleagues at Missouri State University for American Family Physician, as well as participating in two podcasts that are adding COVID-19 content (Primary Care Update and POEM of the Week).

Mark Ebell serves as Editor-in-Chief of Essential Evidence, a medical reference website. You can view COVID-19 information for free at www.essentialevidenceplus.com. The site also follows statewide numbers.

Our faculty continue to support public education by providing critical expert insights to the news media who are working to keep our communities informed. Since mid-March 2020, CPH faculty appeared in over 50 prominent news stories. Highlighted outlets include: New York Times, NPR, Politico, Huffington Post, Women’s Running, with consistent coverage in OnlineAthens.com, AJC, 11Alive, WABE, and WUGA. See most recent media mentions here.


Want to learn more?  Read our most recent coronavirus-related research and outreach news here.