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School of Public Health Working to Inform Public Health Guidelines, Understand Determinants Behind COVID-19

By Adam Fisher

Insights from the U-M School of Public Health have been essential for the University of Michigan's ongoing effort to resume a public health-informed fall semester. School of Public Health researchers have worked to better understand the underlying factors and long-ranging impacts of COVID-19, and inform public health responses accordingly for U-M, the state, and beyond.

See also: Michigan Engineering Deploys Emergency Fund, New Tracking Tools in Anticipation for Return to Campus

The Swiss Cheese Metaphor: Protecting Ourselves and Others from Coronavirus

When it comes to COVID-19, no single protection — like wearing masks, washing your hands, or social distancing — is 100 percent effective at preventing infection. But, stacking these practices together can help us protect ourselves and others, and reduce the spread of the virus as states reopen and we return to public spaces, family, and friends. The School of Public Health explains through a short YouTube clip.

Working with the State of Michigan to Inform Future Efforts

Researchers at the School of Public Health and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services are reaching out to adults with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 to collect information they hope will inform future response efforts to the coronavirus pandemic in the state.

Their goals: to understand experiences of COVID-19 in Michigan focusing on health equity and to provide the state of Michigan with information so it can be better prepared for future public health crises, including future potential waves of the virus.

Those participating in the Michigan COVID-19 Recovery Surveillance Study will choose between filling out an online survey or being interviewed about their personal experiences with the illness and how the pandemic has affected their lives.

Monitoring and Preventing Disease in Michigan for a Safe Return to Work

Nine researchers from the School of Public Health have been working closely with public health officials and policy makers in Michigan to provide public health modeling and expertise to help state leaders make informed decisions. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and others are taking input from School of Public Health faculty and other experts to make policy decisions about the state's response to the COVID-19 outbreak and help Michiganders return to work safely with a public-health-informed plan.

The School of Public Health—in collaboration with the Michigan departments of Health and Human Services and Labor and Economic Opportunity and with the School of Information and College of Engineering—has developed and implemented a precision population health strategy for the state, including publicly available online tools that support the state's return to work.

U-M faculty, staff, alumni and students have developed online tools designed to help local and state officials reopen the economy safely and gradually while allowing them to quickly identify and respond to potential coronavirus hot spots and outbreaks.

The tools include a COVID-19 symptom checklist web application (called MI Symptoms) and COVID-19 dashboard (called the MI Safe Start Map) that provides real time, visualized data for officials to easily identify areas where the new coronavirus presents a higher risk, and for the public to understand the pandemic status in their community and across the state.

A screen shot of a Michigan COVID-19 dashboard

School of Public Health researchers continue to analyze a number of areas around managing the ongoing pandemic and addressing the systemic barriers that have exacerbated its spread and impact. The school features some of its research projects and applications at an online Coronavirus Research and Resource Center, aimed to serve as a resource for policymakers, businesses and individuals.

Among recent highlights:

  • School of Public Health experts Julia Wolfson and Cindy Leung argue that the COVID-19 pandemic has made glaringly apparent the structural conditions that underlie inequities in our nation's health, in a recent article in the Annals of Family Medicine. Unlike the novel coronavirus strain, these social, economic and structural factors are not new.
  • Holly Hartman, a Ph. D. student in Biostatistics, is the lead researcher on a team of data scientists and cancer experts from the School of Public Health and the Rogel Cancer Center that developed a free app to help doctors compare long-term risk of postponing treatment with additional risk posed by potential COVID-19 infection.
  • Aurora Le, an incoming Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, discusses what occupational health practices we should expect to see as we return to work and how they help protect us from exposure to the coronavirus.