Media Seeks GPH Faculty For Pandemic Analysis

Would you fly during the coronavirus pandemic?

A June New York Times article surveyed more than 500 epidemiologists — many belonging to the Society for Epidemiologic Research — asking when they expect to resume 20 activities of daily life “assuming the pandemic and response unfold as they expect.” These activities included shaking hands, hugging, attending sporting or cultural events, and flying.

When answering the question about flying, Dr. Michaela George, assistant professor in Dominican University of California’s Global Public Health department, noted that she would be willing to travel by air — as long as she took precautions to ensure her own safety.

“I would bring a blanket or sheet to sit on, my own food and water, multiple masks (in case one gets uncomfortable), gloves, hand sanitizer, and wipes,” she says.

Dominican is one of a handful of colleges in the U.S. offering a degree in Global Public Health to undergraduate students. Global public health is a burgeoning field for undergraduate education, and Dominican’s faculty are continuing to draw on the global pandemic as a real-life lesson for their budding epidemiologists, involving their students in research examining issues around both public health, global health, and public reactions to the pandemic.

With COVID-19 dominating the headlines this year, Dominican’s Global Public Health faculty  including George, Dr. Brett Bayles, and Dr. Patti Culross — are serving as sources for both regional and national reporters covering the global pandemic.

In a VICE magazine article that appeared a week after The New York Times article, George was asked to comment on the safety procedures consumers should take when flying. George noted that while the airlines have done a lot to ensure passenger safety, passengers must take further precautions to keep themselves and their companions safe.

“Don't travel if you feel sick. Cancelling your trip because you don't feel well should be common practice,” she says. “Wear a mask when you are inside the airport and the plane. These are easy changes, and should become common practice when we take flights in the future.”

George also was interviewed by San Francisco’s Bay City News Service for a story that ran in several regional publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate, focused on local preschools planning to reopen. George noted that preschool children are less likely than older kids to transmit the virus to other kids and adults.

"What we can tell, at this point, is that even though some young children are testing positive for COVID-19, they do not seem to be spreading it to other children or adults," George says. "We don't know why because we don't have enough information on the virus yet to really understand that."

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Earlier this year — just prior to the State of California’s shelter-in-place notice — Dr. Brett Bayles, Assistant Professor of Global Public Health in the School of Health and Natural Sciences, talked with KTVU-TV Fox about how he was turning coronavirus into a teachable moment on global public health.

"These kinds of public health threats (emerging infectious diseases that could become pandemics) are going to become the new normal and we need to be prepared for that," Bayles told KTVU when a reporter visited his Environmental Public Health classroom. "If you really want to affect change and save lives and reduce the burden of disease then figure out why this is happening in the first place so that hopefully you can predict and prevent future events."

Bayles focuses on planetary health and the epidemiology of emerging infectious diseases. Planetary health, which focuses on the connections between the health of ecosystems and the health of people, provides an effective framework for better understanding and predicting the root causes of pandemics. A manuscript by Bayles examining the role of agriculture, indigenous territories, and protected areas in Costa Rica recently was published in The Lancet Global Health, with some of his undergraduate students listed as co-authors. A recent article in the Marin Independent Journal noted that Dominican had recently introduced a timely new minor in planetary health — an emerging academic discipline that’s receiving attention these days due to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, several Bay Area news outlets, including KCBS radio, KGO-TV, Telemundo, and the Marin Independent Journal, talked with GPH faculty and students about the new public health contact tracer training course. The course was developed by Dr. Patti Culross, Chair of the Global Public Health department, in partnership with the County of Marin. The one-credit course is designed to train Dominican students to work as contact tracers as part of the public health response to the pandemic.

“It is a century-old public health strategy for communicable disease control. The course is open to all students, with a preference for juniors and seniors,” Culross says.

“This pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime experience — hopefully. Obviously, there is no way we could ever have planned such a formative learning opportunity,” she adds. “Students will have meaningful participation in an important public health function and in an event that has so unsettled and shaped everyone's lives.”

Currently, the GPH faculty are working with students on several pre-publication research projects.

Bayles, George, and Culross and several undergraduate students are assessing the impact of Marin County’s shelter-in-place (SIP) order on emergency departments (ED) in the county. Preliminary findings show that the Marin SIP order — the first SIP order to be issued in the United States in response to COVID-19 — was associated with a significant reduction in ED utilization in Marin County.

The researchers conducted a retrospective descriptive and trend analysis of all ED visits in Marin from January 1, 2018 to May 4, 2020 to quantify the temporal dynamics of ED utilization before and after the March 17, 2020 SIP order. Their findings show that the average number of ED visits per day decreased by 52.3 percent following the SIP order compared to corresponding time periods in 2018 and 2019. Both respiratory and non-respiratory visits declined, but this negative trend was most pronounced for non-respiratory admissions.

In addition, George, Bayles, and adjunct professor Rochelle Ereman are working with students on a study examination of opioid overdoses in Marin County — using EMS and county data to locate the presence of fentanyl, naloxone distribution, and repeat overdose events. The paper will examine factors associated with repeat non-fatal overdoses in Marin in order to allow health professionals to understand and predict patterns in overdoses.

 

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