Working to address COVID-19

Working to address COVID-19 graphic

CUNY SPH faculty, students, and alumni are addressing the coronavirus pandemic through surveys of NYC residents, national cohort studies, systems science approaches, vaccine confidence advocacy, and more – and always through a social justice lens.

Assessing COVID-19’s impact on populations

  • COVID-19 Tracking Survey: Beginning in March of this year, CUNY SPH has been leading a tracking survey to assess how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of New Yorkers. The survey, which paused at the end of June, will resume in September and continue through January.
  • CHASING COVID: CUNY SPH and the Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health (CUNY ISPH) launched the Communities, Households and SARS/COV-2 Epidemiology (CHASING) COVID study to track the U.S. public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • TEACCH: Researchers from the Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health (CUNY ISPH) launched a national study to understand how schools and districts are preparing for remote or in-person instruction in the upcoming school year, and how educators feel about the instructional and safety plans.
  • The Harlem Health Initiative survey: In June, CUNY SPH expanded its ongoing COVID-19 tracking survey to take a deeper look at the impact of the pandemic on our community in Harlem.

Applying systems science and computer modeling to COVID-19

  • Professor Bruce Y. Lee and his Public Health Informatics, Computational, and Operations Research (PHICOR) team have been developing various computer models to help with decision making and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, a computer simulation model estimated the cost of medical expenses if different proportions of the U.S. population were to be infected with COVID-19. The PHICOR team also developed a computational model simulating the spread of the virus in the U.S. which found that a vaccine would have to be at least 80 percent effective to largely extinguish an epidemic.
  • Professor Terry Huang and his team at the Center for Systems and Community Design are conducting a study to account for the social and behavioral factors associated with the spread of the virus in the U.S. through the application of systems science and machine learning approaches. The researchers are using news and social media posts to examine social and behavioral responses to the pandemic and how the inter-dependencies of these factors influence the trajectory of the disease.
  • Assistant Professor Sheng Li is developing a modeling analysis platform to integrate population movement, environmental exposure, and social media data to understand important COVID-19 epidemiological characteristics and assess ongoing and planned control efforts.
coronavirus models on computer screen and lab equipment

Confidence in a COVID-19 Vaccine

  • Business Partners to CONVINCE: Distinguished Lecturer Scott Ratzan, as executive director of Business Partners for Sustainable Development (BPSD), helped launch a global communication and education initiative to promote COVID-19 vaccine acceptance among private sector employers and employees.
  • Adapted health communications principles for pandemic: In an article for Public Health Research & Practice, Distinguished Lecturer Scott Ratzan and colleagues adapted a checklist for the implementation of COVID-19 communication strategies to move from the acute phase of the pandemic to the “next normal.”
  • Public health leaders call for coordinated communication response: In an editorial for the National Academy of Medicine’s Perspectives, Distinguished Lecturer Scott Ratzan called for informed and active public policy leadership to employ strategically coordinated health communication and outreach on COVID-19 and other emerging global health threats.

Combating food insecurity

  • Expanding food benefits during COVID: The WT Grant Foundation and the Spencer Foundation have jointly awarded a grant to the Urban Food Policy Institute at CUNY SPH to study successful strategies for expanding enrollment, benefits, access, and impact of food benefit programs such as SNAP, WIC, and School Meals in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Expanding SNAP to online grocery shopping: In a study published in the journal Sustainability, Associate Professor Nevin Cohen examined the adoption of online grocery shopping by New York City public housing residents using SNAP benefits and the potential cost and time savings that result.
Volunteers at food pantry

COVID-19’s outsize impact on frontline healthcare workers

Gauging the origins of the pandemic

  • Op-ed: Fight Pandemics Like Wildfires: In an editorial for Foreign Affairs, 2020 doctoral graduate Catherine Machalaba called for a more unified international response to pandemics such as COVID-19.
  • Study shows NYC COVID-19 outbreak had European and U.S. origins: Researchers including CUNY SPH PhD student Brianne Ciferri conducted the first molecular epidemiology study of SARS-CoV-2, which showed that the outbreak in New York City arose mostly through untracked transmission between the United States and Europe.
Bat hanging upside down

Pregnancy and childbirth in a pandemic

  • Associate Professor Diana Romero and team are surveying women from New York City and State who recently gave birth, are currently pregnant, or are/were considering a pregnancy in 2020, regarding their experiences with and views on the coronavirus pandemic. They are exploring critical issues related to healthcare, mental health, social support, living situation, increased stress during the pandemic, and pregnancy-related concerns.
Pregnant woman with face mask

COVID-19 in NYC prisons

  • The Carceral Health Crisis of New York, 2020: Faculty Naomi Zewde, Emma Tsui, and Nick Freudenberg, and PhD student Erinn Bachus are investigating the capacity of the New York jail and prison system to adequately protect the vulnerable residents within the public systems of incarceration. The researchers are evaluating and monitoring the prison system’s response to the pandemic and make health-focused recommendations while incorporating the crucial perspectives of the men and women directly affected.
Barbed wire on a fence

Not an equal opportunity pandemic

  • Exploring COVID-19 health disparities using spatial analysis: For a study published in the Journal of Urban Health, faculty Andrew Maroko and Brian Pavilonis examined the spatial and demographic nature of reported SARS-CoV-2 diagnoses in New York City and Chicago as of April 13, 2020.
masked man walks by shuttered storefront


Our faculty, staff, students and alumni have been hard at work putting the COVID-19 pandemic into context for the public. See our full list of press clips here.

Coronavirus Outbreak Laboratory Research

Keeping governments accountable: the COVID-19 Assessment Scorecard​

Dean Ayman El-Mohandes, Distinguished Lecturer Scott Ratzan, and others propose a system to assess governments’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Worried Woman With Protective Face Mask on Bus

Health isn’t just the absence of disease

CUNY SPH Adjunct Professor Kristina Baines​ calls for structural inequities with real health consequences to be dealt with by leveraging the same urgency as our response to COVID-19.

COVID-19 virus closeup

What we’ve learned from the HIV pandemic

Distinguished Professor Denis Nash and HIV activist James Krellenstein apply lessons learned from the HIV pandemic to the current coronavirus pandemic.

Person in ppe disinfecting a bus

Fight Pandemics Like Wildfires

2020 doctoral grad Catherine Machalaba and William B. Karesh, Executive Vice President for Health and Policy at EcoHealth Alliance, call for a more unified international response to pandemics such as COVID-19.

After COVID-19, we must save CUNY

Distinguished Professor Nicholas Freudenberg, PhD student Erinn Bacchus, and Distinguished Professor Michelle Fine of the Graduate Center urge elected officials to strengthen, not weaken CUNY four-year schools and community colleges in light of the pandemic, as public higher education is more essential than ever.

Midtown Manhattan deserted due to COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic

Time to revive New York? No, it’s still way too risky, and will bring disease and death

In a New York Daily News cover story, Dean Ayman El-Mohandes argued against reopening New York City without sufficient testing and contact-tracing capacity.

Learn from the experts

The Current Crisis in Historical Perspective: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Featuring Michael Merson, former director of the WHO Global Program on AIDS.

The Next Phase of the Public Health Response to COVID-19: Goals and Strategies

Featuring David Nabarro, WHO Special Envoy on COVID-19.

The CUNY SPH COVID-19 Tracking Survey: Findings from Eight Weeks of Surveying New Yorkers

This Grand Rounds featured the following speakers: Ayman El-Mohandes (CUNY SPH Dean), Scott Ratzan (Distinguished Lecturer and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives), Nick Freudenberg (Distinguished Professor and Director of the CUNY Institute for Urban Food Policy), Victoria Ngo, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management and Director of the Center for Innovation in Mental Health.

COVID-19: The Next Wave and Lessons Learned on the Global Stage

This Grand Rounds was moderated by Ayman El-Mohandes, CUNY SPH Dean and featured the following speakers: Chang-Chuan Chan (Dean of the College of Public Health at the National Taiwan University), Wafaa El-Sadr (Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine at Columbia University, director of ICAP at Columbia University, and director of the Global Health Initiative at the Mailman School of Public Health), Rakesh Kumar (Chief Advisor for the United Nations Development Programme in India), and Ashish Joshi (Senior Associate Dean for Student and Academic Affairs at CUNY SPH).