Working to address COVID-19

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-SCORE: Evaluating public perception of countries’ response to the pandemic through a survey of 13,400 participants from 19 countries hard-hit by the pandemic.
  • Assessing governments on their COVID-19 response: Dean Ayman El-Mohandes and Distinguished Lecturer Scott Ratzan are co-authors on a Nature Medicine commentary on keeping governments accountable on their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 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 results continue to demonstrate wide disparities in access to health care, employment, housing, and food in racially and ethnically defined minority residents.
  • 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.
  • Surveying the impact of the pandemic on CUNY students: In February 2021, CUNY SPH faculty Heidi Jones, Meredith Manze, Victoria Ngo, and Nicholas Freudenberg, along with Healthy CUNY deputy director Patricia Lamberson, published the findings of a survey of over 2000 CUNY students to gauge the health and financial impact of the pandemic on students.
New Yorkers Enjoying Outdoor Activities in Upper East Side as Restrictions Ease

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.
Computers in a lab with coronavirus models on the screens

Confidence in a COVID-19 vaccine

  • Coronavirus vaccines stir doubts among many worldwide, new study shows: A study from researchers at CUNY SPH and three other institutions reveals widespread global hesitancy to accept a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
  • CONVINCE USA: In December CUNY SPH launched the CONVINCE USA Initiative, part of a global project to increase understanding of factors that influence people’s willingness to accept new COVID-19 vaccines, and to promote inclusive public dialogue to reduce vaccine hesitancy.
  • 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.
  • COVID-19 vaccine acceptance among adults in four major US metropolitan areas and nationwide: In a study in Nature Scientific Reports, a team of CUNY SPH researchers offered strategies to accelerate vaccine usage and counter resistance among the one-in-five Americans still unwilling to take the shot. The article was one of the top 100 downloaded papers for the journal in 2021.
Doctor fills injection syringe with vaccine

Combating food insecurity

  • Rates of food insecurity remain high despite expansion of NYC food assistance programs: Despite New York City’s recent success in reaching more residents with food assistance, levels of food insecurity remain high. In the latest CUNY SPH COVID-19 tracking survey, 38 percent of New Yorkers expressed worry that their household would run out of food before they could buy more and almost a third said they had actually run out of food during September.
  • 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 a food pantry

Helping train the NYC Test and Trace Corps

  • CUNY SPH has partnered with the NYC Test and Trace Corps to help train resource navigators and supervisors to assist anyone who has COVID-19, or who has been in contact with someone with COVID-19, to safely quarantine at home. Resource navigators connect these individuals with free critical economic, social, and physical health resources and programs including food delivery, help accessing health insurance, links to a primary care provider and mental health support, help with domestic violence, connections to social services and housing resources, and a Take Care package with enough personal protective equipment for a household to quarantine. Several CUNY SPH faculty and administrators, including Ashish Joshi, Sean Haley, Elizabeth Kelvin, Lynn Roberts, and Stacey Plichta, have been engaged in the development and implementation of training modules for the NYC Test and Trace Corps. These modules include Data and Digital Literacy, Supportive Supervision, Self-care, Management Basics, and Equity and Culturally Responsive Communication for Supervisors of Frontline Workers. A COVID-19 aftercare module is planned to help understand post-COVID-19 resource needs.

Elderly woman quarantining at home with face mask on

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, childbirth, and parenting in a pandemic

  • Associate Professor Diana Romero and team recently surveyed women ages 18-44 across New York State who recently gave birth, are currently pregnant, or were considering a pregnancy in 2020, regarding their experiences with and views on the coronavirus pandemic. While the data are still being analyzed, preliminary findings suggest that women who were pregnant at the beginning of the outbreak in March were more likely than women pregnant a year prior to have delayed or to have experienced delays in obtaining prenatal, postpartum, and miscarriage care. They were also more likely to have considered getting an abortion. Among those who tried to obtain contraception since March, half experienced delays with 39% related to COVID-19.
  • Students with children are a particularly vulnerable subset, whose lives have been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in unique ways. With funding from the CUNY Interdisciplinary Research Grant, Assistant Professor Meredith Manze and her team investigated the barriers and facilitators to CUNY student parents’ academic success, persistence, and well-being. They conducted in-depth interviews with 24 students, nine faculty members, and 16 staff from six of CUNY’s community colleges and identified areas of intervention for institutions, faculty, and staff. Their findings have implications for systems-level changes that can facilitate the academic engagement of student parents. Publication of their findings are forthcoming.
Pregnant woman walking in the city in a sunny day protecting herself with a cloth 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 by documenting the crucial perspectives of the men and women directly affected through semi-structured interviews. The team will use these insights to make policy recommendations for Covid and for future infectious disease outbreaks in New York City jails.
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.