College of Health professor awarded COVID-19 research grant


Tom McAndrew, an assistant professor and biostatician in the College of Health, was awarded a grant on Oct. 13 to further study COVID-19 through the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study, or MIDAS. 

MIDAS is a global network striving to apply statistical modeling of infectious diseases, specifically COVID-19. Its goal is to help guide public health and government officials toward implementing the most beneficial responses and policies to the pandemic.

The COVID-19 Urgent Grant Program focuses on providing grant money to dedicated researchers with distinctive perspectives on how to accurately model the infectious spread of disease and ultimately help guide solutions.

With the grant money awarded to him, McAndrew said he will work to forecast the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic by looking at predictions from computational models and from experts in forecasting. 

McAndrew said he feels prepared to take on this project.  Prior to accepting a position in the College of Health, he was researching seasonal influenza, focusing primarily on combining computational models to construct the most accurate predictions of infectious spreads. 

McAndrew will be open-sourcing all of his research, allowing for public access to his compiled data. 

“My overarching goal is to give people information to assess risk,” McAndrew said.“The pandemic has brought to people’s attention how important it is to translate raw structured data into informative insights that we can use to change things.” 

McAndrew said the data can be used to make more knowledgeable decisions about our health.

Student researchers will assist McAndrew throughout his yearlong grant by helping to build and monitor surveys, interview experts and design computational models. 

The College of Health is excited to involve students in the process of conducting research and hands-on learning, especially with the significance of the current pandemic and the impact it will have on the trajectory of their undergraduate experience, said Whitney Witt, dean of the College of Health.

“Many of our faculty members are focusing on COVID-19, and I think it really underscores the importance of leveraging data to improve the health of potentially millions of people,” Witt said. “Health crises like COVID-19 are precisely what the students are going to learn about in their courses and in their experiential learning opportunities.”

In addition to McAndrew, many other professors are conducting research on COVID-19. 

Eduaro Gómez, an associate professor in the College of Health, is researching Brazil’s politics in relation to the global pandemic. Fathima Wakeel, an associate professor in the college, is investigating the impacts COVID-19 on the mental health of citizens throughout Pennsylvania and across the nation.

Students in the College of Health are able to explore the research their professors are doing and think deeply about what aspects of the pandemic spark their interest as it pertains to their educational journey in population health .  

Dakota Feldman, ‘24, is a student in the College of Health. As she awaited the start of school, it was clear to her the importance of the education she was about to receive. 

Throughout the spring and summer, not only was she unintentionally experiencing the information which she would soon be learning about as a population health major, but she also came in with an appreciation for the material.

“During my time in quarantine living in New York City, it became more clear than ever the health inequalities that exist in my community and around the world,” Feldman said. “I was so excited to start my freshman year to learn more about this and can’t wait to have hands-on opportunities with professors.”

Witt believes the pandemic has shifted the short and long-term direction of the College of Health. 

“The silver lining is that we have been able to use this pandemic as a way to expand research in vulnerable communities and use it as a real-life example that everyone is going through to underscore the importance of data science and the multiple determinants of health,” she said.

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