Rollins COVID-19 Research

June 18, 2020
COVID-19 research

Rollins faculty, staff, and students have been actively engaged with the COVID-19 response through engagement with local and state health departments, public health organizations, collaborations, grants, and initiatives. What follows is a listing of several current research projects involving various members of the Rollins community. Read on for a summary of Rollins-led COVID-19 projects currently underway, organized by department. 

In addition to our research efforts, COVID-19 research spans across the entire university. Emory's COVID-19 projects, are at various stages of development, and have so far received more than $61 million in federal grants. Click here to learn about Emory's collective COVID-19 research. 


COVID-19 Health Equity Dashboard

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every American, the direct health impacts of the virus have varied dramatically from community to community. To track and respond to this differential health impact, Rollins research faculty have developed the COVID-19 Health Equity Dashboard. This is a dynamic and interactive web-based dashboard to visualize the interplay between social determinants and COVID-19 epidemiologic metrics at the county level. Our faculty developed this dashboard to be a public-facing tool that curates, disseminates and ultimately synthesizes actionable information to guide localized response to the epidemic over time. The dashboard can be accessed at Current functionality allows users to quickly compare each county’s COVID-19 cases, deaths, and social characteristics to the state and national average; visualize the relationship between social determinants and COVID-19 outcomes; view a printer-friendly report of detailed county data; and create side-by-side maps comparing key metrics at the county level. The dashboard developers also provide guidance on interpretation of displayed measures. 

The Dashboard is still being developed. There are future plans to add more metrics on health outcomes, policy response, and summary equity measures as those data become available or estimable at the county level. Please contact with any feedback. 

Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences

Moose Alperin is leading the Region IV Public Health Training Center providing training to the public health workforce in eight Southeastern states. Since COVID-19, they have provided COVID-19-related training. This includes a number of webinars and the creation of a COVID-19 Communities of Support for Public Health Professionals which is designed for staff of local, tribal, and state health departments. These efforts also place a number of our students in field positions at health departments and hospital systems, allowing students to gain experience in helping with the COVID-19 hotline, patient tracking/data collection, helping research and updating hospital and intensive care unit bed numbers for a state COVID-19 map, and filling in for various positions when needed.

Linelle Blais leads the Diabetes Training and Technical Assistance Center, which has been assisting National Diabetes Prevention Program groups with shifting their in-person group meetings to distance-learning platforms, enabling these critical prevention programs to continue their operations throughout the pandemic. 

Hannah Cooper, along with approximately 20 Emory faculty (primarily from Rollins), is partnering with the Georgia Department of Public Health to assist with the department’s COVID-19-related surveillance efforts. Faculty’s contributions include: Geospatial analysis, patients under investigation analysis, syndrome surveillance, inequities and underlying conditions, injury, transmission dynamics, HIV, and applied mapping and spatial epidemiology. In another project in rural Kentucky conducted in partnership with the University of Kentucky, Cooper is conducting qualitative research on the impact of COVID-19 on the re-entry experience of people who use drugs in rural Kentucky that are being released from jail.

Jessica Sales assisted in adding COVID-19-specific questions to ongoing key informant interviews among Ryan White Clinic staff, providers, and administrators from eight Southern states. Ryan White Clinics are those that care for individuals living with HIV. The new questions focused on the impact of the pandemic on patients, providers/staff, and clinic/operations, as well as practices being implemented to mitigate impact on patient care, provider/staff wellbeing, and clinical operations.

Aaron Siegler is analyzying and writing the results of a survey project that served to identify people's willingness to use home specimen collection methods for clinical care and research. The survey sampled 1,435 participants and included measures regarding COVID-related knowledge, stigma, and symptoms.


Julie Clennon and Uriel Kitron are currently assisting the Georgia Department of Public Health with the COVID-19 response as spatial epidemiology advisors. They will soon begin spatial analysis of state-wide data for the department. The overarching goal of applying spatial statistics is to understand where COVID-19 is going by better understanding where it has been and currently is. They are also also involved in infectious disease surveillance in Mexico and Brazil. Through analysis of influenza H1N1 case data from Mexico and active febrile illness surveillance data from Brazil, they are using spatial analytics to see whether COVID-19 has similar spatial clustering and risk patterns to that of other infections. 

Traci Leong is involved with an Emory Healthcare study for COVID-19-positive patients between March and April 2020. The study is investigating how ACE inhibitors affect acute respiratory distress syndrome incidence.

Limin Peng is engaged with the Diabetes Research team at Grady to investigate the accuracy of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) in the hospital to help guide care for patients with COVID-19 using CGM.

Lance Waller has been working with the Georgia Department of Public Health to coordinate the placement of students to assist with utilizing GIS mapping of surveillance data as it relates to COVID-19 and has also coordinated analytic collaborations with Emory Healthcare. 


Ruth Berkelman is providing advice on COVID-19 prevention approaches in low-income housing, which house elderly and medically vulnerable individuals but have not been a focus of specific governmental guidance. In addition, as a member of the Water and Science Technology Board of the National Academies of Science, she is examining the use of sewage surveillance for early detection of coronavirus as well as strategies to safely open buildings which have been vacant for extended periods to avoid other potential contagions such as Legionella.

Allison Chamberlain, Neel Gandhi, and Sarita Shah—along with doctoral students, MPH students, and staff—have been assisting the Fulton County Board of Health with COVID-19 case investigations and data analytics and visualization.

Julie Gazmararian is conducting a brief survey for high school students at a number of Georgia high schools to assess their COVID-19-related knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors as well as the impact the pandemic has had on their mental health, anxiety levels, and sleep.  

Samuel Jenness  is continuing to support and develop his lab's EpiModel software, which provides tools for external researchers to conduct modeling of infectious disease dynamics. It is currently being used by several research groups to model COVID-19. In addition, Jenness is collaborating with researchers at Rollins and Yale to develop a transmission model for COVID-19 in cruise ship environments in which there were dense social contacts that facilitated COVID-19 transmission. This model will then be applied to other settings that have similar contact network structures.

Michael Kramer is providing technical assistance to the Georgia Department of Public Health in preparing, processing, and visualizing geospatial data as it relates to COVID-19.

Ben Lopman is working to analyze the transmission dynamics of COVID-19 using the Georgia Department of Public Health's surveillance data. In addition, he and collaborators at Georgia Tech are modeling the utility of serology as a complement to social distancing. Using a dynamic transmission model, they are evaluating the epidemiological consequences or selectively releasing people from social distancing based on their serology results. In a collaboration with Yale University, Lopman and colleagues have accelerated a previously-planned study on social mixing patterns among U.S. office workers. The study was originally planned or 2020/21 flu season, but is currently being implemented among participants in a number of corporate offices and one Emory University building.

Travis Sanchez, in partnership with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Johns Hopkins, and Molecular Testing Laboratory, is conducting a survey aimed at tracking the COVID-19-related behavioral and psychosocial impacts of the pandemic on U.S. men who have sex with men (MSM). Sanchez is also providing epidemiological support for Children's Healthcare of Altanta's staff COVID-19 seroprevalence survey.

Anne Spaulding is advising corrections systems on public health measures to help mitigate the spread of the virus among incarcerated people and staff.

Gangarosa Department of Environmental Health

Donghai Liang has partnered with the American Cancer Society to examine associations between county-level COVID-19 case fatality rates and health care capacity and to assess how associations will be further modified with surges in COVID-19 cases. The investigators plan to regularly disseminate dynamic model projections of counties with the greatest health care capacity limitations and risk of cancer treatment delays with local and national policy makers, cancer care organizations, providers, researchers, advocates, and patients. In a separate project, Liang and partners at Harvard, are studying the impact of environmental factors including air pollution, temperature, and humidity on COVID-19 mortality in the United States.

Ajay Pillarisetti is a member of the N95Decon team, a scientific consortium that provides guidance on decontaminating N95 filtering face piece respirators. The group is engaged with hospital systems, local and national health departments, and individual health care providers worldwide.

P. Barry Ryan has been working on a project over the last several years that promotes maternal and child health through paternships with African American mother groups. While these in-person meetings are no longer possible, Ryan is investigating new ways of conducting this work and supporting these groups throughout the pandemic.

Health Policy and Management 

Sarah Blake is helping the Georgia Department of Public Health in the preparation of their Title V needs assessment, which is focused on maternal and child health care and helps the agency to consider resource allocation and strategic decision making. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will likely alter some of these priorities, and Sarah is aiding the state in bringing COVID-19-related data in this assessment soon.  

Ben Druss  and members of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-funded Southeast Mental Health Technology Transfer Center are developing materials and presentations to help states and mental health providers manage during this crisis. They have also proposed a qualitative study to better understand the impact of this pandemic on individuals with serious mental illness and the providers and systems that care for them. Topics will include the impact of the pandemic on physical and mental health, and emerging best practices to address COVID-19 among patients, providers, health systems, and state policymakers.

Hubert Department of Global Health

Bob Bednarczyk is currently leading his Master of Public Health students through a real-time case study of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students analyze available data and suggest interventions and responses at the same time public health officials are making them. They then compare their decisions with those that were actually enacted and evaluate the outcomes. With additional funding, Dr. Bednarczyk will adapt this semester-long course into a one-week short course for public health professionals. 

John Blevins and members of the Interfaith Health Program and the Religion and Public Health Collaborative have established and will continue to develop a web platform with resources for religious leaders and faith communities to respond to COVID-19. 

The Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance (CHAMPS) project, a Rollins-led, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded initiative to examine causes of infant and child mortality in the developing world, is adjusting its efforts at sites in Africa and southeast Asia to help support COVID-19 response efforts.

Dabney Evans, associate professor at Rollins’ Hubert Department of Global Health, presents a study focusing on domestic violence in Atlanta, Georgia during the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 has exacerbated domestic violence, exposing existing social fissures. As the pandemic continues, so does this “shadow pandemic” of abuse. Evans hopes this research will help inform how public health can mobilize resources to reduce violence in the context of a pandemic or other emergency situations. The research findings are published in Violence and Gender

Scott McNabb is assisting the Africa CDC Institute for Workforce Development, which holds weekly Clinical Community of Practice COVID-19 webinars to help physicians and health care providers better understand, diagnose, manage, and treat patients with COVID-19. Emory University provides clinical and technical support to the physicians in Africa who face the pandemic.

K.M. Venkat Narayan is working with the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to develop granular local decision-making data. He's also working with Georgia Tech to conceptualize the future of telemedicine and is engaged in a proejct with Shivani Patel estimating excess mortality from COVID-19.

Peter Teunis has been studying the quantitative estimates of COVID-19 transmission, its variation, and effects of intervention.