We Are Public Health
Bernadette Boden-Albala
Director and Founding Dean

 
I think we would all agree it has been a busy news week. There are so many important issues framing our present conversations and our future, so before I introduce our Guest Editors, let me highlight some of these matters. 
 
First of all, I want say again, CONGRATULATIONS to the Class of 2020. Your intellectual ability combined with endurance, flexibility, and tenacity has earned you a degree in Public Health from one of the best universities in the United States. Use all that you have learned to help us. The world needs you now like never before. And to our Public Health faculty and staff – at the end of each academic year you are acknowledged for your dedication and excellence to our students. This year, I have seen each of you “move mountains” to adjust to the most difficult of circumstances. My heartfelt thanks for a job well done!
 
Black Lives Matter. This summer we will begin quarterly open forums to discuss anti-black racism with our undergraduate and graduate students. In addition to the continued work on disparities and health equity by the majority of our faculty, Drs. Parker and LeBron along with faculty and community organizations have developed a novel contract tracing workshop with an equity lens that integrates community and cultural vulnerability. The PPH curriculum committee and individual faculty members will be tasked to review the curriculum with an eye towards decolonizing syllabi and adding diverse voices to research and required readings. And as part of the UC Public Health advisory committee,
we have even come up with a set of recommendations to stay safe during peaceful protests

 
Diversity in the public health workforce is essential to reducing health disparities, dismantling discriminatory structures and health policies, and stemming the tide of systemic racism in health. Nearly 31% of our undergraduate population identifies as Hispanic and 46% identify as Asian or Asian American. In an effort to build a pipeline of diverse public health practitioners, we plan to develop programs that make it easier for our undergraduates to join us for the MPH.
 
On Thursday, June 18th, the Supreme Court blocked the current administration’s attempt to end DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). This Obama-era program protects hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. At UCI, we are dedicated to giving all students a chance at an education regardless of their immigration status. We applaud the Supreme Court and we will continue to support our UCI DREAMERS. 
 
Finally, I want to point out that COVID case numbers in Orange County are increasing. It’s clear we have the capacity for more testing and the number of individuals tested per day has increased. But over the last few weeks, there has been greater growth in COVID cases. Further, we have seen an uptick in the number of hospitalized cases and ICU units are filling. This is the time for all of us to remain vigilant in terms of handwashing, face coverings, and limited activities and gatherings. We have all done so well in our ongoing efforts to flatten the curve. Let’s try to keep these important efforts going! 
 
On that note, I would like to introduce our two guest editors Dr. Miryha Runnerstrom and Dr. Karen Edwards who are both part of our Public Health leadership team and have made invaluable contributions to our efforts in reducing COVID-19.   

            

GREAT NEWS!
We are excited to announce that the UCI Senate has endorsed and the Provost has approved 3 new departments to sit under the Program in Public Health. These proposals were reviewed by the Council on Planning and Budget (CPB); Council on Academic Personnel (CAP); Council on Educational Policy (CEP); Council on Research, Computing, and Libraries (CORCL); and Graduate Council (GC).
After extensive review and requests for additional information, the Senate Cabinet voted to endorse the proposals. On June 4, 2020, the Divisional Senate Assembly voted to endorse the following actions:
  • Transfer of the Department of Epidemiology from the School of Medicine to the Program in Public Health
  • Change of name of the Department of Epidemiology to the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
  • Creation of a new Department of Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Creation of a new Department of Health, Society and Behavior
As of July 1, 2020, these three new departments will join the existing Department of Population Health and Disease Prevention under the Program in Public Health.  
GUEST COLUMN
Miryha Gould Runnerstrom
Associate Professor of Teaching, Program in Public Health

How do I avoid getting COVID-19? Is it safe to go to the grocery store? What about exercising outdoors? Should I wear a mask?

Coronavirus guidance seems to shift daily, with the internet providing often-dubious advice. People seeking solid facts about the pandemic and how best to protect themselves and others sometimes don’t know where to turn.

“There is so much information out there, and unfortunately, not all of it is accurate. It can be hard to filter through it all to determine what’s true and what’s not,” says Miryha Gould Runnerstrom, an associate professor of teaching in UCI’s Program in Public Health.

“But those of us who work in public health are keeping up on the latest news and the most recent updates in the scientific literature. It’s our job to know what’s true and what’s false about the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re humbled and excited to be able to share that knowledge.”

To address the need for reliable information, UCI has launched the COVID-19 chatline, which allows individuals to communicate online and in real time with trained public health undergraduates and get links to relevant internet resources.

The service is for general questions, not specific clinical diagnoses. People who suspect they have COVID-19 should call their doctors – or 911 if the symptoms are severe.

Some of the most important information dispensed via the chatline is also the simplest: Take care of yourself. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. These measures can significantly reduce the risk of infection.

“Our students are very practiced at dispelling myths,” says Runnerstrom, who played a key role in developing the chatline. “At the same time, the guidance on what’s open and what’s not, where testing sites are located, is changing every day. So we’re constantly updating our information.”

When the pandemic initially struck, public health professors needed to find a way for 150 undergraduates to complete their required practicum remotely. Some joined faculty labs. Some were placed with organizations. And 17 were selected to staff the COVID chatline.

They work seven to eight hours per week in staggered shifts. Two public health Ph.D. students trained the undergrads first on using the technology – which allows them to select predetermined answers – and then on how to respond to questions that depart from the norm. If staffers receive a query they don’t know the answer to, they can quickly ask professors and the doctoral students via a dedicated Slack channel.

The undergrads learn how to synthesize public health information and disseminate it to the public – experience they can put on their resumes when applying for jobs, says Sara Goodman, one of the Ph.D. students overseeing them.

“There is a great deal of misinformation about this virus, and we keep getting new information every day,” she says. “Sometimes wading through pages of guidance on the internet can be overwhelming, and the chatline allows people to ask questions and get answers and, hopefully, points them to the right resources.”

The service’s personal touch also helps the knowledge sink in.

“Information received from contact with a person, rather than a media source, has a direct impact on compliance,” says Shantell Nolen, the other doctoral student supervising the undergrads.

UCI’s COVID-19 chatline is staffed on Monday through Friday from 9am to 6pm and on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 4pm.

Karen Edwards
Professor, Epidemiology, Program in Public Health

Despite the all-encompassing disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, time marches on, with summer just around the corner. For many, June signals the beginning of vacation season. But as COVID-19 continues to spread, where does summer travel stand?

States are reopening and inviting tourists – and their dollars – to return. But is it safe to take a trip? What do we need to know about hotel or Airbnb lodgings? About eating in restaurants? About large public gatherings?

Karen Edwards, professor and chair of epidemiology at UCI and an enthusiastic traveler, offers her perspective.

Coming from Orange County and not knowing what will be open to the public, what kind of trips are safest?
Road trips that include outdoor activities are a good bet, but remember to follow social distancing and good hygiene practices no matter what you do.

How do you and your family keep safe as you travel?
Hand-washing frequently and thoroughly, wearing a mask when in public spaces, maintaining good health, staying hydrated, getting good rest, relaxing, eating well and exercising.

What are some things you should do or bring to help ensure safety once you arrive at your destination?
Bring masks and sanitizing wipes so you can wipe down any surfaces. If you’re flying, wipe down tray tables, seat belt buckles and armrests.

What are the riskiest places to visit?
Places where the epidemic is not yet under control and still on the increase.

If travel is out of the question, what might be safest to do in Southern California?
Outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, walking, swimming, surfing, etc.! We’re lucky: We have lots of great choices close to home.

Under what circumstances will it be safe to return to museums and theaters, or arenas and stadiums?
I would definitely wear a mask and try to maintain a healthy distance, but I would continue to avoid large groups of people in closed indoor spaces until there are no longer new cases.

So, do you see a scenario where it’s OK to go to football and baseball games, provided they’re outdoors? If so, how can that be done?

Not in the near future – our numbers in California (and many other parts of the country) are still climbing and large gatherings and events such as these would likely contribute to increasing numbers and continuing an upward trajectory of the epidemic curve. I think it would be extremely challenging to implement any kind of screening or social distancing to reduce the risk of the spread of infection to a level that would warrant the opening of such events, even if they are outdoors. I know we are all anxious to get back to activities such as these, but the momentary benefit of attending one of these events is not worth the cost we will all pay. The epidemic curve is still increasing, and the spread of infection is not yet under control. These types of activities make it harder to flatten the curve and get to a point where we really can say we have this epidemic under control.

What about airports and flying?
Similar to public events. Some airlines have indicated that they would not place people in middle seats to try and increase social distancing, but depending on the layout of the plane, that may not be enough. I would only fly right now if it were absolutely necessary, and I would be sure to wear a mask, have hand sanitizer, maintain a healthy distance from others in the airport and wash my hands as often as possible.

Do you have any other tips or recommendations?
Assume everyone around you is infected and act accordingly; wear a mask when in public, and wash your hands as often as possible.

CONTACT TRACING WORKSHOP
UCI Public Health in collaboration with OCHCA (Orange County Healthcare Agency) is offering a workshop series in mid-summer that is designed to train students and healthcare workers to do contact tracing of COVID-19.

Contract tracers, sometimes known as "disease detectives,” are trained to detect likely secondary cases among close contacts of already identified ("index") cases. Contact tracing will likely be crucial for disrupting transmission to the point that social distancing measures can comfortably be relaxed. It is expected that thousands of contact tracers will be needed to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, as well as other infectious diseases. In places like Orange County, where communities are incredibly socio-culturally diverse, it will also be crucial to implement and practice contact tracing in a culturally-appropriate manner.

The goal of this 40-hour workshop (an additional 10 hours for UCI students) will be to train a cadre of contact tracers, drawing from UCI and the greater Orange County community, in order to address this pressing public health need.

The Course will begin on July 20th and registration will begin at the end of June. More information will be coming soon. 
 
For questions, please contact Sharon Robert.
PROGRAM IN PUBLIC HEALTH IN THE NEWS
06/25/2020: Orange County Sees Rise in COVID-19 Cases, Hospitalizations, Deaths (Andrew Noymer)
06/22/2020: Amid Threats and Political Pushback, Public Health Officials are Leaving their Posts (Andrew Noymer)
06/16/2020: Bending The COVID-19 Curve Proves Temporary For Many States (Andrew Noymer)
06/16/2020: The Health 202:The Hydroxychloroquine Hype Is Over (Andrew Noymer)
06/16/2020: MLB Is Crumbling.Blame The Owners (Andrew Noymer)
06/15/2020: Coronavirus Recommendations Ignored as Case Numbers Rise (Andrew Noymer)
06/15/2020: Gyms Are Reopening, But Is It Safe to Go Back? (Andrew Noymer)
Full articles can be requested at communications@uci.edu.
GRANTS AND AWARDS
Brittany Morey
Assistant Professor, Program in Public Health
Brittany Morey received the ICTS Pilot Study Grant for the project entitled "Neighborhood Risk and Resilience for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Respiratory Health Disparities." This grant is for $25,000.

She is also a co-Investigator on a National Cancer Institute $3 million dollar grant-funded project called "Social Networks and Disparities in Health Behaviors and Breast Cancer Outcomes in Immigrant Women" that will run until 2024 examining how ethnic enclaves contribute to breast cancer outcomes for Asian and Hispanic women. 
Annie Ro
Assistant Professor, Program in Public Health
Annie Ro received a grant for "ER utilization among undocumented immigrants during the COVD-19 pandemic," from the UCI COVID-19 Basic, Translational and Clinical Research Funding Opportunity. The award amount is for $60,000.
David Timberlake
Assistant Professor, Program in Public Health
David Timberlake received a $515,541 Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP) 2020 - Pilot Award for a project entitled "Investigating the potential for non-tobacco wraps to displace cigarillos for blunt smoking."  
Delta Omega
Undergraduate and Graduate Honors
The UCI Program in Public Health established the Delta Rho chapter of the Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health in 2019. Delta Omega is the honorary society in the field of public health. The aim of Delta Omega is to recognize academic merit and commitment to public health work. This year, five MPH students, 13 undergraduate students, and two faculty members were selected for induction into Delta Omega. Congratulations to all of this year’s inductees!
 
Raphael Natividad (MPH)
Nicholas Cuvelier (MPH)
Mario Vigil (MPH)
Ivonne Quiroz (MPH)
Anju Kulkarni (MPH)
Aliba Syed (Undergraduate)
Anthony Espinoza (Undergraduate)
Eileen Dai (Undergraduate)
Elaine Ta (Undergraduate)
Jesus Chavez (Undergraduate)
Keana Khodadad (Undergraduate)
Madison Nelson (Undergraduate)
Nicole Kasrazadeh (Undergraduate)
Ravi Sandhu (Undergraduate)
Shaun Whitecavage (Undergraduate)
Tien To (Undergraduate)
Wendy Trinh (Undergraduate)
Yun Hong (Undergraduate)
Miryha Runnerstrom (faculty)
Daniel Parker (faculty)
RECENT PUBLICATIONS
Oladele A. Ogunseitan
UC Presidential Chair and Professor of Program in Public Health; Environmental Health Sciences

Title: Flow Battery Production: Materials Selection and Environmental Impact 

Author: Oladele A. Ogunseitan

Journal: Journal of Cleaner Production 

Description: Energy storage systems, such as flow batteries, are essential for integrating variable renewable energy sources into the electricity grid. And understanding the impact of producing energy storage systems is crucial for determining the overall environmental performance of renewable energy from a systems perspective. In this study, the environmental impact associated with the production of emerging flow battery technologies is evaluated in an effort to inform materials selection and component design decisions. 

COVID-19 RESEARCH ONGOING IN
PUBLIC HEALTH
RIGOROUS CORONAVIRUS ANTIBODY TESTING

What’s the local footprint of COVID-19? That could be answered by testing involving UC Irvine and county health officials.

In perhaps the most comprehensive effort to date in California, researchers will examine the blood of 5,000 people for antibodies to the virus to better understand how widespread the disease has become in Orange County. Starting this month, researchers will examine a representative sample of the county’s population, set up 8 to 10 drive-through sites, administer pin-prick tests to collect blood, then send the samples to UCI for analysis. Bernadette Boden-Albala is directing the effort, along with Tim-Allen Bruckner. The study will cost $1.5 million dollars and is the largest of three surveillance studies in the works at UCI.
NEW OFFICERS
Faraz Fardi & "Tommy" Hung Quoc Huynh 
Co-Presidents for the Public Health Association
The Program of Public Health would like to welcome Faraz Fardi and Hung Quoc Huynh as the Public Health Association's newest officers. Faraz is a third-year Regents Scholar and CHC student majoring in Public Health Sciences and minoring in Medical Humanities. He works as a scribe at Crescent Clinic through SHIP, as a counselor through the Crisis Text Line, and conducts research in Professor Warschauer's Digital Learning Lab. Tommy has found his passion as a Public Health Policy major and Management minor. He is interested in pursuing a career in Healthcare Administration after graduation. 
COMMUNITY OUTREACH
Past Events

06/13/2020: Program in Public Health Virtual Commencement

06/09/2020: Public Health and Healthcare Implications of COVID-19

06/09/2020: Anteater Insider: Professor Bernadette Boden-Albala on coming back on campus.
COVID-19 Chatline
The Program in Public Health COVID-19 Chatline is available now for general questions about COVID-19. More information can be found here

The chatline is staffed
Monday - Friday from 9am to 6pm PST and Saturday - Sunday from 12pm to 4pm PST.
ALUMNI FOCUS
Stephanie Romero
Founder, The HeadBand Project: Strength In Buttons
Fourth-year Public Health Sciences student, Stephanie Romero recently started a  non-profit organization called The HeadBand Project: Strength In Buttons in response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

The HeadBand Project: Strength In Buttons is a collective effort to provide healthcare personnel and other essential workers with headbands free of cost that are made to alleviate ear discomfort that may come from wearing PPE for extended periods of time. The headbands are made with buttons attached to both sides so that any elastic hangs from the buttons instead of your ears.

Currently, The HeadBand Project: Strength In Buttons has reached over 10 different hospitals with over 700 headbands in the past 3 months amidst the COVID-19 crisis including UCLA Medical Center, UCI Medical Center, Kaiser, Stanford Health Care, and many more! 
SUGGESTIONS
This is an anonymous suggestion box for faculty and staff to submit comments, concerns, or recommendations. 
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