COPH receives grant to study hurricane shelter operations during COVID-19 pandemic

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How do we safeguard against the spread of COVID-19 if people are forced to evacuate to community shelters during a hurricane?

That’s one of the questions a research team led by Dr. Jennifer Marshall, a USF College of Public Health (COPH) associate professor, and her co-principal investigator Elizabeth Dunn, an instructor in the COPH, will address as the hurricane season comes barreling toward us. The team has been awarded a $25,000 USF COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Grant. Overall, USF has invested nearly $340,000 on interdisciplinary projects that are searching for potential treatments, technologies and social mitigation strategies to combat COVID-19.

In addition to Marshall and Dunn, both COPH alums, the team consists of doctoral student Blake Scott, Kayla Jones, a USF anthropology student, Dr. Kelsey Merlo, an assistant professor in USF’s industrial organizational psychology program, Embry Riddle Occupational Safety Management student Michael Shekari, and other colleagues within the Sunshine ERC as well as students and alumni from the COPH and USF Morsani College of Medicine

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“Our team plans to look at principles of infectious disease prevention at all levels to help inform mitigation measures designed to reduce the public health ramifications that may arise due to the compounding effects of an active 2020 hurricane season unfolding during a pandemic response,” said Dunn. “The study will provide guidance on future planning, safety measures, service deliveries and staffing for transporting and sheltering vulnerable populations needing to evacuate from storm surge areas. Our research will focus on Florida as a whole, with an emphasis on Tampa Bay. We’re also partnering with faculty at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., to be able to expand the research to multiple geographic areas.” 

The COPH partnership with Old Dominion is the result of a National Science Foundation-funded initiative called CONVERGE COVID-19 that’s based out of the University of Colorado Boulder. The COPH/Old Dominion team was funded to convene stakeholders, and will use select counties in Virginia and Florida as case studies. 

With hurricane season officially commencing June 1, the researchers know time is of the essence.

“Our goal for this project is to quickly gather questions, answers and recommendations,” added Dr. Marshall. “We’ll elicit the main priorities, concerns and questions from a wide array of stakeholders regarding the upcoming hurricane season during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our team plans to collect as much information as possible—fact-finding, best practices, ideas, suggestions—that will be useful to emergency planners. We will then send that information back out so that it can inform current planning. Our data come from published literature, case studies, reports, existing policies and plans, as well as these calls and conversations with experts, stakeholders and people with lived experiences.”

Story by Donna Campisano, USF College of Public Health