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On the Frontlines of a Pandemic On the Frontlines of a Pandemic

On the

of a Pandemic

Pushing Ahead in the Drive to Combat COVID-19

With uncertainty surrounding many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, FAU researchers are tackling the challenge head-on through an array of projects ranging from developing algorithms that track the virus spread to experiments testing the effectiveness of face shields and more.

One effort involves a collaboration of the Division of Research with multiple colleges and institutes to build a comprehensive repository of information about COVID-19. The goal of this project is to ensure that data and biological samples are available to answer questions about the disease as they arise.

The Division of Research initiated the research protocol, which calls for the collection of data and specimens from people in recovery from

COVID-19. Clinical data includes demographics, suspected contagion place and method, symptoms, severity, disease progression and treatment received. The study includes collecting data and samples from quarantine companions who tested positive or negative for the virus, with the objective of understanding factors related to differences in susceptibility or protection against the infection in family members or household clusters.

Faculty from the Christine Lynn College of Nursing, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the College of Education, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science are collaborating on this project, which is partially supported by FAU’s Institute for Human Health and Disease Intervention and Scripps Research in Jupiter.

Here’s a look at additional COVID-19-related research efforts across the colleges:

Community Education

Melanie M. Acosta, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the College of Education, is the lead principal investigator in a study funded by the American Educational Research Association that looks at the crisis of racial injustice as a constant threat to African American education and is further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This participatory research project focuses on strengthening the power of African American community-based educational organizing efforts through institution-building research and activities.

Telehealth Technology

Beth King, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, is the lead principal investigator on a project funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration. This research focuses on providing COVID-19 education and training, telehealth technology education and training, and the development of an infrastructure using telehealth technology to care for patients who are positive for COVID-19 at four health centers in South Florida.

Reducing Risk

Karethy Edwards, DrPH, associate dean of academic programs and professor in the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, is the lead principal investigator on a project funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration. This project aims to prevent and reduce the risk of COVID-19 through telehealth technology education and training of undergraduate nursing students at FAU, faculty and healthcare staff at the FAU nurse-led Community Health Center, and development of infrastructure using telehealth technologies at the center.

Flow Visualization

Researchers in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, including Siddhartha Verma, Ph.D., assistant professor, and Manhar Dhanak, Ph.D., professor, chair of the department of ocean and mechanical engineering and director of SeaTech, used qualitative visualizations to test how face shields and masks with valves perform in impeding the spread of aerosol-sized droplets. The study, recently published in the journal Physics of Fluids, showed that although face shields are able to block the initial forward motion of the exhaled jet, the expelled droplets move around the visor and spread out over a large area. When testing a face mask with a valve, researchers found that a large number of droplets passed through the exhale valve unfiltered, significantly reducing its effectiveness.

In addition, flow visualization demonstrated how far a cough or sneeze can travel and how long particles and droplets linger in the air. The results revealed that significant concentrations of small particles from a heavy cough/sneeze can linger in still air for more than one minute. It took the particles only a couple of seconds to travel three feet; in about 12 seconds they reached six feet and in about 41 seconds they reached around nine feet. This research received tremendous global media attention.

by Alex Dolce

Knowledge Base

Xingquan Zhu, Ph.D., a professor in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, right, in collaboration with the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, has been awarded a National Science Foundation Rapid Grant to conduct research using social networks and machine learning, facilitated by molecular genetics and viral infection, for COVID-19 modeling and risk evaluation. The project will create a web-based COVID-19 knowledge base, as well as a risk evaluation tool for individuals to assess their infection risk in dynamic environments.

Algorithm Development

Janet Robishaw, Ph.D., senior associate dean for research in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, left, is conducting a study that aims to develop an algorithm to identify patterns of onset, detection, progression and recovery from COVID-19 in a targeted population of healthcare providers and trainees. The researchers will observe physiological measures, such as body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate and related measures including cough and fatigue. Samples will be used to identify COVID-19 infection and recovery. Ultimately, researchers may be better able to identify patterns that could predict the emergence and recovery from novel infections and thereby prevent and contain future pandemics.

by Alex Dolce

by Alex Dolce

Mobility Intelligence

Jason Hallstrom, Ph.D., a professor in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, above, and director of the Institute for Sensing and Embedded Network Systems Engineering (I-SENSE), and other researchers are collaborating with the city of West Palm Beach to use cutting edge computational epidemiology to help tackle COVID-19.

Their work builds on the Mobility Intelligence Project (MIP), a first-of-its-kind mobility sensing and analytics system developed by I-SENSE. Originally designed to improve the quality of life for people in downtown West Palm Beach, MIP is being retooled to simulate virus transmission using realistic models based on how people move and interact within the city. The project can provide place-specific forecasts of disease transmission, as well as real-time insights into how mobility changes within the city could affect the local population’s susceptibility to future outbreaks.

Coronavirus Predictions

A team of researchers, including Borko Furht, Ph.D., a professor in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, above, in collaboration with LexisNexis Risk Solutions, has been awarded a National Science Foundation Rapid Grant to use innovative big data analytics techniques to develop computational models designed to predict the spread of coronavirus. The spread patterns will be fed into a decision support system, which will calculate the probability for a social group or a given person to get infected. The project will provide quick, automatic contact tracing and is expected to help reduce the number of patients infected with COVID-19, as well as virus-related deaths.

by Cheryl Halle

by Alex Dolce

Social Engagement

Cheryl Krause-Parello, Ph.D., a professor in the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, is the lead principal investigator on a study funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute. Military veterans and key stakeholders collaborate to explore and discuss past successful interventions, dilemmas they are facing during the pandemic and methods to increase veterans’ social engagement capacity. The study enlists patients as full partners in the search for chronic pain treatment interventions that are meaningful to the veteran population in times of social distancing and isolation.

From left, Cheryl Krause-Parello, Ph.D., professor in the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, and Lyndon Villone, marine veteran and military veteran consultant for Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded Warriors (CPAWW) with Ice, canine.

Understanding Resilience

Alka Sapat, Ph.D., a professor of public administration in the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, above, is the lead investigator on a National Science Foundation Rapid Grant project aimed at increasing understanding of the resilience of individuals and households, including their coping and adaptive capacities. The multiple challenges they face include health risks, precarious housing conditions and exposure to weather and climate hazards, within the context of rapidly evolving mandates and short-term measures (such as moratoriums on evictions). ◆