Helping the state and counties respond
The Georgia Department of Public Health and the Fulton County Board of Health have partnered with Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health on their COVID-19 responses. As chair of the board for the Department of Public Health, Rollins Dean James Curran has been consulting with Kathleen Toomey, the department’s commissioner, since the earliest days of the pandemic. The school formed a formal partnership with the department—the Emory COVID-19 Response Collaborative—making faculty, staff, and students available to support the state’s efforts in key areas of its response. “Never is the mission of public health—to promote, protect, and advance health—more critical than in a pandemic,” says Dean Curran. “This is our wheelhouse. This is what we do.”
Deciphering the data
Rollins epidemiologists have been lending their expertise to the state since the earliest days of the pandemic. The school’s scientists have been able to help take the data a step further, drilling down beyond who has the virus to discover how they might have contracted it, what course their disease took, and what modifying factors might have influenced the severity of their response. Modeling experts are helping predict transmission patterns, identifying locations vulnerable to outbreaks, and exploring vaccine-distribution options.
In addition, Jodie Guest, vice chair of the Department of Epidemiology, has held weekly Facebook Live events to present the latest data, answer questions from the community, and dispel misinformation.
Responding to outbreaks
A group of Rollins students, led by Guest, have formed a rapid-response team to set up testing sites quickly in response to local outbreaks. Their first foray was in April 2020, when health care officials in Hall County contacted Rollins seeking assistance with a small, fledgling outbreak of COVID-19 among the area’s mostly Latinx poultry plant workers. Since then, Guest and her students have set up more than 20 rapid-testing sites around the state as well as partnered with the Mexican Consulate, the Black Inmate Commissary Fund, and the city of Atlanta.
Bolstering the epidemiology workforce
A seminal feature of the collaboration is the establishment of the Rollins COVID-19 Epidemiology Fellows program, a two-year service and training fellowship that aims to bolster Georgia’s epidemiologic capacity. In its first cohort, the program recruited 17 recent MPH graduates and placed them as entry-level epidemiologists at the Georgia Department of Public Health and across the state’s health districts. The fellows are immersed in hands-on applied epidemiology to aid their jurisdiction’s COVID-19 response as well as being given additional support and training through the program.
Rollins students, many of whom are members of the school’s Student Outbreak and Response Team (SORT), have volunteered their time and efforts at state and local health departments as well as the CDC. Through the years, SORT members have worked with these partners on outbreaks of Ebola, SARS, and Zika.