CHHS Faculty Receive Grants to Study Impacts of COVID, Particularly on Under-Represented and Vulnerable Populations
The CHHS Office of Research has awarded four grants for faculty studying COVID-19 and its many impacts, particularly on vulnerable populations’ physical and mental health. Grant recipients were chosen by a panel of Mason faculty outside the College and were scored using the 1-9 scale used by the National Institutes of Health. Reviewers assessed the likelihood for the project to exert a sustained, powerful influence on the research field(s) involved and provided an overall impact score based on individual review criteria, scientific merit, the relevance of the project to public health, and having a well-defined plan to apply the funding.
Farrok Alemi’s proposal titled “Impact of On-Demand In-Home Testing, Symptom Screening, and Contact Tracing on Infection Control” was awarded $36,777. The proposal will allow Alemi to build on an existing study and the extensive work already completed by the research team, including a comprehensive online symptom screening that includes respiratory, neurological, gastrointestinal, inflammatory, and general symptoms of COVID-19. With the additional funding, the team will study the impact of rapid, on-demand, combined (1) symptom screening, (2) in-home testing, and (3) contact tracing on COVID-19 infection control. This pilot project will help the team compete for the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The project includes the participation of Amira Roess, Janusz Wojtusiak, and Jee Vang.
Lawrence Cheskin was awarded $50,000 for the proposal, “COVID-19's Impact on Mental Health and College Retention Among Under-Resourced/ Underrepresented Undergraduates and their Peers: A Digital Health Solution.” The study seeks to develop a data-driven, predictive, and proactive digital health solution to support students’ mental health and increase college success and retention. The solution will specifically focus on the health of students from low-income and underrepresented populations, who are at greater risk for mental illness and subsequently have greater need for a COVID-19 related intervention. The study will examine the effect that a digital, proactive tool will have on the population’s mental well-being and academic success. This study leverages an existing project with internal GMU funding. The project includes the participation of Lawrence Cheskin, Huzefa Rangwala, Alison Cuellar, and Erika Kennedy.
Carol Cleaveland was awarded $26,000 for the proposal, “COVID-19 Among Latinos in the Informal/Secondary Economic Sector.” The study will examine the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Latinos and hypotheses related to the population’s work in the informal sector, defined as jobs that are low-paying, do not offer benefits such as sick pay, and are typically paid in cash. Latinos have been particularly hard hit, with public health officials linking disease rates to high numbers of this population working in essential jobs, such as cleaning, meatpacking, and caregiving. This study will address a key barrier to COVID-19 mitigation: the question of how environmental factors, as well as behaviors, may render this population more vulnerable to SARS-coV-2 exposure in comparison to others, particularly with respect to employment and housing arrangements. This study will illuminate the potential exposure caused by informal sector work, providing data that is not available through conventional aggregations of labor statistics. The project includes participation of 25 Latino informal sector workers and uses both qualitative research and machine learning to contextualize potential virus exposure. Cleaveland is partnering with co-PI Janusz Wojtusiak in this pilot study.
Alicia Hong’s proposal, “Prototype development of EARBUD: A wearable sensor system for dietary monitoring and personalized intervention,” was awarded $50,000. This study aims to collect data to develop the prototype of a non-intrusive wearable sensor of EARBUD (Eating and Relevant Behaviors Under Detection), which is based on a pair of commercially available earbuds and supported by artificial intelligence-(AI) based algorithms for real-time data analytics. The EARBUD collects and deciphers information of 1) food type, 2) food quantity, 3) eating pattern, 4) eating location, 5) social interaction at eating, and 6) affective status. These real-time data will be integrated with the user’s personal information for personalized intervention delivered to the user via the EARBUD. The prototype will allow the research team to mitigate the negative impacts of pandemic-related unhealthy eating and nutrition-related poor health outcomes in vulnerable populations. This study will provide important preliminary data to develop the first AI-supported non-intrusive, socially acceptable nutrition monitoring system for personalized intervention. The project includes the participation of Dr. Hong Xue of Dept Health Administration and Policy, Dr. Larry Cheskin from Dept of Nutrition and Food Science, and Dr. Gang Zhou, a computer scientist from the College of William and Mary.