George Mason University
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George Mason University

The College of Health and Human Services is Awarded Seed Funding Grants for Two Urgent COVID-19 Studies

May 12, 2020   /   by Michelle Thompson

Mason grants will enable preliminary data collection to study the feasibility of telehealth-based intimate partner violence screening and the effects of COVID-19 on young adults in America

The College of Health and Human Services faculty have received two seed funding grants from George Mason University to pursue data collection for urgent research related to COVID-19 and its impact on young adults and intimate partner violence (IPV). The studies receiving funding are described below.

A pilot feasibility and acceptability study for telehealth-based IPV screening and intervention during COVID-19 

Reports of Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, mirroring increases experienced during previous humanitarian crises and natural disasters.

Drs. Jhumka Gupta (Global and Community Health) and Rebecca E. Sutter (Nursing) have received $21,900 to complete a pilot feasibility and acceptability study for a telehealth-based IPV intervention during COVID-19.

The study seeks to build on research from previous humanitarian crises to develop urgently needed interventions that address IPV and safety while maintaining social distancing. Seed funding will be used to pilot a telehealth-based IPV screening and safety planning intervention for low-income rural and Latina immigrant women served by the Mason and Partners (MAP) Clinics in Northern Virginia.

MAP Clinic faculty and staff will integrate this intervention into ongoing telehealth-based COVID-19 symptoms screening. In the first phase of the study, research will include focus groups, in-depth interviews, and key informant interviews with nurses, IPV survivors and IPV advocates/service providers. Data gathered from this phase will inform the revision of  clinic-based IPV screening, safety planning, and referral tools that have been previously used with refugee women. The second phase of the study will involve assessing the feasibility, fidelity, and acceptability of two different screening and referral approaches within six MAP clinics. Nurses will implement the screening protocols as assigned. To assess feasibility and fidelity, researchers will track all aspects of recruitment, retention, and screening completion.

Thirty MAP clinic patients who will receive the intervention will be invited to participate in a remote survey four days after their screening. Nurses will participate in a brief, online survey. Researchers will use these data to inform a larger intervention study.  

How will COVID-19 affect the future of young American adults? Rapid changes in health and stress before and during the COVID-19 epidemic.

Young adults may be important spreaders of the COVID-19 virus because they often have no or mild symptoms and may be more likely to disregard advice to limit their social activities. They have had “COVID-19 parties” that resulted in numerous cases and hundreds of individuals placed under public monitoring at a time that local health departments were already stretched. At the same time, 20% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients were 18-44 years old, highlighting the disconnect between perceived COVID-19 risk and risk reality.

It is urgent to learn about young adult’s COVID-19 risk perception, related behaviors and COVID-19 disease progression, including antibody development, so that tailored interventions can be developed to lower the risk of transmission within this group and to their many contacts.  Researchers seek to identify measures that young adults will likely adhere to, which sources of information they trust to convey these measures, and what emotional support programming they need.

CHHS faculty Drs. Amira Roess (Global and Community Health), Allison Evan Cuellar (Health Administration and Policy), and Lawrence Cheskin (Nutrition and Food Studies; Global and Community Health) with fellow Mason faculty Drs. Jerome Short (Psychology), Virginia Espina (Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine), and Lance Liotta (Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine) have received $35,000 for their study titled “How will COVID-19 affect the future of young American adults? Rapid changes in health and stress before and during the COVID-19 epidemic.” The study seeks to understand the behavior of young adults, who have been reported to ignore advice regarding social distancing, particularly if they believe that they are at lower risk of negative COVID-19. The goals of the study are to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in this group and their many contacts and better understand antibody dynamics in young adults.

The study will estimate the level of COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence) virus among 150 college students in May 2020—a time that the peak of cases in the U.S. is projected—and to measure the association between the level of COVID-19 virus in their blood samples and self-reported stress.

In addition, the study will look more broadly at the mental health impact of the pandemic, given the recent media reports of increasing substance abuse and use of mental health hotlines (up by over 800% from the last year).

“Mason’s continued investment in our faculty is a testament to the urgent research our College is doing to understand the many short and long-term implications of COVID-19.  The seed investment will lead to further research on COVID-19 and critical public health issues like intimate partner violence and the health of young adults,” says Germaine Louis, professor and dean of the College.

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