Most Talked About
COVID-19 Topics
The one constant about the coronavirus has been the inconsistency of information. Core faculty members in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Julia Jones Matthews Department of Public Health bring clarity to the confusion.
Courtney Queen headshot
Why is There a Focus on Contact Tracing?
Courtney Queen, PhD,
assistant professor
Contact tracing is a disease control measure which traces and monitors contacts of infected people to stop the transmission of disease. Contact tracing is also used to notify and identify those people who are at risk.

For this method to be effective, there must be a timely reporting of symptoms by infected people. Knowing how many people have been potentially exposed will help us determine strategies to contain the virus with resource allocation and health systems planning.

Regarding COVID-19, close contact is considered to be within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes up to two days before the infected person starts developing symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Picture of Hafiz Khan
How can we benefit from a massive volume of COVID-19 data?
Hafiz Khan, PhD
professor and associate chair
Students, researchers and practitioners will have new opportunities to study statistical probability models from this data. They can then identify target groups of infected individuals for interventions and develop policy briefs for future pandemics.

Graduate students and post-graduates in biology or residents and fellows in medicine will be able to use the data analysis to gain a wider perspective of the problem, leading to advancements and economic activity in the future.

Image of Lisa Gittner
What is the difference between the PCR test and the antibody test?
Lisa Gittner, PhD
associate professor
The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test measures for presence of coronavirus genetic material. The PCR test is performed on mucus from the nose or throat and can diagnose an infection. The PCR test is accurate and approved by the FDA and is used by clinicians to determine if a person is actively infected.

The antibody test measures the presence of antibodies in the patient by testing blood samples. This test looks for the patient’s immune response that occurs after the coronavirus infection.

Image of Theresa Byrd
What makes this pandemic different?
Theresa Byrd, DrPH, BSN
chair and associate dean
The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), which causes COVID-19, is not the first viral pandemic to rock our world, so why are we taking more precautions than ever before? The 1918 Spanish Flu (H1N1 virus) killed at least 50 million people worldwide; in 1957, the Asian Flu (H2N2 virus), was responsible for 1.1 million deaths worldwide; and then the 1968 Hong Kong Flu (H3N2 virus) resulted in an estimated 1 million deaths and continues to circulate worldwide as a seasonal influenza — and we had Woodstock!

In only a few months, the coronavirus has resulted in the death of more than 374,000 people worldwide and over 100,000 Americans, compared to 100,000 American deaths by the 1968 flu over a two and a half-year period.

Therefore, in terms of the magnitude of infections, the coronavirus will be more serious than most of our previous outbreaks. One reason is the incubation period, which is 14 days compared to three to four days with the flu.

Picture of Julie St. John
Does wearing a mask in the community really help?
Evolving research suggests masks may effectively slow transmission of the coronavirus from infected people (with or without symptoms) to others. 

In April 2020, the CDC recommended wearing cloth face coverings in public where social distancing is difficult to maintain.

Masks, or facial coverings, are thought to slow the spread of respiratory droplets containing the virus. If a person with the virus sneezes, without a mask, the virus can travel 20 feet or more. A mask reduces the distance the virus may spread.

Further, for people not infected, masks serve as a reminder not to touch the nose or mouth, which can also slow the spread of the virus.”

Picture of Duke Appiah
How do we reach herd immunity from COVID-19?
Duke Appiah, PhD
assistant professor
Herd immunity is based on the notion that if a population or group is mostly protected from a disease by immunizations, then the chance of a major epidemic occurring is highly limited. Vaccination is often the popular choice for achieving this.

Usually, herd immunity is achieved when 70% to 90% of the population is immune to the infectious agent. Antibody testing helps to estimate the percentage of immunity and provides an empirical assessment of whether herd immunity has been achieved.

Image of Emily Bailey
What is COVID-19, and how is it spread?
Emily Bailey, PhD
assistant professor
COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by the recently discovered coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). This new virus and the disease were unknown prior to December 2019 when an outbreak began in Wuhan, China. COVID-19 is now a global pandemic spread from person-to-person through small droplets from the nose or mouth — coughing, sneezing, exhaling. Other people can then catch COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth or by directly breathing in infected exhaled droplets.
Image of Rubini Pasupathy
How will this experience change health care systems in the future?
Rubini Pasupathy, PhD, MBA
associate professor
COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on the health care system in the U.S. The focus will shift to a population-based health care system with an emphasis on preventive care and increased health care access. The uncertain economic future may further increase the demand for some form of universal health insurance, rather than an employer-based system.

The outbreak has normalized the digital aspect of health care delivery. In the future, visits to clinics will not be the default option, as the demonstrated ease and efficiency of telehealth has reduced resistance from both clinicians and patients. There also will be an increased incorporation of artificial intelligence tools in the screening of patients and management of data.

Image of Jeff Dennis
Does COVID-19 affect some communities differently?
Jeff Dennis, PhD
assistant professor
In Texas, we see how different industries and occupations can have a major impact on spread, particularly in conditions where social distancing is difficult. Meatpacking plants in the Texas Panhandle have seen high rates of infection, as have a number of long-term care and correctional facilities across the U.S.

Recent reports show that African American, Latino and Native American populations have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus in the U.S. This may be partially explained by existing conditions, but also factors such as the number of individuals who work essential jobs, ability to work from home, proportion of multigenerational households and basic health care access. Rural areas were slower to see infections in their communities, yet large gatherings, especially indoors, carry high risk of virus transmission no matter where they take place.