Ivan Allen Researchers: Helping Us Prepare for the Next Pandemic

A compilation of profile photos

Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts faculty continue to research the Covid-19 pandemic looking for ways public policy can help reduce suffering from the next pandemic.

The Covid-19 state of emergency may have ended, but Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts researchers continue to probe the pandemic for lessons that can help us prepare for the next catastrophic wave of illness. Researchers from four Ivan Allen College units recently published research on various aspects of the pandemic response, from the importance of community responses and government emergency policies, to how information and communication technologies were affected by the pandemic. 

One of these researchers, Salimah LaForce of the Center for Advanced Communications Policy (CACP), said it’s clear that Covid-19 changed many aspects of our lives, and we need to continue studying those changes to prepare for an ever-more uncertain future. 

“The Covid-19 pandemic ushered in a sea change for how we engage,” LaForce said. “It’s changed how we work and how we receive health services, even attitudes about the same. I think and hope, in some cases, that those changes are here to stay. So it’s exceedingly important that we continue to evaluate the technology-mediated ways in which we engage with one another and our systems to understand the intended and unanticipated outcomes, and to develop strategies and policies to mitigate, if not eliminate, negative consequences. 

Here’s a roundup of some of the pandemic-related research recently published by Ivan Allen College faculty: 


How Ivan Allen College Researchers Helped Make Covid-19 Tests Better 

The Critical Role of Engineering in the Rapid Development of COVID-19 Diagnostics: Lessons from the RADx Tech Test Verification Core” 

Sarah Farmer and Amanda Peagler, research scientists, Center for Advanced Communications Policy 

Farmer and Peagler wrote this paper with authors from Georgia Tech and Emory University whose work involves evaluating Covid-19 tests under a federal grant. It details the characteristics of successful tests and the team’s evaluation process as part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative. Georgia Tech and CACP’s HomeLab were crucial partners in that effort. 

The researchers found three main characteristics led to the success of these diagnostic tests. They found that tests using samples from the nose were more likely to be approved because it is easier to process those samples than those taken from saliva or breath. They also found that tests using signals such as color changes or fluorescence to indicate results were more successful than tests using other methods. Finally, the most successful tests came from companies that considered manufacturing and human factors early in the design process — a particularly crucial consideration for Farmer, Peagler, and their colleagues in CACP. 

“The pandemic accelerated a shift in diagnostic testing. Previously, testing mainly occurred in clinics, hospitals, and labs. Now, testing happens where the patient is, in places such as clinics, schools, workplaces, and homes,” Farmer said. “Anyone can do these tests instead of just trained professionals. It’s more important than ever to make the tests easy to use for all kinds of users and in all kinds of environments. 

“Now we need to make sure tests are more accessible, improve accuracy and speed, and incorporate detection of additional viruses such as flu and RSV. The knowledge we’ve gained can help in other areas of testing for different health conditions,” Farmer said. “We hope this work will help us be ready for future pandemics.”


Understanding the Impacts of Covid-19 Policies on Financial Stress 

Brian Y. An, assistant professor, School of Public Policy 

 In this study, An’s team looked at how policies meant to rein in Covid-19 affected financial stress. They analyzed data from more than 100 countries and found that strict public health policies with stringent mobility restrictions, such as lockdowns and travel restrictions, increased household financial worries. However, economic measures such as wage supports or in-kind transfers that families could quickly use helped reduce financial stress. They also found more significant financial impacts for younger adults and variations in how effective the policies were in curbing Covid-19 based on a country’s social safety net and poverty rates. Overall, An says the study offers guidance for policymakers as they consider lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic and prepare for the next inevitable surge of disease.  

“Despite government help, our study reinforces how many households worldwide faced financial stress due to job losses, healthcare emergencies, and school closures as governments tried to slow the spread of Covid-19,” An said. “This impact on financial security is significant, affecting mental and physical health and policy attitudes, and it’s important for policymakers to understand that. Research like this helps achieve that goal.”  


Tailoring Virus-Fighting Communications Strategies to Racial and Ethnic Groups 

Michael L. Best, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs  

This paper overviews the initial work of The Georgia Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against Covid-19 Disparities Project. Georgia CEAL is a broad research and action alliance led by a Community Coalition Board and includes experts from Georgia Tech, the Morehouse School of Medicine, and Emory University. Georgia Tech’s role is to partner with community advocates in designing, developing, and deploying social media monitoring and response platforms that target Georgia’s Black and Hispanic communities. 

The paper details initial findings highlighting the importance of tailoring communication strategies to cultural, racial, and ethnic groups to overcome barriers and address community-specific health needs. 

“Georgia CEAL is an amazing network of community-based organizations, public health experts, and academic researchers across the state of Georgia working urgently to address pandemic misinformation and mistrust and promote Covid testing and vaccination among diverse racial and ethnic populations,” said Best, the Georgia Tech site lead for the study. “Covid’s impact, particularly on at-risk and marginalized populations, is still significant even as we leave the emergency phase of the pandemic. Building social scientific and technical methods that help community leaders empower community members to respond effectively to this and other respiratory ailments will continue to grow in importance.” 


Technology and Covid-19 

Salimah LaForce, research scientist, Center for Advanced Communications Policy 

 This book chapter, part of the Springer book Social Vulnerability to Covid-19, was produced as part of LaForce’s involvement with the NSF-funded CONVERGE Covid-19 Working Group for Public Health and Social Sciences Research called “Technological Innovations in Response to Covid-19.” The chapter focuses on the social implications of the rapid adoption of communications technologies during the pandemic, including “privacy, trust, ethics, and potential effects on socially vulnerable populations.” 

One part of the chapter addressed the effects of fast-paced technological advancements on students during the pandemic. It discussed how the transition to online learning placed a heavy burden on caregivers who were unable to offer sufficient assistance due to work schedules, lack of familiarity with technology, and other related challenges.

“When we add an ever-increasing reliance on technology, digital inequity, and a pandemic that forced a massive, overnight migration to online education, inevitably, some students were left behind,” LaForce said. “This was despite law and policy already in place to prevent the expansion of educational disparities and the homework gap. In fact, they were magnified. So, my question was, how can technology be both the problem and the solution? And how can we effectively implement education technology solutions that are appropriate for all students and their supporters?” 

News Contact: Michael Pearson
Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts