Emory, state collaborate to fight COVID-19 crisis

Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health has announced a new partnership with the state Department of Public Health to help fight the COVID-19 health crisis.

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The Emory COVID-19 Response Collaborative (ECRC) will provide continuous support to the DPH in the areas of planning coordination, outbreak response and evaluation, training and placement of public health professionals statewide and research and monitoring.

One aspect of the partnership, for example, will pair Rollins faculty, staff and students with partners to investigate and halt outbreaks as they develop across the state, from nursing homes in Albany to poultry plants in Gainesville, said James W. Curran, dean of Rollins. The effort will strengthen the state’s approach while allowing Rollins to get involved in real-world aspects of the crisis, he said.

“As Georgia continues to reopen commerce, travel and social engagement, ensuring that the citizens of Georgia are kept safe from disease and death is a public/private responsibility,” said Dr. Kathleen E. Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. “Expanding academic partnerships between Georgia’s public health system, Rollins and other Georgia-based schools of public health will benefit us now and in the future.”

Emory has had a master of community health program since 1975. Rollins, established in 1990, has increasingly engaged in collaborations with the state as well as with Fulton and DeKalb counties, said Curran.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is the public health crisis of the century,” Curran said. “We are a public health school with 1,400 professional and doctoral students who are eager for opportunities to get involved at this time. It is natural for us to get engaged and the state department has enormous responsibility.”

Funded by an initial gift of $7.8 million from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the ECRC will provide support in four areas, including state strategic and program planning and identifying areas in immediate need of assistance.

In addition to collaborations on outbreak investigations, the partnership will establish a fellows program designed to speed up the hiring of epidemiologists by placing public health professionals throughout the state in each of Georgia’s 18 health districts. Other fellows will be assigned to the DPH, the ECRC and districts with unique needs or larger populations. Curran said the ECRC will hire a director for the program soon with plans to accept applications within the next few months.

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In what is believed to be one of the first efforts nationwide, the ECRC will also conduct a statewide COVID-19 survey of 1,200 households to understand how common the virus has been among residents, Curran said. The survey — modeled after a national survey approved by the National Institutes of Health — will provide much needed research on the impact of the virus. It is being directed by two Rollins faculty members and is expected to be completed in the next few months.

The ECRC will be led by Allison Chamberlain, director of Rollins’ Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research, which was formed almost 20 years ago after 9/11 when the school worked with state and county health departments in addressing the anthrax attacks. Chamberlain said the hope is that the ECRC will help expand collaborations between the public health system and other schools of public health across the state that will last long after the COVID-19 pandemic.