COVID-19 Research at UNC-Chapel Hill

To illustrate the model and expertise Carolina is mobilizing toward COVID-19 and future pandemics, we are highlighting Carolina research projects across five key areas:
  • Testing/Diagnostics
  • Treatment
  • Prevention/Preparation
  • Clinical Care Research
  • Outcomes and Impact Research

Rachel Noble

Note: This list of COVID-19 research is frequently updated with new research projects from schools, units, centers and institutes from across campus.

TESTING / DIAGNOSTICS

In March, Melissa Miller, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in the UNC School of Medicine, developed a diagnostic test for COVID-19 that is now being used in clinics across UNC Health system hospitals.

Dirk Dittmer, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology and director of UNC’s Viral Genomics Core, and Miller are collaborating to sequence the DNA of the positive virus samples, which will not only allow Miller to adjust her test as the virus potentially mutates, but will provide ongoing information about the particular mutation that is prevalent in North Carolina and track the virus spread. Additionally, Dittmer is setting up a virus surveillance system to proactively detect and monitor the genetic evolution of viruses circulating in the human population in a forward-thinking approach to monitor and proactively detect future pandemic virus emergence in the human population.

Rachel Noble, Ph.D., the Mary and Watts Hill Jr. Distinguished Professor in the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences and a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and the UNC Institute for the Environment, is researching the transmissibility of SARS-CoV-2 through water and the environment. Noble plans to use a new testing tool for improved assessment of the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in North Carolina, with particular attention to rural water systems. Her focus on co-risk associated with wastewater, septic systems and package treatment systems can help manage the contamination risk associated with sewage spills and flooding events. Her team’s expertise in applying rapid diagnostic methods to wastewater, marine and freshwater recreational waters, and other systems like seafood and shellfish, will help us understand the risk of resurgence through food-borne disease as the global population transitions back to normal functioning.

Gaorav Gupta, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology and the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the UNC School of Medicine, is developing more sensitive methods to detect SARS-CoV-2 so that very low levels of the virus can be detected in patients.

Michael Emch, Ph.D., William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in the departments of geography and epidemiology, is examining the value of a potential sero-surveillance project involving all hospitalized patients in the UNC Health system. The project would take serum from different age strata and assess whether patients had antibodies to COVID-19; it would then follow the population spatially over time as they are readmitted. The model may provide insights into the number of COVID-19 subclinical infections. Emch is also currently developing new work in spatial data science and infectious disease to understand COVID-19 in Africa.

Kathleen Harris, Ph.D., Haar Distinguished Professor in the Department of Sociology, is leading a team using data sets from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent to Adult Health (ADD Health) to build models of COVID-19 disease susceptibility and progression. One project using gene expression data (i.e., RNA) is assembling expression signatures that appear similar to those found in animal research or human samples related to corona-type infections (like SARS) and which are known signatures related both to the susceptibility and the severity of the virus. Harris’ team will look for overlap of these signatures in the ADD Health data to identify the genes expressed in response to corona-like infection. They will then examine whether life course factors (e.g., early childhood diseases, environmental exposures, early childhood adversity, etc.) are related to the expression signatures for susceptibility and severity of corona-type virus infections. The work is exploratory in nature and potential outcomes are uncertain. Harris’ team also plans to collect COVID-19 symptom data while collecting microbiome data from survey participants to drive analyses of symptom data on a nationally representative sample of adults in their 40s.

Michael Ramsey, Ph.D., Minnie L. Golby Distinguished Professor in the departments of chemistry and biomedical engineering, has developed a 12-plex respiratory assay that includes multiple strains of coronavirus. His lab is currently working to add COVID-19 to the respiratory panel to aid in early diagnosis of the disease and assessment of its progression. The platform also has potential application to the pandemic in using proteins (cytokines) to monitor host response. Ramsey’s work, which focuses on multiplex protein assays, is part of a ≈$20M diagnostic-focused effort funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop multiplexed digital assays for nucleic acids and proteins. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is funding further development of a high-throughput instrument that could process 100 samples/hour at 10-24 plex.

TREATMENT

As one of the world’s leading authorities on coronaviruses, Ralph Baric, Ph.D., the William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology and the UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, has been working in this area for more than 30 years. Baric published a study on the first orally available broad-spectrum antiviral that inhibits the worst COVID-19 complications in lungs, using mouse and cell models. His team has two COVID-19 antiviral treatment regimens in human trials, remdesivir and NHC, as well as two additional therapies soon to be tested in animal models. These drugs are critically important in that they can reduce transmission of the disease as well as reduce the complications that lead to major sickness and death. In addition, he is testing hundreds of existing compounds against COVID-19 for researchers and labs across the world, in search of the most effective therapeutics.

Baric and other UNC-Chapel Hill researchers are developing research tools and animal models to validate the safety and efficacy of the most promising of these compounds. These include high-throughput approaches to evaluate drug efficacy in primary lung cells in culture, mouse-adapted SARS-CoV that reproduces human pathological changes in mice, mouse models to study pathogenesis and for testing, and mouse models specifically created by Victor Garcia-Martinez, Ph.D., professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the UNC School of Medicine, and Angela Wahl, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Disease in the UNC School of Medicine. A recent paper in Nature Biotechnology describes how the Garcia-Martinez group developed a specialized mouse model in collaboration with Baric for the in vivo testing of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus and other respiratory pathogens. These tools and models greatly enhance UNC-Chapel Hill’s ability to lead in the development of effective therapeutics and vaccines to patients around the world.

Timothy Sheahan, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Ronald Swanstrom, Ph.D., the Charles P. Postelle Jr. Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry in the UNC School of Medicine, are also working with Baric’s team to test the candidate therapeutic NHC/EIDD-2801, a ribonucleoside with broad-spectrum antiviral activity that works by inducing mutations in the viral genome. A preliminary report on this promising therapeutic was recently published in Science Translational Medicine.

Sheahan examines the host-pathogen interface in order to discover new methods for viral control. For the past 12 years, Sheahan has been studying the molecular mechanisms of viral pathogenesis in hopes of discovering viral and/or host proteins to target for antiviral therapy. Sheahan works closely with Baric on coronavirus.

In addition, Baric and Richard Boucher, M.D., the James C. Moeser Eminent Professor of Medicine and director of the Marsico Lung Institute, have created a co-located COVID-19 rapid response center that draws as a resource from one of the largest, most robust lung tissue banks in the world. They have joined forces to identify target cells that initiate and amplify infection in pulmonary surfaces, identify and model the mode of transmission, and identify genetic factors that control susceptibility to infection. The team is also identifying biomarkers to describe risk for severe disease and as determinants of clinical benefit to serve as endpoints for clinical trials and to optimize delivery of novel compounds to the lung.

Craig Cameron, Ph.D., the Jeffrey Houpt Distinguished Professor and chair of the UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and Jamie Arnold, Ph.D., research associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, have partnered with Riboscience, LLC, to screen their library of nucleotide analogues to identify those with efficacy against the SARS-CoV-2 replicase, the RNA-dependent RNA-polymerase needed for multiplication of all RNA viruses.

Bryan Roth, M.D., Ph.D., the Michael Hooker Distinguished Professor in the UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology, and his team are profiling candidate drugs to determine mechanism(s) of action that trigger activity therapeutic to COVID-19. They are also beginning screens of approved medications to determine if those compounds could inhibit viral interactions with host receptors. The goal of their efforts is to identify medications already approved for human use that can be used as therapeutics for COVID-19.

Rihe Liu, Ph.D., an associate professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Division of Chemical Biology and Medicinal Chemistry, and his lab are investigating techniques to reduce the cytokine storm — an extreme immune response that frequently occurs in severe COVID-19 cases. Liu’s group is also analyzing several other targets on COVID-19, specifically the ACE2 and TMPRSS2 expression areas.

Alexander Tropsha, Ph.D., associate dean of pharmacoinformatics at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and the K.H. Lee Distinguished Professor in the Division of Chemical Biology and Medicinal Chemistry, is leading several computational research projects on possible target and drug discovery for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. He and his team have generated several potential inhibitors of the main protease of the virus that are awaiting experimental confirmation. The Tropsha team’s innovative modeling efforts hold promise in both collapsing the time-to-discovery window and using data science to identify existing approved medicines that would support recovery from a SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Sam Lai, Ph.D., director of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Pharmacoengineering Program and associate professor in the Division of Pharmacoengineering and Molecular Pharmaceutics, is developing a variety of muco-trapping monoclonal antibody (mAb) candidates as inhaled immunotherapies against COVID-19. Lai’s team is actively evaluating the first antibody candidate in a hamster efficacy model after receiving positive data from in vitro studies. This compound can be fast-tracked to human studies within two to three months, pending support from U.S. Department of Defense sponsors. In parallel, Lai’s team is engineering various novel mAbs for use against COVID-19 and is developing a non-infectious COVID-19 strain that the research community can utilize in research efforts.

K.H. Lee, Ph.D., a Distinguished Professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Division of Chemical Biology and Medicinal Chemistry, is developing a series of novel antiviral agents from natural products for use in treatment of COVID-19. His work involves selecting potential anti-COVID-19 compounds from an in-house library of more than 5,000 unique compounds from natural sources and chemical synthesis based on both virtual screening results and rational medicinal chemistry perspectives. He is then using enzyme-affinity experiments to evaluate lead compounds and modifying them to develop a series of novel antiviral agents.

Jian Liu, Ph.D., the John and Deborah McNeill Jr. Distinguished Professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Division of Chemical Biology and Medicinal Chemistry, is researching the COVID-19 spike protein that creates infection in a host by binding to its cell receptors. Recent scientific reporting suggests heparin sulfate interacts with the COVID-19 spike protein, and the Liu group seeks to determine which specific heparin sulfate structure displays the highest affinity to COVID-19 spike protein. Heparin sulfate is also known to attenuate inflammation induced by a COVID-19 infection — a significant outcome in many infected patients that causes uncontrolled inflammation responses in the lung, leading to lung failure. Using heparin sulfate, Liu’s team will seek to inhibit a series of proinflammatory proteins released after COVID-19 infection to reduce symptoms in patients.

Angela Kashuba, Pharm.D., dean of the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and the school’s John A. and Margaret P. McNeill Sr. Distinguished Professor, is applying her expertise in mass spectrometry imaging to analyze how potential COVID-19 therapeutic drugs might behave in cells to support human recovery from infection.

Gauri Rao, Pharm.D., an assistant professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Division of Pharmacotherapy and Experimental Therapeutics, is studying the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of novel antivirals for the treatment of COVID-19. This information is critical in the development of formulations with enhanced efficacy and minimal side effects.

Anthony Hickey, Ph.D., director of the UNC Catalyst for Rare Disease research group and a professor emeritus in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Division of Molecular Pharmaceutics, is using his expertise in pharmaceutical formulations of antivirals and aerosol therapeutics to develop inhaled therapeutics that deliver COVID-19 medications directly to the lungs.

Juliane Nguyen, Ph.D., associate professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Division of Pharmacoengineering and Molecular Pharmaceutics, is developing new formulations and biomaterials to create new therapeutics for the treatment of COVID-19.

Alexander Kabanov, Ph.D., director of the UNC Center for Nanotechnology in Drug Delivery and the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Mescal Swain Ferguson Distinguished Professor, is developing mechanisms to deliver anti-CoV drugs and therapeutic agents directly to the respiratory tract. His team is actively working on aerosolized delivery of insoluble active compounds. Kabanov is part of a self-assembled cross-disciplinary consortium that includes Hickey, Kashuba, and Tropsha, as well as experts from UNC-Chapel Hill’s schools of public health and medicine.

PREVENTION / PREPARATION

The UNC Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC), is assessing the effects of social distancing and exploring relationships between statements in social media and public statements from the federal government regarding the practice. IPRC is a CDC-supported research center.

Jared Weiss, M.D., associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine and Ben Vincent, M.D., assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine, are working on SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in collaboration with Mark Heise, Ph.D., professor in the UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Department of Genetics, and Baric. They are identifying parts of the virus with low genetic variation that can effectively stimulate an immune response to include in a putative vaccine for testing in animal models of SARS-CoV-2.

Jenny Ting, Ph.D., William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in the UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Genetics is developing novel SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and testing these vaccines in mouse models of disease.

Aravinda de Silva, Ph.D., professor in the UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, is developing assays for specific detection of IgG and IgM antibodies for SARS-CoV-2, applying a broad-based knowledge of virology and human immunology and expertise with mosquito-borne flavivirus and dengue virus vaccines and diagnostics. De Silva is working with Baric’s group to characterize vaccine responses.

Rachel Graham, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, examines emerging infectious diseases, specifically SARS and coronavirus. She uses basic science techniques to examine host receptors and disease transmission to identify potential candidates for epidemic surveillance and preventive measures against these deadly infectious diseases. Graham works closely with Baric on coronavirus.

In conjunction with the rapid response activities outlined above, the University — led by Nat Moorman, Ph.D., associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Baric, Tim Willson, Ph.D., director of UNC Structural Genomics Consortium, and Aled Edwards, Ph.D., CEO of the Structural Genomics Consortium — has launched a comprehensive program to better prepare the world for the next pandemic. The Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Initiative (READDI) aims to invest $125 million to generate five new drugs with human safety and dosing data in five years. READDI is modeled after DNDi, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative, a proven model for non-profit drug research and development. The science behind READDI is based on a collaborative research project more than a year in the making that received seed funding from the UNC Eshelman Institute for Innovation and the UNC Research Creativity Hub. In READDI, projects will adopt extreme open science methods — sharing drug discovery progress in real time, so that all can benefit. The team is working to identify drugs that slow the ability of SARS-CoV-2 to multiply inside cells. The Willson group has identified kinase enzymes that are modified by a closely related coronavirus when it infects cells. Drugs that target these enzymes will be tested for anti-viral capability in human lung cells that have been infected with SARS-CoV-2.

CLINICAL CARE RESEARCH

Luther Bartelt, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the UNC School of Medicine, is spearheading a convalescent serum trial that obtains serum containing antibodies against COVID-19 from individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 and gives it as a therapeutic to patients suffering from COVID-19. Investigators from the UNC Blood Bank and Division of Infectious Diseases are also involved in this study. With a focus on treatment and research, UNC-Chapel Hill has recently created a blood bank from patients who have recovered from COVID-19, which is being used in compassionate care cases as a treatment option for the sickest COVID-19 patients.

Jessica Lin, M.D., is an assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the UNC School of Medicine. Lin is working with David Wohl, M.D., professor of medicine, Jonathan Juliano, M.D., associate professor of medicine, and other researchers to launch a trial that asks whether treating individuals with mild to moderate symptoms who test positive for COVID-19 can prevent them from getting worse and needing to go into the hospital, and at the same time, also prevent spread to their household members. This “treatment as prevention” strategy has proven important in the public health response to HIV and may apply to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ross Boyce, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the UNC School of Medicine, is focused on studying health care workers who are impacted by COVID-19.

Subhashini Sellers, M.D., a clinical assistant professor, and William Fischer, M.D., an associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care Medicine in the UNC School of Medicine, are using their expertise in respiratory pathogens. Sellers and Fischer are both working with Dittmer in testing of COVID-19 samples. The team has worked together previously and has published on respiratory viral burden in persons with HIV, a study that demonstrated the sensitivity of next-generation sequencing for testing of all viruses including coronavirus. Fischer was also involved in the Ebola crisis in 2014–16, contributed to an article with Wohl in the New England Journal of Medicine about disparities in patient care of Ebola virus disease, and has helped launch an international observational study of people hospitalized with COVID-19.

David Wohl, M.D., professor of medicine, and Natalie Bowman, M.D., clinical assistant professor of medicine, are using their extensive knowledge of viral infections, epidemiology and critical care medicine to track COVID-19 patients in the hospital and local community to help reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection as much as possible. Wohl is also leading the UNC Respiratory Diagnostic units. He and Joseph Eron, M.D., professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases, are members of the leadership of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group (ACTG), a multi-center, randomized trial that will test therapeutics (hydroxychloroquine plus azithromycin) for early COVID-19.

Numerous investigators from the HIV Cure Center in the UNC School of Medicine are using their virology backgrounds and technical expertise to help accelerate research and testing of COVID-19 samples. For example, David Margolis, M.D., professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology, and epidemiology and director of the HIV Cure Center, is planning clinical trials to treat COVID-19 patients.

OUTCOMES and IMPACT RESEARCH

Paul Dayton, Ph.D., William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor and interim chair of the UNC/NC State Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, is coordinating teams of engineers to make smaller masks to fit patients at NC Children’s Hospital.

Mark Holmes, Ph.D., professor of health policy and management; Kim Powers, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology; and other researches from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and the UNC Sheps Center for Health Services Research are part of an independent, informal collaborative of data scientists, health services and policy researchers, and epidemiologists who are modeling the impact of COVID-19 on North Carolina. Their work has been used to advise state policymakers on the potential impact of various policies aimed at mitigating the virus’s impact on the state and its residents. For example, their modeling work has informed decisions on social distancing policies and provided a framework for reopening the state. Their work has been featured in multiple local, state and national media outlets.

Steve Marshall, Ph.D., director of the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC) and professor of epidemiology, Beth Moracco, Ph.D., associate director of IPRC and associate professor of health behavior, and Rebecca Macy, Ph.D., the L. R. Preyer Distinguished Professor of Social Work, are applying their experience researching violence against women to examine the effect of COVID-19 related social distancing, stay-at-home orders and social stress on domestic violence, specifically violence between intimate partners.

The UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) is launching a COVID-19 child and adolescent well-being research survey to be added as a research tool on any studies conducted by FPG researchers. Once the survey has been developed and IRB-approved, FPG will invite investigators to add the questions to ongoing research projects to collect data from a large sample for future research on the impacts of COVID-19 on children and adolescents.

Allison Aiello, Ph.D., professor and social epidemiology program leader in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology, studies health care worker exposure and social exposure to COVID-19 with collaborators in the UNC School of Medicine. Aiello also brings significant expertise to infectious disease research through the lens of non-pharmaceutical interventions, details of social networks/infectious disease transmission (contact tracing) and supporting and interpreting World Health Organization (WHO) guidance. Aiello helped to write WHO’s guidance on mitigation, including personal protective behaviors.

Molly DeMarco, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, is focusing her work on COVID-19 and living wage. DeMarco is in the middle of a study of a living wage ordinance with 1,000 low-wage workers and is exploring participant-informed questions about this cohort to be conducted over the summer of 2020.

Kimberly Powers, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, uses epidemiological, statistical and mathematical modeling methods to study infectious disease transmission. Powers presented at a seminar on Coronavirus Outbreak: Biology, Epidemiology and Public Health Response held on March 3, 2020, where she summarized current mathematical modeling efforts to understand novel coronavirus spread. Powers is part of a remarkable team of epidemiological modelers from UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, NovaSci and RTI who are working to answer key questions about recovery and to assure that the state has enough health resources, like hospital beds.

Aunchalee Palmquist, Ph.D., assistant professor of maternal and child health in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, studies infant and young child feeding in emergencies and other situations of extreme adversity. Palmquist is spearheading efforts to strengthen implementation of recommended infant feeding practices and COVID-19 through the new United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) COVID-19 Infant & Young Child Feeding Constellation.

Benjamin Meier, J.D., Ph.D., associate professor in public policy in the UNC College of Arts & Sciences, works at the intersection of international law, public policy and global health, examining human rights frameworks for global health policy. Advancing legal frameworks for public health, he is working closely as a consultant to international organizations, national governments and nongovernmental organizations in the COVID-19 response.

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health faculty Leah Devlin, D.D.S., professor of the practice in the Department of Health Policy and Management, Bill Gentry, M.P.A., associate professor of health policy and management, Ed Fisher, Ph.D., professor of health behavior, Gene Matthews, J.D., who directs the Network for Public Health Law, Southeast Region, and Claudia Fernandez, Dr.P.H., associate professor of maternal and child health, all explore institutional and governmental leadership and training during public health emergencies, including UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus response to its public health obligations.

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health faculty from nutrition, including professors Alice Ammerman, Dr.P.H, Mildred Kaufman Distinguished Professor, and DeMarco are working to insure food availability for underserved populations during COVID-19.

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health faculty from nutrition, including Melinda Beck, Ph.D., professor; Raza Shaikh, Ph.D., associate professor; Beth Mayer-Davis, Ph.D., Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Nutrition and Medicine; and Penny Gordon-Larsen, Ph.D., professor; are working to understand why people with obesity and diabetes are at higher risk for COVID-19 complications and why they suffer at greater rates than non-obese and non-diabetic people.

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health faculty, including Marisa Domino, Ph.D., professor, Becky Slikfin, Ph.D., professor, and Holmes from health policy and management; DeMarco from Nutrition; and Palmquist from maternal and child health, are addressing economically underserved populations including Medicaid recipients, low-wage workers and children in the WIC program.

UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health faculty from the Water Institute and the Department of Environmental Science and Engineering, including Aaron Salzburg, Ph.D., Jennifer and Don Holzworth Distinguished Professor, and Noble are examining virus transmission in wastewater.

Data has shown that minority populations and those from disadvantaged backgrounds are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Kari North, Ph.D., professor in epidemiology, is leveraging an existing epidemiology Latino cohort to better understand these disparities. Nora Rosenberg, Ph.D., assistant professor in health behavior and an infectious diseases epidemiologist, is working to improve contact tracing of COVID-19 in low- and middle-income countries. Dana Rice, Dr.P.H., assistant professor in the public health leadership program, is examining the response to the COVID-19 pandemic on people detained in rural and urban North Carolina prisons.

Ji-Yeon Jo, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Asian Studies and director of the Carolina Asia Center, and Kevin Fogg, Ph.D., associate director of the Carolina Asia Center, are working to create an information portal linked from the Carolina Asia Center website. The tool would provide information about the novel coronavirus in Asian contexts and its impact on Asian America. Resource links identified by faculty members and center affiliates will be tagged by (1) the Asian countries involved, and (2) the issues at play. Issues may include: (a) testing, (b) treatment and prevention, (c) tracking (e.g., ethics of tracking, tracking technologies), (d) economic impact and government economic responses, (e) health care costs, (f) border control, (g) treatment of minority populations (non-citizens, religious minorities, political outsiders, etc.) in a time of pandemic, and (h) cultural responses. The resource would tag materials for both geographic focus and thematic content, allowing interested students, scholars, and community members to follow issues or locations of interest to them.

Tania Jenkins, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, is developing a module specifically related to COVID-19 as part of her larger ethnographic study on physician burnout. She is also collaborating with scholars at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health to explore research related to primary care provider burnout during the pandemic.

Marc Hetherington, Ph.D., Raymond H. Dawson Distinguished Bicentennial Professor in the Department of Political Science, Tim Ryan, Ph.D., associate professor of political science, and Graeme Robertson, Ph.D., professor of political science, are currently working with the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, UNC School of Medicine, and NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) to support efforts to achieve broad public compliance with voluntary restrictions on personal actions. The work seeks to identify characteristics of citizens who are resistant to compliance behaviors like social distancing and mask-wearing, the leaders and professions whom they admire and esteem, and their media consumption habits. The goal of the work is to develop effective communication strategies for NCDHHS to encourage compliance and protect the health of those reluctant to heed calls for measures such as social distancing.

Elizabeth Olson, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Geography, is researching the impact social distancing has on youths with responsibility for providing care, supervision and support to ill or disabled family members.

Carissa Byrne Hessick, J.D., Ransdell Distinguished Professor at the UNC School of Law, is researching the enforcement of criminal laws in response to the coronavirus outbreak and examining new Department of Justice coronavirus-related law enforcement priorities.

Donald T. Hornstein, J.D., Aubrey L. Brooks Professor of Law at the UNC School of Law, is examining and advising on the regulatory law of emergency, quarantine and vaccination in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as issues of insurance coverage and regulation related to the coronavirus.

Leigh Osofsky, J.D., professor at the UNC School of Law, is researching the challenge posed by the inability of the free market to protect frontline workers during a pandemic and the legal need for government subsidies.

Richard Saver, J.D., Arch T. Allen Distinguished Professor at the UNC School of Law, is currently researching the tension between the “elusive” legal duties community physicians owe to safeguard public health and the duties they owe to their individual patients, which can lead to evading compliance with public health laws or ignoring the public health considerations of treatment decisions. Saver’s scholarship also focuses on laws governing isolation, quarantine, compelled medical treatment, infectious disease reporting, vaccination, governmental health communication campaigns, and related public health activities.

Rick Su, J.D., professor of law at the UNC School of Law, is evaluating state and local responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including social distancing and exclusion orders and state-federal coordination in disaster relief.

Deborah M. Weissman, J.D., Reef C. Ivey II Distinguished Professor at the UNC School of Law and a member of North Carolina’s Commission on Domestic Violence, is engaged in governmental efforts in the U.S. and abroad to address domestic violence intervention in the context of the global pandemic. These include development of best practices related to crisis management services and their remote delivery through virtual platforms.

Klara Peter, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Economics, is examing the role of government trust in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in European countries. Her project will take place over the summer using data from the European Social Survey linked to regional measures of the spread of the virus. She is also using U.S. county-level data to understand how initial conditions and policies influence spread of the virus and its mortality outcomes at various pandemic stages, and she is examining the degree to which mitigation strategies in various countries affect individual risk perceptions and economic and social behaviors.

Paul Delamater, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Geography, is working with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the University of Michigan to create a public-facing map/website of COVID-19 risk. Many residents of Michigan are unaware of their localized risk and have been failing to heed stay home orders. The research team seeks to “show” residents their risk through a spatial/epidemiological model that can provide highly local risk estimates, while at the same time protecting the privacy of persons who have contracted COVID-19. Delamater is developing the spatial mapping units and will help develop the algorithm to estimate risk. He is also assisting a group working to predict hospital beds and ICU beds needed in Michigan in upcoming weeks.

Keely Muscatell, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, is exploring people’s understanding of their bodily states and how that contributes to their emotional states during a pandemic when attention to bodily cues is heightened. Her work has a particular focus on individuals of lower socioeconomic background. Her team is also exploring how mental health practitioners and public health communicators can design effective messages to encourage social distancing and other practices to control the spread of COVID-19.

Kia Caldwell, Ph.D., professor in the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies, is examining how the health care systems of the United States and Brazil have responded to the pandemic and the challenges they face offering robust health care to African-American and Afro-Brazilian communities. This work includes a focus on the Affordable Care Act and Brazil’s universal health care system (SUS). Caldwell is also studying how racial/ethnic health disparities and social determinants of health in U.S. and Brazilian communities affect the pandemic’s impact in each country.

Lydia Boyd, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies, is examining how deep experience gained by African public health workers and officials managing high-profile viral outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda and localized cholera outbreaks on the continent are affecting Africa’s response to the pandemic.

Eunice Sahle, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies, is examining the effects and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on various communities in the African nations of Malawi, Kenya and South Africa. UNC Teaching Fellow Marie A. Garlock, Ph.D., and Sahle are also studying how coal ash-affected communities in the U.S. are adapting mutual aid networks — a constitutive part of the everyday practices of African Americans in the rural South to address COVID-19.

Samba Camara, Ph.D., and Mohamed Mwamzandi, Ph.D., teaching assistant professors in the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies, are using online questionnaires and other digital research methods to examine how Muslims in North Carolina’s Triangle area, in Senegal, and in Kenya have adjusted religious behavior to accommodate urgent COVID-19 public health policies without compromising their faith.

Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, Ph.D., professor in the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies, is examining the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s response to COVID-19, with emphasis on how a fragile African state with limited resources deals with a major health crisis and the lessons it offers for the future.

David Pier, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies, is examining use of contemporary music as a tool to encourage awareness of COVID-19 and public health measures such as hand-washing, and its relationship to politics in Uganda.

Rebecca Kreitzer, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Public Policy, is working with a team of researchers from several universities to test public support for rationing health care and education by disability and age and to examine the impact of pandemic public policy decisions on the elderly and persons with disabilities.

Eric Ghysels, Ph.D., Edward M. Bernstein Distinguished Professor in the Department of Economics, and his collaborators, including doctoral candidate Fotis Grigoris, are incorporating COVID-19 factors into models they are developing for real-time forecasts of state and local budgets featuring mixed-frequency data. The COVID-19 elements will cover scenarios of economic downturns and their impact on state budgets for 2020.

Angela Stuesse, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, is documenting how COVID-19 impacts workers in meat processing industries and the availability of support and health care for immigrant laborers as part of ongoing research into Latin American migrants in the U.S. South and their impact on regional identities, racial hierarchies, and industrial and labor relations.

Matthew Andrews, Ph.D., teaching associate professor in the Department of History, Jonathan Weiler, Ph.D., teaching professor in the curriculum in global studies, and Geneva Collins, director of communications in the UNC College for Arts & Sciences, are launching COVID Conversations: Society, Politics and Economics amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, a four-part podcast series designed to help the public make sense of the extraordinary social measures and economic impacts unfolding in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Featuring sought-after expert researchers on the faculty of UNC-Chapel Hill, the podcast focuses on immediate concerns driving current headlines.

Patricia Sawin, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of American Studies, is tracking information circulated on social media about COVID-19 and social distancing, with a project titled Pandemic Rumors: What do they teach? Which should we trust? Rumors, whether accurate or not, can serve as a valuable index to the issues about which people are particularly anxious. She is investigating how people can train themselves to distinguish reliable from unreliable information.

Todd M. Jensen, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the UNC School of Social Work, promotes family and youth well-being, particularly in the face of change, stress, and adversity. His research also focuses on the prevention of family violence, with an emphasis on military-connected families.

Melissa Lippold, Ph.D., associate professor in the UNC School of Social Work, is studying how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting family relationships and its subsequent effect on mental health, physical health and substance use. Lippold is also interested in understanding how families are adapting to and managing increased stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, how stress may be transmitted between family members, and effects of pandemic-related stress on substance use and mental/physical health.

Cynthia Fraga Rizo, Ph.D., assistant professor, and Rebecca J. Macy, Ph.D., L. Richardson Preyer Distinguished Chair for Strengthening Families in the UNC School of Social Work, are interested in understanding how the effect of public health COVID-19 mitigation efforts designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 would impact known risk factors for intimate partner violence (e.g., economic stress, relationship tension and conflict, social isolation and lack of social support). The team has extensive experience conducting research focused on: (a) examining the experiences and needs of survivors, (b) enhancing intimate partner violence service delivery, and (c) developing and evaluating intimate partner violence prevention and intervention efforts.

Sheryl Zimmerman, Ph.D., Mary Lily Kenan Flagler Bingham Distinguished Professor, and co-director of the Program on Aging, Disability, and Long-Term Care, Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, leads a team with expertise in care and outcomes of older adults in long-term care (nursing homes and assisted living) and a large network of sites and providers with which to collaborate.

Barbara Frederickson, Ph.D., Kenan Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, is studying mental health effects of social distancing as a function of various forms of technology-mediated social interactions (synchronous forms, like Zoom, versus asynchronous forms, like social media). Data collection is underway via Amazon mTurk both nationwide, with oversampling focused in northern California and North Carolina. A second study will follow up on a large sample (N > 400) of local participants from a 35-day diary study (randomized controlled trial), some of whom were randomized to increase the quality and quantity of positive social connection. The researchers will test whether “micro-intervention” helped to buffer study participants from the adverse mental health effects of social distancing. A third study explores intellectual humility of students enrolled in Introduction to Philosophy. The study will test whether intellectual humility predicts accurate discernment between COVID-19 facts and myths, and whether it predicts proactive health behaviors.

Eva Telzer, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, is embarking on a project assessing adolescents’ emotions, experiences and activities every day for 28 days. The data obtained from these daily measures will provide insight into how living through a global pandemic may affect adolescent health and well-being.

Kurt Gray, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, has published work on how social psychological research can help predict people’s behavior during a pandemic, with the title of “Measuring Two Distinct Psychological Threats of COVID-19 and their Unique Impacts on Wellbeing and Adherence to Public Health Behaviors.”

Ted Mouw, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Sociology, is applying to the Census to expand his current project using restricted access American Community Survey data in the Census data center. The goal would be to link the Census microdata up to real-time spatial data on the geographic spread of the case counts to understand demographic risk and resiliency.

Cassandra R. Davis, Ph.D., research assistant professor in the Department of Public Policy, and team are investigating the impact of COVID-19 on college persistence amongst first-generation college students (FGCS) at multiple college campuses. Research suggests that FGCS tend to come from low-income households and arrive at college with fewer resources as compared to non-FGCS. The team will use qualitative methods to assess this occurrence and provide administrators with data on the ways to best support vulnerable populations through the COVID-19 pandemic event.

Alexandrea Ravenelle, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, is currently conducting a mixed methods panel study utilizing remote interviews and demographic surveys with more than 100 precarious and gig workers in New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. Part I of the study, conducted from April through July 2020, will focus on the daily impact of the virus on essential gig workers, such as delivery staff and errand runners. The second and third phases, which will occur in the fall of 2020 and the spring of 2022, will examine the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on workers.

Howard Aldrich, Ph.D., Kenan Distinguished Professor in the Department of Sociology, is studying how entrepreneurship in impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jon Williams, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Economics, is working with broadband providers to figure out how to accommodate the changing internet traffic flows due to far-reaching public health restrictions. A forthcoming paper explores the effects of tele-education/health/work and the role of broadband providers in making it all work.

Anusha Chari, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Economics, has shown that unanticipated changes in predicted infections during the SARS and COVID-19 pandemics forecast aggregate equity market returns. Chari’s team models cumulative infections as either exponential or logistic, and re-estimates the parameters of these models each day of the outbreak using information reported up to that day. For each trading day they compute the change in predicted infections using day t − 1 versus day t − 2 information. Regression results imply that a doubling of such predictions is associated with a 4 to 11% decline in aggregate market value. This result implies a decline in returns’ volatility as the trajectory of the pandemic becomes clearer.

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