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Center for Disaster Medicine Deploys Team Research Model to Examine COVID-19 Response

In recent months, as the COVID-19 outbreak has continued to grow, government and public health officials have struggled to address the global health crisis.

July 08, 2020
COVID-19 Pandemic Map
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COVID-19 Pandemic

To accommodate the dozens of students who sought to be involved in COVID-19 research, the CDM launched a team research model and deployed several research teams. Each team, made up of students and a faculty mentor, was tasked with investigating a specific area important to the response to COVID-19 that would ultimately allow motivated students to submit their work for presentation at a national meeting or for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Under the leadership of Kevin Pohlman, M.Ed., assistant director of the CDM and assistant professor in the Institute for Public Health of the School of Health Sciences and Practice (SHSP), two research teams were created. One is focused on understanding the role of emergency medical services (EMS) in responding to public health emergencies in the United States, and specifically looking at their role in response to COVID-19. The second team is taking a broader look at the multi-dimensional responses to pandemics by various governmental agencies over the past few decades, both nationally and internationally. 

“Our teams are looking at training measures, preparedness and response challenges throughout all relevant pandemics, as well as specific measures and initiatives undertaken that may have impacted patient outcomes, response success or even influenced future pandemic preparedness and response–how we can learn from that experience with the goal of developing a suggested ‘best practices’ paper for a governmental response to pandemics in our modern age,” says Mr. Pohlman.

"When I first heard about the opportunity to become involved in research with the CDM, I thought it would be a great way to learn more about COVID-19 and contribute to knowledge about our pandemic response,” says Rajkumar Pammal, School of Medicine (SOM) Class of 2023. “The research team I'm working with is examining how the U.S. has prepared for and responded to previous pandemics, such as SARS and H1N1, and how we can apply lessons learned from those experiences to our current challenge with COVID-19. Hopefully, our research can contribute to academic and public knowledge as we gear up for a potential second wave of COVID-19 and/or future viral pandemics."

“The CDM is such an awesome part of NYMC and I jumped at the opportunity to get involved with research there, so that I could contribute to the growing literature and knowledge about COVID-19 in a meaningful way,” says Abigail Marriott, SOM Class of 2023. “For my research, I’ve been focusing on government responses to COVID-19 worldwide, comparing different strategies of mitigation, the outcomes of these strategies and how we can best capitalize on what has worked as we continue to navigate this.”

George W. Contreras, M.E.P., M.P.H., M.S., CEM, FAcEM, assistant director of the CDM, assistant professor in the Institute of Public Health of the SHSP and assistant director of the Advanced Certificate in Emergency Management Program, is also leading two teams of students focused on identifying lessons learned from past events, such as the 1918 flu and 1968 flu, and other public emergencies, including previous coronavirus epidemics and Ebola, which have been utilized during the public health response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, Mr. Contreras’ teams are focusing on hospitals and health care systems and on the relevant population health mitigation strategies.

“During COVID-19, hospitals and health care systems were overwhelmed,” says Mr.  Contreras. “Some of the students and I were able to see the impact of COVID-19 from a firsthand perspective while working in the hospitals in New York City and surrounding areas. We have been reviewing the response throughout the pandemic for what worked well and identify areas for improvement to see what hospitals will change after this first wave to prepare for a possible second wave. Important public health mitigation strategies, such as face coverings and physical distancing, play a valuable role in preventing the spread especially because no FDA-approved treatment or vaccine is yet available. As we see other U.S. states with increases in new cases and hospitalizations, it is important to see what strategies can be implemented.”

“The students have a very rare opportunity to see this historic pandemic as it incorporates the theory into practice from the different fields and highlights the importance of teamwork in health care,” he continues. “It has been very rewarding to see how this experience has motivated and widened the perspectives of these medical students. Some of them are even considering writing separate articles to highlight their specific experiences as medical students during this pandemic.”

“What is so different about this COVID-19 pandemic from the 1918 pandemic is the amount of knowledge we have on these microbes,” says Juliet Jacobson, SOM Class of 2022. “The testing we have now was unthinkable in 1918, not to mention a vaccine (the first influenza vaccine was created in 1933). However, even in 1918, the government encouraged masks, outlawed public gatherings and canceled school, but the main difference was that without large media sources, rulings varied from city to city.”

“As someone who is about to start my third year of medical school, the most eye-opening thing for me was a letter by a man at the start of his third year of medical school when the 1918 pandemic hit,” she continues. “They had had one lecture on influenza and then their third- and fourth-year classes were canceled. They then manned an emergency hospital in Pennsylvania with little or no supervision. He described the medical knowledge he had to use to alleviate his patients’ pain, and I felt like it mirrored the knowledge I learned in my first two years. I was struck by how I would have felt being thrown into the hospitals during this pandemic. I am grateful for how far we have come in terms of medical research, but also fascinated by how much we still don't know about pandemics and some of the microbes causing them.”

“As first- and second-year medical students in New York, we have a unique perspective on the pandemic,” says Brigitte Burcescu, SOM Class of 2023. “After working on this project, I have learned so much about public health and how pandemics and widespread diseases were handled in the past. It has given me interesting insight into today's crisis that I certainly did not have before and has made me more interested in emergency medicine.” 

Additionally, two new research projects focusing on altered standards of care in hospitals and the concerns of health care worker safety during COVID-19 are just now getting underway.

“During COVID-19 many hospitals and health care facilities adopted modified protocols and procedures for the treatment and management of patients,” says Michael Reilly, Dr.PH. ‘10, M.P.H., SOM Class of ’23. “These altered standards of care allowed hospitals to manage the large surge of patients, but little is known about the impact of these crisis standards of care on the morbidity and mortality of patients in hospitals or any direct risks to patient safety, as a result, their implementation. In addition, many hospitals and health care providers experienced a reduction in the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff and patients. As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance on the rationing and scaling back of the required typical infection control practices, particularly with respect to the use of respiratory protection. There has been much controversy among health care professionals about the increased risk to the provider of contracting or spreading COVID-19 illness using an austere approach to infection control. My research teams will attempt to measure the impact of these COVID-19 guidelines during the first wave of the pandemic in the U.S.”

 “Working with the CDM has given me the unique opportunity to conduct research while there is new information being released each day,” says Jeanette Freeman, SOM Class of 2022. “I've really enjoyed working virtually with other medical students, especially during this time of physical distancing. This research has helped me feel like I'm playing an active role in the pandemic and will hopefully help shape future events!” 

“During these unprecedented times, we are using research from previous pandemics and epidemics to gain a deeper understanding of COVID-19,” says Sarriyah Afeeza Hanif, SOM Class of 2023. “By analyzing history, we can effectively shape our current response and prepare for future pandemics. The key to success lies in evidence-based practices based on credible sources and insightful research.”

“I first got involved with the CDM because I saw great potential in researching COVID-19 and knew there was tremendous merit in unraveling the many mysteries this pandemic brings—especially why the U.S. has fallen behind other similarly developed nations in terms of flattening the curve,” says Lee Hecht, SOM Class of 2023. “The knowledge we’ve accumulated regarding public health endeavors and their effectiveness in combating pandemics over the last century is vast, and so consolidating it into one publication will prove to be a challenge, but I’m excited to see where it takes us!”

CDM Research Teams

Project: Past pandemics/public health emergencies impacts on EMS and EMS actions

Team Lead: Kevin Pohlman, M.Ed.

Students: Zafar Karimov (Class of 2023), Sirajul Islam (Class of 2023), Gihad Abdelhady (Class of 2023), Hannah Litwa (Class of 2023), Matthew Vollaro (Class of 2023),

Emma Dragan (Class of 2023)


Project: Past pandemics/public health emergencies governmental public health measures and EM responses

Team Lead: Kevin Pohlman, M.Ed.

Students: Sacha Roberts (Class of 2023), Jake Feingold (Class of 2023), Jason Kreinces (Class of 2023), Rajkumar Pammal (Class of 2023), Abigail Marriott (Class of 2023), Jonah Lowenstein (Class of 2023)


Project: Past Pandemics/public health emergencies effect on hospitals and healthcare system

Team Lead: Professor George W. Contreras,, MEP, MPH, MS

Students: Juliette Jacobson (Class of 2022), Jeanette Freeman (Class of 2022), Nate Gilbreth (Class of 2022), Tiffany Dang (Class of 2022), Brigitte Burcescu (Class of 2023), Keerthana Jayaseelan (Class of 2023)


Project: Past pandemics states, infectivity, mortality, actions by society, affect, etc.

Team Lead: Professor George W. Contreras, M.P.H., M.S.

Students: Sarriyah Hanif (Class of 2023), Monica Naparst (Class of 2023), Lee Hecht (Class of 2023), Harumi Harakawa (Class of 2023), Rina Rieger (Class of 2023), Ryan Alcantara (Class of 2021)


Project: Altered Standards of Care in Hospitals during COVID-19 in the US

Team Lead: Michael Reilly, Dr.PH., M.P.H.

Students: Kelvin Tam (Class of 2023), Eliana Jacobson (Class of 2023), Brinda Patolia (Class of 2023), Sarah Wu (Class of 2023)


Project: Health Worker Safety

Team Lead: Michael Reilly, Dr.PH., M.P.H

Students: Julie (Yael) Bree (Class of 2022), Raeesa Hossain (Class of 2022), Katie Roster (Class of 2023), Sara Heide (Class of 2023), Jasmine Garg (Class of 2023)