For the Brown University School of Public Health, the community has been at the core of their pandemic response since the start. Interim Dean Ronald Aubert says, “Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brown has focused on protecting our community’s health while delivering exceptional education and impactful research and remaining a valued neighbor in our city, state and region. Transparent and consistent communication with the internal and local community has been at the heart of the Brown response.”
Aubert recalls the response on campus: “Faculty and staff realized the potential for immediate disruptions to our mission. So how do we teach and conduct research and service commitments remotely? Our educational team and information technology team worked collaboratively to mobilize technological solutions such as Zoom, Google Meet, Canvas and Banner to continue the work of educating the next generation of public health leaders.”
Two efforts stood out. “The School’s faculty went to work as outspoken advocates in the media and with the nation’s key decision-makers to help shape policy, public health infrastructure and emergency preparedness to combat mis- and dis-information on a local, national and global level. For example, Dean Ashish Jha, now on temporary assignment at the White House, has been at the frontlines of the COVID-19 response, leading national and international analysis of key issues and advising state and federal policymakers,” says Aubert.
“Secondly, the school took immediate action to help our community partners at the Rhode Island Department of Health,” he says. “SPH faculty built and maintained dashboards to support the governor and the Rhode Island Department of Health, allowing the response team to identify and act on trends and patterns of critical metrics such as infections, hospitalizations, deaths and test positivity across the state.”
To accommodate the scale of the work, Brown expanded. “Understanding the dire need to expand this work, the School recruited new leaders with national and global expertise in these areas. For example, Jennifer Nuzzo, DrPH, leads a new effort on pandemic preparedness and response at SPH to address the urgent issues exposed in this pandemic and intrinsic to every pandemic: to alleviate human suffering and economic loss. In addition, Claire Wardel and Stefanie Friedhoff have launched the Information Futures Lab, which investigates the harms of misinformation, data deficits, outdated communications practices and other barriers to meeting the health information needs of communities,” Aubert says.
Over the course of the pandemic, the school learned a few lessons. First, Aubert says “the disproportionate burden of disease from COVID-19 carried by minority and low-income communities has been a stark reminder that, as public health professionals, we need to do more. We need to prioritize the most vulnerable among us through culturally appropriate education and community-informed interventions. In addition, we must continue to support a diverse pipeline of future public health professionals so that the leadership ranks reflect the communities where the work of public health is done.”
Second, Aubert says “the US must invest in critical public health infrastructure to prepare for the next pandemic. While it is said that this country has the best science and medical care in the world, our normal process of public health evaluation and approvals could delay the innovation needed to address a pandemic.”