Public health data and guidelines are crucial to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, both on and off campus. In this episode of Michigan Minds, associate professor of epidemiology Emily Martin, PhD, MPH, explains how the University of Michigan established campus health response committees to prepare for the fall semester and how the university is monitoring public health data all day, every day to make health-informed decisions for the U-M community.
U-M has partnered with the CDC, the state of Michigan, and several other universities to pull information and gather insight, Martin says, which helps keep a close eye on the community and any signals that appear in the data.
Martin highlights face coverings as a good example of how public health experts have used data to drive decision making. At the beginning, there was uncertainty about whether and where masks should be worn, and there was a priority for health care professionals to have access to medical-grade masks.
“As we learned more, we were able to incorporate new research and new findings into our recommendations in real time, as things shifted and changed. And I think it’s a really compelling example of the fact that because we have all of these great minds across campus watching all the signals, watching all of the data, watching new research coming out, we’re able to incorporate best practices as soon as they’re around and just implement them and get them right into the recommendations quickly,” Martin says.
She also dives into the hybrid approach planned for the fall semester at U-M, which she says has the benefit of moving large exposure settings to virtual courses and also provides the flexibility to preserve the education experiences that need to be done in person, and can be done so safely.
“I’m a big believer in access to education being an important part of equity, so the hybrid approach allows us to continue to meet the needs of students and support the students in their educational journey,” she says. “If we, unfortunately, in the community, or in the state, or in the country, have more transmission, we can pull things back in a flexible way. So I like that from a preparedness standpoint as well.”
Martin and her colleagues at the U-M School of Public Health spend a lot of time monitoring local and national data, and will continue to do so daily to watch what is happening on campus and beyond. In the podcast, she explains that they aren’t just watching for positive test results, but also monitoring things like the turnaround time for testing, U-M’s capacity to respond and care for students, and the timeline for answers to infections. She also encourages everyone to use a daily symptom tracker, which helps individuals remain mindful on how they are feeling and is also a useful public health tool to get early warning flags.
She adds that apprehensions and anxieties are normal and understandable, and that the state of the pandemic as a whole is concerning.
“I think we need to be honest and transparent and honest about our feelings,” she says. “I also think that the best thing that we can do is to continue as a community to have this conversation, to talk about our fears and anxieties, and that we have tools that are grounded in public health evidence that we can use to keep people safe. We know what works and we can continue to apply those tools to campus for people that are working on campus and for students that are here to try to reduce transmission as much as possible.”
Hear more from Martin in this episode of Michigan Minds.