UC Berkeley professors continue COVID-19 laboratory, public health research

COVID-19 researcher conducts work in a lab.
Dean Calma/IAEA/Creative Commons
A COVID-19 researcher conducts work in a lab. UC Berkeley professors are also continuing public health research amid the rising number of positive COVID-19 cases.

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As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rises, UC Berkeley professors continue to work on research projects related to several aspects of the pandemic.

Current ongoing projects include a website that allows for personalized modeling, a study of the infection on campus and clinical trials of treatment of rare diseases. Many faculty members are working in the laboratory while schools including the UC Berkeley School of Public Health are continuing public health studies outside the traditional lab setting, according to campus professor of public health Arthur Reingold.

Campus professor of wildlife ecology Wayne Getz is working on assessing different factors affecting COVID-19 cases in U.S. counties. Some of these factors include socioeconomic status, commercial activities and the use of public transportation.

“I’ve been working on a model for COVID-19 that can evaluate what I call ‘drivers,’ like surveillance, quarantining, isolation and vaccination,” Getz said. “Basically, I’m trying to estimate the efficacy of surveillance and efficacy of different strategies on projected outcomes.”

With the huge number of measures addressing COVID-19, modeling the pandemic can be difficult, according to Getz. He added that the reliability of data is an issue, as cases and deaths are not being reported on the days that they occur. Another issue is in trying to understand why mortality rates vary enormously, both nationally and globally.

The culmination of Getz’s project will be a website that will enable people with data, such as mortality rates, to adjust parameters to fit their models.

“We hope to work on upgrading this website too, so that people in counties, cities who have health care groups who are trying to develop policies, can play around with their data and our website,” Getz said.

Another campus project aims to help UC Berkeley be better prepared for the fall semester in regard to COVID-19 infection.

The current procedure includes enrolling faculty in a study to follow them over time and see who becomes infected, according to Reingold. The next step would be monitoring study participants’ movements, behaviors and risk factors.

“What we have learned, working with the university health service at Tang, with the city of Berkeley, with the genomics institute — all of whom are key partners — is that if and when we do have infections on the campus, it’s going to take a very concerted effort and a lot of resources to deal effectively,” Reingold said.

Veronica Miller, adjunct professor in the School of Public Health, is working on clinical trials of new treatment for rare diseases and fatty liver diseases.

The study is looking at how to use technology to further monitor patients remotely, even after the pandemic is over.

“We need to use the lessons learned today to help establish a more patient friendly, decentralized clinical trial paradigm,” Miller said in an email.

Contact Zoe Chen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @zoe_chen820.