Lior Rennert

The Specialists Cohort (South Carolina)

From the Greenville Journal:

Lior Rennert (South Carolina)

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemicLior Rennert has been knee-deep in researching the best ways to study the spread of the novel coronavirus in order to mitigate its reach. 

Rennert, assistant professor in Clemson’s department of public health sciences and a biostatistician, is leading a significant part of the university’s response to COVID-19.

Last fall, Rennert and his team decided to look into pre-arrival testing before students came back to campus.

“We essentially developed models that showed that if you test everybody before arrival or upon arrival, you can severely limit the outbreak size and delay them as well,” says Rennert. He says that he gives Clemson credit for conducting pre-arrival testing even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had yet to explicitly recommend it.

Another aspect of planning against the coronavirus focused on what Rennert calls a new “surveillance-based informative testing” strategy — research currently under peer-review. Through random testing, the university identified hot spots in residence halls ​and targeted their testing resources to test these students. Such targeted tests were twice as likely to detect positive cases compared to random tests, ​which allowed university officials to quickly act to isolate and quarantine students and help stem the spread of the virus.

“It was really effective,” Rennert says. “It drove down prevalence by almost 40% over a two-week implementation period.”

Dr. Rennert’s ‘Tasks’:

  1. Leading modeling efforts at Clemson University (along with Christopher McMahan and Corey Kalbaugh) to evaluate and implement testing strategies for mitigation of SARS-CoV-2 spread
  2. Implemented surveillance-based informative testing on the university campus, where I would monitor Covid-19 prevalence on campus and direct testing resources to residence halls experiencing outbreaks
    2. Manuscript detailing this strategy accepted for publication at The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health (link to come in next 7-10 days)
  3. Directing Clemson’s Covid-19 dashboard
  4. Working with South Carolina health systems and departments of health to efficiently allocate vaccines to underserved communities (using data-driven models)

A few words from those who nominated Lior:

“Dr. Rennert is a biostatistician at Clemson University where he has used his skillset to help keep our community safe. He helped develop and implement a novel surveillance-based informative testing strategy for SARS-CoV-2 detection. That strategy and the continuous work he has done to improve the models has allowed our University to safely remain open. At the same time, Dr. Rennert has been a critical voice to our statewide vaccine rollout. He has developed models to help increase the equitable distribution of vaccines in SC. I am an epidemiologist and I credit Lior with helping to keep me positive during what has been an incredibly challenging year for my profession. Personally, he has become a close friend and I am really lucky to get to work with such a thoughtful and kind person. He cares about others well-being above his own and represents the best of what we can be as public health professionals. He is a data hero to all of us in SC.”

Click here to see the Clemson University COVID-19 Dashboard

Madison Schaffer

The Specialists Cohort (New Mexico)

Madison Schaeffer (New Mexico)

“I’m the lead epidemiologist for the COVID-19 hotline at the N.M. Department of Health. Our state has a 24/7 hotline that members of the public, medical professionals, and first responders can call with questions or concerns.

The team I coordinate consists of nurses, epidemiologists, and health educators, and my job is guiding and supporting them to ensure that we give the best possible help.

We handle thousands of questions each week, ranging from positive cases who need guidance to business owners wanting to come up with travel policies for their employees.”

A few words from those who nominated Madison:

“Madison has worked tirelessly since the beginning as an Epidemiologist, for the New Mexico o Department if Health. She mans the help line and pairs people with services to help them, does contact tracing for the stay and works with the first responders. She regularly posts updates on her Facebook page to keep everyone informed and allows us to share those with the public”

Jen Jennings

The Specialists Cohort (New Jersey)

Jen Jennings (New Jersey)

“With a team of three fabulous research assistants – Jenna Shaw, Katie Eiler, and Paul Darnell – we’ve been pulling together and analyzing school-level data on cases in NYC, and considering rates in all sectors – traditional public, private, and charter. State and city agencies have made data difficult to access and analyze, and we hope to do our part to make data on school-level rates of infection more transparent.”

A few words from those who nominated Jen:

“In the push to reopen schools in NY state and NYC this year, Jen’s data collection on the increase in school cases and in NYC children in general is helping in the fight to get and adjust safety protocols in our schools.”

Click here to follow Jen on Twitter

Dr. Angélique Blackburn

The Specialists Cohort (Texas)

Angélique Blackburn (Texas)

Angélique Michelle Blackburn, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Texas A&M International University, with specializations in cognitive neuroscience, survey design, and bilingualism.

She uses neurocognitive and survey methods to study the long-term effects of language habits on cognition.

Integral to this research has been large-scale data collection to create a series of validated surveys, including the Survey of Experience in Code Switching Environments (SECSE), a reliable and valid measure of bilingual language experiences. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Blackburn dedicated her 2020 Spring Break to volunteering her research skills as needed to help combat the pandemic. 

Because of her expertise in survey design and survey science, Blackburn was recruited to join the COVIDiSTRESS Global Research Consortium, where she aided in the creation of a global survey regarding the impact of COVID-19.

This Consortium now includes over 100 members who have collected data from 173,426 respondents from 179 countries. She also began a longitudinal study on the impact of COVID-19 in Laredo, TX in March 2020, because this was one of the communities predicted to be most heavily impacted by the pandemic in the United States.

This foresight provides the rare opportunity to follow the impact of COVID-19 on one community from before the area discovered their first local COVID-19 case through the time when they began to lead the nation as the worst COVID-19 hotspot.

A few words from those who nominated Angélique Blackburn:

“Dr. Blackburn has been active in our local community. She was diligent about educating students and community members about social distancing, even before anyone in Texas knew what that meant. She began a longterm study of COVID-19 in March of 2020 because she predicted that Laredo would suffer long-term consequences of the pandemic. This is because Laredo is both an economic hub as an entry point into Mexico and because the Hispanic population is one which is most affected by COVID-19. She also helped to design the GLOBALDiSTRESS COVID-19 survey. This survey was taken by participants from all over the globe and the data is open to all researchers. Dr. Blackburn has worked largely behind the scenes on the project by helping to create the survey and collect data with a team of researchers from around the world. To summarize, Dr. Blackburn has made a large impact, both locally and globally, on our data and knowledge of how COVID-19 has affected the world.”

“Dr. Blackburn was one of the eight survey design psychologists who created the GLOBALDiSTRESS COVID-19 survey, a study that resulted in nearly 200,000 participants from 179 countries. This dataset is open-access, so many scientists have already published results of the dataset. She also started one of the first longitudinal studies on the impact of COVID-19 in Laredo, Texas. Laredo is an interesting case study, as it was the first city in the United States to mandate masks, is one of the cities that has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, and has a large Hispanic population, one of the groups most affected by COVID-19. Laredo is an often overlooked community and suffers from some pretty extreme inequalities. Dr. Blackburn’s project focusing on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemics impact on this population is an amazing contribution to the state of Texas and to the Laredo community. “

Click here to follow Dr. Blackburn on Twitter.

Jill Henning

The Specialists Cohort (Pennsylvania)

Jill Henning (Pennsylvania)

Jill Henning is an Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.  

Early in the pandemic she and her students put together a coronavirus toolkit for businesses, families, and schools that was freely available here.

In March 2020, Editor Chip Minemyer recruited her along with a local physician to answer questions concerning COVID-19.  She made science relatable and engaging answering hundreds of questions. 

The COVID-19: Your Questions feature was picked up by other CNHI newspapers across the country. 

In December 2020, Cambria reached a grave milestone: they were first in the nation for COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita.  That December, Ashlee Kiel reached out to Jill to help with the community effort to educate she was beginning. 

From that meeting, In This Together Cambria was born. This organization along with The Tribune Democrat and UPJ, have been educating residents of Cambria county through questions, webinar series, video productions, and educational materials.  

Her entire goal through this pandemic was to make science relatable and easily understood.  She continues to work towards that goal daily.  

A few words from those who nominated Dr. Henning:

“Dr. Henning has made it her mission since the pandemic began to bring knowledge, facts, and reason to the people of Cambria County. Cambria County is a rural area that did not take much of the pandemic seriously. Dr. Henning was able to reach thousands across the county (and country) with the website (linked below) that she helped build. It is easy to follow and is very resourceful. She has also done countless interviews and webinars answering questions for the people of her community. She has been a leader in Cambria County over the past year, and even through some adversity she has faced, she continues to fight the good fight. She is a true hero to the people of this community, and I can guarantee her drive to spread her invaluable information has saved countless lives throughout the course of this pandemic.”

“We are so lucky to have a resource like Dr. Jill Henning from UPJ in town. Last week she shared questions that adults had been asking and this week she tackled the kids. Through the wonders of Zoom, she agreed to answer questions kids have about the Coronavirus by having her son and niece share their questions. She touched on how the virus spreads, if it “changes”, if take out meals safe, how to properly don and doff a mask and more. She uses clear and amazing visuals to explain the concepts and has a fun hand washing exercise that you can do with the kids. I hope you take the time to watch the whole video and invite your family to watch with you. She’s so upbeat and reassuring! “

Click here to follow Jill on Twitter
Click here to visit the “In this together Cambria” website

Dr. Eleanor Murray

The Specialists Cohort (Massachusettes)

This page still under construction. Check back soon.

Dr. Ellie Murray (Masachusettes)

Dr Ellie Murray is an assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health.

Her research focuses on how to make good decisions using data, and during the pandemic she has turned her attention to helping make sense of and communicate the science behind COVID.

She is the co-founder of the Epidemiologic COVID-19 Response Corps at Boston University, and with this group has conducted research on COVID transmission, evaluated published COVID research to identify errors and reconcile conflicting findings, and developed a series of science communication tools including a webseries and cartoon infosheets. She is also a recurring guest expert on COVID for the BBC World Service.

Click here to follow Dr. Murray on Twitter

Dr. Thomas Chi

The Specialists Cohort (Connecticut)

Dr. Thomas Chi (Connecticut)

I’m an emergency physician in central CT, treating Covid patients on the front lines, and posting on Facebook between shifts. My particular focus is on breaking down the state and county-level data in Connecticut, comparing it with concurrent waves in Italy and NYC, to give my friends and neighbors an idea of how we’re doing overall. I’m also sharing the latest recommendations and expert opinions about PPE, safe behaviors, and safe schools, and combating disinformation.

A few words from those who nominated Dr. Chi:

“Dr Chi posts several times a week about the COVID pandemic in Connecticut specifically, and mines/references several high quality data sources to provide CT residents with up to date information about case numbers, vaccinations, and trends. He shares his information with local town pages despite commenters there targeting him with misinformation, and always remains calm, kind and data driven.”

“Since the beginning of this pandemic Tom has posted informative and useful information to allow people to make informed decisions.He has given updates weekly and link’s to other useful information. I have looked forward to his posts and learned everything I needed to know.”

“Tom has continuously kept the entire Middlesex community and beyond up to date on information from the beginning. His personal research has provided detailed tracking and updates from our area and around the world on an almost daily basis. The time and effort he has put in to keep all of us informed has been phenomenal and so greatly appreciated. We are all so thankful for all he has done.”

Click here to see Dr. Chi’s Facebook page

Lourdes Planas

The Specialists Cohort (Oklahoma)

Lourdes Planas (Oklahoma)

“I am a pharmacist and a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma College of Pharmacy. I teach statistics and conduct research, so I love working with data and creating graphs to tell a story. I’m also a wife and mother of two children.”

“When everything started to shut down in mid-March 2020, like everyone else, I felt isolated and scared about what was happening. Despite the constant reporting of national numbers on news outlets and social media, I yearned to make better sense of the numbers in my state and local region. I felt this was important to help me make decisions to keep my family and me safe.”

“As I searched for and found this information, I began posting daily Oklahoma COVID-19 updates on my Facebook page, including numbers of positive cases, hospitalizations, and deaths provided by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). I created a spreadsheet, which I still use today, embedded with multiple formulas to calculate measures that are easy to understand and graph.”

“On a daily basis since March 2020, I have been keeping track of this data, and will soon have over 365 days (1 year) of data! After posting daily updates on my personal Facebook page for 4 months, I co-created a public Facebook group called Oklahoma Covid Data Junkies. The group currently has approximately 7,200 members.”

“I post daily, weekly, and monthly updates with graphs that are easy to understand, as well as county, city, and zip code breakdowns of the most active areas of our state. A huge benefit of maintaining my own database is that I am able to create graphs that show trends such as ages of new positive cases and deaths on a weekly basis and COVID19-related hospitalizations (including as a % of all hospitalizations, and separating out ICU).”

“What I believe to be the most important aspect of my work is that the data that I post, both in writing and in graphs, are easy to understand and therefore, have a broader appeal to helping people make decisions for the safety of themselves and their families. I feel extraordinarily grateful that something that I started to help me make sense of things has become useful to so many Oklahomans!”

“The group’s members consistently express gratitude for having access to the data and explanations that I provide. It is a humbling experience to know that I’ve helped others, while at the same time helping myself feel connected to my Oklahoma community during this difficult time.”

“As a pharmacist and follower of science, I am supportive of the vaccines that have received emergency use authorization by the FDA. However, I understand that many persons are hesitant about being vaccinated. When I received the Pfizer vaccine in December, I had the opportunity to appear on several local news outlets to discuss not only my personal experience, but also the science behind, and data in support of, the available vaccines. Most of these appearances were with Spanish-language media, since I am fluent in Spanish. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss vaccination data with this vulnerable population because their rates of COVID-19 infections are higher than other groups, and they often have many language and socio-economic barriers to accessing health care and information.”

“Thank you for the opportunity to tell my story and to be considered for this award! Please let me know if you need additional information or have any questions.”

A few words from those who nominated Lourdes:

“Dr. Planas uses her research skills to make posts on the group’s Facebook page. Based on reliable data, these posts have kept me informed of the COVID situation in my state. Also, very valuable links have been posted that allowed me to make my vaccine appointments, as well as appointments for others needing help.”

“Lourdes has kept the members of this group, Oklahoma Covid Data Junkies, informed about county, city, and zip code data. She described the information in a way that is easy to understand. She posts graphs that she developed that are very illustrative. Her information is free of political influence and agenda. This website has helped me make decisions about travel and going to places in my own town. “

Dr. David Blake

The Specialists Cohort (Georgia)

David Blake (Georgia)

I am a PhD Biomedical Engineer, and Med School Professor member at the Medical College of Georgia. Time series analysis and probability and statistics are a substantial part of my training, as has been computer programming, and I am a fan of the statistical epidemiological portions of infectious disease.

I am not an infectious disease researcher. In the pandemic, I first used data science so I could see what was happening in my locale, and in other regions. I then used it to help inform others. Early on in 2020, there were really no places to go for info, for example in April 2020 no one could tell you when cases would peak, or how bad it might be.

The governors of various states made truly absurd statements about their expectations that data science did not support. I realized that by posting daily plots on Facebook and Twitter, I could capture and audience. I mostly feed them daily info and data science, and retweet the most valuable info from professional infectious disease researchers.

As a medical researcher, they are my colleagues, and I seek to support and amplify their important voices in this critical time (and not to compete with them). As the pandemic progressed, info about trends and relative comparisons between regions became fairly commonplace, but there was, and is, a need for those seeking that information to also be pointed in the direction of the near future, as indicated by the professionals in infectious disease. I hope that my efforts have been helpful to my followers.

A few words from those who nominated Dr. David Blake:

“Easy to read charts that’s show spread and severity for all states and parts of Canada. I haven’t seen these data points shown in this way by anyone else and they give me the best visual representation of what’s happening on the ground and the trajectory. He posts first thing in the morning, so it’s always what I look for when checking twitter each day. ”

“Dave has provided graphs and data to the people that follow him on Facebook. It was easy to understand and useful after all the other information sources were messed up by the government.”

Click here to follow Dr. Blake on Twitter
Click here to visit Dr. Blake’s Facebook page
Click here to visit Dr. Blake’s website.