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Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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The Research HUB offers six areas of collected data, including vulnerability maps and San Diego ZIP code maps. The Research HUB offers six areas of collected data, including vulnerability maps and San Diego ZIP code maps.

Tackling COVID-19 in San Diego: SDSU Projects Address Vulnerable Communities

The third installment of a five-part series highlighting nearly 50 COVID-related projects at SDSU considers efforts to address vulnerable populations in the San Diego region.
By Kellie Woodhouse

As the coronavirus pandemic ushered the U.S. into a health crisis the likes of which the country had not seen in over a century, San Diego State University quickly leveraged faculty expertise and deep-rooted local connections to help the San Diego region weather the virus. 

Faculty worked with local government and health agencies, nonprofits and health care providers to build large-scale programs that promote testing, contact tracing and vaccine uptake among hard-to-reach groups. Meanwhile, several projects seek to understand COVID-19’s impact on San Diego’s vulnerable communities and to map critical information necessary to address COVID-19 head-on. 

“Our work locally helps mitigate the pandemic in San Diego, significantly reduce health disparities, improve health outcomes, and provide insight into how our community is dealing with this crisis,” said Interim Vice President for Research and Innovation Hala Madanat. “I am so proud of how many SDSU faculty have risen to the occasion during this difficult time.”

This is the third in a five-part series highlighting dozens of COVID-related projects taking place at SDSU. The work spans all seven of the SDSU’s academic colleges as well as the university’s Imperial Valley campus. 

For information on all COVID-19 related research, visit

Understanding local impact 

Shawn Flanigan and Megan Welsh, professors in the School of Public Affairs, are surveying unsheltered homeless individuals to understand how people are coping and surviving during shelter-in-place orders, which have disrupted access to needed services and resources. A $16,050 grant from the California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program funds the project. 

Psychology professors Gregory Talavera and Linda Gallo are studying the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upon the health and well-being of Latinx residents of San Diego’s South Bay region. The research team is surveying some 2,200 participants on the psychosocial and socio-economic impact of the pandemic, as well as COVID-19 health status, testing, hospital admissions and recovery.  

Eyal Oren, a professor in the School of Public Health, is working with clinical partners in San Diego to collect information on COVID-19 cases in order to understand who is more likely to test positive for COVID-19 depending on such characteristics as age, gender, ethnicity or occupation. The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency funds his $15,000 project. 

School of Public Health researchers Richard Gersberg and Goran Bozinovic are studying COVID-19 shed into San Diego wastewater. A local water district funds the $4,000 project. In other areas studies have demonstrated a correlation between concentrations of SARS-CoV-2 wastewater and COVID-19 clinical case reports. The researchers are analyzing historical wastewater samples from the San Diego region and correlating results with clinical case data provided by the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency for evidence of past and future SARS-CoV-2 circulation.

Ramping up testing 

School of Public Health faculty Guadalupe Ayala and Kristen Wells are leading a project to encourage participation in efforts aimed at minimizing and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in vulnerable communities. They will create a multi-channel communication campaign to promote COVID-19 testing, vaccine trial enrollment and vaccine uptake and identify hard-to-reach patients in San Diego and Imperial counties. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities funds their $200,000 project.

Oren, Madanat and their public health colleague Susan Kiene are leading a $5 million National Health Institute-funded project to increase uptake of testing in underserved communities. In San Diego, Latinx residents are three times more likely than white residents to become infected with the disease, and they account for 61% of local hospitalizations, according to county figures. The research team is working to curb these disparities and improve outcomes for underserved communities. The effort, dubbed “Communities Fighting COVID!,” aims to test 42,000 people in 14 months.

SDSU’s School of Public Health is collaborating with the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency to advance the county’s COVID-19 contact tracing program in underserved communities. The $3 million project, led by public health professor Corinne McDaniels-Davidson and Madanat, allows SDSU faculty to train and recruit community health workers to support the county’s disease control activities and to identify individuals believed to have come into contact with those diagnosed with COVID-19.

Mapping local resources

Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age director Ming-Hsiang Tsou and geography colleagues developed a comprehensive resource database to help monitor and visualize outbreak patterns in San Diego County using big data, GIS and social media. The Research HUB offers six areas of collected data, including vulnerability maps, San Diego ZIP code maps, timelines that track major policies and events for 16 major cities, and SMART dashboards that use social media and keywords to monitor real-time information. The “Vulnerability Map,” developed by an undergraduate student, visualizes and maps diabetes-related emergency department discharge information by age and location in San Diego County.

Stuart Aitken, director of SDSU’s Youth Environment Society and Space (YESS) program, and a group of graduate students created a clickable resource map for children and families living in La Mesa and Spring Valley. The map enables a spatial search for resources such as emergency childcare, shelters and food banks; as well as important resources such as public transit, parks and schools. The resource is based on UNICEF’s emergency response strategies under the organization’s Child Friendly City initiative. 

Next in this series: Mental health