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SDSU researchers are investigating how the pandemic and virus affects people and communities.

SDSU Researchers Examine Pandemic Response and Experience

The final installment of a five-part series highlighting COVID-19 projects at SDSU looks at research that considers how the pandemic affects attitudes, decision-making and behavior.
By Kellie Woodhouse

Nearly a year into the COVID-19 crisis, researchers at San Diego State University are working to better understand how the pandemic and virus affects people and communities.

What do people think of the virus, and how does that impact attitudes, decision-making and behavior? How has the pandemic affected areas like advertising, education and social justice efforts? How have the actions of people and governments affected the spread?

Across disciplines, researchers are tackling these questions as a part of roughly 50 research-driven projects at SDSU related to coronavirus. 

This is the final installment of a five-part series highlighting these projects, which span 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 the Pandemic Experience

An interdisciplinary team of SDSU researchers affiliated with the Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age is collaborating with an international group of collaborators led by Gabriela Fernandez to collect and track information about social behaviors, travel and public health policies during the pandemic. 

SDSU researchers built the “Track IT COVID-19 Screening Tool@SDSU,” a large-scale survey seeking input from respondents worldwide to help track the spread of the disease and provide a clearer picture of how people experience the pandemic. The team wants to help educate public health organizations, decision makers and the public as these groups address policies related to symptoms, social distancing, policy measures and social behaviors related to COVID-19.

Lourdes Martinez, a professor in the School of Communication, is studying information acquisition, beliefs, and attitudes, experiences of symptoms and behaviors of adults who disclose a COVID-19 diagnosis on social media. Findings can help inform the design of future COVID-19 interventions. 

Charlene Holkenbrink-Monk, a doctoral student in the College of Education, is surveying students at a San Diego K-12 charter school to collect and analyze their perceptions of how the school responded to the pandemic. She aims to ensure students and teachers are supported through a new and unprecedented teaching and learning experience.

In a recent study, economist Shoshana Grossbard found U.S. states and European countries where the pandemic started later have experienced fewer deaths from the virus than other countries. This advantage may relate to learning from the success of social distancing measures, including lockdowns. Advantages may also originate from medical advances in  COVID-19 treatment since the virus first spread. 

Analyzing Pandemic Response

Xialu Liu, a professor of management information systems, is using statistical methods to analyze how government actions influence the spread of COVID 19.  

Barbara Mueller, a professor in the School of Journalism and Media Studies, is examining consumer responses toward COVID-19 corporate social responsibility advertisements. Investigators are comparing consumer responses from Germany and the U.S, across four different generations. 

Sociology professor Joseph Gibbons, public affairs professor Josh Channin and SUNY Albany professor Tse-Chuan Yang are looking at how race and ethnicity correlates with enforcement of COVID-19 precautions by New York City police. The trio analyzed non-emergency police service calls to determine where enforcement is more likely to take place and the outcome of the calls. Researchers found that there are more likely to be social distancing violations in areas with higher shares of white residents, but Black and Hispanic areas are more likely to have calls that result in arrests.

Postsecondary Educational Leadership professor Eric Felix leads an 18-month project exploring how COVID-19 affects racial equity efforts at community colleges. Prior to the pandemic, student equity leaders in California’s community colleges developed three-year plans to address pressing outcome disparities. Yet the pandemic has brought a lot of disruption to community colleges, which has influenced planned efforts to close equity gaps for racially minoritized students. 

Using a critical organizational studies lens, Felix is examining how four different community colleges navigate the pandemic, their unique organizational dynamics and the challenges of remote work to sustain, adapt and advance student equity efforts. The project will inform policymakers, state-level actors and practitioners to navigate and advance racial equity efforts in our current social context. The College Futures Foundation funds the project with a $120,000 grant.

Martinez and School of Public Health researcher Eyal Oren published a study in the American Journal of Public Health in October that analyzed tweets during San Diego's Hepatitis A outbreak in 2016 and 2017. Researchers say lessons learned from the outbreak about misinformation during a health crisis can be applied to COVID-19 and possibly stem the current tide of misinformation and reverse direction with proactive engagement on social media.