The Charger Blog

University of New Haven Professors’ Analysis of Coronavirus Goes Far Beyond Public Health

Faculty members from across the University are joining School of Health Sciences public health researchers in sharing their expertise in areas ranging from the economy and technology to travel and tourism to examine the global impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

February 10, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

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As the coronavirus continues to spread, the resulting concerns in China and around the world are having a ripple effect beyond public health.

The virus, which has killed hundreds of people and sickened tens of thousands more – mostly in mainland China – has prompted evacuations, quarantines, and fears of the virus spreading. While, there have been some cases of the virus being reported in the United States, public health experts in Connecticut report there are no cases in the state and the that the risk of transmission of coronavirus in Connecticut – and across the country – remains low. Still, they advise vigilance.

"The coronavirus outbreak is a major test of our global public health infrastructure and response," said Summer McGee, Ph.D., dean of the University’s School of Health Sciences. "Americans should be prudent in terms of not traveling to infected areas, not panicked. We have much more to fear from our seasonal influenza deaths and illness than from this virus halfway around the world."

The response to the coronavirus has drawn experts outside the public health field to help address its impact.

"Until the disease appears to be waning, financial markets may pause, especially regarding companies that depend on China for production."Patrick Gourley, Ph.D.

Vahid Behzadan, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science at the University, recently spoke with Forbes about the possible role that artificial intelligence (AI) could have in helping to contain the outbreak.

Dr. Behzadan cited research being conducted by Dr. Marzieh Soltanolkottabi, a visiting assistant professor in the University’s Tagliatela College of Engineering, which focuses on the use of machine learning to evaluate and optimize strategies for "social distancing (quarantine) between communities, cities, and countries to control the spread of epidemics."

"My research group is collaborating with Dr. Soltanolkottabi in developing methods for enhancement of vaccination strategies that leverage recent advances in AI, particularly in reinforcement learning techniques," Dr. Behzadan said.

After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global public health emergency, public health officials outlined several recommendations to help respond to the spread of the virus, including reviewing preparedness plans, accelerating the development of a vaccine, and containing the spread of misinformation.

The spread of the virus – and, especially, misinformation – could impact on the health of the tourism industry, says Jan Jones, Ph.D., a lecturer in the University’s Hospitality and Tourism department, who was quoted in a recent Yahoo Singapore story about the WHO declaring a global public health emergency over the spread of coronavirus.

"The WHO alert is going to have a profound effect on all areas of the tourism industry globally," she said. "People will initially panic and think that all travel should stop because typically people don’t get as informed as they could be on the topic."

"Americans should be prudent in terms of not traveling to infected areas, not panicked."Summer McGee, Ph.D.

It isn’t just the threat of a drop in tourism that could impact the global economy.

Patrick Gourley, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics, points out that China is a crucial part of the international supply chain for products that are distributed around the world, and the coronavirus outbreak and resulting quarantines have the potential to disrupt the supply chain.

"China is the key player in the international supply chain for thousands upon thousands of goods," Gourley told EE Times. "‘Made in China’ has become so ubiquitous it is the expectation for many of the durable products American consumers buy on a daily basis."

Gourley also raised a second financial-related concern that is more nebulous.

"China has learned that cooperation and transparency are in their long-term interest," he told EE Times. "At the same time, there is still a question of how transparent China is willing to be. Until the disease appears to be waning, financial markets may pause, especially regarding companies that depend on China for production."