CEE Faculty Actively Contributing to Solutions to the Current COVID-19 Pandemic

A Data Scientific Approach to Coronavirus Surveillance: Application to Re-Opening UC Campuses

Professors Scott Moura and Raja Sengupta

The University of California consists of 285,000 students across 10 campuses. In order to re-open operations, we require a data-driven surveillance system for early warnings of localized outbreaks. This project leverages data scientific methods to model, survey, and mitigate potential outbreaks within large organizations. The researchers focus on student populations and course networks, modeling contact networks over course schedules to determine which courses should move online. The methods developed will scale to other large organizations, thereby providing a toolkit for societal leaders to re-open operations.

This project was awarded seed funding through the UC's CITRIS COVID-19 Response.



Social Distancing and Sheltering in Place: Using a Nationwide Smartphone Panel with Location Data to Understand Population Heterogeneity and Inform Intervention Methods

Professor Joan Walker (with Professors Daniel Chatman and Daniel Rodriguez)

Recent studies of household responses to COVID-19 have failed to collect data on the underlying structural and economic factors that condition people’s ability to comply with social-distancing and shelter-in-place rules. Such data are needed to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and to safely begin to open the economy. This project uses a unique sample of more than 100,000 U.S. mobile phone users, taking pre- and post-COVID movement data to measure changes in household activity patterns and correlate those with baseline demographics such as household income, household size, and race/ethnicity. Over a minimum three-month period, the researchers will survey a sample of individuals to measure economic well-being, mental health, personality, political orientation, and barriers to sheltering, as well as document changes in activity patterns. This novel research will enable future work on experimental interventions delivered via smartphones to improve compliance.

This project was awarded seed funding through the UC's CITRIS COVID-19 Response.



Strain-Level Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 and RNA Viromes in Municipal Wastewater

Professor Kara Nelson (with Professor Jillian Banfield)

A growing number of international researchers is exploring the use of wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) to track the spread of COVID-19 via sewage surveillance. This project brings bioinformatic expertise and experience with high-quality experimental design to bear on this problem. The researchers will collect wastewater samples at treatment facilities around the Bay Area, quantify SARS-CoV-2, and recover genomes that can be used to track the spread of the disease at the level of individual strains. This effort will yield data that could be used to monitor community infection levels as shelter-in-place orders are lifted and to detect future reintroductions of the virus. The work will also contribute to the development and cross-validation of methods needed by the global WBE research community.

This project was awarded seed funding through the UC's CITRIS COVID-19 Response.



GetMePPE – Bay Area

Professor Scott Moura

Professor Scott Moura has partnered with the volunteer organization #GetMePPE to distribute donations of personal protective equipment (e.g. N95 respirators, gloves, face shields) to health care facilities in need. In particular, #GetMePPE serves facilities that receive less support from governments.

Professor Moura, PhD student Dylan Kato, and collaborators at Santa Clara University have developed the logistics algorithms and software to coordinate pick-up and drop-off of PPE donations. A donator submits the PPE they wish to donate in an online form, this gets transferred to an algorithm which optimally distributes the PPE, and the tasks are allocated to volunteer drivers. To enable rapid deployment, the algorithms and software are largely based off lab exercises from Professor Moura's courses, CE 191 and CE 186.



Smart Pandemic Management

Professors Raja Sengupta and Joan Walker

A growing number of epidemiologists are advocating for smarter pandemic management, which would move the frontier of quarantine out into communities with monitoring and proactive testing. Smart pandemic management (SPM) requires a data infrastructure that obtains the right data about its population, and processes it into risk metrics about each individual.

Professors Raja Sengupta and Joan Walker are part of SPM@Berkeley, a team working with tech companies to build the data infrastructure. SPM@Berkeley is looking for partners that can operationalize the infrastructure within target populations, as the path to rapid acquisition lies through community networks, corporations with employee and client networks, social networks, or public messaging.


Evaluating Airborne Transmission Pathways for COVID-19

Professor Bill Nazaroff

Professor Bill Nazaroff (CEE Emeritus) is part of a worldwide group of about 40 aerosol scientists to inform the World Health Organization on their public health guidance based on an evaluation of the evidence as to whether airborne transmission of COVID-19 is real and important. As a part of this effort, they are doing a retrospective analysis of the outbreak that occurred in a choir practice in Washington.



Safeguarding our Livelihoods and Economic Well-Being in the Time of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Professor Marta Gonzalez (CEE and CRP)

While on the public health front we battle the COVID-19 pandemic, it is necessary to establish behaviors that avoid the spread of the virus, while facilitating a situation in which people can return to work, family duties, and social lives. Professor Marta Gonzalez has proposed data enabled research that combines sources from the private and public sectors to map the connections between individual households and their vital urban space. The goal is to pinpoint the economic impact of social distance on the population, business and employment centers by sector. Having these maps is the first step to detect vulnerable fronts towards stabilizing the urban economies, through public-policy responses.



Detecting and Treating COVID-19 in Wastewater

Professor Kara Nelson

An article released by Independent News features Professor Kara Nelson on the surveillance of Covid-19 in sewers to monitor the virus's prevalence in communities. Professor Nelson also shares her expertise with the Public Policy Institute of California, providing commentary on the efficacy of our wastewater treatment systems to kill the Covid-19 pathogen.

A new study found that traces of Covid-19 in sewage systems preceded reported cases of the virus in the Dutch city of Amersfoort. Additionally, a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that swabs from patients' noses and throats came back negative for traces of Covid-19, even after samples from their phlegm and feces tested positive. These findings suggest that testing at wastewater facilities could serve as an early indicator of Covid-19. According to microbiologists, wastewater testing could also supplement clinical surveillance of patients, or signal the re-emergence of the virus after a major outbreak is contained.



Published 04/03/2020