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


Evaluating Airborne Transmission Pathways for COVID-19

Professor Emeritus Bill Nazaroff

Professor Bill Nazaroff is part of a worldwide group of aerosol scientists to inform the World Health Organization (WHO) on its public health guidance, based on an evaluation of the evidence as to whether airborne transmission of COVID-19 is real and important. Already, several publications have been released about the group's findings. Most recently, It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19 provides evidence that the virus can spread indoors through lingering aerosols. It has garnered attention from not only WHO, but The New York Times and The Washington Post. In response, WHO has released an educational poster that acknowledges the risk of airborne transmission, advising individuals to Avoid the Three C's (crowded places, close-contact settings, and confined and enclosed spaces). 

Another article, published in Environmental International, advocates recognizing the importance of indoor airborne spread. And a forthcoming article, currently submitted for peer review, analyzes the Skagit Valley Chorale superspreading event

In addition to Nazaroff, alumni Shelly Miller and Linsey Marr are researchers in the group, professors at CU Boulder and Virginia Tech, respectively. Professor Allen Goldstein is also included as one of the 239 signers of It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19.



Monitoring COVID-19 Prevalence in Municipal Wastewater

Professor Kara Nelson

Professor Kara Nelson is leading a multidisciplinary group of UC Berkeley researchers and working with the East Bay Municipal Utility District to accurately track COVID-19 at wastewater facilities. By measuring levels of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in wastewater, the team will track the virus among many thousands of people by testing a sample from a single collection station.

The results will determine which strains of the virus are present in a given community, and whether new strains are being introduced from other regions due to increased contact and travel. When paired with clinical data, this information will provide a more complete picture that can be used by health authorities and decision makers as shelter-in-place restrictions are modified. The detection of new strains will also help identify novel pathogens that may threaten to cause future epidemics.

For this research, Nelson's team has received funding from the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) and UC's CITRIS COVID-19 Response.



Electro-Clean: Affordable Disinfecting-Liquid for Use in Developing Countries

Professor Ashok Gadgil

Low-income households in the developing world do not have access to affordable disinfecting liquid to protect themselves from COVID-19 transmission through contaminated surfaces. Professor Ashok Gadgil's research group is modifying a well-known process to use materials common in the developing world to produce a low-cost, effective disinfectant in a majority of low-income communities. The water-based disinfectant can be produced with an anode from carbon rods from D-cell batteries or carbon-welding rods, cathode of stainless steel, a table salt solution, and a cellphone charger. 

Gadgil's team is collaborating with fourteen partners in nine countries, and hopes to publish and translate its findings for wide distribution and public use.  The nine countries include Mexico, El Salvador, Colombia, South Africa, Nigeria, Uganda, India, Philippines, and the US (via the territory of Puerto Rico).



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.



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.

Published 04/03/2020