In March 2020, when the University moved to distance learning to comply with stay-at-home orders, some WSU Vancouver researchers who were unable to pursue their existing projects turned instead to look at how COVID-19 was affecting various communities.

The new projects are “a lot broader than what people might expect. We are not looking for better testing or a vaccine or methods of contact tracing, but rather the impacts of the pandemic on various communities,” said Christine Portfors,  vice chancellor for research and graduate education.

Researchers quickly pivoted and started new research or expanded existing projects relevant to COVID-19. Portfors’ office matched the researchers in flexibility and creativity. With dollars in hand that, in a normal year, would be allocated in the form of WSU mini-grants, Portfors sent out a request for proposals for COVID-related research projects. Ultimately, she funded $55,000 in projects. Several other new projects had secured or were seeking funding independently.

“Kudos to the people who were able to pivot and do work we were able to fund, and that has real impact on real people,” Portfors said. “They have to be really good researchers to come up with a new study in a matter of weeks and start collecting data.”

Projects led by College of Arts and Sciences faculty include:

Food System Justice Action Research at WSU Vancouver

Steve Fountain, history and Native American affairs, with Desiree Hellegers, English, undergraduate student Ethan Gallegos , graduate student Jude Wait and Lakota-Cheyenne activist, and community-based researcher Roben White

These members of WSU Vancouver’s Collective for Social and Environmental Justice launched the FSJAR program to study heightened food insecurity, which was growing even before the pandemic. Beginning with a survey, the project will expand as funds become available, looking at production, processing, distribution and more in an effort to improve food sovereignty. The ultimate goal is to establish a transdisciplinary food system program at WSU Vancouver that will integrate research, experiential learning, career training/job creation and community service to address the food security crisis and promote food system resilience in the region.

Generating Actionable Insights from COVID-19 Data.

Bala Krishnamoorthy, mathematics and statistics, with Ananth Kalyanaraman, computer science, and colleagues from the University of Virginia

The team is using topological data analysis to generate and study interactive visual maps that help identify incidences of COVID-19 in different geographic regions which can be explained by behavioral similarities, and where key interventions may help explain differences in caseloads. The goal is to identify ways to devise more targeted intervention mechanisms. The team plans to continue the work for at least two years.

Quantifying climate hazards and demographic factors that could compound COVID risks on communities across the Pacific Northwest

Kevan Moffett and Deepti Singh, both in the School of the Environment

Recent studies from around the world have shown that exposure to bad air quality can increase the risk of COVID-19 and exposure to heat extremes can further exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory health conditions. The researchers are using weather, air quality, demographic and socioeconomic data to characterize the factors that compound COVID-19 risks and vulnerabilities of communities in the Pacific Northwest, with the aim of identifying at-risk communities to help inform interventions and minimize risk.

There’s a New Sheriff in Town: COVID-19’s impacts on Rural Justice, Community Health and Inequality

Clay Mosher, public affairs and sociology, with colleagues Jennifer Sherman and Jennifer Schwartz, sociology (Pullman)

Already-challenged justice systems in rural communities have been further strained by the pandemic. Many have released some inmates to mitigate spread of the virus, but little is known about the impact on surrounding communities or what happens to the former prisoners and the jails themselves. Using both quantitative and qualitative data, this project aims to answer the question of how rural jails in Washington state either exacerbate or mitigate social disenfranchisement and marginalization for vulnerable populations and communities, particularly in the context of a large-scale social and health disaster. The research is expected to have policy implications beyond the state.

Economic Stressors and the enactment of CDC- recommended COVID-19 prevention behaviors: The impact of state-level context

Tahira Probst, psychology, with graduate students Hyun Jung Lee and Andrea Bazzoli

The study explores whether economic stressors such as job insecurity and financial strain affect employees’ ability to comply with health guidelines. Read more about behavioral consequences in a pandemic.

Top image: artwork courtesy of WSU Vancouver website.

Adapted from NW Crimson and Gray, WSU Vancouver