The indirect health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are wide-reaching. Increased sedentary lifestyles, decreased access to health care, and fewer social outlets have resulted in both physical and mental health challenges for many people. In an effort to encourage better health for Tennesseans, faculty and staff at UT have been conducting research on a wide range of topics, including testing wastewater for the SARS CoV-2 virus, the impact of the pandemic on substance abuse among young adults, healthy lifestyle choices, and even providing access to veterinary care during the pandemic.
Microbiologists Help UT Navigate the Return to Campus Amid COVID-19
UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Microbiology and Civil and Environmental Engineering Frank Loeffler and UT-ORNL Graduate School of Genome Science and Technology Director Albrecht von Arnim are leading a team from the College of Arts and Sciences that is designing a pooled saliva testing program to track COVID-19 as students return to campus.
Pooled saliva sampling works by combining individual saliva samples together—from residents of a floor in a dormitory, for example—increasing throughput and allowing for testing more people, thereby saving time and resources.The pooled sampling process protects individual identities, but will inform people who are part of a cohort that included a positive test result to seek individual testing in the Student Health Center.
Wastewater Monitoring Plan Could Keep Campus Safe From COVID-19
During his career, Terry Hazen, joint UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Environmental Biotechnology, has consulted about oil-eating bacteria for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, helped officials understand the threat from exposure to deadly anthrax spores, as well as the environmental threat from a form of pneumonia called Legionnaire’s disease. Beginning this fall, Hazen’s research team will help UT monitor the wastewater of most of the campus buildings, including all of the student dormitories, to potentially monitor 30 buildings per week. Wastewater analysis can detect whether the SARS CoV-2 virus is present, which is the organism that causes COVID-19.
Secure Data Access Allows for Virtual Hospice Care During Pandemic
For the past two years, the pediatric end-of-life research group in the College of Nursing has partnered with UT’s Office of Information Technology to prototype and test the development of a secure research enclave. This secure data environment allows for remote access, which enabled the team to continue working uninterrupted on an NIH R01 grant during COVID-19.
UT Nurse Encourages Healthy Lifestyle Choices during Pandemic
For over 30 years, Robin Harris, clinical associate professor in UT’s College of Nursing, has been caring for patients with cardiovascular disease. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, she is encouraging individuals with cardiovascular disease to practice a heart-healthy lifestyle, such as eating foods low in saturated fats and cholesterol, increasing physical activity, and avoiding tobacco, to decrease modifiable risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular events..
Harris says that making these healthy lifestyle choices is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that “by keeping ourselves healthy, we are better prepared to keep our families healthy and better able to protect others in the community.”
The group developed a new partnership with a children’s hospice in Scotland and published an article in the Journal of Pain and Symptom management about their experience transitioning services to virtual hospice care in response to COVID-19. They also had another article accepted in Health Affairs that demonstrated how state-level Medicaid guidelines for children in hospice care were implemented over time.
Researchers Study Effects of COVID-19 on Substance Abuse Among Young Adults
Researchers from the College of Social Work have received two awards from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to study the effects of COVID-19 on substance use—particularly cannabis and tobacco smoking and vaping—among young adults with cannabis use disorder.
Compared to other age groups, young adults (ages 18–25) have the highest rate of cannabis use disorder (CUD) and are the least likely to seek treatment. Betsey R. Bush Endowed Professors Michael Mason (Children and Families at Risk) and Doug Coatsworth, (Behavioral Health), have developed a text-delivered cannabis use counseling program, Peer Network Counseling-txt (PNC-txt). Their project will test the efficacy of PNC-txt on cannabis use cessation with 1000 young adults with CUD.
Building on the PNC-txt project, Mason and Coatsworth hope to understand the health risk effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on young adults with CUD by assessing participants from Tennessee and Colorado every few months using surveys and urinalysis.
Grant Extends Veterinary Care Program to Hard-Hit Nevada Residents
AlignCare grew out of concern for the millions of pets in the United States that lack access to veterinary care, primarily because of their family’s limited financial resources. This crisis has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in Nevada, which has experienced more job losses than any other state.
Michael Blackwell, lead investigator and former dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, has secured another grant from the Dave and Cheryl Duffield Foundation to extend the AlignCare program to assist families in Nevada with pet healthcare costs.