Category Archives: #WeAreEmoryEPI

#WeAreEmoryEpi: Meet Alexander Webber

Category : #WeAreEmoryEPI

Alexander Webber is a second-year MPH student in Epidemiology who researches planning and response to parasitic diseases. We got a chance to ask him more about his academic and personal interests!



Tell us a little bit about your academic history/where you went to school.
I received my B.S. in Biology with a minor in Biomathematics from SUNY Geneseo in Western NY.
What are your primary research interests?
I am interested in parasitic disease, and the applications of network modeling in planning and response.
How have you been navigating the work (& learn) from home experience during the COVID-19 outbreak?
It’s not ideal, but I always prioritize mental health over coursework when trying to balance the two. Most importantly, I talk to my friends. I have wonderful friends here at Rollins and I speak to my friends from undergrad almost every day.
Are there any exciting projects that you are currently working on that you’d like to share with us?
I’ve been working as a case investigation team lead with the Fulton County Board of Health since June. It’s been very fulfilling to be involved with local COVID response.
What is your favorite part about earning your MPH at Emory?
The people, hands down. I’ve learned a lot from coursework, but getting to know my peers has been an incredible experience.
What advice do you have for 1st year MPH Students?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and work together. If you’re struggling, chances are your classmates are too.
What books are you currently reading, or what podcasts are you currently listening to?
I recently finished reading “Mythos” by Stephen Fry. I highly recommend it for any other mythology fans out there.
What are three fun facts that you want people to know about you?
1) I have a healthy obsession with Greek mythology…all mythology, really. 2) My idea of a fun night is coding and playing video games (whiskey optional). 3) I love to travel. As soon as it’s safe, I’ll be returning to England and Iceland.



Thanks to Alex for taking the time to introduce himself to us. We’ll be back with another #WeAreEmoryEpi feature next week!

#WeAreEmoryEpi: Meet Megan Mileusnic

Category : #WeAreEmoryEPI

Megan Mileusnic is a first-year Global Epidemiology MPH student and was kind enough to talk to us about her research interests, experiences at Emory, and hobbies!


Tell us a little bit about your academic history

I graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. in 2017, where I studied Communication, Spanish, and International Business


What are your primary research interests?

I’m interested in the social determinants of health, reproductive health, and environmental health.


How have you been navigating the work (& learn) from home experience during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Establishing boundaries in regards to my work/study/relax time has helped me start grad school in a healthy way. Capitalizing on time when I feel productive to get things done – and letting myself relax when I feel like I’m at my limit – helps me stay positive and on track.


Are there any exciting projects that you are currently working on that you’d like to share with us?

I’m so excited to join the hands-on AISH hotspotting program, which connects students with interdisciplinary teams at Grady Memorial Hospital to identify high healthcare utilizers and work with patients to address factors contributing to their frequent hospitalization.


What is your favorite part about earning your MPH at Emory?

I love being surrounded by peers and experts who are passionate about public health and have their own unique interests and focus areas.


What advice do you have for people who may be interested in getting their MPH?

Just go for it, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!


What books are you currently reading, or what podcasts are you currently listening to?

I just started “Women Don’t Owe You Pretty” by Florence Given, and I recently finished “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande – highly recommend!!


What are three fun facts that you want people to know about you?

1. I used to work in human rights and sustainability consulting for leading consumer brands (and could talk about this forever)

2. I studied abroad in Madrid for a year during undergrad and am looking forward to living abroad again someday

3. I love gardening, hiking, and doing almost anything in nature

Thanks to Megan for her time and thanks for reading this week’s #WeAreEmoryEpi spotlight!

#WeAreEmoryEpi: Meet Daniel Milan

Category : #WeAreEmoryEPI

Daniel Milan is a second-year MPH candidate in Epidemiology with research focused on outbreak response and Latinx populations. He was kind enough to talk with us more about his academic and personal interests!


Tell us a little bit about your academic history.

I graduated with a B.S. in Public Health in 2019 from Georgia State University. There, my academic career in public health began with research in tobacco cessation.


What are your primary research interests? 

My primary research interests are now in Outbreak Response and Latinx Populations.


How have you been navigating the work (& learn) from home experience during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Continuously connecting with my friends and organizations I am involved with via Zoom has kept me motivated during this online semester. Additionally, when I struggle to focus at my desk, I will take my laptop and go outside to work.


Are there any exciting projects that you are currently working on that you’d like to share with us?

Though I just began, I have started working on thesis related work. I am utilizing COVID-19 data obtained through my APE with Emory’s Outbreak Response Team.


What is your favorite part about earning your MPH at Emory?

My favorite part about earning my MPH at Emory is meeting other students who come from different academic backgrounds and are in different parts of their careers that have provided valuable perspective into classroom learning.


What advice do you have for 1st year MPH Students?

My advice for 1st year MPH Students would be to create a study group, friend group, or meet anyone with similar interests as you. Make connections. They will help you succeed in and outside of the classroom.


What books are you currently reading, or what podcasts are you currently listening to? 

I am currently reading Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendal. Though I have not finished, I highly recommend based on what I have read so far.


What are three fun facts that you want people to know about you? 

I love baseball, fishing, and eating Korean BBQ!

Thanks to Dan for taking the time to chat with us! Check back with the Confounder next week for another student spotlight!



Emory EPI Responds: Outbreak Response Team (Part 2)

Category : #WeAreEmoryEPI

The Emory Outbreak Response Team has been hard at work since our August feature, continuing to raise awareness about prevention strategies and bringing free COVID-19 testing to underserved communities in Georgia. Since then the team, led by Vice Chair Dr. Jodie Guest,  has grown their community partnerships to include the city of Milledgeville and the Mexican Consulate in Atlanta.1



The rate of COVID-19 among the Latinx population in Georgia has been more than three times the state average,2 so their efforts this summer have provided critical access to testing services. The Outbreak Response Team tested over 500 people at the Mexican Consulate in early August, along with other Emory researchers who conducted additional testing events in Cumming and Warner Robins to address these COVID-19 disparities among Latinx communities. Over the past few months this team of students and faculty has engaged in crucial response activities and expanded their reach, all while maintaining their core focus on supporting communities affected by long term health inequalities and disproportionately burdened by COVID-19.



We recently spoke with two more members of the Outbreak Response Team about what they have learned and reflections on their experience this summer working on the frontlines of the pandemic.


Molly McAlvaney

Molly McAlvaney is also a second year in the EPI MPH program. During her undergraduate degree, she studied public health at the University of Tampa. Afterward, she worked at the American Lung Association for a year before coming to Rollins.


“Our team started working in Hall County, where we also helped deliver lunches and public health messaging about staying safe during the pandemic to school children. Since then our testing events have expanded to other counties and we will continue to offer COVID-19 tests to underprivileged communities throughout Georgia. We’ve also worked on different testing methods to determine which testing methods are the most accurate, as well as testing for antibodies.”


“The most challenging part of this experience has definitely been my struggle to effectively communicate with the primarily Hispanic/Latino population we have been working with. I do not speak Spanish, so I am very grateful for our bilingual team members and the community leaders we work with. It has also been challenging to work outside of epidemiology and having to focus on the health education and communication aspects. It has been a bit of an adjustment, but I have learned a lot about all that goes into providing public health messaging to various communities. It is a very eye-opening and rewarding experience.”


Kyle Lester

Kyle is a second year EPI MPH student, before starting at Rollins he worked as a paramedic for Grady Memorial Hospital. While working as a paramedic, he went back to school and earned his bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University.


“One of the major challenges we have dealt with this summer is the extensive amount of preparation that must be done for each event, which can take weeks leading up to the actual testing event. The planning and coordination between multiple different agencies and municipalities, IRB approvals, and logistics with paperwork, staffing, and supplies has proven to be a multitude of moving hurdles. Yet, when these issues are resolved, and the testing events are successful, the weeks of work behind the scenes are worth it.”


“Coming from a medical background, I have been involved in sample collection at our testing events.  I have also been working heavily on inputting and cleaning data so that it can be stored and analyzed. My biggest takeaway from these events is that I have found my place in the community engagement aspect of public health work. I enjoy the theory that we learn in our courses, but I have always felt that I wanted to take that a step further and see the faces representing the numbers on those slides and SAS outputs. While working as a paramedic, I gained an affinity for interacting with people at the individual level, and I enjoy representing Emory and public health to our participants.”




Thank you for following the Emory EPI Responds series this summer, it has been a pleasure and an inspiration to witness how so many of our students rose to the challenge and contributed to COVID-19 response, applying the skills they have learned in their MPH so far, and developing countless new ones as needs arose. The Confounder Team is looking forwarding to continue highlighting the great work our students do in the coming year to address the pressing public health needs of today!






Image Sources: Twitter, Emory University 

Emory EPI Responds: Students at the Fulton County Board of Health (Part 2)

Category : #WeAreEmoryEPI

Following up on our July feature, the Confounder Team is excited to highlight the great work of more students who spent their summer assisting with COVID-19 response at the Fulton County Board of Health (FCBOH). As you may recall from our first article on the FCBOH, a number of Emory EPI students have been hard at work conducting surveillance activities and contributing to Fulton County EPI reports on changes in COVID-19 trends. While public health as a field has certainly taken on a renewed sense of national importance in the wake of the United States’ struggles to control COVID-19, the multitude of actions that compose local public health work, from collaborations between multidisciplinary response teams to person-person interactions in case investigations, are more vital than ever.


Check out the most recent Fulton EPI report shared by Dr. Neel Gandhi.


I recently spoke with two Emory EPI students who reflected on how challenging frontline public health work can be, especially in the current context, yet how these difficulties have also reinvigorated their passion for this field and commitment to bolstering local response efforts.


Sarah Hamid

Sarah is a fourth year PhD student who studied  Human Biology at Brown University and History, and earned her MPH in Chronic Disease Epidemiology and Global Health at Yale University. Before coming to Rollins, she worked as a regional epidemiologist at the CDC’s Global Disease Detection Center in Egypt, then worked in the Philippines with the Emerging Disease Surveillance and Response unit at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for the Western Pacific.


“I have mainly been working on case investigations and epidemiologic analysis. Doing case investigations gives you an appreciation for how surveillance data are generated and the limitations of various data points, which is important to understand when analyzing the data. In terms of analysis, I have been working with a couple of other PhD students to investigate the impact that missing data on race and ethnicity of COVID-19 cases has on our understanding of the disease burden in specific groups.”

“The pandemic hit suddenly so there was little time for training and preparation before diving into case investigations. Relaying quarantine instructions to case patients can be particularly hard when they make clear that they cannot afford not to go to work. Initially, cases had needs and questions that I, as an epidemiologist, felt unprepared to address, such as how to access unemployment benefits. The FCBOH helped us work through these issues as they came up and found local resources that we could pass on to people in need. It has been very rewarding to support the response in my community.”


Sarah also spent time this summer supporting the COVID-19 response with WHO Africa’s Health Emergency Information and Risk Assessment Unit.  She has primarily been working on COVID-19 epidemiologic profiles and risk assessments to guide countries in the relaxation of lockdowns and reopening of economies through evidence-based decisions.



Daniel Thomas

Daniel is a second year MPH student in the department. Before starting at Rollins, he studied Microbiology at Auburn University where he also worked in an entomology lab that studied integrated pest management techniques in the rural southern US.


“I have had the good fortune to work alongside excellent MPH and PhD-level students and professors at Rollins who have all volunteered their time to Fulton County’s response. As a part of this team, I function largely as a case investigator, reaching out to individuals who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 in order to collect more information about their disease experience as well as elicit their close contacts for further investigation.”

“I wake up each day to an email from our team lead, and Fulton liaison, containing call assignments. After logging into the state’s notifiable diseases surveillance system, I start making calls. The enormous range of responses from the community to the pandemic have been fascinating to witness. By speaking with all of these individuals, I have been fortunate to get a glimpse into understanding the struggles people are going through. Many of the calls I have made have been incredibly draining and taken an emotional toll. However, the strength with which individuals face these challenges has been equally moving.”


Daniel’s experiences this summer has opened his eyes to the many shortcomings that exist within the government and preparedness space and also increased his admiration for local, public health professionals who work tirelessly, often without recognition for their efforts.



Thank you for following along with the Emory EPI Responds series, and next week stay tuned for the final installment in our summer features. We will be revisiting the Emory Outbreak Response Team and hearing from a few more of their members about what they have learned from their experiences conducting field work in Hall County.



InsideAPE: Laken Smothers and Contact Tracing for Georgia DPH

Category : #WeAreEmoryEPI

Laken Smothers is a rising second-year Epidemiology MPH candidate who spent her summer as a COVID-19 contact tracer for the Georgia Department of Public Health. Her academic interests lie in clinical epidemiology, racial/ethnic disparities in healthcare, and infectious diseases. We asked her a few questions about her summer project and her overall experience at the GDPH. 



1. Tell us about your project


This summer I worked remotely as a COVID-19 contact tracer with the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) for one of my APEs. I served within the Rome district which covers several counties in Northwest Georgia. As a contact tracer I interviewed known contacts about their symptoms and tried to enroll them in DPH’s symptom monitoring program, which allowed the public health department to find out if any contacts had a change in their symptom status during the 14-day monitoring period.



2. How did you find your APE?


I found this APE through Rollins and Handshake. This opportunity was presented to us because many students found it difficult to find APEs after the pandemic began.



3. How was the experience? What were some of your highlights and some of the challenges you faced?


In our classes, we often talk about how to communicate our findings to our peers and colleagues within the public health field. We haven’t really covered how to communicate public health information to the general public. This job allowed me to utilize these skills and try to present rather complicated information in a way that most people can understand without a degree in epidemiology. I also learned how to be adaptable while working in an environment in which the fluidity of the pandemic caused me to have to absorb new recommendations or guidelines weekly.


The highlight of this job for me was being able to help out with the COVID response in a tangible way. At the beginning of the pandemic, I felt a strong urge to find ways to get involved despite the fact that I am a student and only recently entered the public health field. For every challenging call where someone hung up on me or spouted conspiracy theories, there were 20 calls in which people were grateful that we were reaching out, providing resources, and answering their questions. This job also motivated me to revive my Spanish language skills from high school. I covered counties with large Spanish-speaking populations and needed to know more than “Hola” in order to do the job well. I am grateful to be able to say that I have had the opportunity to view public health from the perspective of the local health department and the CDC in my public health career so far.



4. How did you survive lockdown this summer?


I have been surviving this lockdown by running and walking outside. Before the pandemic, I would always say that I hate running but now it helps me stay fit and motivated throughout the day. My other secret to surviving this summer has been cooking even though grocery shopping is its own challenge these days. Meal prepping good meals over the weekend is what keeps me going through the week.


Thanks again to Laken for taking the time to share with us! Stay tuned to The Confounder for more student spotlights.


Emory EPI Responds: COVID-19 Journal Club

Category : #WeAreEmoryEPI

When the announcement first came in March that Rollins, like many other educational institutions in the US, would be transitioning to distance learning, a group of EPI students came together, spurred by their desire to better understand the pandemic and maintain connections among their cohort, to form a COVID-19 journal club. With the support of Department Vice-Chair Dr. Jodie Guest and Dr. Anne Spaulding, the group was able to develop their idea of a virtual journal club and turn it into a reality. The journal club provides a space for students to learn more about different facets of COVID-19 response that align with their areas of interest, and practice their presentation skills in a comfortable environment.

The student leaders look for volunteers every week to lead discussions on thought-provoking articles on any topic of their choice. Each week a different member is able to showcase their unique background knowledge and experiences through their presentation, which makes for new and lively discussions every time they meet. Several of the student leaders have described how being a part of this journal club has not only given them a creative outlet to apply their epidemiologic knowledge and helped them to stay current on the latest COVID-19 literature, but also granted them a great opportunity to socialize and support one another during these often isolating times.  



Their group has tackled a wide range of topics since the journal club began in March, including: the cell biology of COVID-19 and possible targets for intervention, validation of a COVID stress scale, a systematic review on the evidence behind face masks and physical distancing, challenges related to social distancing in different contexts, potential zoonotic links for COVID-19,  challenges surrounding surveillance among incarcerated populations, and many more topics to come as the journal club continues through the academic year.



This week I spoke with three of the student leaders of the COVID-19 journal club, Lisa Chung, Clayton Carmon and Nellie Garlow, to learn more about their experiences this summer, what they have enjoyed most about being part of it, and what their plans are for the future of the journal club.



Q: What was your favorite article or discussion so far and what did you learn?


Lisa: I have thoroughly enjoyed every single discussion so far! We reviewed such a wide range of topics on COVID-19 from genetic/molecular background of the pathogen to One Health, racial disparities, risk factors, social distancing, and so much more. We had two presentations on social distancing—one focus on global comparison and another on systematic reviews and meta-analysis of peer-reviewed articles. It provided more tangible results that I could communicate with my friends and family on the importance of maintaining physical distancing.

Clayton: I think the best discussion we had was on an article concerning social distancing and the differences across countries. We had a very good discussion on the challenges of social distancing measures in low-income countries as well as the challenges here in the US across different states.

Nellie: Tough one! We’ve had a lot of great articles, but if I had to choose one, I’d say the one that I can’t stop thinking about was on race and COVID-19 (led by Hillary Bonuedie ’21). It is so critical that we understand how data on race is collected and the extent of missing data when looking at COVID-19.


Q: Has being a part of this journal club or any of the topics you have discussed impacted your academic and professional interests?


Lisa: More so than anything, reading the articles taught me how tightly the work of public health is intertwined with every aspect of our lives and existing infrastructure. As an epidemiologist in training, I hope to carry this perspective forward with me.

Clayton: I wouldn’t say it’s changed my academic interests but, it has very much opened my eyes to the vastness of the field of Epidemiology. It has really been fascinating to see in more detail the many different paths and areas of research one can follow in Epidemiology as well as how impactful Epi can be in the wider world of science, healthcare, and policy.

Nellie: Definitely! Staying up to date on the pandemic has strengthened my interest in infectious disease and has made me more interested than ever in helping out with the response after graduation. On a personal note, I use a lot of the information I learn during journal club to answer questions from friends/family about the pandemic.


If you are interested in joining the COVID-19 journal club this fall, click here to sign up for the list serve and follow the instructions on the flyer below!




Thank you for reading this week’s edition of Emory EPI responds! We are excited to continue to highlight the great work our students have been doing this summer to continue learning about public health work in action and stay engaged, both inside and outside of the classroom. Stay tuned for upcoming features on more students who have been essential contributors in the Fulton County Board of Health’s response efforts and the Emory Outbreak Response Team!



Image Source: Lisa Chung


Emory EPI Responds: Hall County Outbreak Response Team

Category : #WeAreEmoryEPI

The Emory EPI Outbreak Response Team, led by Department Vice Chair Dr. Jodie Guest, has been working diligently this summer to support Hall County’s COVID-19 response through a variety of initiatives. Their efforts have centered around bringing free COVID-19 testing to communities at higher risk of transmission, including Hispanic & Latino poultry plant workers in northeast Georgia and Black communities in rural parts of the state.


Earlier this summer, Dr. Guest wrote a PROspective article in which she explained how relationship-building, actively listening to community members, and intentionally soliciting feedback have been essential strategies throughout her career to successfully engage in community partnerships. Despite having no prior connections to Hall County, when the call for assistance came in, she was able to build a successful partnership based on her work in similar communities by finding a shared goal. They are striving to, “change the course of the COVID-19 epidemic in a hard-hit community that already was struggling with generations of disparities and inequities.”


Click here to listen to an interview with Dr. Guest on WABE about the ‘generational Inequities’ the pandemic has exposed across rural Georgia.


The Outbreak Response Team also includes eight EPI MPH students. They have spent this summer assisting with testing events at poultry plants in Hall County, doing community outreach to increase COVID-19 awareness, and providing support for families who are struggling during this time. Testing events involve a consenting process; conducting lab tests like nasal swabs, blood spots, and blood draws; and providing educational resources to participants. In May and June their team also worked with the Gainesville City School District to deliver meals and masks to children from lower income families. While delivering meals they also distributed educational flyers and activities for parents and children to learn more ways to stay safe and healthy during the pandemic.


Outbreak Response Team
Top Row
(left to right): Dr. Guest, Alicia Jaramillo-Underwood, Kyle Lester, Molly McAlvaney, Saarav Patel; Bottom Row: Zoe Schneider, Nellie Garlow, Danny Milan, Lisa Chung


Despite the challenges of working and communicating with participants in full PPE outside in the hot Georgia summer, this group of students has thoughtfully considered ways to engage with the community and use their public health skills to effectively teach people about prevention strategies. For example, in the last few months many of them have gained a new appreciation for the importance of eye contact and body language when trying to connect with participants while wearing masks.


This week we spoke with two members of the outbreak response team about their experiences working at the front line of the pandemic and what they have learned about community-engaged public health work. 


Alicia Jaramillo-Underwood

Alicia graduated from Georgetown University in 2010 with a psychology major and Spanish minor. After undergrad, she worked a variety of office jobs in Washington DC and Denver before coming to Rollins.


“I’ve been most involved with Spanish interpretation at our testing events, which has been an amazing way to keep in touch with my Colombian heritage. I have also been providing the team with weekly updates on COVID-19 case counts in specific counties of interest around Georgia, giving me basic insights into presenting epidemiologic data.”

“My biggest takeaway about doing community-engaged public health work is how humbling it is. There is a big difference between being in the classroom learning about bias, SAS, and risk ratios and being in the field interacting with people who rely on us for our public health knowledge and skills. It’s a responsibility I never took lightly, but this has brought it to a whole new level.”


As the summer is concluding, Alicia is looking forward to diving into her second year EPI courses and applying what she will be learning about epidemiologic modeling to COVID-19. She is excited to learn about how models are made so that she can better educate her family and friends about the changing trends and predictions surrounding the pandemic.



Saarav Patel

Saarav received his Pre-Med Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Global Public Health, with a minor in Spanish, from New York University in 2019.


“Conducting participant-based, in-person research is one of my passions because of how it allows me to directly connect with the communities we are aiming to help. Participants are able to see me as a friendly face, and I can see them as a human rather than just a row in a spreadsheet. Seeing children excited to pick out a mask in their favorite color or watching friends learn how to properly social distance is what validates our hard work at the end of the day.”

“Working long hours in full PPE on extremely hot days does get difficult, but the impact of our work keeps morale high. I am always excited for another testing day because of how well our team works together, even in the face of the pandemic. This work has solidified my intentions to continue working in community-based research.”


In his second year at Rollins, Saarav is looking forward to starting work on his Capstone and beginning the job search process. In the future, he is hoping to combine the skills he has gained through the field-work this summer with his experience working with urban LGBT populations in sexually transmitted infection prevention.




Thank you for reading this week’s edition of Emory EPI responds, stay tuned for another feature on members of the Emory EPI Outbreak Response Team later on in this series, and for more highlights of the incredible work our students have been doing this summer to put their epidemiology skills to use responding to the pandemic and supporting the most severely affected communities.


InsideAPE: Jacob Pluznik and HIV Testing in Incarcerated Populations

Category : #WeAreEmoryEPI

On this week’s #InsideAPE, we are talking to rising second-year Epi MPH student Jacob Pluznik. Jacob is working with Dr. Anne Spaulding to study HIV linkages to care in the Washington DC Department of Corrections. Read below to learn more!

Tell us about your APE project

For my APE I am working on a study with Dr. Anne Spaulding in the DC Department of Corrections (DOC). We are examining linkages to care for HIV for incarcerated persons and how different testing methods influence these linkages to care after release.


How did you find your APE?

I found out about my APE opportunity from a friend (Epi Rep Tony Mufarreh) who knew I was interested in finding an APE surrounding HIV and spoke with Dr. Spaulding about the opportunity at an EPI bagel breakfast. He then forwarded the information onto me so I could reach out and pursue it!


How has your experience been so far? Has it been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and if so, how are you adapting to those changes?

My experience has been good so far, and I have really enjoyed being able to work on an interprofessional team with so many awesome people who are so passionate about and good at what they do. It started off slowly but has begun to pick up greatly in the past couple of weeks! Originally, the study was put on hold due to the DOC being closed to outside workers due to the pandemic but is starting to open back up for us to go in, collect, and work with our data.


How did you survive lockdown and what’s the first thing you can’t wait to do once it’s safe again?

I survived the lockdown by trying to stay active and exercising and eating well. I also started experimenting with cooking new and exciting meals for myself to have something to look forward to at the end of my days. Once it’s safe again, I hope I can host some of my friends over for a dinner party to show off what I’ve learned.


Thanks to Jacob for his time and for telling us more about his summer APE! Tune in next week for another #InsideAPE spotlight!

Emory EPI Responds: Student Group Distributing PPE at Black Lives Matter Protests

Category : #WeAreEmoryEPI

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge throughout the United States with the number of reported cases and case fatalities rising at alarming rates,1 a concurrent public health crisis has reentered the national discourse. Thousands of people have taken to the streets across the US in recent months to protest the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other Black Americans and raise their voices to demand action against systemic racism.  

At the forefront of this national conversation is the rampant police brutality faced by Black Americans.2 As stated by the American Public Health Association, “racism is an ongoing public health crisis,” that demands the attention and commitment of public health professionals across all disciplines.3 Amongst public health circles, the intersection of prevalent racism and the ongoing COVID pandemic has also shed a new light on existing racial health inequities,4 which have been exacerbated by the disproportionate effect of COVID on Black communities.5


Protests and rallies began earlier during the pandemic not long after the CDC updated their guidance to recommend masks be worn by everyone in public. During this time a greater degree of uncertainty around the seriousness of COVID in the US remained amongst the general public, and thus compliance with mask recommendations varied widely,6 and continues to vary widely, throughout the US.7 Understanding the potential need for additional supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and seeing an opportunity to use their privilege as Emory students to support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement, a group of Emory EPI students came together with the goal of helping make protests and rallies in Atlanta safer for those in attendance.


Rising second year EPI students Lisa Chung and Zoe Schneider spearheaded this effort to gather Rollins students in support of the BLM movement. After reaching out to friends and colleagues in the department to help make this idea a reality, they came together and created a proposal explaining the need for PPE and asking for financial support from the school, which they then submitted to RSPH Dean Dr. James Curran. Department Vice Chair Dr. Jodie Guest, Dr. Allison Chamberlain, Shannon Vassell, and Joanne Williams were also instrumental in helping their group draft a budget and prepare their proposal. The proposal was approved by the Rollins administration within 24 hours, and by the next day Dr. Guest had ordered and received 8,000 surgical masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves for them to begin distributing. After securing the supplies, they put out calls for volunteers to assist in the PPE distribution amongst EPI students and other departments at Rollins.



This week we spoke with three of the student leaders, Zoe Schneider, Brandon Shih and Izzy Kates, that have been involved in the efforts to support BLM protests and rallies through PPE distribution.


Zoe, Brandon and Izzy described how, at many of the protests they attended within the Atlanta perimeter, they found mask adherence to be relatively high. Witnessing such a high proportion of protestors wearing masks was a great success in their view as they felt the best case scenario at each new event was that their efforts would be largely unneeded. They also expressed that the need for PPE distribution has gone down over time as public awareness of the importance of wearing masks, especially in public and amongst crowds, has increased.


Prior to each protest they would reach out to the event’s organizers to collaborate on a plan and discuss possible locations where they could distribute PPE. At each demonstration each of their members would approach people to offer masks and hand sanitizer, then try to educate them about how to properly wear masks, how to fit masks to younger children, and general tips for protecting themselves against COVID while protesting. While they encountered some individuals who were not receptive to their efforts, they stated that the vast majority of people they encountered were supportive and appreciative of their work to ensure that sufficient PPE was available.


Q: What have been your biggest takeaways, as both a student and a future public health professional, from participating in the protests?


Zoe: Especially during this pandemic, it is very easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done. Escaping from my computer screen and working with a team of fellow students reminds me that every little thing we can do to make the world a better place is important. 


Brandon: As a student and future public health professional, the biggest takeaway from this effort has been seeing how important community engagement is. Before every protest, we reached out to the protest organizers to let them know our plan. We asked them if there was a preference of where they wanted us to make their event go smoothly. Most of the time, we were intermingling with the protesters but it was important for us to communicate and show that we were open to their suggestions. We are stronger when we stand united and work together.


Izzy: The best part of every protest for me [was] the marching. Trying to lend our collective voice in support of the protests. Definitely my biggest takeaway from participating in the protests was the importance of centering black voices. And hope. The number of people who showed out was truly inspiring and uplifting. I do believe that there is definitely potential right now for us to re-think some policy decisions that have been made, that disproportionately impact communities of color.


Q: How do you think we as Rollins and Emory EPI students can continue to take action to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement?


Zoe: Be prepared to support the Black Lives Matter movement in the long run. There is no single action that can fix the legacy of slavery and racism in our country. As public health professionals, it is our obligation to continue to educate ourselves and fight against inequity and racism in our research and interventions. 


Brandon: Unfortunately, we have started to see fewer BLM protests coordinated throughout Atlanta and it has been hard to find protests to show up to recently. However, that does not mean we should give up – this is a movement, not a moment. Personally, I have been trying to unlearn my own biases and start reading books that address institutional racism such as The Racial Contract and How To Be An Antiracist. I want to challenge each and every Rollins student, not just EPI students, to engage in similar activities. Regarding what Rollins can do to show support for the BLM movement: we stand behind The Association of Black Public Health Students, Students for Social Justice, and Rollins Student Government Association and their demands one hundred percent. The letter sent to the Dean and other RSPH administration staff back on June 4th details 14 actionable items that Rollins can do now.

*Editorial Update* Dean Curran responded to the letter in a school-wide email with commitments to address many of the needs surrounding these demands in early July and the Dean’s Office continues to work with the above-mentioned student organizations to implement those changes.


Izzy: Of course, we can continue attending protests, posting on social media, calling our representatives. But I think it’s even more important to focus on what is happening internally at Emory – whether we’ve succeeded in providing a welcoming space for our fellow students and faculty from communities of color and whether we are advocating for them to our administration. Showing up is so important. I know I haven’t always managed to do that to the extent of my abilities.


Click this tweet to a watch local news interview with Emory EPI student Lisa Chung about their group’s efforts to distribute PPE.


Thank you for reading this week’s edition of Emory EPI responds, and thank you to all of these amazing students who have been working to empower others to get involved in the BLM movement and make protesting safer for those advocating for racial justice in Atlanta. Please stay tuned for the next article in this series as we continue to highlight the ways in which Emory EPI students are contributing to public health work on the ground and supporting communities throughout COVID-19.




1 Published July 20, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2020.

2 Edwards F, Lee H, Esposito M. Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2019;116(34):16793-16798. doi:10.1073/pnas.1821204116

3 Dr. Georges Benjamin. Racism is an ongoing public health crisis that needs our attention now. American Public Health Association. Accessed July 23, 2020.

4 Bassett MT, Graves JD. Uprooting Institutionalized Racism as Public Health Practice. Am J Public Health. 2018;108(4):457-458. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2018.304314

5 Millett GA, Jones AT, Benkeser D, et al. Assessing differential impacts of COVID-19 on black communities. Ann Epidemiol. 2020;47:37-44. doi:10.1016/j.annepidem.2020.05.003

6 CDC Now Recommends Americans Consider Wearing Cloth Face Coverings In Public. Accessed July 23, 2020.

7 Katz J, Sanger-Katz M, Quealy K. A Detailed Map of Who Is Wearing a Mask in the U.S. The New York Times. Published July 17, 2020. Accessed July 23, 2020.

Image Sources: Zoe Schneider, Brandon Shih, Izzy Kates