Miller School Project to Use Health Data to Develop Strategies for Hard-Hit COVID-19 Communities

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Racial minorities in South Florida — one of the many areas in the U.S. severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. To help develop population-based strategies that can address these inequities, it is imperative to understand which community characteristics are associated with higher comorbidities, worse COVID-19 outcomes, and vaccine hesitancy.

A new project led by Ana Palacio, M.D., M.P.H., professor of clinical in the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’ Department of Public Health Sciences, in collaboration with a group of experts from the Miller School and elsewhere at the University of Miami, will collect information from hard-hit COVID-19 communities to provide tailored communications for their populations. To support the timely project, the researchers were awarded a grant from the Leslie and Loretta Copeland Foundation. Each year, the foundation sponsors and supports projects from organizations and institutions that are passionate about making a difference in the community.

“It is imperative that we evaluate in more depth the actual drivers of COVID-19 disparities across Miami-Dade neighborhoods,” Dr. Palacio said. “This grant will allow us to use novel geocoding strategies to describe community characteristics associated with high COVID-19 risk and to reach out to members of those communities to understand the best approaches to reducing inequities,”

The group of experts working alongside Dr. Palacio will include Miller School of Medicine’s Taghrid Asfar, Ph.D., research assistant professor, David Lee, Ph.D., professor and interim chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences, Leonardo Tamariz, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine, and Zinzi Bailey, Sc.D., M.S.P.H., a research assistant professor, University of Miami’s Abraham Parrish, librarian and associate professor, and Barbara Millet, director of the University’s User Experience Lab and assistant professor of interactive media at the School of Communication.

Comparing impact on different communities

To conduct the project, Dr. Palacio and the team will leverage UHealth resources and compare data of communities that have been the hardest hit with that of communities that have been less impacted. The data will include information on the clinical, social, environmental and economic characteristics of communities. The researchers will also select a sample of UHealth patients who have agreed to be contacted for research purposes from communities that have been impacted differently in order to collect information on vaccine hesitancy.

Databases from UHealth’s electronic health records and the Florida Department of Health will be utilized to collect the data. UHealth’s electronic health records will be used to determine where the individuals live, while the information from the Florida Department of Health will provide information on COVID-19 positive tests. The team will use the geographic information available in these datasets to merge the geocoded social, economic, environmental, census and clinical data.

“This will help report the incidence of COVID-19, hospitalizations for COVID-19 and mortality of COVID-19 across different communities, and compare the characteristics of communities with high burden and low burden of COVID-19,” Dr. Palacio said.

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