Project gives residents say in COVID-19 decision-making

The logo of Penn State CTSI

A research project allows residents of Penn State main campus's home county to share their pandemic experiences and participate in decision-making as the region moves forward. 

Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute is supporting Centre County COVID-19 Data 4 Action Project. The institute is providing both staffing support and the resources and services it provides the University. Penn State Social Science Research Institute and Penn State Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences are sponsoring the research.

“As a collaboration among three Penn State cross-University institutes within the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research, the Data 4 Action Project exemplifies interdisciplinary team science and is core to the mission of our Clinical and Translational Science Institute,” Susan McHale, Ph.D., associate director of Clinical and Translational Science Institute and director of Social Science Research Institute, said. “This project also highlights the role of the University's land grant mission in its focus on improving health in our communities.“

As its first project, Centre County COVID-19 Data 4 Action Project personnel are conducting an anonymous survey to document how the pandemic is affecting Centre County residents’ lives and their experiences as they return to work and school. This survey uses REDCap, Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute’s research data collection tool. The REDCap tool helps researchers create surveys and securely stores and protects the survey responses. 

 “The Data 4 Action community survey is a way to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and allow them to participate in the decision-making process of our community and University,” Meg Small, Ph.D., assistant research professor, Penn State Social Science Research Institute, said.

Small and Matthew Ferrari, Ph.D., Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences Career Development Professor and associate professor of biology, are working with local government and community groups to understand the health, economic, educational and social effects of the pandemic on Centre County. Their work will continue over the next two years. A second survey for Penn State students returning to campus and Centre County residents will track effects over time.

“As the students return to campus, and our regional population increases, Centre County will no longer be isolated from the coronavirus outbreak,” Ferrari said. “This project will allow us to follow changes over time, and help local government officials and Penn State administrators make decisions about the right actions to support the health and safety of Centre County residents and Penn State students.”

Researchers may invite survey participants to participate in a follow-up multi-year study collecting additional data, including virus and antibody testing. Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute's Clinical Research Center at University Park will conduct this testing. Clinical research centers, located at both University Park and Penn State College of Medicine campuses, provide infrastructure for research with people. The centers employ nursing staff who can assist with blood testing and medicine administration, among other healthcare-related services, for research studies.

“Clinical Research Center at University Park is a key resource for Data 4 Action,” McHale said. “Our Clinical Research Center staff's expertise and dedication and the center’s established infrastructure mean that we will be able to efficiently and safely collect the data we seek from Centre County residents and Penn State students who will be involved in our project.” 

This biological information will help local leaders to stay more informed while making public health policy decisions as the pandemic continues to evolve.

"The voluntary biological survey will involve testing both before and after the University resumes operations," said Ferrari. "We'd like to document social and economic impacts alongside biological data to guide our community leaders. Without an effort like this one, decisionmakers are forced to make very important decisions about public health and safety in the dark. We want to bring local data to the table to inform local decisions."

Researchers will summarize the Data 4 Action Project results for the community and University.

“We want to use our expertise and our world-renowned research centers to move the community forward as safely as possible during these unprecedented times,” Ferrari said.

Publishing CTSA Program Hub’s Name
CTSA Program In Action Goals
Goal 2: Engage Patients and Communities in Every Phase of the Translational Process