covid-19 nursing researcher speaking to patientThe global coronavirus pandemic presents unique opportunities and challenges to the faculty at the UCI Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing.

The crisis has altered the way we teach, hold meetings and conduct research. Many of our faculty have pivoted in-progress studies to apply them to our current reality.

Others have started new COVID-19-related studies.

Nursing school research projects

Current COVID-19 research studies at the nursing school include:

Caring for the caregivers

Jung-Ah Lee, PhD

According to California’s stay-at-home order, family caregivers must stay at home with their person with dementia (PWD) 24/7. Before the order, caregivers could send PWDs to adult day services or receive in-home supportive care services.  Caregivers are also reluctant to ask for support from family and friends because of fears of contracting COVID-19.

Jung-Ah Lee’s study involves assessing the caregivers’ emotional state and fears related to COVID-19. They will be provided with stress management tools by phone in their own languages (Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and English).

COVID-19 Vulnerability Scoring System (VSS)

Jung In Park, PhD

The COVID-19 outbreak has led to a need for tools that help clinicians identify and aggressively treat the highest-risk patients soonest.

This isn’t a simple task: There are more than 70 parameters that can be used to separate the risk groups.

Using deep-learning approaches, Jung In Park’s goal is to forecast outcomes and triage the most at-risk patients. The system will eventually result in a web application for clinicians, called a Vulnerability Scoring System (VSS).

Examining the emotional, cognitive and behavioral effects of COVID-19

Alison Holman, PhD

Alison Holman and her team are studying how people across the United States are responding to COVID-19. She is examining fear, worry, distress, perceived risk, media usage and health behaviors in the context of an uncertain and ambiguous environment.

She will also examine how widespread media coverage of the outbreak has impacted the acute stress response and how well news coverage conveyed information that helped people understand the threat. More than 6,000 people across the United States have responded. 

COVID-19’s effect on university students

Candace Burton, PhD

Candace Burton’s study focuses on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on university students. She and her partners are interested in where students get their news on the topic.

They are also interested in racial profiling related to COVID-19 as it affects them and their communities. Currently, 16 universities in eight countries are participating. More are joining regularly.

Remote social interaction monitoring

Amir Rahmani, PhD and Sanghyuk Shin, PhD

This study seeks to understand how COVID-19 risk is shaped by social contacts and activity spaces in the UCI community.

Amir Rahmani and his team hypothesize that there will be social distancing fatigue over time, leading to less isolation, an increase in social contacts and an increase in the range of travel.

This, in turn, may lead to an increased risk of COVID-19. Wearable sensors and remote monitoring technology will be used to evaluate activity.

Reducing and managing stress in young adults

Amir Rahmani, PhD

Amir Rahmani is also studying the challenge that COVID-19 has for college students. He will study the impact of the need for social distancing, anxiety about the illness and uncertainty about the future.

The chronic stress this leads to can have long-term adverse mental health outcomes, including depression, addiction and suicide. Stress management and reduction are critical. This project will use a holistic stress reduction strategy using wearable technologies with a multi-modal lifelogging framework.

Monitoring and managing COVID-19 stress in pregnant women

Yuqing Guo, PhD

The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly stressful for pregnant women.

Yuqing Guo’s research seeks to understand the level of stress pregnant women are feeling right now while providing them with health information and community support.

Trained nursing students will also offer health coaching to assist with stress related to COVID-19.

COVID-19 trajectory projection and infection prevalence

Sanghyuk Shin, PhD

Sanghyuk Shin is participating as a co-investigator in two research projects.

The first is using health and demographic data to model possible trajectories of the COVID-19 epidemic in Orange County. This will include an estimation of the impact of various interventions (school closures, travel limits). The data ultimately will inform local policymakers and public health authorities.

The second will use a tool that identifies a wide range of antibody responses to COVID-19. It will be added to existing research for a flu risk study and will help identify patients who may not be shedding the virus.

This study will shed light on the prevalence of infection and protective immunity for COVID-19 in Irvine.

Prevalence of undetected COVID-19 among healthcare providers at UCI Medical Center

Miriam Bender, PhD, and Sanghyuk Shin, PhD

UCI School of Nursing faculty Miriam Bender, PhD, RN, and Sanghyuk Shin, Phd, are collaborating with Professor Ilhem Messoudi, PhD, with the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, on a biomedical study that is examining undetected COVID-19 in UCI Health clinical staff. The effort also involves researchers from the Departments of Statistics and Population Health and Disease Prevention.

The goals of the study are to:

  • Determine the prevalence and incidence of asymptomatic COVID-19 infection
  • Assess the levels of existing immune response to COVID-19 and its development over time
  • Model dynamics of COVID-19 spread and the development of immunity

The study will provide information about the epidemiology and risk of COVID-19 infection and identify potential risk factors of exposure and infection.

Their findings can impact the response to the pandemic, primarily by proactively implementing safety measures.