University of New Mexico faculty, staff, students and health professionals are volunteering to use their research skills to gather the latest info in COVID-19 research to share with the governor’s office to help guide decision-making in the pandemic.

The UNM College of Population Health COVID Briefing Task Force creates a spreadsheet of resources to share with the governor’s office each week, says Stephanie Chambers, a public health research scientist and instructor with the college.

“We get a list of hot topics each week and provide the best evidence-based info on those topics,” Chambers says. The information helps Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham decide when and how to safely reopen portions of the state.

The task force is just one example of the valuable services the UNM College of Population Health provides. The College, which trains students to improve health outcomes, is a relatively new college that’s grown so quickly, it doesn’t have a central office space but is instead scattered throughout the Health Sciences campus and the university’s Main Campus.

A new building, called the College of Nursing and Population Health Building, will house both colleges and provide much-needed instructional space, as well as room to grow. The university plans to finance construction with funding from General Obligation Bond C for Higher Education.

GO Bond C, which will be on the November 3 ballot – and will not raise taxes – will provide more than $155 million in higher education funding, including $51.4 million for The University of New Mexico and its branch campuses.

Of that total, $30 million would be used to plan, design, construct and equip a new facility to accommodate undergraduate enrollment increases for the College of Nursing and College of Population Health. Additionally, the initiative would add more than 1,500 jobs to the state’s economy. In turn, their graduates will eventually join the state’s health care workforce.

Earlier this summer, volunteers began gathering the COVID-related information on a daily basis, but there was so much to process, “it was like drinking from a fire hose,” she says.

Since then, the group has evolved into a task force. Annemarie Madaras and Christina Phillips, researchers in the UNM Department of Family & Community Medicine, also lead the group, which is made up of 12 volunteers, each of whom is assigned a database and a news source to follow.

They compile a spreadsheet with each topic, a link to the article and rate the reliability of the info, Chambers says.

Some topics they’ve researched include:

  • COVID and vaping, and whether it causes lingering symptoms in some people.
  • Reopening schools.
  • Delayed medical care or avoidance of medical care due to the pandemic.
  • COVID long-haulers, or people with symptoms that don't resolve in a typical virus timeframe. “They don't necessarily have life-threatening symptoms, but it (the illness) kind of drags on.”
  • COVID in jails and other types of detention centers.
  • Mask-wearing behaviors and general usage.

Tracie Collins, MD, MPH, dean of the College, has said that students trained in population health will be a source of knowledge, expertise and technical assistance who can work across many areas, such as the health care sector, in state health departments and for various other stakeholders.

“By having more space, we’re going to have more students who are going to be trained in population health, who will then be available to the state of New Mexico to go into these remote areas and begin to look at what the needs are,” Collins says. Once that happens, she says, they’ll begin to develop interventions.