City Department of Health Honors Columbia Mailman for COVID Modeling

December 6, 2021

On Friday, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYC DOHMH) honored researchers at Columbia Mailman School for their disease modeling and epidemiology work on COVID-19 that helped inform city policy. The Community Partner Award for Excellence in Response also honored Harvard University and NYU Langone Health. The award was announced at the agency’s annual Distinguished Service Awards ceremony.

Since early 2020, the Columbia Mailman modeling team led by Wan Yang, assistant professor of epidemiology, has worked with academic and NYC DOHMH colleagues to model the spread of COVID-19 in New York City and assess its health risks, demands on the healthcare system, and the effectiveness of various public health interventions. Other Columbia Mailman team members include Jeffrey Shaman, professor of environmental health sciences; Sasikiran Kandula, a senior staff scientist in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences; and Haokun Yuan, staff associate in the Department of Epidemiology.

In recent months, Yang and colleagues characterized the epidemiological features of the Iota SARS-CoV-2 variant of interest that initially emerged in the city. Other studies modeled vaccination priorities based on age, finding an approach that prioritized New Yorkers aged 65 and older would be warranted; found that limiting operating capacity along with other public health measures would limit transmission of the virus; and assessed risk of infection-fatality. On a global scale, the team has also conducted studies on Delta and other SARS-CoV-2 variants that assessed their transmissibility and ability to evade immunity from vaccination and prior infection.

In presenting the award, Celia Quinn, deputy commissioner of Disease Control at NYC DOHMH, singled out the Columbia Mailman team for its work on modeling infection fatality risk and the epidemiologic properties of emerging variants. She said the Columbia and NYU teams “both forecast epidemic trajectory and supported highly sophisticated scenario planning throughout the city’s response so far.”

Quinn added: “Working alongside our surveillance and epidemiology response groups, the innovative research addressed the critical need to improve our ability to forecast and model the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in New York City. Their work provided us timely actionable next-generation public health data needed to make decisions about the COVID-19 response. They completed complex analyses on seemingly impossible timelines, alerted us to concerning trends, and provided clear and compelling explanations of their work to the Health Department and our other local government partners.”

The award ceremony came a day after the City announced its first COVID cases involving the Omicron variant. Wan Yang says she will continue to work with partners at the NYC DOHMH to conduct research on SARS-CoV-2 to help inform policies to protect New Yorkers.  

“It’s an honor to receive this award,” says Yang. “We are glad to be able to work with colleagues at the Health Department and with other academic partners, and to contribute to the city’s response to this ongoing health crisis.”