May 18 2020

Columbia Public Health Responds to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Since the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was first identified in Wuhan, China in late 2019, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health has been working on multiple fronts to respond to the spread of the virus. Our experts are conducting research that informs the public and policymakers; collaborating with government authorities on pandemic response; advising Columbia University leadership on contingency planning; providing insights to credible news sources; and mobilizing volunteer efforts.  

Our research spans work to better understand the virus and how it is transmitted; to project its spread and identify vulnerable communities; to develop diagnostic tests and therapies; and to assess the U.S. and global health systems’ preparedness.

As of May 18, the School’s efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic include:

Diagnostics and Treatments

  • The Center for Infection and Immunity (CII), under the direction of Ian Lipkin, is currently working on rapid and reliable tests to diagnose COVID-19 and to identify sources of transmission. A new diagnostic, called the C3 Test, is ultra-sensitive, highly accurate, quickly scalable, and delivers rapid results.

  • CII is leading studies to test how blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors can be used to prevent infections in unexposed healthcare workers and first responders, high-risk individuals, and close contacts of COVID-19 patients, and whether it can treat COVID-19 patients with severe disease. The research is funded with $2.5 million in support from Amazon.

Data Projections and VisualizationS

Global Response

  • Ezra Susser and a team of students launched a mental health study of frontline health care workers in more than 20 countries around the world. The study will survey thousands of clinicians and support staff to screen for signs of acute stress, substance use, anxiety, and depression, as well as physical symptoms and the availability of social supports.

  • ICAP at Columbia, led by Wafaa El-Sadr is partnering with nations in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond to provide capacity building for healthcare workers, contact tracing, fever clinics, mobile health brigades, and more.

Animal-Human Transmission


  • Diana Hernandez and Markus Hilpert testified to the New York City Council on the social and environmental determinants of COVID-19 disparities in communities of color. Hernandez and Hilpert and Michaela Martinez led a media briefing on the topic.

  • Merlin Chowkwanyun authored a New England Journal of Medicine article about how this context is crucial to the understanding of COVID-19 disparities.

  • Sara Abiola is leading research on the state-level implementation of SNAP, a USDA program that provides nutrition benefits for needy families, in the context of opportunities to expand access during the pandemic.

Education and service

Expert commentary

  • Numerous faculty have provided expert commentary to the media and in online forums on many public health dimensions of the pandemic, such as how we can protect ourselves from infection, the stress on health systems, xenophobia and discrimination, mental health, and vulnerable groups, such as low-income Americans, incarcerated populations, children and older adults, and victims of domestic violence.