COVID-19 Research Forum presents new findings, questions for the future

Four University of Colorado Colorado Springs faculty members presented new findings at the UCCS COVID-19 Research Forum, which took place Feb. 10 in a virtual format.

The research findings span disciplines and present new questions for future exploration. Read more about each researcher’s work and watch their full presentations below.

“Mental Health and Resilience During the Coronavirus Pandemic”

Kristi Samuelson, associate professor of psychology, associate director of clinical training

Samuelson’s research specialty is in the field of trauma psychology. Upon the onset of COVID-19, Samuelson and a team of graduate researchers launched a nationwide study of the effect of the pandemic on mental health. Research findings revealed that psychiatric distress related to the pandemic is prevalent, with about 44 percent of Americans experiencing depression and significant numbers experiencing anxiety and PTSD.

The study also revealed predictors of healthy adaptation to the stressors of the pandemic. The strongest predictor is an individual’s belief that they are capable of coping with the pandemic and accompanying stressors. This finding points to potential for effective public health guidelines focused on personal coping strategies.

Watch Samuelson’s full presentation:

“Old Friends Meet a New Foe: A potential role for immune-priming parasites in mitigating COVID-19 morbidity and mortality”

Tara Cepon-Robins, assistant professor of anthropology

Cepon-Robins’ research on parasitic infection is centered around the hypothesis that reduced exposure to parasites in the modern day can lead humans to be more likely to develop inflammatory immune responses, including allergy and autoimmunity. 

The similarity of these inflammatory responses to those in patients experiencing the most severe COVID-19 cases led Cepon-Robins to examine whether or not a parasitic worm infection could decrease inflammatory response and viral load – in turn, reducing the severity of a COVID-19 infection. Results from preliminary analyses looking at the effects of parasite infection on inflammation in pre-COVID-19 samples are positive and invite future research, though Cepon-Robins notes that individuals should not intentionally seek out a parasitic infection to reduce the virus’s severity.

Watch Cepon-Robins’ full presentation:

“The Uncertainty of Death: The Case of COVID-19”

Mary Ann Cutter, professor of philosophy

Current work by Cutter, who researches on the philosophies of death, dying and bioethics, has brought to light new and unusual death practices that have taken shape during the COVID-19 pandemic. These practices are visually striking and include widespread images of individuals dying away from family and friends, refrigerated trucks carrying the bodies of those who have passed away from the virus and mass graves in Brazil.

Cutter hypothesizes that these practices – as well as the uncertainty of the possibility of contracting COVID-19 – might lead individuals to think more about death and dying than they might have before the pandemic. Cutter suggests that reflecting on the ethics of these practices could inspire more ethical practices in the future.

Watch Cutter’s full presentation:

“Rethinking community approaches to identifying and preventing family violence during a public health crisis”

Gia Barboza, assistant professor of criminal justice, with co-researchers Philip Brown, assistant professor of computer science and Lisa Hines, associate professor of biology

Barboza, Brown and Hines’ research was sparked by the understanding that stressors commonly associated with the pandemic – including housing and food insecurity, unemployment, loss of income, lack of childcare and mental health issues – are correlated with increased domestic violence and child victimization.

The researchers constructed a mathematical model to describe the impact of COVID-19 public health guidelines on potentially life-threatening situations for those exposed to violence in the home. The findings reinforce the importance of policies that protect families from housing instability and other stressors. They also demonstrate how cities can minimize harm to families by targeting resources based on the challenges faced by individual areas and neighborhoods.

Watch Barboza’s full presentation:

View the full research forum online.