SPHHP Faculty and Alumni Work to Reduce N.Y.’s High Rate of COVID-19 Cases, Deaths

Illustration of a web of contacts of infected person.

Published June 1, 2020


Public Health program faculty and alumni have joined the New York State Department of Health to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state, which are the highest in the nation. New York aims to double the number of tests conducted each day by hiring teams of contact tracers to work with local health departments across New York. Faculty throughout the State University of New York System are assisting by interviewing candidates for the contact tracing teams, including Sarahmona Przybyla, PhD, assistant dean for undergraduate public health programs at the University at Buffalo.

“The field of public health is experiencing unique challenges in our communities with the COVID-19 pandemic. I was interested in volunteering to serve as an interviewer as a way to bring my public health experiences and interviewing expertise, to help strengthen workforce capacity in support of the state’s response to the pandemic,” said Przybyla. Her experience in HIV prevention through pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) positions her well to identify candidates who can best help local health departments in this initiative.

UB public health graduates also joined the initiative as contact tracers and team supervisors. Marissa Kawyn, an epidemiology graduate and newly hired contact tracer, stated that addressing different public health crises such, as this pandemic, is the reason she pursued a career in public health.

“Seeing such a crisis hit very close to home can be difficult to wrap your head around. I believe in this role I can apply my knowledge and skills from an epidemiological perspective to remain resilient in this fight to help my neighbors and community,” she said.

“Coronavirus has hit New Yorkers particularly hard, but we have been trained for this and we are up for the challenge,” according to Tom Forrester, a newly hired team supervisor who recently completed his master of public health degree at UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions. Tom conducted disease surveillance with two local health departments during his studies and brings years of supervisory experience in health care delivery to his role as team supervisor.