2020 in review: How UB’s faculty, staff and students fought COVID-19

UB students Joycelyn Moss, Philip Sales and Shaina Chechang hold PPE materials.

UB students Joycelyn Moss, Philip Sales and Shaina Chechang hold PPE materials that they, along with a team of other students, created for local dentists. Photo: Douglas Levere

Members of the UB community found an abundance of ways to fight the pandemic in Western New York and beyond

Release Date: December 18, 2020

Throughout the year, as the pandemic and its challenges have changed, so has the response of UB faculty, staff and students.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Last March, Tim Murphy sat in a meeting with a handful of other UB scientists. All were coming to grips with the reality that the research they had built their careers on was, for now, coming abruptly to a halt. Despite that, the conversation that day had a single focus.

“Everyone was asking, ‘How can I help? What can I do?’ To a person, they all wanted to find a way to apply their skills to fighting this virus,” recalls Murphy, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

For the rest of 2020, that attitude has continued to prevail among UB employees, whether they are on the front lines, caring for patients in local hospitals, adapting scientific research to study the virus, transitioning to working from home while juggling homeschooling and other responsibilities, or making up the essential employee workforce on campus, some of whom were profiled in UBNow’s Thankful Thursday feature spotlighting essential workers.

In a year of unrelenting challenges, members of the UB community have worked tirelessly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They cared for patients. They volunteered in hard-hit New York City. They brought clinical trials to Western New York. They conducted research on COVID-19 and its societal impacts. And they answered the persistent need for accurate information by making presentations, publishing articles and translating technical information into language accessible to the media and the general public.

Throughout the year, as the pandemic and its challenges have changed, so has the response of UB faculty, staff and students. It’s impossible to describe them all. In fact, as of this writing, members of the UB community are undertaking new initiatives that have not yet come to light.

Below is a sampling of some of the many ways the UB community continues to work every day to mitigate the effects of this unprecedented chapter in our lives. The media placements listed are just a few examples of the media coverage UB has received during the pandemic.

The pandemic’s early days

In early 2020, UB’s infectious disease experts and health care workers aided the region’s pandemic planning and response, helping hospitals prepare, and treating patients. The UB community also raced to help Western New York ramp up testing efforts, donating supplies and addressing bottlenecks. Students, staff and faculty launched innovative programs to provide personal protective equipment to essential workers, and many also volunteered, delivering meals to kids in Buffalo, providing care in hard-hit New York City, playing bagpipe music for neighbors, and making a Buffalo ‘coloring book’ for families staying at home.

·       The Washington Post: Buffalo braces to become a coronavirus battleground

·       The Buffalo News: Doctor shares lessons from the 'Covid floor'

·       UB News Center: UB’s front line physicians face exhausting, rapidly changing work conditions posed by COVID-19

·       WBFO: Responding to pandemic need, professionals ‘run to where the trouble is’

·       Spectrum News: UB Professor treats substance use amid COVID 19

·       WKBW-TV: UB team develops tests tubes to safely transport specimens of COVID-19

·       Buffalo Rising: MadeToAid coalition delivers 400+ masks and 3D-printed clips to Evergreen Health

·       UB News Center: UB dental students 3D print free face shields for local dentists

Championing public health messages: Wear a mask. Keep your distance

Throughout the pandemic, UB medical and public health experts have devoted countless hours to sharing messages that are now commonplace: Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Stay home if you feel sick. Wash your hands.

Raven Baxter, a scientist, science communicator and PhD candidate in the UB Graduate School of Education, created, “Wipe It Down,” a viral rap music video about preventing COVID-19 spread and recently another rap video on how the vaccines protect us from the virus.

WBFO began to feature Nancy Nielsen, senior associate dean for health policy in the Jacobs School, as a weekly guest to discuss the ever-changing pandemic. Bruce Troen, chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, spoke out about conditions in nursing homes and how the pandemic affected the most vulnerable residents.

Thomas Russo, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine, became such a familiar face on local and national media that The Buffalo News dubbed him “Buffalo’s Dr. Fauci.” Kevin Gibbons, senior associate dean for clinical affairs and executive director of UBMD Physicians’ Group, developed videos to explain how people could prevent transmission of the virus. Many more faculty experts in infectious diseases, medicine and pediatrics stepped up to educate the public and share what they knew.  

·       WIVB: UB helping kids understand coronavirus with chats

·       Huffington Post: 5 mistakes people make when wearing face masks for coronavirus

·       CNN: What health experts want you to know about returning to work

·       WKBW-TV: UB infectious disease experts: stay home for the holidays

·       The Wall Street Journal: Covid-19 battle to intensify as winter sets in

·       Marketwatch: Americans are starting to feel more comfortable eating at restaurants, but experts say to proceed with caution

Addressing pandemic’s racial disparities

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color in the U.S. To address health disparities, UB faculty joined community leaders in a powerful partnership to provide services in Buffalo as cases climbed in Western New York. The effort brought together UB’s Community Health Equity Research Institute, the African American Health Equity Task Force and the Buffalo Center for Health Equity. In addition to these and other local initiatives, UB faculty, such as Henry Louis Taylor Jr., professor in the School of Architecture and Planning, also worked to raise awareness nationally of the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on vulnerable communities, and underlying causes of inequities.

·       WGRZ-TV: UB-community partnership reducing COVID-19 deaths among African Americans

·       WBFO: Coalition works to bring healthy foods to Buffalo's East Side

·       The Wall Street Journal: Black workers in Buffalo face bigger share of coronavirus impact

·       ABC News: 'Mass evictions' on the horizon as US confronts coronavirus housing crisis

·       Quartz: Food delivery during a pandemic exposes the gig economy’s biggest rift

Clinical trials for new treatments

Researchers throughout UB are collaborating on national trials, working with partners across town on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and across the country, to gather the clinical data that will help determine how best to treat patients with COVID-19.

·       Spectrum TV News: UB Launches COVID-19 Antibody study

·       Spectrum TV News: Can melatonin treat COVID-19?

·       WBFO: UB played a part in Remdesivir’s road to approval for COVID treatment

·       HealthNewsDigest: Why does COVID-19 kill some adults but barely affects children?

·       The Buffalo News: Critically ill Covid-19 patients in WNY to start getting new experimental treatment

Modeling the spread

Starting early in the pandemic, faculty, graduate students and fellows from throughout UB came together to develop models of how the pandemic was affecting local hospitals. Led by Peter Winkelstein, executive director of the Institute for Healthcare Informatics, the team is continually refining the models that have become an integral part of the local response. The data in the models are cited often by county officials, local hospitals and health care systems as a way of explaining and understanding the impact of local changes in infection patterns, community behavior, intensive care unit utilization and morbidity and mortality.

·       WGRZ: University at Buffalo data analysis helps guide local COVID-19 response

·       The Buffalo News: UB model urges caution to avert swamped ICUs when Erie County reopens

·       WBFO: Experts state case for masks, continued caution

·       STAT: Health systems are using AI to predict severe Covid-19 cases

Researching novel coronavirus, fighting its impacts

UB researchers, many of whose own research was put on pause in the spring, quickly adapted by focusing their skills on the novel coronavirus. They studied numerous aspects of COVID-19, and UB faculty, staff and students in every discipline have contributed solutions to issues triggered by the pandemic.

·       CNN: Sedentary lockdowns put kids at risk for obesity

·       MedicalXpress: Research finds links between COVID-19 and neuromuscular disorders

·       WBEN: Elder care slipping during pandemic

·       Science Daily: COVID-19 studies should also focus on mucosal immunity, UB researchers argue  

·       WGRZ: UB donates hundreds of reusable face masks and face shields made by faculty and students to the Buffalo City Mission

Understanding pandemic’s effects

In addition to championing public health messages and raising awareness of health disparities, faculty across UB fielded questions from the media and public on COVID-19’s impacts on society. Locally, UB experts spoke to The Buffalo News about toilet paper and kayak shortages, stockpiling, alcohol consumption, raises for grocery workers, remote work, the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on civil liberties, and more. Nationally, UB researchers shared insights on loneliness, comfort food, remote education, the stock market, Zoom-bombing, online chess cheating, and many other topics. These communication efforts helped to shape public understanding of the pandemic.

·       C-SPAN: COVID-19's impact on the gig economy

·       CNBC: Unemployment just hit 14.7% yet the market is way up. Please explain

·       Chronicle of Higher Education: Did the pandemic worsen the campus mental health crisis?

·       Sinclair Broadcasting: FBI warns of 'Zoom-bombing' as teleconferencing use surges

·       National Geographic: Green your stay-at-home routine

·       The Wall Street Journal: The comfort-food recipes we need right now

Media Contact Information

Ellen Goldbaum
News Content Manager
Tel: 716-645-4605