Population Health Initiative-funded COVID-19 rapid response final reports

Department News | February 25, 2021

The University of Washington Population Health Initiative funded 21 COVID-19 rapid response grants to faculty-led teams in April 2020, two of which included faculty members from our department. Highlights of each are below.

WA State COVID-19 Pregnancy Collaborative  
Amritha Bhat, MD, MPH, was an investigator on this proposal along with collaborators in the departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Global Health, Biostatistics and Pediatrics. Their objective was to investigate the effects of a highly communicable infectious disease leading to severe pneumonia and death (COVID-19) in pregnant women in Washington State. Pregnant women are typically a highly vulnerable group to pathogenic respiratory viruses and have the highest WHO priority for influenza vaccination in a pandemic.

The team’s central hypothesis was that COVID-19 infections in pregnancy increase the risk for spontaneous abortion, preterm birth, stillbirth, intrauterine growth restriction and mental health disorders in the mother. They conducted a multi-site prospective chart review of prenatal and neonatal medical records across the majority of health systems in Western Washington (6 hospitals/hospital systems, >20 investigators). Overall, the Washington State COVID-19 in Pregnancy Collaborative sites captured approximately 61% of deliveries in Washington State during the study period.

The team successfully collected data to establish a large, population-based registry in Washington State. Analyses have been completed of the sociodemographic and clinical outcomes of 240 pregnant patients who contracted COVID-19. Work remains ongoing to calculate infection rates, disease severity, co-morbidity, symptom length and possible vascular injury that could impair fetal growth.

The team will continue working toward research to determine how COVID-19 impacts maternal-child physical and mental health. Further grants have been applied and awarded from the Center of Disease Control, Royalty Research Fund and partnerships with Washington State Department of Health.

The Staying in Touch and Engaged Project
The “Staying in Touch and Engaged Project” (STEP) led by Seema Clifasefi, PhD, and colleagues at Washington State University and the Downtown Emergency Service Center aimed to support Housing First residents in staying in touch with researchers and in engaging in meaningful activities during the COVID-19 outbreak and social distancing directives. A 16-week, two-group randomized controlled pilot trial compared remote assessment of substance-use and health-related quality of life assessment paired with immediate versus delayed provision of remotely delivered meaningful activities. The aim of this project was to test whether the meaningful activities package (MAP) engages residents and improves their mood, substance-use outcomes, and physical and mental health-related quality of life.

The project team mailed study invitations to residents in five housing programs (estimated mailed N=538). To date, 32 Housing First residents reached out to consent to participate, responding via mailed consent forms, phone, video conferencing or online survey completion. Of those who consented, 26 have completed baseline assessments, and 11 have completed one-month follow-ups. The study highlighted the difficulties in reaching residents, partly due to the lack of communication technologies.

The team found that the technological divide has grown deeper and more consequential during the pandemic and must be bridged to facilitate social connection, physical and mental health, and basic communication for people marginalized by the lived experience of homelessness and psychiatric, medical and substance use disorder. The team is working to locate additional funds through the UW and WSU to continue participant recruitment and evaluation efforts, achieve the originally proposed sample size and further improve follow-up rates.