2022 Peter G. Peterson Foundation Pandemic Response Policy Research Fund Recipients 

Brown University’s Office of the Vice President for Research has funded nine research projects taking on challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic through the new Peter G. Peterson Foundation Pandemic Response Policy Research Fund. The fund established a $1 million award to support innovative, multidisciplinary research on the challenges presented by pandemics across public health, health care, fiscal policy, the economy, and education in the United States, as well as potential solutions in those areas for policymakers to consider.

Through a competitive submissions process, Vice President for Research Jill Pipher and a committee of faculty reviewers selected nine of 21 research proposals for awards ranging from $47,776 to $100,000. Selection criteria included the potential of the research to contribute to understanding pandemics and provide new knowledge or solutions that will impact policy, and the qualifications and diversity of the research team and inclusiveness of project staff and affected communities researched.

“The selected projects identify pandemic challenges needing solutions,” said Pipher. “They look at the wide-ranging impact to our society—the enduring social repercussions of the pandemic; building students’ social-emotional skills; studying empathy fatigue and physician burnout; developing data science approaches to SARS-CoV-2 variants; modeling the impact of a pandemic in public health; identifying the medical reasons underlying healthcare inequities; using behavioral science to understand vaccine hesitancy; investigating the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of immigrant women; and developing strategies to reduce food insecurity, which is at an all-time high after the pandemic.”

Projects awarded include:

The Slow Economic Violence of Covid-19: Sex Workers, Undocumented Migrants, and Refugees Living in Providence

Covid-19’s arrival has magnified racial and ethnic inequalities that currently exist in labor markets, healthcare, and housing. While the impacts of Covid infection on racial and ethnic minority communities in the US has been startling, little research has proposed to understand the enduring social repercussions of the pandemic. To do so, this study borrows the concept of “slow violence,” (Nixon 2013) to understand the enduring impacts of the pandemic on three key populations in Rhode Island: 1) sex workers, 2) undocumented migrants, and 3) Southeast Asian refugees. These three populations—though not mutually exclusive—map onto three distinct community-based organizations in Providence. Working alongside Ocean State Advocacy, Alliance to Mobilize our Resistance, and Providence Youth Student Movement, will allow our research to understand the experiences of sex workers, undocumented workers, and Southeast Asian refugee youth and their families.
PI: Elena Shih, Manning Assistant Professor of American Studies

Supporting Tutors Working with High-Need Students: The Impact of a Social-Emotional Learning Text Messaging Curriculum for Tutors

The COVID-19 pandemic upended the learning and social-emotional experiences for 50 million public school students in the United States. Children’s social-emotional skills are key contributors to their long-term academic, economic and social success. As a result, in order to be effective, pandemic recovery efforts will likely need to focus on building students’ social-emotional skills.  High-impact tutoring has emerged as a promising academic intervention to accelerate student learning, but research suggests tutoring can support students’ social-emotional development as well. This project will consider the role of tutoring in enhancing students’ social-emotional skills, as these skills are critical for students’ quality of life and future success. We will experimentally test a text-message based program, Tips4Tutors: SEL, that seeks to promote effective social-emotional instruction by sending light-touch, easily operational information over a semester through weekly text messages to tutors. The Tips4Tutors: SEL content includes facts and tips on how to cultivate students’ social-emotional development during tutoring sessions. We hypothesize the texting program will positively impact tutor and student outcomes, including tutor-student relationships, students’ social-emotional competencies, and students’ academic performance.  The findings from this project will provide districts and tutoring providers with strategies for how they can better support the tutors they employ and the students they serve. This scalable, easy-to-implement intervention has the potential to help tutors accelerate students’ social-emotional learning in tutoring initiatives across the country. 
PI: Susanna Loeb, Director of the Annenberg Institute, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Professor of Education; Co-PI: Carly Robinson, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Education Policy

Understanding and Coping with the Long-term Mental Health Impact of Covid-19 among Immigrant Women in New York City

In the US, immigrant communities have faced some of the worst consequences of the pandemic. Immigrant women are particularly vulnerable to negative mental health outcomes due to inequitable gendered burdens in their productive and reproductive lives, including front-line work, unpaid caregiving, and exposure to domestic violence. The proposed study will pilot an innovative strategy designed to 1) investigate the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of immigrant women in New York City (NYC), and 2) provide mental health support to members of this group through the use of a digital journaling platform, the Pandemic Journaling Project (PJP). The PJP platform runs on any digital device, in Spanish and English. Participants can submit journal entries through text, audio recordings, and/or images.

The study will document long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Latinx and South Asian immigrant women. Findings will assess whether digital journaling may serve as an effective low-cost, easily accessible mental health intervention for immigrant women. This study makes use of a modified version of the PJP platform, and may provide a model for following other research cohorts over time. Through close collaboration with immigrant-serving community-based organizations, study findings will help to inform programming and interventions that support immigrant women and their families. 
PI: Katherine Mason, Associate Professor of Anthropology; Co-PI: Andrea Flores, Vartan Gregorian Assistant Professor of Education; Collaborator: Sarah Willen, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Connecticut

Designing and Testing an Evidence-Based Program for Physician Burnout

The COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted mental health across the world. Physicians have been particularly hard hit. For example, they have seen higher workload and longer shifts, affecting their work-life balance, sleep and quality of caregiver-patient relationships. Physician burnout was at epidemic levels before the pandemic, and has only increased: a recent survey found that 24% of physicians plan to leave medicine in the next two years. Empathy fatigue and burnout have immediate and direct impact on patient care: lower quality, increased bias in treating pain, and increased medical errors are only a few of the problems associated with burnout. Studies have found that mindfulness training improves empathy and reduces burnout in physicians. However, in-person training can add to an already full workload. This project aims at developing a short, tailored mindfulness training that fits within physicians’ busy schedules, reduces anxiety and enhances emotional and diagnostic abilities to successfully care for patients without developing empathy fatigue and resultant burnout. We will follow a user-centered design approach to iteratively develop a training based on experiential learning that teaches how to bring mindful awareness into the workplace, and how to cultivate compassion towards oneself and patients. We will compare different delivery mechanisms for this training, specifically comparing continuing medical education formats to podcast style delivery.
PI: Judson Brewer, Associate Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior

Developing and Testing a Produce Prescription Implementation Blueprint to Improve Food Security in a Clinical Setting

The COVID-19 pandemic ended years of declining rates of food insecurity. Food insecurity is at an all-time high, with 11.8 % living with food insecurity, and up to 18.4% in RI. Produce prescriptions (Fruit and Vegetable (FV) Rx) whereby healthcare providers identify at-risk patients and then write prescriptions for the consumption of subsidized FV have shown to reduce food insecurity and promote diet quality in vulnerable populations. Nevertheless, there is variability in effectiveness and barriers remain to implement these programs. We have partnered with Integra Community Care Network, an accountable care organization affiliated with Care New England Health System in RI who has implemented this program over the past two years, yet the program faced challenges in achieving broader reach, retention and having mixed levels of participation by providers. To prioritize research dollars, implementation science frameworks are needed to evaluate the factors that promote program implementation and enhance patient outcomes. Therefore, the aims of this project are to: 1) Identify, using an implementation science framework, barriers, facilitators, and current implementation strategies for the existing FVRx program with participating patients and providers; 2) Develop an enhanced set of implementation strategies (i.e., an implementation blueprint) to support uptake of the FVRx intervention together with a group of stakeholders; 3) Pilot test the enhanced implementation blueprint (FVRx + vs. Usual FVRx) on implementation and health outcomes using a Hybrid Type 3 effectiveness-implementation design. FVRx hold promise to reduce food insecurity and improve health outcomes during times of emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
PI: Alison Tovar, Associate Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences; Co-PI: Hannah Frank, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior; Consultant: 
Dr. Amy Yaroch, Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition; Consultant: Dr. Maya Vadiveloo, University of Rhode Island; Statistician: Shira Dunsiger, Associate Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences (Research), Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior (Research).

Linking SARS-CoV-2 Variant Data to Statewide Longitudinal Medical Record Data

The long-term goal of this project is to establish an infrastructure to support the study of SARS-CoV-2 variant data within the context of longitudinal health information. This project will focus on the development and advancement of biomedical informatics and data science approaches to support population-level syndromic surveillance, which integrates molecular sequence variant information with longitudinal health information. Specifically, this project will: (1) Link SARS-CoV-2 Variant Data to Standardized Electronic Health Data; and (2) Identify Clinical Patterns Associated with SARS-CoV-2 Variants. The success of this project has the potential to have immediate impact in Rhode Island in supporting its public health response to understand the spread and impact of SARS-CoV-2 variants, and potentially inform population level disease monitoring processes nationally. 

The framework established by this project will support public health monitoring of variant impact of SARS-CoV-2, both short-term (acute infection and associated complications) and long-term (sequelae of COVID that may extend months or years after initial infection). The developed resource will be available as a resource for subsequent studies of clinical trends associated with variants or the development of populational health decision support systems. The resulting resource will include SARS-CoV-2 variant data linked to key demographic information and longitudinal health data. In addition to supporting the development of population and clinical decision support systems, the inclusion of social factor and race/ethnicity data will result in a unique SARS-CoV-2 data resource for supporting policy making with respect to underserved populations that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic (Hispanic/Latinx).
PI: Neil Sarkar, Associate Professor of BioMed (Brown Center for Biomedical Informatics)

Complex Predictive Modeling for Evaluating the Impact of a Pandemic in Public Health

The primary objective of this project will be to conduct preliminary work for developing a complex simulation model for evaluating the impact of a pandemic in Public Health. As an example we will use the description of the COVID-19 dynamics using agent-based model, which can generalize to simulate other pandemics and epidemics of infectious diseases with similar origins, pathogens, and transmission routes. This work comprises three main components; 1) a systematic review on available complex predictive models for COVID-19 with an emphasis on agent-based models, 2) a systematic search, evaluation, and organization of available data sources for informing important parts of the model, 3) building a tool for implementing fundamental parts of the simulation model in R.

The first component of this project will be essential for understanding the specifics of the advanced predictive modeling techniques and identifying gaps in the literature, which will guide the structure of our proposed model so as to have contribute to the existing research. The second component will assist with retrieving necessary information for calibrating model parameters and validating model outputs to important targets for evaluating the impact of a pandemic on Public Health. The third component will involve initial coding in R and constitute the foundation for building and making the simulation model publicly available to potential stakeholders.  
PI: Stavroula Chrysanthopoulou, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics; Co-PI: Mark Lurie, Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Co-PI: Aditya Khanna, Assistant Professor Behavioral and Social Sciences

Explaining COVID-19 Outcome Disparities via Natural Language Processing

Hispanic and Black Americans have experienced disproportionately higher numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations and mortalities. Early research indicates this is partly due to a higher burden of undetected and untreated medical conditions. The long-term goal of our research is to identify the impact of the medical reasons underlying healthcare inequities among underserved demographic groups in an evidence-based data-driven manner. To achieve this, the objective of this application is to use Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques to mine a large collection of electronic health records (EHRs) of COVID-19 patients and establish relationships between patient factors and differential outcomes, thus identifying the medical mechanisms that predominate in these communities and contribute to more hospitalizations and deaths.
PI: Carsten Eickhoff,Assistant Professor, Center for Biomedical Informatics; Co-PI: Taneisha Wilson, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine; Co-PI: Augusto Garcia-Agundez, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Brown Center for Biomedical Informatics

Using a Behavioral Science Lens to Understand the Determinants of Individuals’ Willingness to be Vaccinated Against COVID-19: A Living Systematic Review

Background: Vaccine hesitancy remains an important obstacle to pandemic control. Understanding determinants of willingness to take a COVID-19 vaccine is foundational to designing effective interventions to increase vaccine uptake. Globally, hundreds of studies have emerged to understand individuals’ willingness to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Robust and ongoing synthesis of this research is needed to inform stakeholders’ present and future pandemic responses. 

Methods: We will expand an ongoing review of studies of individuals’ willingness to be vaccinated against COVID-19 – currently a small, fit-for-purpose product for governmental stakeholders – to produce a generalizable synthesis for wider stakeholder audiences. We will search bibliographic databases from November 2020 (authorization of COVID-19 vaccines in the US) to present. All studies reporting determinants of COVID-19 vaccine willingness will be eligible. We will extract data on study and population characteristics, proportion of participants willing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and barriers and enablers associated with willingness. We will characterize determinants using the Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF) and synthesize themes within determinants. We will map identified determinants to potential intervention strategies and policy functions and apply an intersectionality lens to identify potential ways these intervention strategies and policy functions may be tailored to account for individuals’ unique combinations of psychological, social, and geographical characteristics. 

Significance: A vast amount of literature has emerged to understand vaccine hesitancy. Timely and robust systematic synthesis of this evidence using behavior change frameworks will help parse this complex phenomenon in a way that permits development of targeted interventions to promote vaccine uptake.
PI: Kristin Konnyu, Assistant Professor of Health Services, Policy and Practice; Co-PI: Lauren Bohlen, Assistant Professor of Behavioral and Social Sciences


“We believe the projects receiving this funding will advance the national conversation about managing a pandemic in this country,” said Pipher. “I look forward to the knowledge gained and solutions developed as a result of these investigations.”

“The research insights and analyses from experts at Brown will help lawmakers design solutions to lessen the impact and hasten the recovery from future economic crises,” said Michael A. Peterson, CEO of the Peterson Foundation. “The Foundation is pleased to support this vital work to help ensure a stronger fiscal and economic future for our nation.”

The one-year awards may be used to pilot entirely new projects and studies or to pivot or scale-up existing projects. A second cycle of project awards will occur in October 2022.

For more information, contact:

Amy Carroll, Senior Director 
Office of Research Strategy and Development 
[email protected]


The Peter G. Peterson Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the nature and urgency of key fiscal challenges threatening America's future, and to accelerating action on them. To address these challenges successfully, we work to bring Americans together to find and implement sensible, long-term solutions that transcend age, party lines and ideological divides in order to achieve real results. To learn more, please visit www.pgpf.org.