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University Draws on Own Experts to Guide Health and Safety Decisions

  • Covid-19

The new Healthcare Advisory Group (HCAG) is dealing with the many questions that must be addressed as the University of Pittsburgh moves forward with resiliency planning to return to campus.

“The HCAG is charged with recommending University-wide health standards and guidelines that are needed for helping us live and work on campus, in order to pursue Pitt’s education and research mission to the fullest extent possible under the ‘new normal’ of living with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2,” said HCAG chair Anantha Shekhar, Pitt’s new senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine.

The group’s role assures that Pitt is drawing on its world-renowned health sciences programs to guide decisions on the health and safety of students, faculty and staff alike.

“This group is composed of experts in health care and medicine, public health, occupational health and safety, infectious diseases and epidemiological modeling, emergency preparedness and the relevant legal regulations and compliance,” Shekhar said.

“Its work will also be to continuously monitor the health status of the campus and align the University status to be well coordinated in our COVID-19 policies with the status of the city, county, state and beyond.”

The members—several of whom are both researchers and practitioners—bring their own specialized expertise as they develop detailed recommendations that are both sound and workable for the University community. They will be making recommendations for personal protective equipment and personal hygiene; shared spaces, distancing and density; virus monitoring, testing and tracing; safe mobility; and considerations for vulnerable populations.

Here’s a closer look at what each brings to the table:

Anantha Shekhar is an expert in the areas of basic and clinical research on the effects of stress, stress-induced psychiatric and medical conditions, and clinical psychopharmacology. Shekhar’s responsibilities at the University include shaping the careers of more than 6,000 faculty and staff members, as well as the academic success of approximately 5,000 students annually, all while supporting Pitt’s position as a top-ranked recipient of NIH research dollars. He also works closely with UPMC, one of the largest academic medical centers in the nation, to ensure that health care delivery, biomedical research and education continue to flourish.

John Williams, an international authority on the epidemiology, immunity and pathogenesis of respiratory viruses, holds the Henry L. Hillman Chair in Pediatric Immunology and is a professor of pediatrics. He has been following the COVID-19 pandemic as director of the Institute for Infection, Inflammation and Immunity in Children (i4Kids). Williams also oversees a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded pediatric virus surveillance network with Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh—one of seven national sites that seeks to determine the effectiveness of flu vaccines and describes the epidemiology of respiratory infections, including COVID-19, among children hospitalized or evaluated in the emergency department. 

Mark Roberts, whose disease modeling efforts have been relied on by state policymakers, is a practicing physician as well as an expert in computational modeling with three decades of experience. As director of the Public Health Dynamics Laboratory, Roberts leads Pitt experts in developing simulation tools for complex diseases as well as the effects of policy on public health. 

Anne Newman brings a deep understanding of epidemiological methods to the group and has been advising University officials on planning prior to the group’s formation. Newman is the Katherine M. Detre Professor of Population Health Sciences in the Graduate School of Public Health and an MD. Newman is Distinguished Professor and chair of Epidemiology and professor of medicine, as well as of clinical and translational science, and has been studying the aging process for decades. 

Sally Wenzel is a pulmonologist and environmental health expert with special expertise in asthma research. She is board certified in internal and pulmonary medicine. Wenzel studies the effects of environmental factors on lung health, bringing valuable expertise to the team that is studying COVID-19. She directs the University of Pittsburgh Asthma and Environmental Lung Health Institute, and is the chair of environmental and occupational health, and Rachel Carson Chair of Environmental Health in the Graduate School of Public Health.

Jay Frerotte, assistant vice chancellor for environmental health and safety, is an emergency preparedness expert. He chairs the University’s Environmental Health & Safety Committee and has played a key role on Pitt’s emergency operations team as the University has navigated its COVID-19 response. Frerotte is not new to pandemic planning. He has been part of Pitt’s past pandemic preparedness working groups, including during the 2006 avian flu outbreak.

Kimberly Moses, the group’s legal counsel, is a health care attorney in the Office of University Counsel and expert in the health regulations affecting Pitt’s operations. She previously worked with UPMC’s corporate and hospital division, acting as legal counsel for several of the area’s hospitals. There, she led efforts that resulted in an international pediatric telemedicine center, the development and expansion of Children’s Express Care centers throughout the Pittsburgh area, and the development of clinical partnerships throughout the U.S.

HCAG coordinator Maggie McDonald, an expert in health and risk communications, is associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and international programs, Health Sciences. She has served in a number of capacities across the health sciences since coming to Pitt in 1983, giving her a broad view across multiple disciplines. McDonald also is a faculty member in epidemiology in the Graduate School of Public Health, with a secondary appointment in psychiatry in the School of Medicine.