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Politics, policies and the pandemic: Seniors connect thesis papers to COVID-19

From solving global vaccine inequities to investigating why people may not socially distance, some seniors managed to connect their thesis papers to the COVID-19 pandemic and delved into what can be learned from the past year.

Anna Darwish (Computer Science/Statistics): Social Distancing Adherence in North Carolina

Anna Darwish, Trinity ‘21, explored the relationships between a North Carolinian’s age, ethnicity and political affiliation and the likelihood that they follow proper social distancing regulations. 

This inquiry began as a smaller class project, but Darwish and her advisor felt that the topic could be investigated at a higher level and expanded into a final thesis. 

“My reason for writing this [paper] was to better understand why a given person may not be socially distancing, once I had a general idea for who was social distancing,” Darwish wrote in an email. “My hope is that readers understand that the ability and choice for a given person to socially distance extends beyond their identity, even politically, as, quite truthfully, my models didn’t perform that well!” 

Despite these setbacks with her models, Darwish feels her body of work is enough to answer the overall question her thesis poses. 

“While there is certainly a level of social stigma in favor of social distancing (and rightfully so), my results suggested that other factors, such as being a front-line worker, having many children, or being a part of a group that has a negative history with healthcare in the US, may also be playing into decisions to socially distance,” Darwish wrote.

Syann Cadogan (Sociology/Global Health): An International Comparison of COVID-19 Rates and Policies in Prisons in the United States, China, and England

Syann Cadogan, Trinity ‘21, chose to compare and contrast pandemic policies across the United States, China and England in her thesis. 

“I thought it would be interesting to write about this topic, given that it is so current and still happening,” Cadogan wrote in an email. “I compared the number of cases and deaths in each country to those in their prisons, as well as the contraction rates both outside and inside the prisons. Then, I reviewed the measures taken by the prison systems to manage COVID-19 infections and deaths.”

Her thesis, she said, makes a contribution to health literature by comparing prison policies that led to the extreme differences in prisoner health outcomes in three high-GDP countries. 

In addition to raising awareness about discrepancies in COVID-19 rates in prisons globally, Cadogan hopes that her findings may open the door to updating flawed policies.

“Overall, the COVID-19 crisis has brought about new opportunities for innovative responses relating to future action and improvements within institutionalized settings,” Cadogan wrote.

Aneesha Raj (Biology/Global Health): Global Equity Challenges in COVID-19 Vaccine Purchasing

Aneesha Raj, Trinity ‘21, experienced her fair share of hindrances while completing her thesis. Logistical issues forced Raj to deviate from her initial topic—COVID-19 and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)  in Africa—a month before the due date.

“I had to get [Institutional Review Board] approval, which was not going to come in on time, so I had to immediately pivot and brainstorm this new idea,” Raj said. “My  thesis is essentially talking about the disparity between high-income countries being able to afford vaccine purchases while lower-income countries are shut out of that.” 

Gavin Yamey, professor of the practice of global health and one of Raj’s thesis mentors, had previously been a member of an advising group for the design of COVAX, a program dedicated to distributing vaccines across the globe. This stroke of luck allowed Raj to jump into her new topic right away.

“There is not a lot of information out there about countries with over-burdened hospitals that are not getting vaccines, and [Yamey] steered me in the direction of that conversation,” Raj explained. “I thought it was really impactful to be able to contribute to this growing body of work as an undergraduate student, especially through the lens of advocating for more equitable vaccine distribution and identifying countries that need to be prioritized.”

Chen Chen (Public Policy/Biology): How Testing Serves African Americans in Epidemics, Past and Present: Applying Lessons from Tuberculosis to COVID-19 in the United States

Chen Chen, Trinity ‘21, first started her investigation by studying several tuberculosis outbreaks among African Americans over the past century to see how effective different prevention methods were. 

“The first period I looked at was the 1930-50s, when tuberculosis testing first became widely available,” Chen said. “I also looked at 1980-85 for co-infections of HIV and tuberculosis to see what happens when one pandemic compounds with another. Then, I looked at a case study from Alabama, which showed how a modern-day TB outbreak was not contained properly.”

Chen’s next step was to compare these examples with modern-day COVID-19 vaccine distribution efforts among similar demographics before analyzing patterns and other areas of note. 

She hopes readers of her thesis will come away with an understanding of the deficiencies of the current vaccine distribution system, especially in terms of distribution among African Americans.

“Rather than lacking the resources, knowledge or evidence to successfully address testing inequities in African American communities, the United States lacks the imagination and commitment to directly confront these inequities, which has led to failures in testing strategies for tuberculosis and COVID-19,” Chen said. “The historical case studies show differences in successes and failures of tuberculosis testing campaigns in African American communities that we can incorporate into current and future health measures.”


Gautam Sirdeshmukh

Gautam Sirdeshmukh is a Trinity sophomore and the health & science news editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.

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