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Institute for Health and Social Policy

Institute for Health and Social Policy COVID-19 Grants


The Institute is committed to supporting ‘just-in-time’ research that seeks to inform policy. To that end, the Institute dedicated some of its core funding to supporting faculty member-initiated projects that seek to provide timely information on the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic and public policy.

To date, several pilot projects have received this one-time funding support.

COVID-19 Related Political Advertising and the 2020 Presidential Election

Project Team: Beth McGinty (IHSP); Adam Levine (IHSP); Colleen Barry (JHSPH); Hahrie Han (JHU), Erika Franklin Fowler (Wesleyan Media Project)

Project Summary: The ongoing coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is a central issue in the 2020 Presidential election. We propose a study examining the association between COVID-19 related political advertising and: (1) perceptions of the importance of COVID-19 as a voting issue and (2) vote choice. We will study how different types of COVID-19 political messages in political advertisements influenced vote choice. Specifically, we will consider: public health-focused messages (e.g., importance of masks); hopeful/optimistic COVID-19 messages (e.g., “winning the COVID-19 war”); messages about the severity of the COVID-19 crisis (e.g., COVID-19 death count); and messages focused on scientific expertise (e.g., “the research says…”).

We will conduct this study through a partnership with Dr. Franklin Fowler, who leads the Wesleyan Media Project. We will capitalize on two existing data collection efforts. First, the ongoing Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Civic Life and Public Health Survey, a longitudinal survey entering its third wave of data collection in November 2020 following the outcome of the presidential election. All of the Johns Hopkins investigators on this proposed study are also investigators on the survey, which has tracked public health and political attitudes and beliefs related to COVID-19 in a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults in April 2020, July 2020, and, as noted above, has a third wave set to go in the field in November 2020. In the November wave of the survey, we will include the outcome measure of interest listed above: perceptions of the importance of COVID-19 as a voting issue and vote choice. Second, the Wesleyan Media Project led by Dr. Franklin Fowler has an extensive database of political advertisements, updated in real time and inclusive of the 2020 Presidential election. We will partner with Dr. Franklin Fowler and her team, which has extensive expertise coding messages embedded within political advertisements, to collect the measures of interest related to the content of political advertising. We will link the survey and political advertisement data at the county level and model associations between exposure to political advertising about COVID-19, perceptions of the importance of COVID-19 as a voting issue, and vote choice.

The proposed study will add to a small but growing body of research on how public health-related content embedded in political advertising can influence audiences’ political and policy preferences. Findings from this line of inquiry can inform whether and how campaigns emphasize public health issues in their advertising. This specific study will inform whether and how messaging about the COVID-19 pandemic influenced Americans’ vote choice. The findings will inform scientist-policymaker partnerships moving forward by producing knowledge about the degree to which major public health issues like COVID-19 influence Americans’ voting choices and which (if any) types of public health messages in political advertisements have the strongest influence on vote choice.

Promoting Transportation Equity During the Coronavirus Pandemic: Public Perceptions and Policy Implications

Project Team: Keshia Pollack Porter, PhD, MPH (IHSP), Yeeli Mui (IHSP), PhD, Johnathon Ehsani, PhD (HPM)

Project Summary: Transportation is a social determinate of health and necessary to help essential workers get to work and residents access food and other goods and services. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted transportation systems in unprecedented ways. The risks of using shared modes of transportation (such as public transit or ride sharing) and the need to continue maintaining physical distance from others mean that travel behavior is likely to change as the states begin relaxing stay-at-home orders.

The research team will conduct surveys of a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults to understand the pandemic’s impact on travel behavior, food access, and gauge public support for policies related to transportation.

The findings will measure changes in individual travel behavior and quantify public support for policy responses related to transportation, food access and mobility.

Impact of COVID-19 on Residents Living in Federally-Assisted Housing: A National Survey of Resident Service Coordinators

Project Team: Craig Pollack, MD, MHS, Alyssa Moran, ScD, MPH, Sabriya Linton, PhD, MPH

Project Summary: Many types of federal housing assistance programs—including public housing, multifamily housing, and housing targeted towards specific populations (e.g., people who are elderly or who have a disability)—have on-site resident service coordinators to help individuals and families navigate the complex realities of accessing support and services. Resident service coordinators are charged with assessing resident need, advocating on behalf of residents with landlords and government agencies, and connecting residents with food resources, job training and employment opportunities, educational and schooling opportunities, other social services and medical care. The COVID-19 pandemic has simultaneously changed the type and level of need experienced by residents and the ability of service coordinators to meet these needs. However, to date, there has been very little, systematic assessment of the challenges faced by these vulnerable residents nor the ways that resident service coordinators are able to respond.

The research team will conduct a survey of members of the American Association of Service Coordinators to identify the perceived needs of low-income residents in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, describe factors that impact service coordinators’ ability to help support building residents in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, and delineate barriers and facilitators that service coordinators report in linking residents with needed services, including food resources and medical care.

The findings will help inform the needs of service coordinators and the residents that they serve, ultimately helping policymakers develop interventions and direct resources towards specific needs and establish coordinated emergency preparedness and response efforts in the future.

News Media Coverage of U.S. Food Systems During the Coronavirus-19 Pandemic: Lessons Learned about Food Systems Resilience and Disaster Preparedness

Project Team: Alyssa Moran, ScD (IHSP); Beth McGinty, PhD (IHSP); Caroline Dunn, PhD (HSPH)

Project Summary: The COVID-19 has put unprecedented demands on the U.S. food system. Many states and cities have ordered non-essential businesses to cease operations or convert to telework, leaving millions of Americans without pay and unable to afford food. Over 100,000 public and private schools have closed, affecting the vast majority of the nation’s K-12 students, many of whom rely on the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program for free or low-cost meals and snacks. Meals on Wheels programs, which deliver or serve meals to about 2.4 million older Americans each year, are seeing an influx of clients and decline in volunteers, as older adults self-isolate due to the outbreak. These sweeping changes have dramatically increased the number of Americans relying on an already overburdened emergency food system and threaten to widen disparities in food security and related health outcomes. Many policy strategies have been proposed to mitigate these threats to food security and prevent future food systems crises; these range from social policies like expansion of paid sick leave or state waivers of SNAP work requirements to supply chain solutions like adoption of online ordering and contactless delivery.

The impacts of COVID-19 on U.S. food systems have been widely covered in the news media, with increasing frequency since January 2020. Research from the fields of mental health, violence prevention, and substance use show that media coverage can reflect and shape public discourse on issues of importance to public health, influence public attitudes about societal issues, and affect public support for solutions to societal problems.

The research team will analyze a sample of U.S. news stories about the U.S. food system to understand how the news media describes the impacts of COVID-19 on food production, processing, distribution and access, how these news stories change over time, and if there is geographical variation of the stories depending on the news source.

The findings will help identify vulnerabilities within the food system and potential policy strategies to prepare food systems for future events.