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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Academics & Research

From frontlines to laboratories: UH’s impact on COVID-19 relief


When the coronavirus pandemic last March, many within the UH community were quick to respond. | Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

When the coronavirus pandemic last March, many within the UH community were quick to respond. | Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

When the coronavirus pandemic hit last March, UH students, faculty and alumni were quick to respond. 

From being on the frontlines and supporting those affected by the virus, to helping people who were indirectly hurt by the pandemic, the university’s impact did not just help Houstonians, but Americans as well.  

At the very beginning of the pandemic when New York state had the highest coronavirus infection rates, UH nursing student Raul Silva was called to assist at the former epicenter of the outbreak. 

Nursing is my profession. It is what I will retire from,” Silva told UH. “Obtaining my BSN is an accomplishment not only for me but my family as well. I want to bring pride to them.”

Silva wasn’t the only member of the UH community to head to New York. 

Alex Herrmann, a former UH decathlete left his life in Denver, also at the start of the pandemic, to serve in Bronx, New York. Both Silva and Herrmann endured long shift hours and crowded ICU’s

“I wish I was (there) a little sooner, could have done more when it was bad,” Herrmann told the Houston Chronicle.

The UH impact stretched beyond the frontlines, into people’s homes.

The Cullen Trust for Education, awarded to the university, allowed the school to provide immediate food assistance to those in need. In its partnership with the Houston Food Bank, UH is working to relieve food insecurity during the coronavirus pandemic. 

A portion of that grant went to the UH Cougar Cupboard, a food pantry on campus established in January 2020 as a part of the Food for Change market network. 

While working with communities struggling economically, UH economist Bill Gilmer kept a steady eye on the impact of the virus on the Houston community.

Gilmer predicted financial hits on key industries when speaking to UH in March 2020. 

“This hits Houston sectors that sell goods outside the region,” Gilmer said to UH. “Oil and gas are No. 1, but any company with sales that cross Houston boundaries, including Sysco, Waste Management, AIG and Men’s Warehouse.”

Gilmer was joined by other UH faculty in his work to make information and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 clearer for Houstonians.

In research fueled by the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH and Medistar, director Zhifeng Ren and company CEO Monzer Hourani developed an air filter that “catches and kills” the coronavirus. 

“This filter could be useful in airports and in airplanes, in office buildings, schools and cruise ships to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Ren said. “Its ability to help control the spread of the virus could be very useful for society.” 

The device had phased roll-out into what they determined to be “high-priority venues,” like hospitals, health care facilities, schools or public transport. 

Most notably though, the university has learned to adapt. 

Providing guidance on how to best handle groceries, and offering virtual campus tours, the school learned how to function beyond the parameters set by the pandemic. Class of 2020 was able to graduate virtually, and now they can anticipate walking across a stage in May 2021. 

Through the innovation, research and community building that has come from the pandemic, the school is hopeful to return to in-person learning next semester. 

Provost Paula Myrick Short told students this month, “Looking forward to the Fall 2021 semester, we anticipate that all members of our campus community will have the opportunity to receive a vaccine over the next few months.”

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