Five dark-haired students -- three female and two male -- chat with a grey-haired woman at the Health and Wellness Social.
Students mingling at the Health and Wellness Social event that opened CNPH's National Public Health Week.

Public health experts Harlem Gunness, PhD; Deborah Stamps, EdD; and CNPH Clinical Associate Professor K.C. Rondello, MD, lectured on timely subjects during CNPH’s Public Health Week events.

Dr. Rondello discussed the future of COVID-19, on April 1; Dr. Gunness food insecurity April 2; and Dr. Stamps, as part of the CNPH Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series, social determinants in public health and equity on April 3.

In the lecture kicking off CNPH’s Public Heath Week events at Adelphi, Dr. Rondello addressed “the future of COVID-19, post-pandemic” by summarizing, “The emergency is over, but bear in mind COVID-19 is not gone.”

Looking into his crystal ball through a scientific lens, he said, “The COVID-19 pandemic is over but the long-term endemic still persists.” He added, “New variants may derail this hard-won return to normalcy” that we have experienced since late last year. “Predicting the trajectory of COVID is notoriously challenging.”

They may be at minimal levels now, he said, but COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths still occur daily, especially among racial and ethnic minorities. “We must remain ever-vigilant,” he said.

K.C. Rondello, MD

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Dr. Rondello acknowledged a “general amount of COVID weariness” exists. The good news is that composition of the COVID vaccine will be updated annually to attack variants, as with the influenza vaccine. But, citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statement, he said we must keep in mind that “the emergence of a markedly more virulent variant” is a possibility.

Having a “one-and-done” vaccine to combat COVID-19 would be great, but that’s not yet possible, he told his virtual audience of more than 40. Limited surveillance in the form of tracking wastewater and hospitalizations is an “extremely important” tool, but not the solution, he added.

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States has flattened since last fall, he said. Today, the predominant variant is JN.1, which he said, scientists have gleaned from wastewater surveillance. When used with other measures, such as hospitalizations, emergency department visits and deaths, this “early-warning” tool can help public health authorities better spot disease trends and the rise of variants by analyzing samples from communities’ toilets, sinks, showers and washing machines in “five to seven days.”

Such analysis—originally developed by MIT scientists to monitor opiate levels in communities—has shown significant drops in COVID infection from last fall through March 23, he said.

Harlem Gunness, PhD

Dr. Gunness Addresses “Food Insecurity”

Speaking to 60-plus virtual attendees via Zoom, Dr. Gunness called attention to the fact that millions of food-insecure Americans were among the hardest hit during the pandemic. In 2021, 13.5 million Americans were food insecure due to poverty, nearly 2 million in New York City alone, he said.

In New York, he said, “High food prices can make circumstances even more difficult for food-insecure households.” In addition, “Food insecurity is highly associated with poor health outcomes”—a situation worsened by COVID-19, said Dr. Gunness, a former public health program director at St. John’s University. A member of the U.S. Public Health Service Commission’s board of trustees, he is also a retired commander/senior public health adviser with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Gunness recalled his pandemic experiences with UA3, a nonprofit food distribution center that delivered $20 million worth of fresh produce and food products in 2021 to 3,000 families in Manhattan’s Lower East Side/Chinatown neighborhood.

In the Q&A segment, Dr. Gunness said that until the UA3 program arrived, “No one was really paying attention to the Chinese in [that] community. They were poor, they were hidden.” He told his CNPH audience that “the need is so vast in your own backyard,” including Hempstead. Dean Deborah Hunt, PhD ’12, expressed an interest in exploring ways CNPH and Adelphi’s Panther Pantry could help the community.

Charles Cal ’95, MS ’01, MBA ’03, clinical assistant professor, noted that Adelphi already works with the poor through the Interfaith Nutrition Network (INN) and that Adelphi’s Alpha Omega Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing donates to the Panther Pantry and LI Cares.

Deborah Stamps, EdD

Dr. Stamps on Health Equity and Social Determinants

Dr. Stamps, discussing health equity and social determinants of health in a webinar reaching about 30 Zoom attendees, opened with a quote from Vernā Myers, JD, former Netflix vice president of inclusion strategy: “Diversity is being asked to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

In healthcare, she said that discrimination and biases among providers can affect the diagnosis of minority patients, who must also contend with disparities affecting their access to proper care. The pandemic raised awareness of such health inequities and disparities, she said.

Social determinants of health (SDOH), she said, encompass everything from economic stability and education access to neighborhood environment, food and access to healthcare.

“ZIP code matters on many fronts,” she emphasized. “ZIP code—where you actually live—influences health.” For example, she said, “Where I live, in Rochester, New York, ZIP code makes a difference … in life expectancy.” Citing two young girls in two different ZIP codes there, she said, there’s a projected nine-year life span [expectancy] difference between them.

Recalling that medication error was another longtime issue that “took a lot of steps to mitigate over the years,” Dr. Stamps said the healthcare field likewise needs to reduce implicit bias and other discrimination factors.

She has begun pursuing one potential solution through Health Transformers, a partnership program she launched to prepare diverse youth and adults to develop skills aimed at impacting social determinants in their communities.

During the Q&A, two faculty members mentioned some nursing student resistance to involvement in community food programs. They recalled some students questioning the importance of working at food pantries, saying, “What does this have to do with nursing?”

But Cal stressed the importance of service learning, including in nontraditional settings, and Virginia Oates, DNP, clinical assistant professor, felt that community placements should expand further, to include such underserved segments as LGBTQIA+, the homeless, veterans and the incarcerated.

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