Yale expertise tapped to help guide Connecticut’s reopening strategy
As Governor Ned Lamont ’80 SOM and other state leaders weigh important decisions about Connecticut’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic — including when and how to reopen the economy and education system — they are conferring with an expert advisory group co-led by two prominent Yale affiliates.
Co-chairing the core eight-member ReOpen Connecticut Advisory Group are Dr. Albert Ko of the Yale School of Public Health and former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi ’80 SOM, who is board co-chair of AdvanceCT, a nonprofit focused on economic development in the state.
Including members of three related committees and the governor’s representatives, the full advisory group has some 50 total members, at least 10 of whom have Yale ties.
Ko is professor of epidemiology (microbial disease) and of medicine (infectious diseases), and chair of the Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases in the School of Public Health. He and Nooyi exemplify the twin focal points of the group’s effort: public health and economic recovery.
“They represent the two most pressing priorities,” said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate professor of medicine (general medicine) and of epidemiology (chronic diseases), who chairs the community sub-committee. “Lamont is balancing economic concerns with public health implications, led by two pillars of expertise.”
Given the economic upheaval resulting from the pandemic and the state’s complex, rapidly evolving public health needs, Lamont has tapped Yale faculty, former administrators, and alumni alike.
Besides Nooyi and Ko, the main committee includes Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist and health care researcher at Yale and Yale New Haven Hospital, and David Scheer ’84 M.S., president of Scheer & Company, Inc. and board chair of Aegerion Pharmaceuticals.
The education committee is led by co-chairs Richard C. Levin, former president of Yale, and Linda Koch Lorimer, former vice president for global and strategic initiatives. The business committee includes Dr. Carrie A. Redlich, professor of medicine (occupational medicine) and of environmental health sciences, who is helping draft sector-specific health and safety guidelines for when businesses start to re-open.
Other advisors with Yale affiliations are Renee Coleman Mitchell ’86 M.P.H., commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health; Dr. Matthew Cartter, state epidemiologist for the Connecticut Department of Public Health and associate clinical professor of epidemiology of microbial diseases at the Yale School of Public Health; Josh Geballe ’97 B.A.,’02 SOM, the state’s chief operating officer and also commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services; and Dr. David Peaper, assistant professor of laboratory medicine and director of the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at Yale New Haven Hospital.
“We’re really fortunate to live in a state where there are strong partnerships between the private sector, academia, and nonprofits,” said Nunez-Smith, who is the director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale and the Center for Research Engagement. “It means there’s a shorter on-ramp to create multi-sectorial alliances. There are many assets in our state, and Yale is one of them.”
Essential public health measures now in place, such as closing non-essential businesses and schools, have numerous ramifications for both the economy and public health that the advisory group must consider, said Krumholz, the Harold H. Hines Jr. Professor of Medicine (cardiology) and professor in the Institute for Social and Policy Studies. “A bad economy is also bad for health,” he said. “All our social determinants of health — housing, nutrition — are moving in the wrong direction.”
Nunez-Smith said a high priority for the advisory group is people who live and work in congregate settings — including jails, nursing homes, group homes, and homeless populations.
“People often live in multi-generational homes,” she said. “They need the ability to self-isolate.”
She added that her committee is also focused on wellness, from meeting basic needs to providing mental health services.
Across the state, the picture of COVID-19 looks markedly different. There are intense hotspots of COVID-19 — namely Fairfield, New Haven, and Hartford counties — and areas with relatively few cases. Krumholz said the advisory group is considering how best to prevent a second wave in the hotspots and keep the numbers low in less-affected regions.
Testing will be critical, he said. “Testing needs to be ubiquitous. It can’t just be people with symptoms. So many are asymptomatic, and they are very efficient vectors of transmission.”
He said the advisory group is coordinating efforts among Yale, the Jackson Laboratory’s genomic medicine institute, and other key partners to develop the widespread testing capacity that’s needed.
Because the state is on the frontlines of the crisis, with one of the highest per capita numbers of coronavirus cases — 29,287 total or 821 per 100,000 people, as of May 4 — the Yale experts helping to guide Connecticut’s reopening anticipate that their efforts will be helpful to other states also.
“There’s no question our population has suffered,” Krumholz said. “We’ve been on the frontlines of this pandemic. We hope we can provide leadership to others for how to get out of this.”