Fighting a Pandemic with Data

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Image of student, Tatum McKay, smiling in front of floral background
McKay works as a GRA to provide insight on COVID-19 testing rates and how to best mitigate the spread on campus.

Master of Public Health student works with leading experts to analyze data from the COVID Health Check✓™


Tatum McKay, Master of Public Health student at the College of Health and Human Services, is helping fight a pandemic with data. McKay has spent this semester working as a Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) with Dr. Amira Roess. Her primary work has been analyzing data from Mason’s COVID Health Check✓™ to provide insight into testing rates and how to best mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus.*


“Most recently, I have been analyzing the COVID Health Check✓™ data to better understand why students and faculty are being tested on campus and the symptom trajectory of positive cases,” McKay said. “It has been interesting to see the breakdown of reasons for why students are being tested for COVID-19.” 


She is analyzing de-identified data that does not contain any information that identifies who is completing the COVID Health Check✓™. “The set of data I am working with right now has about 3,000 data points,” McKay said.  


With the experience gained from her coursework, McKay has applied what she has learned in her research assistantship. “Experience from my program, such as coding with STATA software and how to conduct a literature review, has allowed me to analyze data and give Dr. Roess up-to-date published information on COVID-19, so she can better understand how it may affect the George Mason population,” McKay said.  


In addition to compiling information from published reviews and data from the COVID Health Check✓™, McKay has enjoyed the opportunity to work with leading experts in epidemiology and infectious diseases. “[Dr. Roess] has been instrumental in the COVID-19 efforts at George Mason, and it has been rewarding helping her in any way I can,” McKay said.  


In March 2020, Dr. Roess led a team of CHHS colleagues to develop the COVID Health Check✓™, a  symptom and exposure tracker that collects real-time data to allow for a rapid response. Since its launch at Mason and at universities across Virginia, the tool has helped detect early cases by tracking symptoms and possible exposure to the virus.


Speaking on the importance of completing the COVID Health Check✓™, McKay said “It is important that students and faculty complete the COVID Health Check✓™, so there is enough data to get an accurate idea of how COVID is affecting our community and how Mason can be better equipped to mitigate the number of positive tests on campus.” 


McKay plans to graduate in May 2021 with a master’s degree in Public Health. After graduation, she hopes to secure a job in data analytics. When asked how her current assistantship has prepared her for future plans, McKay said that the assistantship allowed her to enhance her skills with data analytics software and communicating findings.   


For current students looking to gain experience, McKay urges students to seek a graduate research assistantship. “I highly recommend current and future MPH students to apply to be a GRA as soon as they can,” McKay explained. “I applied for a position the summer before my first semester and was surprised to have received one so early on in my graduate school journey.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to have learned from great professors and mentors; being a GRA was the highlight of my Mason experience.”


* Note that all information captured by the Mason COVID Health✓™ is kept on a secure HIPAA compliant server. This information is encrypted and only available to a small team of screeners who are responsible for identifying potential clusters and responding to questions about potential/confirmed illnesses and outbreaks on campus.