Hi I’m Dylan Galos. I’m an evaluator at the Minnesota Department of Health. My work focuses on community health improvement and health equity in COVID-19.
A year ago, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19, illness caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV2, a global pandemic. Mitigation measures included closures of non-essential businesses, travel restrictions, and mandates to work and learn remotely. COVID-19’s impacts on the U.S. economy and mental health have received much attention; COVID-19 has also had substantial environmental impacts. Going forward, I’m taking these lessons with me:
#1: Complex environmental problems touch many sectors.
With travel restricted to essential trips and many people teleworking, environmental changes ensued. Rates of biking and walking increased as gym closures led people to choose outdoor recreation for exercise, air quality improved as people drove less during strict restrictions, and with fewer cars, species normally not seen on roads found new refuge. However, some of these changes were short-lived, and not all impacts from COVID-19 have been positive.
Shared micro-mobility services (e.g., bike-sharing) adapted to COVID-19 as they tried to stay afloat with a smaller user base. Car-sharing services implemented COVID-19 cleaning protocols. Before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, strategies to reduce use of single-use plastics in the food service industry, such as banning plastic straws, were gaining adoption. COVID-19 has led to increased plastic use, both from individual choices, such as reusable cups at restaurants and cloth grocery bags being banned, as well as medical need for personal protective equipment, such as disposable medical masks. This increased demand for plastics coincided with decreased prices for fossil fuels (from which many plastics originate), and has impacted the market, including for recycled plastic. Last, ridership of public transit in the U.S. plummeted, affecting the budgets of transit authorities whose revenues depend on rider fares, raising questions about the future of public transportation.
#2: Data sharing can have profound impacts. Innovative spatial analyses have led to insights on the COVID-19 pandemic. One example of this are estimates of social distancing compliance conducted by examining the locations of cell-phone data in aggregate. In addition, governments are conducting contact tracing efforts using geolocation to notify users of potential exposures. As people seek vaccinations, new technology systems notify people of available vaccine doses that would otherwise be disposed, increasing vaccine coverage and preventing waste.
#3: Interdisciplinary work is the future. In my current role in the COVID-19 response, I collaborate with urban planners, environmental statisticians, data scientists, other epidemiologists, and community liaisons. Innovative teams are needed to address the complex problems of the future. One interesting interdisciplinary approach I’ve seen recently is scientists using wastewater to assess the prevalence of COVID-19. As we transition into a post-vaccine world and begin new projects and continue existing ones, I want to leave this by highlighting the importance of understanding the various sectors that touch our environmental interest and the possibilities of interdisciplinary work to address complex problems, now and in the future.
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