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Senior tracks COVID-19 cases in Florida hometown

As a college senior with an interest in infectious diseases, Dalton Price ’20 said it was completely obvious he would help fight the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when Cornell switched to virtual instruction and he headed home to Florida.

Since leaving campus, Price has spent about 25 hours per week – even while wrapping up exams and projects – working with the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County to track cases and educate people about the virus.

Dalton Price at the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County.

His responsibilities include tracking case numbers, conducting contact tracing, deciding where and how testing should happen, communicating information to the public about testing sites and prevention, and ensuring equitable approaches in the health department’s work.

“I know my community well and had already reached out a few years ago to our health commissioner, so I sent her an email again,” he said. “I want to do what I can.”

He plans to use any means necessary – social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, newspapers, town meetings, Zoom forums, and phone calls and emails with residents – to make information about the virus more accessible for people. He posts frequent updates on Florida cases on his Twitter account.

“There’s so much misinformation, and people form their beliefs because of this misinformation,” he said. “I don’t blame them, but if we don’t deal with this now, then when a vaccine comes, we will have a whole other issue of people refusing to get the vaccination.”

Price started at Cornell as a biology major on the pre-med track, but then explored policy analysis and management and development sociology. When one of his professors suggested majoring in anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, he discovered a way to study global health from a human-centered perspective.

“My Cornell education has been most influenced by the incredible professors and mentors I have had over the years, who have guided me through my time, provided academic and professional help and so much more,” Price said.

Price has taken advantage of internship and research opportunities during his four years at Cornell. With a long-term goal of working for the World Health Organization, Price spent last summer as an intern with the WHO at its Eastern Mediterranean regional office in Cairo, studying the problem of antibiotic resistance in the region.

“In a lot of the countries in this region, you can just buy antibiotics over the counter without a prescription,” he said. “You would probably have a bottle of antibiotics in your medicine cabinet next to the Band-Aids.”

Price studied the culture around antibiotics in various countries and worked on strategies for public health campaigns to improve knowledge about antibiotic resistance and change the behavior surrounding overuse of the drugs.

The first in his family to go to college, Price was awarded a Summer Experience Grant from A&S for his summer internship. He also received an Einhorn Discovery Grant this academic year to study public health for the rural poor in Mexico. “I know how lucky I am to go to an institution that supports me,” he said.

Next year, he will begin a doctoral program in medical anthropology at the University of Oxford. He will split his time between the U.K. and Venezuela, studying the coordination of humanitarian actors and the politics of intervention in response to the political crisis that has unfolded in Venezuela over the last decade.

And after completing his Ph.D., Dalton plans to begin medical school at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York City.

“My Arts and Sciences education taught me to think critically about some of the greatest issues we face globally, whether it be climate change or the recent surge of neoliberalism,” Price said. “It taught me how to adopt a humanistic lens in all of my work, thinking specifically about the human condition – at the level of the individual – and how these broader, global forces come to shape that reality.”

Read about more 2020 graduates in the “Extraordinary Journeys” series on the A&S website.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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Lindsey Hadlock