Cornell is partnering with the New York State Department of Health and Northwell Health System to develop and train the nation’s first public health corps, which will support COVID-19 vaccine distribution and outreach – and improve long-term public health across the state.

Cornell to help train state’s pioneering public health corps

Cornell is partnering with the New York governor’s office and Northwell Health System to develop and train the nation’s first state public health corps, which will support COVID-19 vaccine distribution and outreach and improve long-term public health outcomes across the state.

Drawing on expertise from the Master of Public Health (MPH) Program in the College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and across campus, and in online course development and delivery from eCornell, Cornell is developing a series of online courses to train at least 1,000 fellows for the New York State Public Health Corps. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the public health corps during his State of the State address Jan. 11.

“We are honored to partner with Governor Cuomo and the state of New York to create the new public health corps,” President Martha E. Pollack said. “Consistent with our core commitment to changing lives through public engagement, we look forward to providing training that will enable people not only to support the immediate need to fairly and effectively vaccinate against COVID-19, but also to be prepared to confront future public health challenges.”

Cornell impacting New York State

Cornell’s MPH program and eCornell will also be working with Cuomo’s office to develop a citizen public health training program, to help New Yorkers be equipped to volunteer in the next public health emergency.

With nearly 40% of Americans expressing skepticism of a COVID-19 vaccine – and around 80% of New Yorkers needing vaccination in order to achieve herd immunity – effective communication of health information will be a central function of the public health corps.

“We know some people are hesitant to take vaccines, and we know that some populations – because of their jobs, or where they live, or what they’re exposed to in the environment – are more susceptible to bad effects should they get COVID,” said Dr. Alexander Travis, director of the MPH program and professor of reproductive biology at the Baker Institute for Animal Health, in CVM. “The public health corps fellows will be trained to identify communities with special needs and to help give people the information they need to make good choices about getting the vaccine.”

Dr. Gen Meredith, associate director of the MPH program, led the effort to design the initial four-part curriculum and build the team that developed educational content for the health corps training videos. The curriculum teaches the core functions and essential services of public health, and covers the central themes of public health, including equity, sustainability and community engagement, as well as information specific to COVID-19, she said.

“We’re teaching individuals to engage in conversations with community members to understand what some of the barriers to accessing vaccination might be,” Meredith said, “and to then draw on the collective resources in a community and accurate information to help overcome those barriers.”

“We’re trying to help these fellows think about how they can respond right now to COVID-19,” she said, “and also then translate these skills to longer-term public health needs, whether they’re diabetes or obesity or food insecurity or housing insecurity, that will remain prevalent in the state even after the pandemic.”

Northwell Health will develop clinical training for the health corps fellows who will become vaccinators.

eCornell, which prepares online coursework for 80,000 nontraditional students a year, provides the expertise and infrastructure to build, support and promote an online curriculum, said Paul Krause, vice provost for external education and executive director of eCornell.

“We work with faculty members to adapt a course they may teach in person into a format that can scale and be delivered online in a rigorous, professional way,” Krause said. “Our team includes instructional designers, video producers and animators, and other specialized roles, to advise faculty and work with them to put together something that is really excellent online.”

Meredith worked with eCornell to prepare the first four training modules, which are being piloted with volunteers recruited through Cornell Cooperative Extension. The team plans to continue developing and refining the training as the health corps gets underway.

“Our teams are working incredibly hard to get materials finalized and ready for students,” said Sally Berkowitz, eCornell’s senior director of product management. “We’re in a very good position to have the program ready to deploy under the timeline the state needs.”

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Rebecca Valli