Tuesday, October 18, 2022

City’s Chief Medical Officer Tapped to Help Prepare World for Next Pandemic


Appointment Follows Austin-Travis County’s Success in Fighting COVID-19

The City of Austin’s Chief Medical Officer is joining a group of distinguished experts to tackle the grand challenge of preparing the world to combat future pandemic threats.
Dr. Mark Escott, Chief Medical Officer for the City of Austin, has been named one of the project leaders of the new UT Center for Pandemic Decision Science, which is being set up with a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
Dr. Escott, who played a leading role in the City’s fight against COVID-19 in his role as interim health authority for Austin-Travis County, will work alongside scientists, engineers, clinicians and policymakers from UT Austin and across the US to develop a plan to improve public health responses.
“Austin and Travis County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been praised for limiting the impact of the disease on our community,” said Dr. Escott. “In particular, the staged risk guidelines used by Austin Public Health have served as a national model for using science to shape policy and community decision-making. We are grateful for the trust placed in us by the National Science Foundation to develop a plan to improve responses to future pandemics across the United States and beyond.”
The new Center will tackle three fundamental challenges that are considered critical to the future resilience of the planet: 
  • Anticipating novel pathogen threats and detecting them at their source
  • Forecasting and positively influencing individual, collective and governmental responses to emerging threats.
  • Integrating science into every stage of pandemic decision making, including prevention, detection, containment and mitigation.

There are more than 40 multidisciplinary investigators from 11 different institutions collaborating to launch the new Center. Over the next 18 months, they will host five workshops and conduct five pilot projects, including a hackathon to forecast human health behaviors and a pathogen ‘wargame’ exercise for Texas public agencies. 
These activities are designed to “build a roadmap for closing fundamental gaps in our understanding of pandemics,” according to Professor Lauren Ancel Meyers, professor of integrative biology and statistics and data sciences at UT Austin, who will serve as Primary Investigator for the new Center.
She added: “We are bringing the brightest minds together to envision bold interdisciplinary approaches for detecting pathogen threats, predicting the complex interplay between pathogens, the environment, and our social systems, and developing decision strategies for combating uncertain challenges.” 
The new Center will also provide educational and research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students at UT.