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Scientists receive $1 million grant for COVID isolation impact study

George Mason University researchers Drs. Padmanabhan Seshaiyer, Professor, Mathematical Sciences and Brian Levy, Assistant Professor, Sociology and Anthropology recently received a large National Science Foundation (NSF) grant as Co-Principal Investigators with researchers from University of Kansas, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and Inter American University of Puerto Rico. Their awarded $1 million grant proposal is one of eight NSF awards, which responds to NSF's call to Incorporate Human Behavior in Epidemiological Models and will analyze the benefits and unanticipated side effects of social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, they will analyze how isolation curbed spread while, over the longer term, potentially leads to an increase in mental health conditions, substance use, and domestic violence. The grant will also train a collaborative cohort of multidisciplinary scholars to support the STEM pipeline.

“This project will not only help provide insights into the nature of the complex disease dynamics impacted by social behavior but also will help to showcase the need for transdisciplinary research from experts in Mathematical Sciences, Social and Economic Sciences, along with Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences to solve this grand challenge in epidemiology,” said Seshaiyer.

The science of epidemiology studies the health of groups of people — including the causes and patterns of infectious disease spread — in populations ranging in size from individual neighborhoods to the entire world. Advanced mathematical models are invaluable predictive tools in epidemiology and are widely used by healthcare professionals, decision-makers and leaders. However, the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that current epidemiological models do not adequately account for the human behavioral, social, and economic factors that are key to understanding and mitigating a rapidly changing public health crisis.

 “The COVID-19 pandemic clearly shows how social forces lead to varying behavioral responses and unequal outcomes in a public health crisis,” Levy said. “Incorporating social and behavioral factors into epidemiological models can improve our responsiveness and facilitate more equitable outcomes,” Levy explained.

“The resiliency and health of every community in the U.S. can be strengthened by leveraging the fundamental power of mathematics to better understand behavioral and social dynamics,” said NSF Assistant Director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Sean L. Jones. “These new projects are bringing together researchers in a multitude of fields, from mathematical biology to social psychology, to unlock the insights that can provide policymakers and others with the most complete predictive models possible.”

NSF Assistant Director for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, Kellina Craig-Henderson  added, “This bold work is based on a simple but ambitious premise: The consequences of pandemics and other public health emergencies can and should be anticipated in advance. The potential value of this innovative research for every American is recognized not just by NSF but also by our incredible research community who has risen to this difficult but vital challenge.”

 For more details on this grant or to explore additional research opportunities, contact Dr. Seshaiyer ( or Dr. Levy (