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HEI staying connected, moving ahead


"Q&A" slide with photos of the speakersSince mid-March, HEI staff have — in keeping with Massachusetts orders — been working remotely to help stem the tide of coronavirus pandemic and protect their health. While unable to meet in person, the staff are collaborating online to keep important HEI projects moving to the full extent possible.  

“There is no part of our world that has not been affected,” said HEI President Dan Greenbaum, “but we have been pleased that our important work on air pollution and health has been able to continue and strengthen.” 

Hosting successful webinars 

During the early stages, HEI wrestled with the difficult decision whether to cancel the 2020 Annual Conference. It quickly became clear that holding the event would potentially put attendees, staff, and supporting personnel at risk. In very short order, staff started working with the session speakers and chairs to turn the conference sessions into a series of webinars held in April and May. Hundreds of participants from many countries tuned in.

Pictured: Speakers for HEI's webinar on ultrafine particles. The final webinar in the series, “Inequalities of Air Pollution Exposure and Associated Health Effects in the U.S.,” will be held on May 20. To register, click here.

Since then, HEI has been holding meetings via Skype and Zoom. Staff have rallied together to stay productive, publish reports, and hold panel meetings for the Traffic Literature Review and the Low Exposure Epidemiology investigators regarding follow-on work; meanwhile, the HEI Board of Directors recently had a successful Zoom meeting. Staff have also met virtually to catch up and spend some much-needed social time together.  

Navigating the challenges

At the same time, HEI began its next cycle of the 5-year Strategic Plan on April 1 and is off to a good start with 12 new accountabilityexposure, and Walter A. Rosenblith New Investigator studies underway or starting soon. Staff have been communicating with the Research and Review Committees to accommodate some unavoidable delays owing to lab lockdowns and difficulties in accessing or analyzing data resulting from the pandemic. They are working with HEI investigators to minimize any delays. Also, in recognition of such challenges, HEI has extended submission deadlines for its current Requests for Applications, including RFA 20-1A “Health Effects of Air Pollution,” which was issued in December 2019.  

Additionally, HEI is exploring possible ways to study the intersection of coronavirus and air quality. This includes both potential opportunities for accountability studies in view of air quality improvements experienced during the lockdowns, and/or studies of how socioeconomic factors and high air pollution exposures may increase people’s vulnerability to the virus. Investigators are welcome to submit proposals on this topic under RFA 20-1B, “Air Pollution, COVID-19, and Human Health,” which was developed this spring and will be issued by mid-May. More information will be available on HEI’s Funding page, or contact Annemoon van Erp

Honoring our Travel Award winners  

For the past few years, HEI has funded Student and Postdoc Travel Awards to engage young researchers at the HEI conference. This year, six abstracts were selected based on scientific merit, quality, and relevance to HEI’s research interests. 

The winners of the HEI 2020 Annual Conference Travel Award are Matthew Raifman (Boston University), Jiayuan Wang (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), Qing Ye (MIT), Farnaz Fouladi (University of North Carolina at Charlotte), Yan Lin (Duke University), and Laura Matchett (University of Alberta).  

While HEI is not able to congratulate the winners in person, they will be honored with a certificate. We extend our best wishes to them and hope to see them at future HEI events.