Q&A: Aydin Nazmi

Ricky VolpeAn epidemiologist and professor in the Food Science and Nutrition Department, Aydin Nazmi was recently appointed to serve as a presidential faculty fellow to assist with Cal Poly’s COVID-19 planning and response. The topic is one that Nazmi has quickly become acquainted with. In the spring, he chaired an expert panel that helped San Luis Obispo County develop a science-based framework for determining how to reopen businesses and public spaces while continuing to protect vulnerable populations.


Q: How do you plan for the unknown?

A: There is a lot of research happening, with new research being published literally every day — some directly relevant to what we are doing on campus and some indirectly. We know a lot about the transmission of communicable diseases, about human behavior, about prevention, risk factors and the biology of viruses. In the absence of specific information regarding the COVID-19 virus, we begin there. I’m also looking closely at state and federal data and projections as they become available to pass onto those leaders on campus tasked with making decisions.

Q: How do you protect a college-aged population that may not feel at risk?

A: The majority of college students will, to some degree, continue to do what young people do. This is where it is necessary that the campus takes a clear stance on reinforcing the behaviors that we know to be beneficial in preventing the spread of the disease. We have to promote, reinforce and normalize behaviors such as wearing a mask and routinely washing hands. It can be pretty easy in the presence of strong advocacy and promotion to create social norms. We have to remember that the majority of students live in the community, and there are no borders to infectious diseases; therefore, our messaging on campus is crucial. We have strong contact tracing in place and a robust testing program so that we can catch cases early and isolate early. That is the best we can do in the absence of a closed campus.

Q: How has your understanding of COVID-19 changed since mid-March?

A: Not much has changed in terms of what we knew then related to basic transmission of the disease. It is transmittable in the same way as the flu, and critically, it is airborne. In my opinion, it is more dangerous than we originally thought. In terms of new research, we have learned that there are a relatively high proportion of asymptomatic people — those who are infected but have no symptoms. We are also learning that the outcomes associated with COVID-19 infection are more systemic than we originally thought, seeming to cause an immune reaction that leads to an inflammatory cascade that can be difficult to fight. My priority remains the same: to preserve public health and prevent as many people as we can from getting sick.


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