Temple’s General Education program is designed to broaden undergraduate students’ exposure to arts, sciences, history and contemporary issues. So it was timely for the College of Public Health to create “Health Outbreaks, Epidemics and Pandemics: The Case of Coronavirus,” a GenEd class about COVID-19 and its implications, for the spring semester.

“This class isn't just about COVID-19 itself; it's also about the perfect storm of events that led us to where we are today, and that's what makes this ideal for a GenEd course,” says Krys Johnson, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, who is co-instructing the course with Philip McCallion, professor and director of the School of Social Work. “We lay the foundation for understanding what public health is and what it does, travel through previous pandemics and epidemics, then assess how what we learned or didn't from the past applies to COVID-19 now.“

Students from performing arts, political science, business, media, and public health have been able to share their perceptions of what has happened so far in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One thing that was very attractive to us was the opportunity to do something across multiple disciplines,” McCallion says. “We look at the science of COVID-19, its origins and how it spreads. And we also examine what this means for society. What are the implications for different groups in the population? What's happening in different countries, and what can we learn from that?”

A goal of the class is to separate fact from fiction about COVID transmission, masks and vaccines. “We have tried to be up front about dealing with myths that are out there,” McCallion says. And, he adds, there’s been an opportunity to learn from the students. “One assignment is asking groups of students to come up with what they think would have been better ways to message the concerns about the virus. How do we encourage people to be vaccinated?”

McCallion says there are plans to offer the Health Outbreaks course again in the fall. (It also fulfills the requirement of the college's Public Health Contact Tracing Training.)  Offering the course again presents its own challenge, as the subject is a rapidly moving target. 

“I think that by fall we will be in a very different place in terms of our understanding of vaccinations, and what the impact has actually been, as opposed to what theoretically we thought it would be,” McCallion says. 

Adds Johnson: “There will be a next pandemic, which we discuss toward the end of the course; The point is to know and to do better the next time around.”