Tomoko Udo: Keeping Our University Community Safe

Tomoko Udo stands against a grey background and smiles at the camera.

ALBANY, N.Y. (September 10, 2021) - Organizational pandemic response is not simple or straightforward. For the University at Albany, which is composed of three campuses, over 170 research centers, over 300 organizations, and thousands of students and faculty, it was necessary for response to work in conjunction with complex systems and moving parts. University leadership took this task seriously, pulling on the School of Public Health’s knowledge to determine a framework to keep our University community safe.

Tomoko Udo, associate professor of Health Policy, Management and Behavior, played a key role in applying public health principles to guide UAlbany’s response. Her experience utilizes a wide range of approaches, from basic laboratory behavioral experiments, survey methods, quasi-experimental studies, and mixed methods to secondary data analysis of epidemiological data.

Udo, working alongside the University’s RNA Institute, developed the University’s Weekly Saliva Surveillance Testing Program. She created the “shell” for the initiative and the principles of surveillance, providing invaluable expertise as the RNA Institute developed the methods and procedures for the tests themselves.

“It’s important for us not only to track the rate of infection, but also to get ahead of outbreaks to some extent,” says Udo. “Actively detecting infection through the Surveillance Testing Program allowed us to isolate people who have been infected and possibly exposed to mitigate further spread.”

Udo notes that everyone involved was working around the clock—and RNA Institute staff were sometimes processing over three thousand samples in just one weekend. Udo also was part of the interdisciplinary group that developed a student support team to assist with on-campus contact tracing and support for all UAlbany students. This led to the development of a team composed of undergraduate and graduate students who received rigorous training and have spent hundreds of hours supporting their classmates.

“Those who are isolated due to exposure don’t just need tangible support, such as food,” Udo says. “They need mental support as well. It can be overwhelming for anyone when their health may be at risk, and peer-to-peer communication can significantly contribute to the experience for the better.”

In Fall 2020, Udo was appointed as a Health Advisor for Covid-19 by University Provost Carol Kim. In this role, she advises University leadership on the latest developments in the pandemic, policies around Covid-19, and programs or considerations UAlbany should take to protect the wellbeing of the community.

“What’s safe and what’s feasible can change very quickly,” Udo notes. “This means that I have been closely in touch with the Provost, Incident Management Team, and others in leadership—evenings, weekends, whenever needed. It has been exhausting but very rewarding, especially when we saw the number of cases come down in our community.”

This article was originally published in the School of Public Health's summer 2021 magazine