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Public health professor shares COVID-19 expertise to help keep people safe

Chunhuei Chi

Prior to 2020, Professor Chunhuei Chi in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences had only been interviewed in the media twice.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chunhuei has logged 123 interviews with journalists from around the world, sometimes fielding five requests per day.

On top of that, he has been a speaker on eight webinars, participated in four coronavirus-related committees, and provided 17 of what he calls “public service” communications — including to a fifth grade student from New York City who wrote to him in early June for a school project. Other far-flung calls came from a health worker in Paraguay, and a Rotary Club in England where he’s now scheduled to speak via videoconference in September.

“This is almost like my second full-time job, except it’s a volunteer unpaid job,” Chunhuei says.

He has been featured in Al Jazeerathe Washington Postthe LA Timesthe IndependentDeutsch Welle and too many stories to count in Oregon media. Articles quoting him have been translated into multiple languages and published internationally.

Reporters seek his insight on the U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus, compared with other countries’ responses, as well as his recommendations for proper mask use and how quickly people should return to public activity.

Chunhuei’s expertise with COVID-19 began in late December, when he started hearing rumblings from China about a dangerous new virus.

Because he moved to the U.S. from Taiwan, where he has also conducted extensive public health research, he was plugged in to an international network researchers in that field. He began reading their updates, as well as Chinese and Taiwanese medical news reports and research papers, for four to five hours a day and discussing new findings with fellow researchers worldwide to learn everything he could about the emerging coronavirus.

“By the time the U.S. media started to pay attention in mid-February, I accumulated quite a lot of information and knowledge about this disease,” Chunhuei says.

He still spends several hours a day reading about the virus and discussing with his colleagues on their medical chat group. He doesn’t sleep more than six hours a night, he says, but “a nap really helps.”  

The interview jitters he felt in February have faded away. After about the 30th interview, he says, he started to feel at ease. Plus, his wife listens and gives feedback on how to improve.

While he wishes we weren’t in a pandemic, Chunhuei feels this is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to put his public health research to practical use.

“These media interviews, I feel I have more direct impact on the public, particularly in this time of an unusual event and emergency,” he says. “I feel the urge to spread the important information that can potentially help or even save people’s lives. That’s the motivation.”

This story was originally published in Life at OSU.

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