COVID-19 Research

This line of research identifies the design and technological determinants of economic success and business continuity for essential infrastructure and service providers, including public agencies, food retail businesses, and commercial offices.

Click on the headers below to read more about each COVID related research project.

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Design Determinants of COVID-19 Impacts to Essential Business and Services

COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant
University of Washington Population Health Initiative
2020

Investigators

Jan Whittington, Associate Professor, Department of Urban Design and Planning
Gundula Proksch, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture

Project abstract

How do the physical design and service models of essential services and businesses worsen or improve the prospect of business continuity, economic success, and social welfare in the COVID-19 pandemic? Physical distance reduces the reproducibility (R0) of the virus and therefore the rate of infection of SARS-CoV-2 in the population. Services critical to our continued health and well-being are encouraged or required by policy to continue operations, yet providers may find that their facilities and service models leave them with limited ability to maintain a physical distance of six feet or more. With the advent of social distancing policy, physical facilities can limit the adaptability of service delivery, leading to differential pressure on organizations to change or curtail services, seek outside funding, furlough or lay off employees, form partnerships, seek hard-to-find protective equipment, or close.

This research examines facilities and services in the City of Seattle, including 1) public infrastructure services (e.g., electricity, water, parks, transportation), 2) private and non-profit organizations in the food service industry, such as retail grocery and restaurant services, newly recognized as essential businesses in COVID-19 related policy, and 3) the delivery access to housing, on the rise since the advent of physical distancing policy.

This is empirical, mixed-methods research, surveying for patterns of facility designs, service models and modifications, and economic outcomes for providers, prior to and during the pandemic. This analysis will allow us to deduce likely economic effects of continued or renewed social distancing policy and make design recommendations that ease their implementation.

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Technology and spatial transformation as mediators of economic recovery from COVID-19 for food retail businesses and the communities they serve

COVID-19 Economic Recovery Research Grant
University of Washington Population Health Initiative
2020

Investigators

Jan Whittington, Associate Professor, Department of Urban Design and Planning
Gundula Proksch, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture
Sofia Dermisi, Professor, Department of Real Estate
Qing Shen, Professor, Department of Urban Design and Planning

Project abstract

How do technology and spatial transformation mediate economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic for essential business in the food retail industry and associated communities? Preliminary evidence from a sample of food services in Seattle (e.g., supermarkets, restaurants, farmer’s markets) suggests that to survive the most confining period of physical distancing policy (May, 2020), businesses increased reliance on technology (e.g., websites, third party apps), and reconfigured space (e.g., dining to storage, doorways to take-out windows, parking to curbside pick-up), in ways that reinforce one another.

However, the feasibility of such interventions appear to vary by tenancy (building ownership) and broader socio-demographic characteristics. During economic recovery, maintaining a physical distance of six feet or more remains the most effective means to limit the reproducibility (R0) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. As policies allow for increased activity but pressure remains focused on physical distancing, the pace and direction of recovery for the food service business may vary with the technological and spatial strategies they employ to regain pre-pandemic levels of service.

This empirical mixed-methods research follows the current sample of food services (n=1189) with field observations and semi-structured surveys during the recovery period (July to November, 2020). In this study, surveys and interviews will examine how variation in the uses of technology and re-design of interior and exterior spaces, including urban rights-of-way (i.e., public sidewalks, parklets, and streetscapes), influence variation in the rate of survival, rate of recovery, and overall economic success of businesses over time, especially for small businesses in marginalized communities.

Learn more from the Population Health Initiative.

Economic Impact of Office Workplace Transformation Due to COVID-19: How Can Buildings and Surrounding Areas Recover?

COVID-19 Economic Recovery Research Grant
University of Washington Population Health Initiative
2020

Investigators

Sofia Dermisi, Professor, Department of Real Estate
Hyun Woo Lee, Associate Professor, Department of Construction Management
Jan Whittington, Associate Professor, Department of Urban Design & Planning
Gundula Proksch, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture
Youngchul Kim, Associate Professor,Civil & Environmental Engineering, KAIST

Project abstract

COVID-19 spread from person-to-person through airborne droplets, creates significant challenges for the office workplaces/buildings, which led to their closures by governors’ mandates. The question now becomes, how would office buildings become safer through workplace transformation, maintain their competitiveness as well as the areas, while companies reassess their physical vs. virtual footprint?

The combination of remote working (56% of current workforce), the perception of potential infection risk of returning office occupants to their buildings (51% of survey respondents) and government regulation is motivating companies to implement safety measures (83% of CFOs) and reconfigure the workplace (73% of CFOs). The goal of office building managers/owners is to maintain the safety/well-being of their occupants with the type of COVID-19 spread requiring a layered safety approach to alleviate occupant safety concerns. The implementation of visible measures will additionally maintain the building values allowing the surrounding area to thrive.

In response, this research aims to investigate: 1) compliant strategies of office layouts with respect to physical distancing; 2) economic impact of mitigated layouts to buildings as well as surrounding community and their future recovery; and 3) recovery actions through innovative building codes against future pandemics. As this is an empirical forecast study for downtown Seattle, we aim to 1) integrate spatial and economic analysis of physical distancing in office buildings and their surrounding area by comparing office and health sector building codes in the US and abroad, and then 2) plan on making recommendations on how the area can maintain safety and vitality.

Learn more from the Population Health Initiative.