Corona as a Research Topic

The pandemic is a challenge for us all. For science it means interesting research.

Since the beginning of the year 2020, the pandemic has had a hold on many aspects of our lives. The virus also led to normal teaching and research operations at the university no longer being possible all the time. At the same time, researchers from various fields have carried out research on corona and its effects in the past months. Here are some examples:

Logo of the project Recov-19

„The Changing Role of Religion in Societies Emerging from Covid-19” (ReCov-19)

RECOV-19 is an international research project funded through the Trans-Atlantic Platform (T-AP) for the Social Sciences and Humanities. It received an award under T-AP’s ‘Recovery, Renewal and Resilience in a Post-Pandemic World’ (RRR) program. Researchers from four countries in the Global North – Germany, the Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland, Canada, and Poland – are investigating and comparing changes in the religious landscape of these largely secularized countries.

Faced with the far-reaching cuts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, religious and secular organizations had to deal with issues surrounding the pandemic, clarify and communicate their positions on the virus, on the state and on government regulations, and develop ways to stay in touch with their members. At the same time, they had to deal with the changes in practical terms and in many cases create new digital infrastructures. The project investigates whether the role of religion has changed during the pandemic in four, secularizing Global North contexts. If it has, to what extent?

What factors have influenced the changes?

What are the similarities and differences in the various contexts?

It has three main areas of investigation: discourses around health, illness, and science; changing relationships between religions and the state; and religious adaptations to the digital world. In all four countries, the researchers examine four or three religious/secular organizations. This allows them to identify differences both between countries and transnationally between organizations.

University of Bremen Illustration

How Health Mediators Are Supporting Corona Prevention Initiatives in Neighborhoods

Research is being carried out at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology (BIPS) together with “Landesvereinigung für Gesundheit Bremen e.V.” on how health mediators are included in the corona prevention measures implemented in the different districts. Socially disadvantaged and culturally diverse areas are far more affected by the corona pandemic than other areas. Thus, there is an urgent need for specific approaches for the improvement of corona prevention measures and vaccination acceptance here. Multilingual health mediators can serve as a bridge to the citizens in the affected districts and find out exactly where information and support is required. Professor Hajo Zeeb and his team are researching how such a concept functions in the COVID-TCM project. Zeeb is a professor within the Faculty of Human and Health Sciences at the University of Bremen and a head of department at BIPS. The project’s focus lies on the Bremen district of Osterholz and bordering regions. People who are well connected in the district are trained for the work as a health mediator and contribute to the educational work concerning corona prevention measures.

A man looks absently out of the window. To what extent pandemic-related stress influences the human psyche is dependent on psychological and social factors, as well as the general environment.

To What Extent Does Corona Get Under Our Skin?

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is a global challenge that is leading to far-reaching individual and social restrictions. To what extent pandemic-related stress influences the human psyche is dependent on psychological and social factors, as well as the general environment. Professor Christian Kandler from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bremen is investigating which effect stress has on gene activity, as life-changing experiences can influence gene impact. Such so-called epigenetic changes may even be passed on to the next generations. The “TwinLife Epigenetic Change Satellite (TECS)” project, which is being funded by the German Research Foundation, works on the “encoding of epigenetic changes in connection with the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic as part of a genetically informative, longitudinal twin family study.” Alongside the University of Bremen, Bielefeld University, University Hospital Bonn, the Max Planck Institute Munich, and Saarland University are involved in the joint project.

A person wearing headphones uses a laptop.

How Online Communication Is Changing Social Interaction

The social and work psychologist Sylke Meyerhuber from artec Sustainability Research Center has carried out research based on 12 subject fields together with winter semester students of sociology. The research focused on to what extent and how interaction is “different when digital” and what effect this may have on people in groups and their leaders. As researchers, teachers, students, group and organizational leaders, and consultants for the world of work 4.0, the results address a great deal of people. The report offers numerous thought-provoking impulses that span from one’s own manner of working from home in the long term, to the handling of video meetings, the value of groups for people, leadership from a distance, and the future of work. The research report “Sustainable, Social Behavior in Online Communication and Cooperation? Working from Home in the Long Term – Conflict Potential and Solutions in Digital Groups and for Leaders” (“Sozial nachhaltiges Handeln in der Online-Kommunikation und -kooperation? Langzeitliches Homeoffice – Konfliktpotenziale und Lösungsansätze in digitalen Gruppen sowie für deren Leitung”) is available as artec paper 228.

Virologist Andreas Dotzauer in his laboratory.

Virologist Hard at Work at the University of Bremen

Professor Andreas Dotzauer is head of the Laboratory for Virus Research at the University of Bremen. For months now, the virologist has been a sought-after interviewee for the media and politics and continues to explain with expertise and patience what the scientific field knows about the virus, how the numbers can be interpreted, and what individuals can do to protect themselves. He also doesn’t hide his assessments, for example when talking about the suitability of planned easing of restrictions. It is his scientific strictness that gives him credibility. He is currently working intensely on the scientific studies regarding coronavirus.

Scientists in the laboratory

How the Public Health on COVID-19 Competence Network is Helping to Keep an Overview

Our knowledge of the virus is still restricted. At the same time, politicians must make important decisions that affect us all. A network made up of around 20 specialist societies from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, including the University of Bremen, is to help to improve the basis for such decisions. One of the network’s founders is Professor Ansgar Gerhardus from the Institute of Public Health and Nursing Research at the University of Bremen. “It was important for us that current and interdisciplinary expertise on COVID-19 was quickly available for the discussions that are being held at the moment and for the decision-making processes. In topic-based working groups, we are providing the best scientific news as summarized information.” Members of the competence network are in direct contact with the decision makers in ministries and federal offices.

University of Bremen Illustration

What Are the Long-Term Effects?

At the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology (BIPS), research on the long-term effects of the coronavirus is being carried out together with the Health Department. The affected persons are being interviewed by phone or online. “We are taking a look at the different courses of the illness,” explains Hajo Zeeb, professor at the University of Bremen and BIPS department head. “We are particularly interested in what happens after one has been infected.”

Additionally, the institute has taken on the scientific assessment of the regular special reports of the infection situation in childcare centers and schools. “We want to find out who passed the infection on to them. With this information, we hope to acquire insight into which measures are effective and where improvement is needed,” explains Zeeb. They also make recommendations. Their work has the larger aim of controlling the spread of infection.

A doctor talks to her patient

How Can the NAKO Health Study Data Help?

The NAKO Health Study – a national health study with 200,000 participants, which began in 2014 – is being used to research the short-term and long-term effects of the corona pandemic. The study offers the ideal starting point for the analysis of the pandemic effects on the health of the German population. BIPS is carrying out the study as one of 18 study centers across Germany. NAKO holds health data from the public for the period directly before and at the beginning of the pandemic. All 205,000 NAKO participants were asked by means of an additional form to provide information on their health status, their (possible) experiences with specific COVID-19 symptoms, their social contacts, and possible psychological effects of the restrictions in place. “Alongside physical effects of an infection, it is important for us to also consider aspects such as social isolation and loneliness in the general public,” says Dr. Kathrin Günther, study center director of NAKO in Bremen.

Smartphone with Apps

How Do Apps Help?

In the fight against the spread of the corona pandemic, tracking contact with apps can be an important component for reducing the rate of transmission and could support the work of health authorities. This is what experts from the Public Health on COVID-19 network have found out. The experts from the network, of which the University of Bremen professors Hajo Zeeb and Ansgar Gerhardus are a part, have analyzed scientific contributions on the effectiveness of contact-tracing apps from journals, texts from news magazines, and web-based content. This was done under the direction of Tina Jahnel, a scientist from the Institute of Public Health and Nursing Research at the University of Bremen.

Young woman with mouth-nose covering looks at her smartphone.

What Is Moving People in the Corona Pandemic?

Which thoughts and emotions are connected to the current extraordinary situation? Which daily circumstances protect our mental health and which ones trigger stress? How does our own perception of the danger posed to us change and how is the threat posed to persons close to us assessed? Those are the most important questions of the research project that the Institute of Public Health and Nursing Research at the University of Bremen posed for their Stress and Resources in Times of the Corona Pandemic study.

Three young people sit together. The young man in the middle holds his Smartohine in his hand and the other two women are looking at his smartphone.

What Expectations Do People Who Are Making Their Bodily Data Available Have?

In a short study, the Institute of Public Health and Nursing Research is researching the corona data donation app from the Robert Koch Institute. By means of survey, the scientists wish to find out which feelings and expectations people connect with the donation of their bodily data. Alongside the postcode, the “data donation app” passes on various vitals (pulse, heart rate variability, stress, temperature, weight, blood pressure) and sociodemographic data (age, height, gender, weight). However, not all data is necessarily recorded – this is dependent on the device and willingness of the donors.

Whilst the Robert Koch Institute analyzes the data, little is known about the motivation, (bodily) experience, and significance of the data donors. This is to be researched in the frame of qualitative interviews.

A person wearing headphones uses a laptop.

How Are Students Doing in Times of Corona?

A collaborative study by the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology (BIPS) and the Faculty of Human and Health Sciences wants to find out how students are coping with the crisis. The result: The lives of many students have changed drastically due to corona. Since the beginning of the restrictions, they have had far less contact to family and friends. A large proportion also stated that they are experiencing stress thanks to the changes in teaching. Nearly half of the students are worried that they will not be able to successfully finish the university year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The financial situation is also seen critically by many: More than 16 percent of the participants stated that they do not have sufficient funds at the moment. The majority feels that they have been well informed on the changes and measures by the university.

Nurse and resident of a nursing home with mouse-nose covering masks

How Can Fake News Be Stopped?

COVID-19 related misinformation is mainly spread via social media. A research project intends to investigate whether interventions based on nudging can help to curb the spread of misinformation. The project has the potential to contribute to reducing misinformation.

The project was developed within the Leibniz ScienceCampus Digital Public Health Bremen together with the Human-Computer-Interaction Research Group from the Faculty of Mathematics / Computer Science. Researchers from the Institute of Public Health and Nursing Research groups Health Promotion & Prevention, Social Epidemiology, and Health Services Research are active within this project.

Old lady looking at Smartphone

What Risk Is Posed in Care Homes?

Those in need of care are some of those hit hardest by the corona crisis. 60 percent of all mortalities stem from care homes or persons supervised by care services. However, the related proportion of infected persons is only 8.5 percent. That is the result of a survey. A group of researchers led by the nursing professor Karin Wolf-Ostermann from the Institute of Public Health and Nursing Research and health economist Professor Heinz Rothgang from SOCIUM Research Center on Inequality and Social Policy carried out the online survey in outpatient and stationary care facilities.

The survey data from 824 care homes, 701 care service providers, and 96 partially stationary facilities was analyzed. A high infection rate was found in connection to care staff.

University of Bremen Illustration

How Is the Pandemic Affecting Care at Home?

A team led by Professor Rothgang (SOCIUM) and Professor Karin Wolf-Ostermann (IPP) have found out that there is a higher strain on caring relatives who carry out domestic care duties. More than 1,200 people who are registered as informal care persons and who may potentially be under double or triple strain due to care duties, jobs, and their own family based on them being under the age of 67 were chosen. It was shown that the perceived life quality and health of the carers is in some cases drastically reduced due to the changed framework thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. This does not stem from a coronavirus infection in itself but rather the combination of time-consuming care, lessened support, reduced social contact, working from home, and home schooling.

Many people approach each other.

Which Societal and Political Issues Are There?

An interdisciplinary group at SOCIUM has published four papers on the corona epidemic. The health scientist Professor Gerd Glaeske, the political scientist Professor Philip Manow, and the legal scholar Professor Dieter Hart are involved. The papers deal with the societal, legal, and political dimensions of the pandemic. When will it be possible to return to normality? How can expedient prevention be further developed? How can civil rights be protected in times of a crisis? Those are examples of some of the questions that are answered.

Woman with children on a meadow

How Unfair Is the Distribution of Care Work?

“The corona crisis is making is clear how relevant and yet under-appreciated jobs that are connected to care are,” explains Sonja Bastin from the Research Center on Inequality and Social Policy (SOCIUM). “The pandemic is making the situation worse,” adds her colleague Andrea Schäfer, “but is also only making a structural crisis in care work that has been around for a long time visible.” This so-called care work can be paid work, such as in adult care or childcare facilities, but may also be unpaid, as is the case with domestic care within families or parental leave periods. It is mainly women who take on these tasks. The economy and the state reportedly exploit this fact – mainly at a disadvantage to women.

Jutta Günther

COVID-19: Focus on Bremen‘s Innovation Policy and Structural Change

How does the pandemic impact the regional economy? This is the question addressed in the study “Structural Change through COVID-19: Implications for Innovation Policy in the Bremen State” published by the University of Bremen and the Hamburg Institute of International Economics (HWWI). The Bremen and Bremerhaven Universities of Applied Sciences and the Jacobs University are involved as well. The contributions are divided into four key areas: innovation and startups, urban development and sustainable innovations, economic and financial aspects, as well as global markets and value chains. “When we conceived the study, we had no idea how quickly the pandemic situation would intensify,” says Jutta Günther, who is professor of economics at the University of Bremen and carries out research on innovation and structural change. “The continuously required aid programs for companies must cushion hardships and promote future-oriented investments.”

Microphone and headphones

How the Pandemic Is Affecting Africa

Klaus Schlichte from the Global Dynamics of Social Policy Collaborative Research Centre at the University of Bremen has taken a closer look at the COVID-19 pandemic in African countries and the measures taken by governments there. “There are differences between countries, but repressive measures dominate,” says the political scientist with regard to the governmental reactions to the spread of the novel coronavirus in Africa. Economically, the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting African societies hard. Tourism, which is of great importance in the coastal regions as well as inland in the form of safaris, is experiencing a massive slump, he explains. “More important, however, is the decline in so-called remittances (i.e. money transfers from family members working in Europe, for example). As a result, the most important source of foreign currency in African economies is collapsing.”

A homeless man holds a cup in his hands.

Different Perspectives on Corona and its Control Measures

The digital exhibition “Covid-19: A Mosaic. Politics of Life in Times of the Corona Crisis” sheds light on different perspectives. Students and teaching staff of the Institute of International and Intercultural Studies (InIIS) at the University of Bremen gathered podcasts, videos, collages, and texts, which were seminar outcomes from the summer semester 2020. These are supplemented with contributions from and with civil society actors on topics such as homelessness, sex work, or maritime search and rescue. Among those represented are the organizations SeaWatch, Together We are Bremen, the Feminist Strike Alliance Bremen, and the street newspaper "Zeitschrift der Straße." “The intention is to create a multifaceted mosaic with different perspectives on the corona crisis to facilitate critical public discourse on the pandemic and its control measures,” explains Philip Schulz. “At the same time, it also brings the work of students at the University of Bremen into the spotlight.”

India Lockdown

How Do Different Countries Protect Their Populations from the Economic and Social Impacts of the Pandemic?

Almost all countries have taken measures to control the spread of the coronavirus – with serious side effects for economy and society. Germany and other industrialized countries have invested enormous financial efforts to cushion the burdens of the lockdown. The Collaborative Research Centre 1342 entitled Global Dynamics of Social Policy explores the question of how the situation compares to other regions of the world. A new social policy response series explores which social policies and laws have been implemented by various countries around the world to mitigate the economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each report contains an essay of a country’s main social policy response and is supplemented by a systematic data appendix. The primary focus is on countries of the Global South, where research on sociopolitical responses to the pandemic has so far been limited.