Dr. Gillian Ice.

Years back, Dr. Gillian Ice’s research took her to Kenya, Africa, where she studied another pandemic that is still ongoing: HIV/AIDS.

At the time of her study of the pandemic and its impact on older people thrust into caregiver roles to help the orphans of HIV/AIDS survive, Kenya had an HIV infection rate of nearly 30 percent. She found in this study that although older people were picking up responsibility for a disappearing generation of parents, in terms of stress and how it physically presents itself, older caregivers fared better than people of the same age who were not looking after youth.

The study also found the older caregivers were better nourished than their counterparts who were not caregivers. To measure stress, researchers logged blood pressure measurements, as well as cortisol levels in saliva.

Nearly 15 years later, Ice was appointed to the position of special assistant to Ohio University President Duane Nellis for public health operations, a role that essentially made her the “single point of contact for all things COVID at the university,” she said.

Ice’s works with a team that focuses on non-clinical case management, public health communication and test management. 

She herself monitors public health data, and part of working with that data was finding a way to visualize it and present it to the community.

The university’s COVID-19 dashboard, which was awarded an A rating and top-tier placement in a group of Yale University professors’ ranking of more than 200 university dashboards across the country earlier this year following its rocky launch, was the brainchild of the epidemiologist and the OU Office of Institutional Research.

The dashboard was ranked the 17th best in the nation on the Yale professors’ list. It earned praise from the group, who work under the pseudonym “We Rate Covid Dashboards,” for its ease of reading, the amount of data presented and its inclusion of county data, among others, The Athens NEWS previously reported.

The dashboard was expanded overt time to include a system that broke down the state of each residence hall on campus in terms of COVID-19 cases, similar to the Ohio Public Health Advisory System used by the Ohio Department of Health.

Ice, a Massachusetts native, moved to Athens in the early 2000s to take on a job at OU, then serving as assistant professor of social medicine. Since then, she’s worn many hats in the university, such as her work in the university’s African studies program and the title of director of global health for the College of Health Sciences and Professions.

Ice has earned multiple degrees in her lifetime, including a master’s degree in Public Health in Epidemiology and a Ph.D in anthropology.

Prior to taking on the role of the university’s residential COVID-19 response leader, Ice served on the public health planning group that developed recommendations for the university’s reopening plan for the 2020-2021 school year.

Aside from public health, the special assistant to the president is passionate about cooking: her palette is heavily influenced by her research in Africa, and she has an affinity for spicy cuisine.

Her daughter reportedly decided that she and Ice would become pescatarians this summer (“Can’t take the Boston out of me,” Ice said), but her kitchen concoctions are often focused on vegetables. Baking is also a favorite for Ice. Pre-pandemic she was well-known for bringing baked goods (she likes cookies best) to meetings to share with colleagues.

She also enjoys crocheting, but she admittedly hasn’t had the most time for that hobby since the start of the pandemic. She had a stitching club she participated in where she and her group created “ear savers” — crocheted bands that connect the ear holes of face masks and rest on the back of the head to create a more comfortable fit — for public health workers and incoming nursing students.

That connects to one thing Ice said she loves about Athens: “We are a community that helps people out. Athens is very solution-focused.”

As the community has adapted to the pandemic, Ice said she has noticed it’s become a polarizing issue, and sometimes she has witnessed visceral responses as a public health leader at the university, particularly in response to the university’s students, which make up the lion’s share of cases in the county.

“Most people know the basic public health measures … it’s unfortunate that following those public health measurements has become a political statement,” she said.

More recently, with the introduction of initial vaccine distributions, Ice noted that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, but the community and world beyond are still in the tunnel, and will be for a while.

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