The University of Hawaii at Manoa's Office of Public Health Studies is proud to welcome Dr. Samantha Keaulana-Scott to its esteemed faculty. 

When Hawaiʻi’s government officials and policy makers want to know what lies ahead in the COVID-19pandemic, they look to University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Thomas Lee, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the Office of Public Health Studies in the Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work, to provide some answers. In his role as the forecaster and modeler for Hawaiʻi’s response effort, Lee analyzes reams of data and gives state policy makers a picture of what the coming months may hold.

Lee creates epidemiological models of Hawaiʻi’s current COVID-19 infection rate and test results. As part the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) COVID-19 Emergency Response Team, Lee synthesizes these models with the latest science on coronavirus transmission rates, population risk factors and the effects of physical distancing to create forecasts of the pandemic’s possible impacts on the state.

“The goal of my work is to provide decision makers in Hawaiʻi with the best available information on the possible future spread and impacts of COVID-19,” Lee said. When he began this work in early April, the urgent focus was to predict infections for the coming days and weeks. Now, as the state looks ahead to opening up, his tasks have shifted to figuring out the outcomes of different scenarios.

Lee is currently figuring out how Hawaiʻi’s case count may change if the state decides to screen all travelers, rather than not screen them. He is working on predicting how many COVID-19 patients may require long-term hospitalization, and at what point it makes sense for the state to create a dedicated skilled nursing facility to care for them. His scenarios on future cases inform HI-EMA’s calculations on how much personal protective equipment Hawaiʻi will need for the second wave of infections.

Lee’s background

Born and raised in Hawaiʻi, Lee is an alumnus of the public health program for which he now teaches.

“The UH Mānoa public health program does a great job in training epidemiologists to be multidisciplinary,” Lee said. Prior to the pandemic, most of his research focused on modeling rates of chronic conditions, such as Alzheimer disease and risk factors for depression.

As a U.S. Army reservist placed on active duty, Lee relies on his military training to understand the logistics and planning aspects of the state’s larger pandemic response effort. His role as HI-EMA‘s forecaster requires not only data analysis skills, but also the ability to engage in communications, education, coordination and planning.

“In the military and public health, I’ve learned to look at problems holistically, and that perspective has certainly been needed in this response effort,” he said.

As part of his work at UH Mānoa, Lee participates with other faculty members in the Hawaiʻi Pandemic Applied Modeling (HiPAM) workgroup. This group includes epidemiologists, data scientists and health care workers, and helps the state in adapting models and other tools for Hawaiʻi’s unique context.

“Thomas has a rare combination of strong scientific and technical expertise in epidemiology, as well as humility and excellent powers of listening and reflection that are the basis of his excellent communication skills,” said Victoria Fan, chair of the HiPAM workgroup and an associate professor at UH Mānoa. “I believe Thomas is instrumental for the Office of Public Health Studies in bridging the gap between the academic and the real world.”

Hawaiʻi moving forward

Lee said that an important part of his work is communicating to policy makers the limitations of the data. “I don’t have a crystal ball,” he said. “My job is to communicate the forecasts along with the assumptions and caveats that we used to develop the forecasts.” Any possible scenario could lead to a range of outcomes, and Lee feels a massive responsibility to explain to policy makers that his models are meant to provide likely outcomes, not definitive answers.

Ultimately, Hawaiʻi’s ability to move forward will depend on each person’s efforts to adhere to the best public health practices, such as maintaining physical distancing and staying informed.

“We all have an impact on how we continue to open up, and how healthy we are as a state,” Lee said. “Everyone has a responsibility to do their best.”

Congratulations to the 2017 UH Mānoa Awardees from our very own Public Health program ‘ohana - doctoral student, Mapuana, and assistant professor, Denise Nelson-Hurwitz!

Dr. Nelson-Hurwitz received the Frances Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. She was selected because of her incredible work developing and teaching the BA in public health.

Mapuana Antonio won the Student Excellence in Research Award for her studies of Native Hawaiian physical and mental health resilience. Mapuana graduated in May 2017 with her DrPH and is now teaching at Leeward Community College.


Claudio Nigg, PhD, was honored at the Society of Behavioral Medicine meeting held March 30 - April 2, 2016 in Washington, DC, with the Research to Practice Award, which recognizes exemplary work in translating behavioral medicine research into practical application, dissemination, or implementation.

Eric Hurwitz, DC, PhD, and his colleagues were awarded a clinical research paper award at the Association of Chiropractic Colleges Education Conference and Research Agenda Conference held March 17-19, 2016 in Orlando, Florida for their work on "Integrative acupuncture and chiropractic care versus either alone for low back pain: a randomized controlled trial."

World Spine Care clinic

OPHS PhD epidemiology chair and professor, Eric Hurwitz, PhD, highlights development of sustainable model of spine care in underserved communities in 'Creating a sustainable model of spine care in underserved communities' discussing global health work being conducted through non-profit organization, World Spine Care. Dr. Hurwitz also serves as the co-chair of World Spine Care’s Research Committee, coordinating research projects being conducting in clinics located in Botswana, India, and the Dominican Republic through collaborations with researchers in Canada, Denmark, India, France, and across the United States. For more information about WSC “like” them on Facebook and check out their videos on YouTube.

Linda Krieger, Kealoha Pisciotta, and Maile Taualii discuss the importance of preserving Hawai‘i's cultural sites for the health and well-being of Native Hawaiians and all in Hawai‘i.

Richard Zoraster, MD, MPH talks about his experiences with Disaster Medicine on September 26, 2013 at 2:00pm in Biomed D207. Large scale disasters such as Hurricanes and Earthquakes will focus international attention on the affected populations. Multiple international organizations such as World Health, UNICEF, World Food Program will focus support, nutritional, and preventive health programs.

Dr. Derek Bell is in Hawaii on sabbatical and is our kickoff speaker for this year's OPHS Seminar Series. Currently practicing in New Zealand, he is here to experience different public health practice and environment.

The U.S. Census Bureau has named Maile Taualii as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations.

Dr. Taualii, an assistant professor within the Office of Public Health Studies, is the Director of one of UH Mānoa's newest degree-granting programs, a Master of Public Health with Native Hawaiian and indigenous health specialization. 

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