School of Nursing professor helps Jefferson County fight COVID-19

Mirjam-Colette Kempf, Ph.D., MPH, is serving on the Jefferson County COVID-19 Task Force.
Written by: Erica Techo
Media contact: Holly Gainer

Editor's Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to for UAB's current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.

Environmental shot of Dr. Mirjam-Colette Kempf, PhD, MPH (Professor, Nursing and Health Behavior), 2013.Mirjam-Colette Kempf, Ph.D., MPHMirjam-Colette Kempf, Ph.D., MPH, an infectious diseases expert and professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Nursing, is on the front lines of Jefferson County’s battle with the novel coronavirus. She is serving on the Jefferson County COVID-19 Task Force, lending her epidemiological expertise to help protect our community. 

Kempf’s background in infectious diseases and epidemiology and her dual appointment in the UAB schools of Nursing and Public Health led to her participation on the task force. The UAB School of Public Health, School of Medicine the Department of Pediatrics and the Jefferson County Department of Health partnered to select faculty and county employees with a variety of backgrounds and experience to gather information, collaborate and recommend action.

“While most of my research and what I do looks at making life better for those living with HIV, including studying comorbidities and access to care, my work in epidemiology lends itself to our ongoing COVID-19 conversations,” Kempf said. “If you think about the roots of epidemiology, it traces back to the spread of disease and the study of the cholera outbreak in London as an example of epidemiological work. It’s interesting to think of those roots and then to look at all the data and models we are working with to track the spread and potential spread of COVID-19.”

Since its formation, the task force has offered recommendations on the classification of non-essential businesses and shelter-in-place orders. Members also look at Jefferson County-specific information to create models and determine “trigger points” for action.

“We’re working to determine what these trigger points are that would lead us to increase or decrease measures,” Kempf said. “There has not been a consensus so far, but determining and being transparent about those benchmarks is important to give the public confidence in our actions.”

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She added that more information and data are vital in determining those trigger points, as more data creates more accurate models.

“The more we move on in this pandemic, the more accurate the models become,” Kempf said. “I think that is going to help us as we continue, because these models are not stagnant — they evolve over time. I think we are fortunate here in Jefferson County because we’re behind the curve, and we intervened before that window of opportunity closed. That affords us time to plan and flatten the curve.” 

Kempf also is connecting with international colleagues to help develop innovative responses to COVID-19 through gauging how other countries and cities are approaching the pandemic. 

“I reached out to some colleagues in Europe, given that they’re already ahead of us on the COVID-19 timeline, and had the chance to talk to the Infection Control officer responsible for Hamburg, Germany’s response,” she said. “As a metropolitan area of about 2 million people, their death rate has been lower in comparison to other areas.”

Other UAB members of the task force include School of Public Health Dean Paul C. Erwin, M.D., DrPH; Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Behavior Kevin Fontaine, Ph.D.; Associate Professor Lisa McCormick, DrPH; Professor Suzanne Judd, Ph.D.; School of Medicine Professor and Director of the UAB Center for AIDS Research Michael Saag, M.D.; and School of Medicine Professor of Pediatrics and Co-Director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases David Kimberlin, M.D.

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