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Staging the Plague

By: Katherine Unger Baillie Published: Mar 12, 2019
Penn Vet’s Dr. Laurel Redding summarizes her group’s thoughts during a brainstorming session during the PennDemic outbreak simulation.
Penn Vet’s Dr. Laurel Redding summarizes her group’s thoughts during a brainstorming session during the
PennDemic outbreak simulation.
   

A child with a swollen armpit and high fever dies in Washington, D.C. The cause is Yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes plague. Two days later, a 35-year-old in Philadelphia is confirmed to have the plague. If you’re a public-health professional, what questions do you have? What do you need to know to protect your community?

This fictional scenario, presented in October to 85 students from different Penn schools, constituted the launch of an infectious disease outbreak simulation dubbed PennDemic. Organized by Penn Vet, Penn Nursing, Penn Medicine, Penn Graduate School of Education and School of Social Policy & Practice, and more, the daylong event was staged to evoke the working conditions of a real crisis, complete with air raid sirens, fake news updates, and rapidly changing conditions.

“The point of this is to teach students how to work in interdisciplinary teams,” said Shelley Rankin, Professor of Microbiology at Penn Vet and one of the lead organizers of PennDemic. “Getting the ‘right answer’ is not why we’re doing this. We’re letting them get to know how disciplines outside their own view things, how to capably work together, and how to manage some of the chaos that can ensue during public-health emergencies.”

This article is adapted, with permission, from one that appeared in Penn Today on October 29, 2018. For the full article visit: penntoday.upenn.edu/news/staging-plague.

Penn Vet’s Dr. Stephen Cole and Dr. Shelley Rankin, one of the lead organizers of PennDemic.
Penn Vet’s Dr. Stephen Cole and Dr. Shelley Rankin, one of the lead organizers of PennDemic.
   
Damon Centola of the Annenberg School for Communication spoke to students about his research connecting social networks with the spread of health behaviors.
Damon Centola of the Annenberg School for Communication spoke to students about his research connecting social networks with the spread of health behaviors.