Pandemic Headquarters: Political Science dr. Sc. candidate leads a team of scientists and students studying whether border closure has affected the spread of COVID-19 | News Department of Political Science

Mary Shiraef
Mary Shiraef

When the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly halted international travel, Mary Shiraef’s field plan to investigate communist-era border policy outcomes in Albania was postponed indefinitely. So she turned around.

A candidate for a doctorate in political science from Notre Dame has decided to map border closures around the world caused by a pandemic. This was not something she expected to do in graduate school, as she primarily works with historical data.

But when Shiraef realized that new closures of world borders were not being followed, she realized the need.

“The World Health Organization did not have a database on closing borders,” she said. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not have a database.”

Thus, in April 2020, Shiraef and two researchers from Stanford University’s Immigration Policy Laboratory analyzed data from a humanitarian organization on closing borders in a blog post.

“It was the hardest blog post I’ve ever written,” Shiraef said. “The facts just didn’t exist.”

The team knew that border closures occur every day of that month, but it was not clear where they were, when they were happening and whether they would work. Drawing conclusions from the data was impossible because the data were collected in crisis mode rather than systematically.

Island countries were not included, and policy sources were deleted from the Internet.

The high-quality resources that existed were either targeted to the needs of specific travelers or were located behind the plaza, making it impossible for the average citizen to see which borders were closed when.

Shiraef then turned to local and global colleagues to see if they wanted to help her investigate the effectiveness of closing international borders.

“Twenty-five people responded in a week,” she said. “It was invigorating.”

Border closure map
Developed by Notre Dame undergraduate and undergraduate students, the COVID Border Responsibility Project offers the most comprehensive international database on closing borders online, including a user-friendly map visualization.

International effort

With the support of volunteers from Notre Dame, Stanford, Emory, Brown and Duke, as well as researchers in Germany and Japan, Shiraef has decided to launch an online data collection effort – the COVID Border Responsibility Project (COBAP). They quickly built the most comprehensive international database on COVID border closures, including user-friendly map visualization.

Paul Friesen
Paul Friesen

Political Science dr. Sc. Candidate Paul Friesen led the analysis, and an interdisciplinary team of three undergraduates in political science and one in biology helped find, categorize, and manually code more than 2,000 international border closures established in 2020-2021.

Those who speak a second and third language – including Arabic and French – recorded policies using their language skills. Students also corresponded with government officials to confirm dates and discover policies missing from the database. Friesen analyzed full and partial closures, as well as those banning travelers from certain countries.

Two years later, more than 40 news outlets were reported on the project, data reviewed and published in Nature Portfolio’s Scientific data, Scientific reports published open source results, and the National Library of Medicine published a study. International research collaboration remains active and continues to provide valuable skills development opportunities for Notre Dame undergraduates.

The team ultimately found no evidence that the closure of international borders had reduced the spread of COVID-19 – including island countries that had closed completely.

“These results are surprising for many, and less so for some,” Shiraef said. “My interpretation is that even when closing the borders seemed complete, there was almost always an exception or an exception, for important reasons. And the timing of border closures is a critical factor – most were introduced in March 2020 or later, which we now have a stronger feeling after the new coronavirus has already entered countries undetected. “

The team, however, found a strong link between domestic quarantine and the reduction in new COVID-19 cases.

Research information policy

Friesen, the second author of the study, hurried back to the United States in the spring of 2020 from Africa, where he was conducting research on the nature of partisanship in Botswana and Zimbabwe. For COBAP, he wrote the code and conducted the analysis, implementing state-of-the-art pairing techniques to ensure that the study compares similar countries to reduce bias.

“I felt the urgency of having that data analyzed,” he said. “It’s a perfect example of where academia can and should inform policy makers – who in this situation seem to follow conventional wisdom or the herd instinct to close borders. With any kind of restrictive policy, people will suffer in different ways, and we need to know if that pain was worth it. I think our findings say that in most cases it is not, so we hope to do it differently next time. “

For Shiraef, COBAP will not end with the publication of the study – it plans to stop when all border closures introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic are lifted. As of December 2021, more than 250 border closures remain, and many more were introduced in early 2022 in response to the omicron variant.

Friesen and Shiraef, both affiliates of the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, are now completing the third phase of the project by exploring whether border closures were scientifically based or ideologically driven. More than 10 undergraduate political science studies are helping to finalize the COBAP dataset.

“Looking back on COBAP’s work, on a personal and practical level, I learned how much science depends on the work of others. It takes time for knowledge to develop, and we still don’t know much, ”Shiraef said. “We don’t know what factors motivated the variations in the types of border closures. For example, many countries have introduced bans that the media has said are biased towards African countries, against immigration or for other political reasons. It’s worth a look. “

“I felt the urgency of analyzing this data. It’s a perfect example of where the academic community can and should inform policy makers – who in this situation seem to follow conventional wisdom or the herd instinct to close borders. ”

Dear collaborators

Lizzie Stifel
Lizzie Stifel
Erin Evo
Erin Tutaji

Undergraduate students who joined COBAP as research assistants – Elizabeth “Lizzie” Stifel, Erin Tutaj, Nora Murphy and Hawraa Al Janabi – simultaneously gained significant research experience making a significant contribution to the project.

They checked countries ’websites to code their international closure policies and contacted government officials in those countries to ensure accuracy. All are listed as co-authors of the study.

For Stifel, a second year student of political science and global affairs with a comparator in data science, the project suited her interests and provided opportunities to learn new skills. A native of Easton, Pennsylvania, she speaks French and is interested in African politics, so her work has focused primarily on French-speaking countries in Africa.

“I now feel like I’m working with data and will apply this experience to my own independent research,” said Stifel, who is currently on an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar and hopes to pursue a career in international environmental policy or global health. .

Erin Tutaj, a second-year political science and global affairs student from Third Lake, Illinois, also appreciated the opportunity to contribute to and learn from the study.

Nora Murphy
Nora Murphy

“This project gave me an inside insight into what graduate research looks like and the amount of detail, time and organization needed for a successful outcome,” said Tutaj, who focused on international peace studies and Notre Dame International colleagues at the Security Center. . “I have improved my ability to process information and accurately tag in large amounts of reading / data.”

Senior political science director Nora Murphy said she has improved her critical thinking skills, ability to communicate quickly and efficiently and solve coding problems in the short term.

In addition to personal gain, a Glynn Family Honors Fellow and Phi Beta Kappa member said the study is an important public service project.

“I hope that the results will be instructive for policy makers in the future when they have to make decisions that balance the costs and benefits of such policies,” she said. “I think it’s also important that the project and the database we’ve put together are completely open to the public so that everyone can see the results and the data and draw their own conclusions.”

“Looking back on COBAP’s work, on a personal and practical level, I learned how much science depends on the work of others. It takes time for knowledge to develop, and we still don’t know much. “

Originally posted Beth Staples on al.nd.edu on May 09, 2022.

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