University of South Florida

College of Arts & Sciences


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In March 2020 the global health crisis caused by COVID-19 changed our lives, including the way we approach research, teaching and community engagement. Having worked on health and migration issues for years, Beatriz Padilla, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean at the University of South Florida, was desperate to jump in.

“I wanted to know what was going on with migrant communities in Florida, the United States and around the globe” explained Padilla. “From previous studies, we knew that migrants and refugees are not only vulnerable populations, but they tend to be excluded from accessing services, specially health care. This fact puts them at a higher risk and compromises public health.”

Padilla saw that many of her former colleagues in Europe were working on a collaborative project to measure the impact of COVID-19 among migrant populations, and she immediately reached out to see how the United States could be included in the study.

“The study, titled ‘Apart Together’, was started by my colleagues from the University of Gent in Belgium, who created a consortium of European Union universities,” said Padilla. “I was thrilled when, after initially reaching out, they invited myself and others to include the U.S. in the study and to help dissemenate across Latin American countries, where we each have unique connections.”

In early summer, the World Health Organization (WHO) also joined the Apart Together study.

The Apart Together consortium as a whole, along with WHO, advocates for the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health for all, including migrants and refugees.

The study hopes to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on public health, assess what measures have been taken to prevent its spread among migrant and refugee populations around the world, and to address issues related to preparedness, prevention and control of COVID-19.

Likewise, the study will provide information about how migrants and refugees coped and dealt with different issues during the pandemic and how they kept informed as well as what problems (economic, health, social, housing, etc.) they faced due to the health crisis and who has provided them any type of support.

“Becoming the partner in the U.S. was great news, but it meant some challenges: geography and interdisciplinarity. Thus, to address them, I invited Dr. Miguel Reina Ortiz, an Assistant Professor at USF Health, and two other colleagues located in other regions, Dr. Verónica Montes from Byrm Mawr College in Pennsylvania, and Dr. Érika Busse-Cárdenas from Macalester College in Minnesota,” noted Padilla.  Moreover, with Dr Montes and Busse-Cardenas, we started collaborating in other community initiatives with the New Sanctuary Movement to carry out action research, which is leading to new venues of collaborations.

“In the middle of the summer, Dr. Reina Ortiz and I participated in an event entitled “A Virtual Roundtable on Impacts of COVID-19 on Immigrants and Refugees in the United States” organized by Florida International University – Initiative on Social Work and Forced Migration (ISWFM), where we shared some preliminary results. The event itself generated a document that has now been submitted for publication to a special issue of the International Social Work Journal, to raise awareness about the impact of COVID-19 on migrant and refugee populations while create material on the topic.”

At this time, as active members of Apart Together, Padilla and her colleagues are holding virtual meetings, making decisions on data management, publications, further collaborations and dissemination.

“We are still collecting data to produce a Global Report, which should be published in November or December of 2020. With this common effort, we hope to identify and influence policy making opportunities.”

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About CAS

The College of Arts and Sciences is the intellectual heart of the University of South Florida. We are a community of teachers and scholars united in the belief that broadly educated people are the basis of a just, free, and prosperous society. By focusing on the big questions facing all of humanity, we prepare students for successful, socially responsible personal and professional lives. By conducting innovative, interdisciplinary research and scholarship, we advance knowledge in ways that prepare us to address complex social and scientific problems and enhance the quality of life for people and communities.