ISGMH COVID-19 Responses

This page outlines Institute for Sexual and Gender Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH) responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will update this page frequently as additional research becomes available and new events are scheduled.

Message from the Director


Dear Friends of ISGMH,

Brian Mustanski

Brian Mustanski, Ph.D.

As COVID-19 continues to interrupt our daily lives, I wanted to share with you how ISGMH is addressing the unique challenges the pandemic presents to our work. In the midst of a national health crisis that is disproportionately claiming the lives of vulnerable populations, I believe it is critical that we continue to understand the lives and health needs of the sexual and gender minority (SGM) community.

ISGMH is advancing its research on SGM populations during this time by adjusting data collection methods and adapting new safety precautions. Keeping study participants and ISGMH faculty and staff healthy remains our primary concern. Several of our research projects that usually conduct in-person interviews are now transitioning to remote data collection through video calls, phone calls, or online questionnaires. Projects that were primarily delivered online continue to interact with participants and deliver eHealth interventions as always. In some ways, ISGMH is particularly well-equipped to handle the challenges presented by COVID-19 because of our eHealth expertise, and as a result, we are helping other health researchers make these transitions. We are also advising COVID-19-related research projects in methods to ensure equitable inclusion of minority communities that have been disproportionately impacted, and we look forward to sharing with you some of these initiatives after they launch.

The majority of ISGMH’s faculty and staff are now working from home in accordance to Northwestern University’s COVID-19 policy and public health guidance. So that all faculty and staff remain engaged during this time, ISGMH is offering online professional development opportunities and trainings to help advance individuals’ career goals. To maintain our sense of community during this time of social distancing, we are also hosting weekly virtual events, such as the “People of ISGMH” presentations where our staff members share how they developed an interest in SGM health research and came to work at ISGMH.

I am wishing you all good health during this incredibly stressful time.

Brian Mustanski, Ph.D.
Director, Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing
April 24, 2020

COVID-19 Research


ISGMH researchers are in the process of collecting and examining data about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the health and wellbeing of sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations. In addition to studying COVID-19’s impact on SGM individuals, ISGMH researchers are adjusting the way they gather information and interact with study participants to ensure the safety of participants and staff.

SMART Project

The SMART Project is an online HIV-prevention program for 13-18-year-old adolescent men who have sex with men. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, SMART asked program participants to provide details about their experiences with the virus, their proximity to the pandemic, and the steps they have personally taken to prevent the spread. SMART asked participants to describe behavior adjustments they made since March 11, to provide information on their mental and emotional states, and to describe any instances of COVID-19 stigma they endured. SMART also measured their attitudes towards the media, government, and social responses to the virus.

Data was collected April 21-28 from 673 participants.

To better understand the physical, emotional, and social impact of the virus on adolescent men who have sex with men, SMART will explore seven main areas:

  1. The physical health of adolescents and their social networks
  2. The psychological, emotional, social, and economic toll the virus has taken on adolescents and their families
  3. The sexual health behaviors that may have changed as a function of the restrictions placed on movement
  4. The informational sources adolescents use to find out more about COVID-19
  5. The stigma, particularly towards Asian adolescents, perceived during the pandemic
  6. The beliefs adopted by adolescents towards overall response to the pandemic
  7. The differential preventive behaviors adopted by adolescent populations from different parts of the country, racial/ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses

As data is analyzed, SMART will provide its findings to the community.

Read more about SMART’s COVID-19 research efforts in this article.

EDIT Program
EDIT team illustration

Illustration by Shannon Sotomayor.

The EDIT Program at ISGMH developed an online survey to better understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people living with HIV and people who identify as sexual and/or gender minorities. The survey asks about lived experiences and seeks to help understand how COVID-19 is impacting these communities.

Read more from the EDIT team about the importance of capturing sexual and gender minorities’ experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screening for Coronavirus Antibodies in Neighborhoods Study


The purpose of the Screening for Coronavirus Antibodies in Neighborhoods (SCAN) Study is to find out how many people in specific areas have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 (also known as coronavirus or COVID-19) and developed antibodies to the virus. The SCAN Study will also help researchers learn if these antibodies protect people against re-infection.

ISGMH Director Brian Mustanski, Ph.D., and ISGMH affiliate faculty member Richard D’Aquila, M.D., are among several co-investigators on the study. ISGMH faculty member Michael Newcomb, Ph.D., is a collaborating scientist.

Read more about the SCAN Study and see how you can join.

Antibody Testing


Northwestern University faculty collaborated on the creation of a SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) antibody testing method. ISGMH Director Brian Mustanski, Ph.D., and ISGMH affiliate faculty member Richard D’Aquila, M.D., are among the researchers who developed the method, which only requires a drop of blood obtained by a fingerstick to determine whether an individual has had prior exposure to the virus. This method will allow people to collect their own blood samples at home and mail them to a lab for testing.

Read more about the COVID-19 antibody test.

Read the preprint paper reporting this new testing method on MedRXiv.

Read the working paper “High Seroprevalence for SARS-CoV-2 Among Household Members of Essential Workers Detected Using a Dried Blood Spot Assay (WP-20-24).”

Virtual Events


The Disproportionate Impacts of COVID-19 on the LGBTQ Population
Lauren Beach, Ph.D., J.D.; Gregory Phillips II, Ph.D.; Dylan Felt
October 29, 2020, 1:00 – 2:00pm CT
Read more and RSVP.

Past Events

Sexual and Gender Minority Adolescents’ Awareness of and Perspectives on Oral and Long-Acting PrEP
Kathryn Macapagal, Ph.D.
April 27, 2020
Read more.

Thinking AIDS, Thinking COVID 19: Political Responses, Necropolitics, and Marginalized Populations
Steven Thrasher, Ph.D.
April 23, 2020
Watch the lecture. Read about the lecture.

Community-Engaged Research Partnerships During COVID-19: Sharing Examples of How Partnerships are Responding
Gregory Phillips II, Ph.D., and Erik Glenn
April 23, 2020
Read more.

How Can Researchers Help the National Response Efforts?
Michelle Birkett, Ph.D.
April 9, 2020
Watch the discussion. Read about the discussion here and here.

ISGMH in the Media


“An Open Letter to University Leadership”
Inside Higher Ed
October 15, 2020

“How Chicago Became a Hotbed for COVID-19 Research”
Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute
October 2020

“Viruses are a Tool for Understanding Systemic Racism in Medill Prof. Steven Thrasher’s New Course”
The Daily Northwestern
October 7, 2020

“Could Pre-flight COVID-19 Testing be Coming to O’Hare?”
Chicago Tribune
October 7, 2020

“NU Scientists Launch COVID-19 Antibody Study in Cook County”
The Daily Northwestern
September 3, 2020

“Northwestern Medicine Conducting Neighborhood COVID-19 Study”
The Beverly Review
September 1, 2020

A Biological Anthropologist Takes on COVID-19″
August 31, 2020

Surveillance: Marangi Sees Value In Small Caps
August 31, 2020

“‘A More Insidious Violence:’ Experts Discuss Racism in Health Care, Its Impact on COVID-19
The Chronicle
August 27, 2020

“Northwestern Takes on COVID-19 Antibody Testing”
August 18, 2020

“What Kids are Losing as Coronavirus Cancels Camp”
PBS News Hour
August 3, 2020

“Prof. Steven Thrasher on the Criminalization of Disease and Poverty”
Black Lives: In the Era of COVID-19
July 29, 2020

“What’s the Safest Vacation to Take? Experts Answer 14 Burning Questions”
July 27, 2020

“COVID-19 and Seniors: A Look at Racial Health Disparities”
Northwestern Now
July 24, 2020

“Time to Address Race-Ethnic COVID Disparities in Seniors, Senate Panel Told”
MedPage Today
July 23, 2020

“COVID Differences Steep for Minority Populations”
Altoona Mirror
July 23, 2020

“Demand for Change: What You Need to Know Thursday”
July 23, 2020

“Senate Hearing Highlights Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Communities of Color”
Philadelphia Tribune
July 21, 2020

“Brainstorm: The Risks of Returning to Campus”
The Daily Northwestern
July 15, 2020

“Experts Say Faster COVID-19 Test Results Are Critical to Saving Lives, Restarting Economy”
WWJ News Radio
July 13, 2020

“Test Backlogs and Nearly-Full Hospitals in States Where COVID-19 Surges”
July 1, 2020

“Why Does One Chicago ZIP Code Have More COVID-19 Cases than the Next? Finger-Prick Blood Tests May Help Find an Answer.”
Chicago Tribune
June 30, 2020

“Trump Defies His Own Coronavirus Task Force with Indoor Phoenix Rally”
June 23, 2020

“Chicago Epidemiologist Shares How She’s Widening Her Family’s Social Circle Amid COVID-19 Pandemic”
June 23, 2020

“As The White House Prepares For A 2nd COVID-19 Wave, When Will The 1st Wave End?”
June 22, 2020

“Coronavirus Surges Aren’t Linked to Black Lives Matter Protests”
USA Today
June 19, 2020

“As States Reopen, Epidemiologists Caution Against a Return to Normal Life”
NBC News
June 19, 2020

“Hat in Hand: U.S. Scientists Scramble to Support Their COVID Immunity Research”
June 16, 2020

“How to Stay Safe While States Reopen, According to Epidemiologists”
June 12, 2020

“Racial Bias in Medicine and Racial Disparities in COVID-19”
Institute for Policy Research
June 4, 2020

“Life After Lockdown Should Start with This Healthy To-Do List”
American Heart Association
June 3, 2020

“COVID-19 Antibody Testing with Elizabeth McNally, MD, PhD”
May 15, 2020

“Northwestern Develops Coronavirus Antibody Test Using Single Drop of Blood”
Fox News
May 7, 2020

“Research Team Develops New Antibody Test for COVID-19”
Medical Xpress
May 7, 2020

“How Scientists Are Mobilizing to Fight COVID-19”
Institute for Policy Research
May 7, 2020

“Northwestern Team Develops New Antibody Test for COVID-19”
Northwestern Now
May 6, 2020

“Lessons We Can—and Can’t—Apply from HIV/AIDS to COVID-19”
Buffet Institute for Global Affairs
April 23, 2020

“A Brief Criminal History of the Mask”
The New Republic
April 21, 2020

“What the HIV/AIDS Crisis Can Teach Us Now”
April 21, 2020

“Brainstorm: What Past Pandemics Can Teach Us”
The Daily Northwestern
April 17, 2020

“How the U.S. Must Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic”
Scientific American
March 18, 2020

COVID-19 Health and Wellbeing Resources


The EDIT Program at ISGMH has gathered a list of COVID-19 medical, mental health, and financial services resources for the LGBTQ+ community, people living with HIV, and other vulnerable communities.

Access the resource list here.

ISGMH’s FAB400 project team has compiled a list of free COVID-19 resources for people in the Chicago area. The resources include crisis hotline and text chat numbers, free online support group and counseling information, and links on how to access financial assistance or donate money.

Access free Chicago-area COVID-19 resources here.