Baylor anthropology chair’s background has made him a local leader on COVID-19 issues
“Stones, bones, and Indiana Jones.” That’s what many people think of when they hear the word “anthropology,” says Baylor anthropology department chair Michael Muehlenbein. But the discipline — better summarized as “the study of humans” is a broad field, as demonstrated by Dr. Muehlenbein’s own expertise in infectious diseases (including COVID-19).
Muehlenbein came to Baylor in 2017 to lead the Department of Anthropology and help grow its focus on health. His background is well-suited for the task; his past studies have included deep dives into endocrinology and immunology, and even led him to Asia and Africa to conduct animal studies on the spread of malaria.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States last year, Muhelenbein’s expertise was suddenly needed much closer to home. As a part of Baylor’s COVID-19 task force, he helped design the university’s testing protocol. In his classes, he led students on a journey through thousands of scholastic articles to better understand the science behind COVID-19 safety measures and the spread of the virus. Many of those insights helped serve as a foundation for a special advanced course on COVID-19, taught by Muehlenbein this semester.
On a broader scale, he has co-led a comprehensive survey project to understand the local behavior of this global virus. Muehlenbein and the chair of Baylor’s computer science department, Dr. Erich Baker, partnered with the Waco Family Health Center last summer to survey hundreds of McLennan County residents, gathering information on a range of factors (including demographics, health history, social behavior, and religious and political leniencies) to understand individuals’ willingness to take the risk of exposure to the virus and the impact of that behavior. Survey participants provided data multiple times each month to present more complete data on the spread of the virus. The results provided insight into the impact of poverty, employment, race and other factors to community leaders as they were making decisions to support public health.
Sic ’em, Dr. Muehlenbein!