PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Scientists from Arizona universities published impactful research during the pandemic on topics ranging from quarantine weight gain to wastewater surveillance.

At the request of Arizona’s Family, analytics company Clarivate compiled a list of the 50 most highly cited academic papers about COVID-19 from Arizona authors. The U.S. ended the COVID-19 public health emergency this month.

Researchers from the University of Arizona led the way with 21 studies in the top 50, Clarivate found. Arizona State University was close behind with 20 studies. Northern Arizona University made the list with three papers. Grand Canyon University cracked the top 50 once. Citations are the footnotes in scholarly research. While not a perfect metric, they offer a glimpse of a paper’s impact on other scientists.

The studies in Clarivate’s top 50 draw from a range of scientific disciplines and topics, including vaccines, experimental treatments, and epidemiology. But the paper that got arguably the most attention was about families. “I started to really examine how this is impacting parents, and ultimately, how this is impacting mothers and their mental health,” said Stephanie Lechuga-Peña, an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Social Work.

In 2020, Lechuga-Peña and her co-authors interviewed parents to gauge their stress levels and whether that added stress might translate into child abuse. Their paper earned the most citations of any university-affiliated paper in Arizona, Clarivate found. “What they reported in our study were increased mental health concerns, and that was higher anxiety, higher levels of depression, and loss of sleep,” she said. “It was actually one of the first papers that came out to address parents’ stress, parents’ stressors, and how that might actually impact child abuse.”

Later research confirmed that the number of U.S. children who experienced neglect roughly doubled from 18.4% to 40% during the pandemic. In addition, the rate of sexual abuse jumped 62%, from 12% to 19.5%.

No one appeared in Clarivate’s top 50 more times than ASU adjunct professor Dr. Raina MacIntyre. She was listed on four papers. “We looked at human emissions: breathing, speaking, coughing, sneezing, and then with and without masks and with different kinds of masks,” Dr. MacIntyre said.

Early in 2020, Dr. MacIntyre and her colleagues set up experiments using high-speed cameras to study how COVID spreads and how to stop it. Back then, scientists weren’t sure if the virus traveled on droplets or could linger in the air, and there were conflicting health messages about masks and whether you could simply stay six feet apart.

“That first paper that we’ve published actually had a huge impact because it was one of the first bits of research to challenge the dogma that you didn’t need a mask and that if you stood a certain distance away from someone, you wouldn’t catch COVID,” she said. Her work suggested early on that masks did work and that the virus was airborne, something the WHO took two years to acknowledge.

Her lab is based at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and she worked with colleagues at ASU and King’s College London through the PLuS Alliance. “That really enables and accelerates the ability to do really interdisciplinary research when you’ve got that ready-made structure,” she said.

She says one of the enduring lessons of the pandemic is that in the face of a big emergency, you need big teamwork.

View the top 50 most cited papers about COVID-19 from Arizona authors below.

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