James H. Ware Award 2021: Wilfredo Matias

Wilfredo Matias
Awardee: Wilfredo Matias
Program: MPH in Clinical Effectiveness
Project Title: COVID-19 Research and Response in Holyoke, Massachusetts
Organization: Holyoke Board of Health (Holyoke, Massachusetts)

More about Dr. Matias

In May 2020, the Mayor’s office of Holyoke, Massachusetts invited our team based out of the MGH Center for Global Health to come to Holyoke and leverage our experiences in global health, epidemic response, and public health research to support the Holyoke Board of Health with its COVID-19 response activities. The City’s goals were to have a better understanding of the trajectory of the pandemic in Holyoke and leverage their local data to better understand and respond to subsequent outbreaks of COVID-19. Together, we implemented a city-level serosurvey to measure the seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies and identify local risk factors for prior infection. In parallel, we analyzed Holyoke’s city and state-level COVID-19 data and created a local data dashboard. We also leveraged the City’s public testing sites to implement an evaluation of one of the several EUA-granted rapid antigen tests for SARS-CoV-2 in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Over the last several months, in close partnership with the City of Holyoke, our teams have created a robust, local public health research and implementation program to inform COVID-19 response and support the surrounding community in their fight against COVID-19.

Most rewarding part of the field experience

The most rewarding and inspiring part of my experience was the opportunity to be proximate to local communities, to meet people and listen to their stories, and to work side-by-side with frontline public health responders thinking about how to respond to COVID-19. It reminded me that in the end, all health is local, and our solutions should always start by listening and responding to our communities.

Advice for students doing work in the field

My most meaningful experiences and deepest insights came when I actively sought out being proximate and listened mindfully to the people around me and those I hoped to serve. Prioritize this in the work you do, and with a little bit of work, all else usually falls into place.


Endless thanks to Mike Bloomberg and Mayor Alex Morse, for welcoming us into their city and for their constant support. Thanks also to Sean Gonsalves, Ryan Paxton, Debbie Schaier, and the rest of the team at the Holyoke Board of Health, for teaching me what true community-oriented public health looks like. I’ll carry these lesson with me in everything else I do.