Lesson Plans: Examining Risk Factors Associated With COVID-19 Using the Pandemic Vulnerability Index

Educational Materials Overview

COVID-19, an infectious disease caused by a novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, has caused unprecedented disruption to billions of human lives. To help high school (grades 9-12) students learn more about this disease, NIEHS developed a curriculum designed to guide students as they explore various risk factors involved in COVID-19 spread and its resulting mortality, including biological, socio-economic, and environmental factors.

There are many factors involved in the emergence of new infectious diseases or the re-emergence of “old” infectious diseases. While some factors result from natural processes such as the evolution of pathogens over time, many are results of human behavior and practices. In addition, many emerging infectious diseases arise when infectious agents in animals are passed to humans (referred to as zoonoses). As human populations expand into new geographical regions, the possibility increases that humans will come into close contact with animal species that are potential hosts of an infectious agent.

Why Did NIEHS Develop This Curriculum?

Theme two of the NIEHS Strategic Plan 2018-2023 states, “The NIEHS mission directive on information recognizes that the value of Advancing Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) knowledge can only be fully realized through its use by the public, health providers, regulators, and policy holders, to help inform their decisions.”

NIEHS engages in establishing strong lines of communication and partnerships with community members; educational outreach has been an integral part of this effort. In addition, NIEHS remains committed to uncovering the exposure burdens that combine with other social determinants of health to create health disparities, such as age, gender, education, race, and income.

What Is the Curriculum?

The Pandemic Vulnerability Index (PVI), freely available on this website, is an epidemiological model developed by researchers at NIEHS, North Carolina State University, and Texas A&M University. This model is the basis for the lesson plans.

In working with the PVI model, students can practice these Next Generation Science Standards:

  • Dimension 1 - Scientific and Engineering Practices
  • Dimension 2 - Crosscutting Concepts

This COVID-19 risk factor curriculum [ COVID-19 Lesson Plan Introduction (756KB), COVID-19 Lesson Plan 1 (898KB), COVID-19 Lesson Plan 2 (1MB)] uses the PVI as a model to examine vulnerability to the disease at the county level from multiple perspectives, including infection rate, intervention measures such as social distancing, testing, and social determinants, such as health disparities associated with race and socioeconomic status.

Curriculum Goals

  1. Provide a tool for students to examine the spread and health outcomes of a pandemic.
  2. Promote students’ awareness of the impact of various factors (biological, social, behavioral, etc.) on the spread and outcomes (such as death or recovery from) of an infectious disease.
  3. Assist in the development of prevention and intervention strategies to minimize or avoid exposures to risk factors and their adverse health impacts.

Alignment With Next Generation Science Standards

This curriculum integrates multiple science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts as described in the Next Generation Science Standards:

  • Develop and use models.
  • Use mathematics and computational thinking.
  • Analyze and interpret data.
  • Construct explanations (for science) and design solutions (for engineering).

Units Included in This Curriculum

  • Social determinants of health and COVID-19, Part I: Social determinants.
  • Social determinants of health and COVID-19, Part II: Environmental determinants.

Learning Objectives

By the end of this curriculum, students should be able to:

  • Describe what a mathematical model is and the purpose of using it.
  • Examine the social factors that contribute to the spread of an infectious disease.
  • Analyze the environmental factors that contribute to the spread of an infectious disease.
  • Suggest intervention strategies to mitigate the impact of an infectious disease on public health.


These educational materials are the work product of an employee or group of employees of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), however, the statements, opinions or conclusions contained therein do not necessarily represent the statements, opinions or conclusions of the NIH, its component institutes and centers, or the United States government. The authors declare they have no actual or potential competing financial interests. These materials are in the public domain and may be used and adapted freely.