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Coronavirus (COVID-19) News and Research

Rochester joins phase 3 test of coronavirus vaccine
Injectable medications in sealed vials and a disposable plastic medical syringe - stock photo

The University of Rochester Medical Center, in collaboration with Rochester Regional Health, delivered the country’s first doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine to volunteers. This is a final stage of the national trial prior to FDA approval.

In May, URMC began participating in phase 1 trials of the vaccine candidates. Rochester was one of only four sites in the U.S. involved in this early stage study.

“Rochester has a long history of national leadership in vaccine development, the study of emerging infectious diseases, and understanding how the human immune system reacts to infection,” says Ann R. Falsey, M.D., co-director of the URMC Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Clinic.

Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine study.

Provost webinar outlines health and safety protocols for fall

As the University finalizes plans for the fall 2020 semester, many questions have been raised about how to operationalize health and safety processes and protocols to keep the community safe during the pandemic. On July 23, Provost Rob Clark invited University medical experts and leaders in facilities and operations to join him for a recorded webinar that addresses a number of issues that are upmost in the minds of our faculty, staff, students, and parents.

In a nearly hour-long recorded panel discussion, Clark was joined by medical experts and facilities leaders to discuss a range of topics, including current health guidelines and which COVID-19 test the University is employing; cleaning protocols for classrooms, labs, and public spaces; the science behind social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and indoor and outdoor ventilation; what happens if someone tests positive for COVID-19; community thresholds and factors the University is closely monitoring; and ways that to ensure that community members follow the guidelines to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Webinar: Video and transcript

video recording (with captions) of the Reopening Webinar is available, along with an accessible transcript (PDF) of the conversation.

Clark was joined by medical experts and facilities leaders to discuss a range of topics

In time of masking mandates, how to evaluate exemptions?
person holding a cloth face mask

Deciding whether people with legitimate medical challenges should be exempt from broad mask mandates is a “new frontier” in health policy, says a University of Rochester expert.

Mical Raz, University of Rochester health policy historian and physician, created an analysis designed to guide health care professionals.

Ultimately, the research found that most individuals should be able to wear a face mask, regardless of health problems.

However, there are some legitimate reasons for requesting mask exemptions. These include developmental disabilities or facial deformities. In these situations, though, it’s important to evaluate if a face mask alternative could work, such as a face shield.

Read the full story.

Study: Twitter mirrors our attitudes and feelings about COVID-19
social media bubbles over Manhattan

Rochester researchers are mining Twitter to identify feelings and themes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University of Rochester computer science group found a few key themes by analyzing tweets. They created a process that “combines deep learning model scores with psychological textual features and users’ demographic information”.

Some of their key findings were:

  • Significantly higher anxiety associated with hoarding-related tweets, which spiked in March and April.
  • College students tended to be more preoccupied with COVID-19 issues that affected them personally, such as school closures and their home towns.
  • New Yorkers were more likely to talk about impact COVID-19 had on hospitals. California and Florida Twitter users were more likely to comment on government policies related to COVID-19.

Read the full article.

Virtual town hall answers questions from students, families
Two students on the River Campus wear face masks outside a residence hall getting coronavirus update

Updated July 24, 2020

Questions about the University of Rochester’s Restart plan were asked and answered July 22 during an online town hall for parents and students. Topics included moving in, life on campus, symptom tracking and testing strategy, online learning, and more.

Webinar: Video and transcript

video recording (with captions) of the webinar is available, along with an accessible transcript (PDF) of the conversation.

Panelists for the town hall were:

  • John Hain, associate dean of academic and international affairs at the Eastman School of Music
  • Ralph Manchester, vice provost and director of University Health Service
  • Adrienne Morgan, associate vice president for equity and inclusion
  • Jeff Runner, dean of the College
  • Samantha Veeder, associate dean of College enrollment and director of financial aid
  • Jane Gatewood, vice provost of global engagement and cochair of the Coronavirus University Restart Team (CURT), will serve as facilitator
Engineers help volunteer group create face shields
An engineer sanitizes a plastic face shield

A University of Rochester team of engineers is using their problem-solving skills to help combat COVID-19.

The Rochester team of mechanical engineers teamed up with a local volunteer organization, Face Shields ROC. They utilized 3-D printers to create plastic face shields. This type of personal protective equipment (PPE) plays a critical role for medical professionals tending to those with the coronavirus.

The Rochester team alone created almost 3,000 face shields, which will go to caregivers in need of PPE.

Read the full story.

Biologists selected for ‘rapid research’ on COVID-19
An artist's rendering of the COVID-19 virus at a molecular level

Researchers in the University of Rochester’s Department of Biology have received funding awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study biological processes involved in COVID-19.

The funding is part of the NSF’s Rapid Response Research (RAPID) program to mobilize funding for high priority projects.

“At this point, combating this pandemic is an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ situation,” says Elaine Sia, University of Rochester professor and chair of biology. “Researchers in the biology department at the University, like biologists everywhere, have been learning all we can about the SARS-CoV2 virus.”

By better understanding the specific biological mechanisms and proteins involved in COVID-19 infection, scientists will better be able to develop effective treatments and vaccines to fight the disease.

Learn about the University of Rochester researchers and their coronavirus research projects.

Spring’s abrupt shift to remote learning offers lessons for the fall
Joan Saab, University of Rochester professor and CURT committee member, lectures a class

Faculty members are using the lessons of last spring’s abrupt shift to online education to better prepare for the fall.

Joan Saab, vice provost of academic affairs and Susan B. Anthony Professor of Art History and Visual and Cultural Studies, is among the CURT members providing holistic guidance and strategy for the University’s fall planning.

“We were responding to the circumstances,” says Saab. “For the most part, the classes being taught were not designed to be taught online. There is a big difference between having an online class and taking a class online.”

This fall, many professors will be taking a more intentional approach to online learning. Saab will be helping faculty think about that shift.

Read the interview with Joan Saab.

Orientation leaders hope to make new students Rochester ready—virtually
University of Rochester orientation leaders on a Zoom call

The College’s orientation leaders want to help new students get ready for their Rochester experience. They’ve developed The OL Show, a weekly virtual panel discussion. It covers topics important to new students, including those in the Class of 2024 as well as those transferring to the University.

Produced via Zoom, the show streams live each Thursday on the Orientation Facebook page. The show typically airs from 11 a.m. to noon Eastern time.

The OL Show is just one of the creative ways the orientation staff in the College and at the Eastman School of Music have been communicating virtually with first-year students and transfers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

See how else the University is responding to new student orientation.

New students and their families can visit the College’s orientation website and the Eastman’s orientation website for even more information.

Rochester research finds bats offer clues to treating COVID-19
A bat flies through the sky

Bats are remarkably able to tolerate viruses, including the strain of virus that causes the coronavirus.

What are the secrets to their virus resistance? According to University of Rochester research, it could be related to bats being able to control inflammation in their bodies.

Viruses, including COVID-19, are one factor that can trigger inflammation. Unlike humans, bats have developed specific mechanisms that reduce viral replication and also dampen the immune response to a virus. The result is a beneficial balance: their immune systems control viruses but at the same time, do not mount a strong inflammatory response.

“With COVID-19, the inflammation goes haywire, and it may be the inflammatory response that is killing the patient, more so than the virus itself,” says Vera Gorbunova, a biology professor at the University of Rochester. “The human immune system works like that: once we get infected, our body sounds an alarm and we develop a fever and inflammation. The goal is to kill the virus and fight infection, but it can also be a detrimental response as our bodies overreact to the threat.”

The researchers anticipate that studying bats’ immune systems will provide new targets for human therapies to fight diseases.

Read the full story now. You can find the research article, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, online here.

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