Week 10 of Shelter-in-Place.
My late father having been a research scientist at an institute now affiliated with the University of Massachusetts, I happened this week to attend a webinar pertinent to CoVid 19 by the UMass Medical School. Two things stand out in my mind.
One was the swiftness of UMass’ response to the pressing needs of a global pandemic. In 72 hours in early March, UMass made and implemented the decision to close the Medical School, graduate 4th-year students two months early, and close inessential labs while converting others to Covid-related production and research. According to the chancellor, new projects were grass-roots proposals by staff and faculty asking themselves how they could be of service. By the end of March, working with local medical schools and Massachusetts regulators, UMass had set up procedures for credentialing and deploying new graduates to the front lines.
The second notable takeaway from this webinar was based on a talk by Dr. Trudy Morrison, a virologist who has spent decades working to develop a vaccine for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), an infection with similarities to CoVid19. Dr Morrison summarized the criteria for vaccine success. First, the vaccine must be safe and not, as was the case with one trial vaccine, cause worse symptoms and increased deaths. Second, the vaccine must be effective: does it work? Does it work in all populations – the very young with immature immune systems, or the elderly whose immunity is less robust, or people with pre-existing conditions? And how long does immunity from the vaccine last? Developing a CoVid19 vaccine will be slower than we hope.
Together, these two talks tell me that we humans can change quickly and to good purpose when needful but caution is still essential.
Relating to my own life, I see how closing Sarana was a fractal microcosm of the world’s response to CoVid. We underwent the same decision-making and implementation as UMass but at a much smaller scale. Ordinary people collectively “lowered the curve”. Let’s hope that ordinary people exercising caution will be the fractal pattern for the world’s re-opening.