Local Schools Step Up Efforts Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

In April 2020, Buzz, Web Exclusive by Jane Porter1 Comment

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WEB EXCLUSIVE From those suffering with illness and worrying about transmitting it to others, to small businesses having to close their doors and lay off employees, to front line and essential workers—and to everyone just staying at home—the coronavirus pandemic has been physically and mentally challenging for us all. But on the bright side, we live in a region where researchers, thought leaders and students at our world-class universities are all contributing their knowledge and know-how, work that can help us stay sane, stay solvent and even help to save lives.

NC State’s Poole College of Management’s Poole Business Guide

The Poole Business Guide is an online resource for students, community members, small businesses and industry partners to help them navigate this period of confusion and uncertainty. With content, including articles and videos, created by Poole College faculty members, researchers and thought leaders, anyone can use the guide to learn more about topics such as management and communications during a crisis, taking out small business loans, the CARES stimulus package, supply chain issues and more.

“We’re really trying to put out actionable suggestions on what should be done to deal with different types of issues,” says Frank Buckless, dean of the Poole College of Management. “This is very rough on our small businesses and we are trying to be a resource and help them be resilient and be able to survive this.”

Buckless says Poole College had a thought leadership database in the works for a while but that the COVID-19 pandemic was a push to “figure out how we get our faculty’s research into the mainstream quicker.” The guide, which is adding content daily, will eventually be integrated, organized and searchable by discipline, a comprehensive resource for students and the community once the pandemic subsides and life returns to normal.

“We are trying to be part of the solution of helping us get through this,” Buckless says. “NC State, at our core, we are the ‘think and do’ university.”

NC State’s Online Arts and Mental Wellness Initiative

Last spring, Arts NC State and the university’s counseling center hosted its first Flourish Festival to unite the themes of mental health and creative expression. While the coronavirus pandemic meant the event had to be cancelled this year, Arts NC State’s Flourish initiative has gone digital to celebrate the arts and wellness in spite of social distancing. Check out the database of online experiential arts resources for the community including craft projects, museum tours, dance, music and theatre performances, all from your home. Resources are added regularly and will help to keep you from going stir-crazy.

NC State’s Nonwovens Institute’s Mask Filters for Healthcare Workers

Researchers at NC State’s Nonwovens Institute (NWI) are helping to address the critical shortage of face masks for front line workers, producing a new mask filter material that can filter virus and bacteria particles without having to be used in conjunction with a traditional meltblown filtration layer.

The NWI team, led by Behnam Pourdeyhimi, NC State’s Wilson College of Textiles associate dean for industry research and extension, created a new material, composed of two polymers combined to make a single strong, bulky fabric, that can filter with similar effectiveness as materials that are currently used to manufacture mask filters.

“Because of the COVID-19 crisis, we took the spunbond technology and created a new generation of unique filters that have excellent filtering capability and can potentially be reused after cleaning with peroxide, or potentially alcohol solution,” Pourdeyhimi said in an NC State news release. “Because these materials are strong, unlike classical meltblown filters, they can also be cut and sewn by traditional techniques.”

A production line at NWI has started manufacturing 2,000 meters of the spunbond material per hour, with the potential to create some 20,000 meters of spunbond material in a day. NC State is in talks with industrial partners to manufacture masks with the new material and the university has ordered machines, arriving next month, that will allow NWI to produce surgical masks in its Centennial Campus facilities.

Duke Student’s Coronavirus Contact Tracing App

Along with a lack of testing, one of the major contributing factors to coronavirus’s rapid spread across the U.S. has been the ineffectiveness in the process of tracing contact between people infected with the virus and everyone else that they have interacted with.

Soon, there could be an app for that.

Duke student Shehzan Maredia and his team developed ContainIt, an app that can alert users who potentially have had contact with self-reported carriers of COVID-19, using location services that start storing data as soon as users download the app on their phones.

“We send a message saying you might have been exposed and we tell you from there, if you start to show symptoms, contact your physician,” Maredia, a computer science and mathematics major, explains. Maredia did not develop the app as part of any of his coursework at Duke.

“Getting a notification by no means means that you’re infected or are going to test positive for COVID-19,” Maredia continues. “It just means you might be at risk and if you start to show symptoms, contact your primary healthcare physician and take any necessary precautions.”

The app could replace inefficient, non-automated contract tracing processes that exist currently, by which healthcare professionals spend significant time working with infected individuals to retrace their steps before they tested positive (and after, if they didn’t self isolate after testing).

“We would like to work with the bigger healthcare organizations to help make this app readily available and to have them work with us on the process,” Maredia says. “That would be ideal and that’s what we’re really trying to accomplish right now.”

The ContainIt team is adding developers currently to help broaden the app’s scope and make it as secure as possible. The app does not store personal identifying information, Maredia says, and there is no personal privacy risk.

ContainIt could be available to download in the next week or so.

“This project has great potential to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” says Erik Yan, another ContainIt team member. “My grandfather, who is 98, lives in King County [in Washington state] which is known for its COVID-related deaths among the elderly. I’m constantly worried about him, who he has been near and how I could better help him. This app solves those issues. It can bring peace of mind not only for me, but my friends and family alike.”

Photo by Mary Lide Parker/UNC Research

UNC Researchers Work to Develop COVID-19 Treatment

Researchers at UNC Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health are testing an anti-viral drug, EIDD-2801, that has shown potential in treating COVID-19 patients.

Epidemiology professor Ralph Baric and his team of virologists, working with colleagues at Vanderbilt and Emory Universities, published research at the beginning of the month that found that, taken as a preventive treatment 12 to 24 hours after infection, EIDD-2801 was shown to reduce the degree of lung damage and weight loss in mice.

Unlike other intravenous COVID-19 treatments currently available, EIDD-2801 can be taken as a pill and absorbed to travel to the lungs.

Scientists expect to begin clinical trials in humans later this spring and say they believe the window of opportunity for treatment in humans is likely longer than in mice, as the period between coronavirus disease onset and death in humans is longer. In addition to making treatment easier, the EIDD-2801 pill may be beneficial in treating less ill patients or as prophylaxis, as in a nursing home scenario where many people have been exposed but are not yet sick.

“This new drug not only has high potential for treating COVID-19 patients, but also appears effective for the treatment of other serious coronavirus infections,” said Baric in a UNC new release.

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