Grove City College faculty who study epidemiology, virology and public health are seeing intense interest in their areas of expertise as the coronavirus pandemic spreads globally.
Coursework in the classes they teach on the subject have turned into current events, and they provide their students with a specialized understanding of the crisis.
“Grove City hasn’t stopped as a College: we’ve found a different way to continue. And that keeps us moving forward in our mission,” Dr. Tracy Farone, professor of Biology said.
Farone is a veterinarian, has an in-depth knowledge of public health and teaches classes on epidemiology. But she’s frank about the extent of our understanding about the impact of the novel coronavirus and the disease it carries, COVID-19.
“I don’t know,” she said. “In the study of diseases, I’ve learned that when we’re in the middle of a pandemic, it’s very difficult to predict what will happen.”
But that’s where we are right now. Dr. Brian Yowler, assistant professor of biology, studied a variety of viruses and bacterial toxins in graduate school and collaborated with U.S. Army researchers who focused on bioterrorism agents.
Yowler had planned to lecture on coronaviruses as a matter of course in the Life Science class he teaches. Ironically, measures to contain the novel coronavirus delayed that lecture as the College switched to remote instruction. He delivered it to a class online last week and uploaded it to YouTube.
In it, he details what coronaviruses are and differentiates the virus and disease, which are not interchangeable. “COVID-19 is the disease, which results from an infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” Yowler said. He shows data that explores how and why this particular coronavirus is spreading so quickly: “SARS-CoV-2 binds to its receptor 10 times more strongly than that original SARS virus,” Yowler said, referencing recent research.
Yowler is careful to explain to his students that there are no proven treatment options for the novel disease. But there are actions to take once we understand how the virus is transmitted. COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets, according to Yowler. Because that means the virus is spread through transmitting those droplets to the mouth, eyes and nose, it is important to wash hands and not touch the face, as the CDC recommends.
“Viruses require a host, so don’t be a host,” Yowler said.
Farone surmises that the first wave of this disease will likely be with us at least until summer and future waves are possible, if not probable. She pointed out that when things return to normal, it will need to be a gradual process. “If people start to transport back to normal on trains and planes and to workplaces, the virus will spread again, causing a potential resurgence,” Farone said.
Even though it may take at least two years to analyze what COVID-19 is really like, Farone says there are steps we can take now and into the near future. “Read and learn from reliable sources like the Health Department and the CDC but realize you won’t become an expert overnight.”
Along with hand-washing and social distancing, Farone has another prescription to stay healthy. “Turn off the TV,” she said. “Use this time that’s been given for family, nature, bible studies; read that book you’ve been meaning to, do those devotions.”
The situation today highlights the need for students to consider health-related careers and look for ways to serve others. “It really emphasizes the importance of public health,” Farone said.
“I think of that famous Mr. Rogers quote, where his mother tells him to ‘look for the helpers’,” Yowler said. “During times like these, we should be those ‘helpers.’ As Christians it is our clear calling to protect those in the most vulnerable situations, serving as the hands and feet of Christ.”