As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, MRIGlobal’s deep experience in predicting, preventing, and controlling infectious diseases like Tuberculosis, Ebola, MERS, and now COVID-19 impacts the outbreak in myriad ways.
The timely opening of our expanded Diagnostics Center of Excellence in late 2019 enlarged our research and development portfolio and take on exciting, new partners like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We are developing chemistry and devices for the Department of Defense’s next generation of clinical diagnostics and—with a Gates Foundation grant—developing virtual training modules for COVID-19-related work in labs partnered with Africa’s national public health network.
Our updated COVID-19 guide includes the latest information on testing, going back to college, how to wear a mask, and the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine.
How MRIGlobal tests COVID-related technologies
MRIGlobal is currently conducting several types of studies with the SARS-CoV-2 Virus (the virus that causes COVID19). Our first type of test is our Virus Neutralization Assay (VNA), which tests vaccine and therapeutic candidates and their ability to neutralize/kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus. If the results are positive, we will then test these candidates to gauge how their effectiveness against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
We are testing disinfectants (or surface treatments) for their ability to neutralize/kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Our research ability also includes testing antiviral devices against SARS-CoV-2, such as UVC lights, O3 generators, air purifiers, etc.
How to safely return to college during the coronavirus pandemic
As students return to classes, higher education is responding to the pandemic and attempting to reopen with a new normal. According to the College Crisis Initiative (C2i) there is no common approach between schools. Out of the 2,958 institutions C2i is tracking, 151 plan to open fully virtually, 729 plan to go mostly online, and 433 plan to take a hybrid approach. Interestingly, only 75 schools were planning to only offer in-person only attendance while 614 aim to have in-person but some virtual classes. More than 800 institutions had yet to decide on which approach to use weeks before the fall semester starts.
While scientific and political issues are clearly at work in these decisions, universities are faced with fiscal dilemmas with high losses when students are not on campus. Not surprisingly, higher education institutions that started blended learning approaches prior to the appearance of COVID-19 are faring better than traditional campuses, with large investments in residential and academic resources. Higher education was in trouble before the pandemic, only to face economic pressures from COVID-19 that may lead some schools to close if students don’t return.
To test or not to test?
The COVID-19 testing of students varies considerably between schools. High frequency testing (testing everyone every few days) is logistically, financially, and behaviorally difficult. The focus is not only on the students but the vulnerable populations in the faculty, staff, the community, and even households of off-campus commuter students. Case contract tracing, isolation planning, and daily health monitoring (i.e. fever checks) are being used by some universities in lieu of or in combination with testing.
Even with appropriate planning on campus, student behavior remains a critical factor in the return to campus. The gap between policy and practice is highly reliant on students’ application of behavior that will limit spread. Many students desire to go back to school with a certain level of normalcy after being “locked up” since last spring. Therefore, adhering to strict rules on and off campus has been less than successful in multiple cases. Both University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and The University of Notre Dame suspended in-person classes after recommendations were not followed and new cases surged among students. As the fall sessions progress, the successful approaches will be key to identify.
Mask dos and don’ts
The use of masks dramatically decreases respiratory viral infections. In laboratory and healthcare settings, use of masks limits the spread of respiratory viral infections. For the public, there is clear evidence that improper use of masks limits their effectiveness.
The four major reasons that masks fail to protect users are all based on user error:
(1) The Peltzman effect: The first is the psychological phenomenon called the Peltzman effect when wearing a mask may lead some to take risks because of perceived safety provided by the mask. In essence, since you feel safer, you minimize other protective behaviors. For example you may reduce social distancing, handwashing, or even take higher risks by going to higher-risk environments (crowded areas). Studies have shown that people are less conscientious about hand hygiene when wearing a mask.
(2) Improper mask wearing: The second major reason masks fail to protect is that masks are not worn properly. Even with educational campaigns and signage posted at nearly every venue, proper mask wearing is “good to poor” when analyzed. Wearing the mask as properly is paramount.
(3) Touching a mask with unclean hands: Third, masks can act as an extra transmission route when people touch the mask with their hands without washing. Regular face touching may lead to infections. Touching your face while adjusting your mask exposes your eyes, nose, and mouth at a rate that can be higher than not wearing a mask (people touch their face 15-23 times per hour on average).
(4) Overusing the same mask: Lastly, overuse of a single mask can lead to contamination. Disposable masks should be discarded appropriately on a regular basis. Reuse and improper storage can lead to contamination that can be easily transmitted to the user. Reusable masks are preferred because of the environmental impact of disposal. However,they should be rotated with multiple masks and cleaned between uses.
How to wear a mask properly:
- Clean your hands using proper hand hygiene.
- Loop elastic over your ears. Pull it down so that it’s covering under your chin and secure it to your face by pinching over your nose. Be sure it’s on nice and secure.
- Before removing the mask, clean your hands.
- Remove the mask using the ear loops.
- Inspect it to be sure it can be reused. Has it been compromised? Is it wet? Visibly soiled? If it is, go ahead and throw it away, then perform hand hygiene. If the mask is OK to reuse, prepare it for storage. (Next step.)
- For storage of reusable masks, fold the mask in half (lengthwise or widthwise) so the outside surfaces are touching each other. Place it carefully into your clean storage area/bag. If you’re using a paper bag, seal the bag; if using a plastic baggie, leave it open. Perform hand hygiene.
- If taking the mask off temporarily, be cognizant of where you are placing your mask to avoid contamination.
- To reapply the mask, first perform hand hygiene. Grasp the mask by the elastic ear loops to remove it from the bag, then look to see where the outside of the mask is by locating your identifying mark.
- Use the ear loops to put it on and tuck it under your chin. Secure it to your face at the bridge of your nose. Perform hand hygiene (wash or use liquid hand cleaners), and stay safe and healthy.
Assessment of hydroxychloroquine use in the treatment of COVID-19
Early computer modeling and lab-based analysis provided data suggesting hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and chloroquine (CQ) as potential treatments against SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2. Clinical evaluation of this possibility has been underway since March 2020.
There is a continuum of treatment timing when combating COVID-19, ranging from post-exposure prophylactic (PEP), early and outpatient treatment, and hospitalized mild-to-severe disease. The overwhelming majority of evidence is that there is no clinical benefit in hospitalized patients with mild-to-severe disease when treated with HCQ, CQ, or combination of HCQ and azithromycin. Post-Exposure prophylactic (PEP) and early outpatient assessments remain an area of interest; however, the studies showing no clinical benefit in outpatient mild disease outnumber those showing clinical benefit.
Ongoing studies continue to assess the clinical efficacy of HCQ and CQ. According to ClinicalTrials.gov, worldwide there are 244 studies with HCQ and 127 that are still active. Thirty-five studies have been completed, terminated, or suspended. Some of these studies have included combination with other drugs.
It is important to note that the FDA guidance on June 15, 2020 revoked the emergency use authorization (EUA) to use HCQ and CQ for hospitalized patients. The FDA’s reason for this includes the ongoing risk for serious cardiac adverse events and other serious side effects. Therefore, as of July 30, 2020, the scientific and medical communities assess that the known risk of oral administration of CQ and HCQ outweigh any potential benefits. Of note, patients can still access the HCQ and CQ treatments by enrollment in approved clinical trials. Moreover, clinicians maintain the ability to prescribe HCQ and CQ despite the change in the FDA EUA.
Learn more about our COVID-19 updated guide at MRIGlobal
For more than 75 years, MRIGlobal has advanced scientific research across a variety of industries. We focus on supporting better health outcomes on a global scale. For us, it’s not simply about science; it’s about the people who make it all happen.
We are solution-driven. We find answers, even in the most complex situations. Through our dedication, we can solve virtually any technical problem.
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