MDI Biological Laboratory
General News

March 29 Update: Coming together while staying apart

  • March 29, 2020

March 29, 2020
Hannover, Germany

Good morning,

At this time, you can’t help but feel a bit helpless. Watching the news from New York City and New Orleans you wish you could to do to be able to help. The pictures are so dramatic, and the number of people affected is so high.  

What is needed the most is protective gear (also called PPE) so that we are all more protected, but especially medical personnel and first responders. They need masks, gowns, face shields, and disinfectants. All health workers are working long shifts and are exhausted. Any additional loss of medical personnel because of infection is a disaster for the medical system. 

Despite this dire situation, we can help. Support groups have started to sew face masks. Ute, my wife, has set up a group in Hannover and similar groups are popping up all over the world, including on MDI. Iain Drummond is working with a consortium of people on the East coast, using a 3D printer to print protective shields. 

It will be essential to have enough ventilators and I hope that industry can ramp up production fast enough to support us with this equipment. There is also the option of bringing patients to the ventilators. At Hannover Medical School we have had the first patients arrive over the weekend from Italy and Spain for intensive treatment.

The question is why have some areas so many patients and others have so few? Obviously, population density is a major factor. Big cities mean many people, crowded public transportation and big mass-attendance events provide excellent conditions for spreading the virus. Mardi Gras this year was a party for the virus, so to speak. It is easy to imagine how the virus, spread in little droplets, got around. Two weeks later people start showing symptoms and are suffering. 

It is important to keep in mind that only 20-30% of all infected people show symptoms of the disease. 70-80% of infected people have either few symptoms such a sore throat for a day or no symptoms at all. This makes COVID-19 by all means one of the “lighter” infectious diseases for many people. At the same time, it makes it much more dangerous because it is so difficult to control the spread; we cannot necessarily see who has the virus and is spreading it. This is why social distancing and disinfection are so important!

In less populated areas such as Maine or in areas where protective measures were executed early the epidemic is under control and we see only a few patients. It is very unlikely that we will see a NYC-like situation in Maine. However, you still need to be cautious. Smaller epicenters of the disease can arise in places where more people live closely together, such as nursing homes. Awareness and protection is everything. Doctors on MDI have told me that they are proud that in our communities, such as Birch Bay Retirement Village, they haven’t experienced a flu epidemic in the last couple of years. This speaks to good hygiene and protection practices. These are practices we take seriously at MDIBL – we maintain excellent hygiene and we moved to protective measures such as working from home, scheduled on-campus activity so staff can maintain space and extra cleaning and disinfection processes early on.  

Based on epidemiological knowledge and our understanding of the risk groups affected by this disease we have to make a policy of how to deal with COVID-19 in the days ahead. We will not have a declaration of peace after the war has been fought successfully — it will be a more gradual, and perhaps cautious, return back to normal. However, we will have to make decisions about lifting curfews and when to start regular work operations. One of the most important questions for me (all the way over here in Hannover) is when will the borders open again?

I wish you a quiet and peaceful day. Stay well.