MDI Biological Laboratory
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Update April 12: With spring comes hope

  • April 12, 2020

April 12, 2020
Hannover, Germany

Happy Easter,

There is reason to be happy. The increase of infected patients has slowed down considerably. In both Hannover and Maine there are more people who have recovered than newly infected patients. This does not mean that the epidemic is over, but we are slowly recovering. In Germany, we are having a beautiful spring holiday with everybody out on the streets and in the parks. However, people keep their distance; only groups of two are allowed to stand together. Cafés and restaurants are still closed, and travel is restricted. A lot of people are wearing masks while in public, and everybody is wearing a mask in the hospital — I have seen masks with a colorful Easter egg pattern.

There is a lot of discussion about how people will interact in the near future. How will COVID-19 affect our social behavior and what are the new rules of living and working together? Will it be like when a woman shouted at me, “keep your distance!” when I passed her and the distance was only four feet rather than six?

This will be especially important at MDIBL. We are an open institution with visitors from all over the world. How do we need to adapt to deal with them? If we are unsure whether our next-door neighbor is infected how can we be sure that scientists and visitors from other parts of the country or from abroad will not bring COVID-19 with them? In fact, this is a problem for MDI in general. The island lives on visitors and tourism; we are proud of the number of people from other countries who come to our beautiful Acadia. Our friends at Jackson Lab and College of the Atlantic will also be dealing with the issue of how to safely allow visitors.

Unfortunately, we cannot see the virus or recognize infection right away. It would be easier if a person became sick immediately after they have acquired the virus. However, we do have some information. Most people who acquire the virus have at least some symptoms. They have flu-like symptoms and elevated body temperature.  This is why traveler’s temperatures are screened at airports. Measuring body temperature will remain important. We can test for immunity. In someone who has had the virus their body has reacted and formed antibodies against it. In the coming weeks this test will be more readily available and we are discussing using it at MDIBL to see how many people have experienced contact with the virus over the last couple of weeks. I do not expect a lot of immunity on our campus because of the low number of infections in the county. But it will be an interesting research project to find out about the prevalence of immunity in our small MDIBL community.  

For visitors from other parts of the country this may be different. Acquired immunity is much more likely in a visitor from, say, New York City. It may be helpful to have people bring a test result with them. A positive test for immunity against COVID-19 in a visitor will help us be more comfortable. Will it help if we can test our visitors for the virus itself? Whether testing takes place on campus or at MDI hospital, I believe it will be important in the near future to be able to test for the virus with results in a couple of hours. This testing has to be done correctly:  a nasal swab high up your nose. The test has to be reliable. We will only use a test system where the quality has been carefully verified. A negative test will allow access to the campus. In addition, we will continue to follow our general rules on campus for social distancing, hand washing, and wearing masks. With these precautions we can be an open community again.  We will need to be more distant physically; no hugging for a while.  

I hope you will find many Easter eggs. Keep your distance.

Best,
HH


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