MDI Biological Laboratory
General News

Update April 28: looking to the future

  • April 28, 2020

Good morning MDIBL,

This is my first update in about a week, and it contains both good and bad news. However, we will tackle bad news together, for it is not insurmountable.

First the good news: world-wide we are successfully fighting the COVID-19 epidemic. In most countries the number of infected people is rising more slowly. Depending on the safety measures and when they began some countries are lagging behind. In epicenters of the disease hospitals are still crowded and the staff is working long hours. But the numbers are improving, and we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. In Germany many more patients are recovering from the disease than becoming sick and many beds in ICU are not needed any more. It is unlikely that the epidemic with COVID-19 will come back in ways we have experienced during the last two months, if we stick to the rules we have learnt and continue to learn from our experience with the disease.

But now the bad news: we need to learn to live with this new disease. The world has changed, and we will not go back to how it was before. COVID-19 is a new disease which will stay with us for the foreseeable future. We will fight it, we will try not to get sick, but we will live with this new disease. The question is not “when will it be over?” but “how do we live with COVID-19 in a post-epidemic time?”   

How will life and work be at MDIBL in the coming months?
This isn’t easy to answer. Look around and you can see that there is already a hot debate on how to deal with the future. The noise level of this discussion is impressive; everybody has an opinion. Experts are shouting over another on TV and in the newspapers. Expert opinions are used by politicians and virologists; their statements are used as weapons in a fight. You can find almost every opinion on the internet and everybody has read or heard something.

Here at MDIBL, we will start our way back into life in the same way we have dealt with other problems in the past: with science and community. We will base our arguments on scientific evidence of the disease, we will draw our conclusions after critical discussions of the data, and we will reach our decisions on how to live and work at MDIBL in these difficult times together. We have started this process already and we will move forward over the next couple of weeks to a way of life. 

It will be a challenge. For the last couple of weeks, we were able to keep the virus out. However, this was at the expense of keeping the world out. Not only at MDIBL, but throughout the state, the US and the world. People stayed at home and travel was severely restricted. This will change over the next weeks and months. Tourists will return to Maine, we will have visitors at MDIBL, some of us will go to other places and then come back to MDIBL. As I mentioned earlier: the epidemic stage is close to over, but a new contagious virus has been added to our daily life. How will we live with it?

We need to learn more about the disease. Over the last couple of weeks, there have been a lot of patients and the medical community now knows much more about the virus and the disease. There are different forms of the disease after someone has acquired the virus. 50% of people will have almost no symptoms; the virus replicates but does not lead to an inflammatory reaction in these patients and eventually disappears. The rest of us will develop some symptoms. Cough, fever, muscle pain are the most common symptoms. Loss of taste, diarrhea and headaches may occur. In most cases these symptoms are mild to moderate and will disappear within a couple of days. This is what we call mild to moderate COVID-19. The treatment is mostly symptomatic as for other “colds”. In some patients the virus leads to a more severe reaction leading to pneumonia. These patients feel very sick, and it takes them longer to recover. Most of these patients do not need to be treated in the hospital but stay at home for two weeks before they become better. If the symptoms of pneumonia get worse (shortness pf breath, more cough, general malaise) admission to the hospital may be necessary and oxygen masks or even ventilation may be necessary for a couple of days. If you have a weak heart or your kidney function is impaired any serious infectious disease is of concern, it is no different with COVID-19. This is especially true in older patients.

I understand that most of us know this already. But it is important to understand that this new disease is a disease like others: it is treatable and, as with most infectious diseases, it disappears on its own. The reality of COVID-19 for us in Maine is not the epidemic but the possible infection with a contagious but not deadly virus. We may eventually all protract this virus over the coming year(s) and, like the flu, it may more virulent during the winter.

There have been extensive discussions about how to protect against the virus on a personal level at MDIBL: On campus we keep our distance, we use hand disinfectants before we enter a building and often during the day. Once inside, we will wear a mask. This is not easy but it is doable. We will have to find new ways to interact in the dining hall and during seminars. Most likely we need new chairs and perhaps wider tables. We need to define distances while sitting in a seminar room. A lot of practical problems, but ones that can be worked through.

We will also have to define rules for visitors to our campus. We need to understand what testing and immunity means for us at MDIBL and on for MDI as a whole. We will find out by working together here at MDIBL and together with the College of the Atlantic and the Jackson Laboratories. We are all facing the same problems. 

I will continue to provide you with more information so that we are all able to make important decisions based on facts, and to help us cope with our fears of the virus.

Stay safe.