Washington State University researchers are working collaboratively with their colleagues across the system in a shared effort to understand COVID-19 and its underlying virus as well as the effects the outbreak is having on individuals and communities.

During Wednesday’s COVID-19 town hall, speakers highlighted myriad ongoing efforts related to the disease. Audience members also heard directly from researchers Celestina Barbosa-Leiker, Stephanie Seifert and Michael Letko about their current work as part of the hour-long presentation, which is available in its entirety online.

Barbosa-Leiker, vice chancellor for research as well as an associate professor in the College of Nursing, shared several example of work involving the health science colleges in Spokane as well as the Paul G. Allen School of Global Animal Health. From testing cloth masks to forming a collaborative to study the impacts of COVID-19 on mothers and their newborns, WSU researchers are on the front lines working to understand the effects of COVID-19 and the best methods of response.

A tracking tool developed by WSU scientists to monitor the spread of the disease in rural areas was also highlighted, along with ongoing survey efforts to better understand how individuals are responding to prolonged quarantining and limited social interactions. Two recent surveys have found that alcohol use changed shortly after the COVID-19 lockdown, and that disease-related stress may be resistant to exercise.

Seifert, an assistant professor who recently arrived at WSU after working for the National Institutes of Health, highlighted the importance of understanding how diseases move from animals to humans in designing interventions. Letko, an assistant professor in the Allen School’s Laboratory of Function Viromics, talked about ongoing efforts to build a coronavirus database.

Jason Sampson, an assistant director with WSU Environmental Health and Safety, noted that roughly 5,100 COVID-19 tests have been administered for WSU Pullman faculty, staff and students in a combined effort by Cougar Health Services and the Washington National Guard.

WSU One Health Diagnostics, set up in coordination with Incyte Diagnostics, has analyzed between 26,000 and 27,000 COVID-19 tests from across the state. He also noted the importance of continuing to follow public health guidance as key metrics such as infection rates and active cases, trend in the right direction in Whitman County.

Asymptomatic COVID-19 testing for WSU Pullman students and employees continues to be available at no cost.

WSU leaders also touched on topics outside of research. Among them was a discussion of ProctorU, an online proctoring service utilized in roughly 4% of WSU courses this semester. WSU Global Chancellor Dave Cillay noted that a video tutorial on ProctorU is currently in the works to help students who are experiencing issues with the software.

Speakers also reviewed last week’s announcement that the start of the Spring 2021 semester has been moved to Jan.19 and the traditional Spring Break has been replaced with a several one-day academic breaks.

“Many of our students expressed a lot of dismay and felt that they had been left out of the decision-making process surrounding cancelation of Spring Break and the change in the spring term,” WSU President Kirk Schulz said. “The Faculty Senate’s purview is the academic calendar, and Provost Chilton appropriately engaged with our Faculty Senate. They had several weeks in which to look at things, and they actually held an advisory vote, which was supportive of cancellation of Spring Break, spreading out three days through the semester and starting a week later.”

He continued, “During that time, what occurred was we did not engage our student government in the way that we normally would. That’s a mistake on our part, however, we made sure that there was some time for them to provide some feedback prior to the final decision being made.”

Schulz acknowledged the disappointment many students felt regarding the changes, but noted that based on data from other schools, what was observed during the Spring 2020 semester, it was the best decision to make.

The next COVID-19 town hall is scheduled for Nov. 18 at 11 a.m. and will include discussions of emerging issues related to COVID-19 as well as more information on research.