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COVID-19: Expertise from WSU

WSU faculty and staff are working on multiple aspects of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID‑19) situation that has transformed society—from tracking the disease and modeling healthcare responses to dealing with the fall out of mass social distancing efforts, including economic impacts, food security, voting issues and the simple boredom of isolation. As Washington state’s land grant university, WSU has experts not only in the lab but on the ground helping individuals and communities respond to this unprecedented event in one of the most hard‑hit regions of the country.

The impacts of COVID‑19 may be felt for a long time, and research and response efforts are rapidly evolving. Please check back periodically and follow @WSUNews for more updates.

COVID‑19 and ivermectin toxicosis

With poison control centers and emergency rooms across the country reporting an increase in human exposure to the antiparasitic drug ivermectin, Washington state health officials released a statement that ivermectin should not be used to prevent or treat COVID‑19. Katrina Mealey, director of WSU’s Program in Individualized Medicine, discovered that some dogs and cats have genetic mutations that cause extreme sensitivity to ivermectin-induced neurological toxicity. Additionally, she has identified numerous drug-drug interactions that can increase the risk of ivermectin toxicity. Humans who have similar gene mutations are also susceptible to severe adverse reactions and are likely susceptible to the same drug interactions that increase risk of neurological toxicity.

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Studying coronaviruses

One of the first scientists to test cell entry of SARS-CoV-2, Michael Letko is expanding the database of the world’s coronaviruses through some unique experimental approaches developed in his lab. Through his work studying coronaviruses found in bats and other animals, he aims to help predict or even prevent the next pandemic.

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Tracking COVID‑19 and the public health response

WSU epidemiologists are tracking the determinants that allow COVID‑19 to spread with the goal of informing science-based policies to reduce transmission in healthcare systems, the community, schools and the workplace. The COVID‑19 crisis has already shown the need for long‑term changes to our healthcare system, employment policies and our social interactions.

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Food supply, economics and transportation

COVID-19 is disrupting agriculture, meat processing and food markets. WSU has experts who are assessing the pandemic’s impacts on food supply, agricultural economics and the transport of food and other goods around the country.

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Food safety and nutrition

WSU has leaders in consumer food safety, nutrition and food assistance who are working with Washington residents, growers and suppliers throughout the state. They provide practical advice on food preparation, low‑cost recipes, shopping, locally accessible ingredients, cleaning and sanitizing as well as staying healthy and physically active during the isolation needed to slow the impacts of COVID‑19.

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Testing animals for COVID‑19

The Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (WADDL) on the WSU campus in Pullman is conducting limited testing of animal samples for the SARS‑CoV‑2 virus, the causative agent for COVID‑19. While at this time there is no evidence that companion animals can spread COVID‑19, the goal for the testing is to collect evidence for further study of the role, if any, of infected animals.

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Misinformation: battling the “infodemic”

Misinformation can be dangerous in a pandemic when it causes people to avoid sound health advice or promote corrosive conspiracy theories. WSU experts are studying the spread of COVID‑19 misinformation, ways to decrease so‑called “fake news,” and analyze and encourage corrective actions by individuals and organizations. WSU is also a partner in the collaborative Center for an Informed Public.

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Consumer fraud

With the amount of uncertainty and fear during a pandemic, consumers are looking for solutions which makes them susceptible to companies selling fraudulent cures, treatments and tests for COVID‑19. WSU Marketing Professor Elizabeth Howlett is studying what makes people vulnerable to these bad offers to help inform public policy protecting consumers. Howlett, a member of the Food and Drug Administration’s risk advisory committee, can also speak about the FDA’s responses to fraud during the pandemic.

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Economic impact in Washington state and beyond

Economist Tim Nadreau is currently developing the methodology for assessing the impacts of COVID‑19 on national and subnational economies using input‑output models. As research faculty for the WSU IMPACT center, he regularly conducts impact and contribution analyses for Washington state industries.

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Remote voting during a pandemic

Social distancing measures have caused discussion about moving to full mail‑in or online voting for upcoming primaries and even for the November general election. The possibility raises a number of concerns over the security of the vote and voter privacy. WSU information systems expert Robert Crossler is currently studying the potential issues of this massive move to by mail or online voting.

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Boredom caused by social distancing

Boredom was already a growing problem for adolescents without a pandemic, but the boom in boredom caused by COVID‑19 is presenting new challenges for parents. Adolescent, prevention and leisure researcher Elizabeth Weybright has been tracking boredom before and during the pandemic and has insights for parents and others who want to help children through this difficult time.

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