UF experts went toe-to-toe with a raging pandemic in 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic swelled from a ripple last spring to a wave in the fall — with more than 100,000 new American cases reported each day in early November alone — UF doctors, scientists and professors raced to thwart a global disaster.
“These are extraordinary and uncertain times,” President Kent Fuchs said when the pandemic began. “As Gators, we have a tradition of pulling together and rising to meet major challenges with optimism and determination … I am confident that our university community will meet this challenge.”
He was right.
In the pandemic’s first weeks, UF experts across disciplines went to work on the biggest immediate concerns: severe shortages of personal protective equipment, the need for more testing, the search for a vaccine, the effect of closed schools, strains on mental health, and the glut of misinformation.
Gators showed the U.S. Navy how to use common items on ships to manufacture masks for sailors. Parents were given tips to keep children active and learning. Small businesses were advised on how to survive a bruised economy. The university shared blueprints to build inexpensive homemade ventilators using materials bought at hardware stores. Websites were created to answer questions about rumored treatments and medicines, how to keep groceries from spreading the disease, and on becoming a “backyard scientist.” UF doctors and doctors-in-training traveled to high-risk communities to test residents for COVID-19 and took the steps toward a vaccine. And the list goes on.
By Halloween, the university had turned into a go-to source in the war against the virus:
- One promising UF Health study discovered that a flu vaccination might protect people from COVID-19’s worst symptoms.
- UF biologists and ecologists created a conceptual model that showed how the absence of public health coordination between all 50 states causes COVID-19 cases to spike throughout the United States.
- UF Health joined an international clinical trial using monoclonal antibodies to neutralize the virus.
- Physicians at UF’s College of Medicine – Jacksonville were undertaking research projects that ranged from clinical trials to patient registries to learn more about testing, effective treatment options and disease recovery.
- UF researchers from IFAS and the engineering college were establishing a method to predict the near-term economic impacts of the pandemic.
- Pediatrics and epidemiology professor Sonja Rasmussen was part of a national committee that drafted federal and world guidelines to allocate vaccines.
- A team from the colleges Public Health and Health Professions, Medicine, and Education was examining the effects the pandemic has had on school-age children and their families.
- Biostatistics professor Ira Longini was working with the World Health Organization to devise tests for COVID-19 vaccines.
- Infectious diseases professor Rhoel Dinglasan had developed a smartphone-based rapid saliva test that could detect COVID-19.
Other UF projects included measuring the risks of exposing farmworkers to the virus, COVID-19’s effect on commercial real estate, the use of blood thinners to treat the disease, links between diabetes and COVID-19, air pollution’s ties to coronavirus cases, and more.
“It’s just heartbreaking to see this [virus] happen to our family members and our friends,” said Mark Brantly, the principal investigator in the university’s clinical trial testing a monoclonal antibody cocktail to treat COVID-19. “We’re doing everything we can to find useful treatments.”