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What’s the answer to slowing the spread of COVID-19 for older adults?

July 1 web talk with esteemed microbiologist to focus on the behaviors necessary to prevent a resurgence of coronavirus

By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Renew Senior Communities
Dr. Michael Schmidt, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Dr. Michael Schmidt, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina.

“There’s a lot of stupid floating around out there.”

That’s what South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said during a recent news conference in which he pleaded with the public to make better decisions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“That’s the best quote ever — it’s how you explain the recent surge (in cases),” said Dr. Michael Schmidt, PhD, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Dr. Schmidt is the guest host of an upcoming webcast, “How Colorado Can Work Smarter to Slow the Spread of COVID-19 in Older Adults,” presented by Renew Senior Communities. Renew CEO Lee Tuchfarber is co-hosting.

“This is a plague for which the human race has a choice,” Dr. Schmidt said. “We already know how to stop this virus dead in its tracks.”

Much of the discussion will focus on how we can do our part as a society to slow the spread, but Dr. Schmidt will also discuss promising light at the end of the tunnel. From the potential that oral polio vaccines can safely and cheaply protect the U.S. population to excitement over bluetooth technology expanding the efficiency of contact tracing, Dr. Schmidt said various stop-gap measures could make a big difference until there’s a COVID-19 vaccine.  

“The only thing more infectious than this virus is hope,” he said.

Personal responsibility

The way we control the virus is really straightforward, Dr. Schmidt said — “it’s hygiene.”

Wearing a mask to protect others, washing your hands and keeping a physical distance of at least six feet from other people are the most effective safety precautions.

“If we’ve learned one thing, there are a lot of folks out there who are infected and don’t know it,” he said. “The mere act of speech actually can spread the virus. So, if you’re out carrying your business and talking, wear a mask.”

Physical distancing is your only hope if you’re not wearing a mask. The “hope” being that the virus dissipates in the air before smashing into your face.

“Many medical folks are wearing face shields because the virus can come in from your tear ducts,” Dr. Schmidt said.

As for hand hygiene, simple soap and water is all you need. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands for at least 20 seconds.

Strict safety protocols have proven to work at Renew Senior Living’s two communities in Aurora and Glenwood Springs. Tuchfarber said all residents at both communities have remained COVID-free while a great number of the senior living facilities in Colorado have experienced outbreaks.

Renew put various safety measures in place for staff before they enter the building, and they’ve even provided staff with meals to take home to their families to decrease their need to go to the grocery store. Much of this decision-making is data-driven, with various phases of safety measures implemented depending on the R-naught (Ro), which is the estimate of the number of people to whom each infected person spreads the virus.

“There’s an inherent spreadability of the virus itself, but there’s also an environmental factor,” Tuchfarber said. “So behavior can really affect the Ro.”

Join Renew and Dr. Michael Schmidt virtually on July 1

What: “How Colorado Can Work to Slow the Spread of COVID-19 for Older Adults,” a webcast talk series presented by Renew Senior Communities.

When: Wednesday, July 1, 3 to 4 p.m.

Where: Register for free at renewsenior.com.

Featured co-host: Dr. Michael Schmidt, PhD, is a professor of microbiology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina. He is a well-published expert in the area of

infectious disease control and pandemics. He ran the American Society for Microbiology

and set its research priorities for vaccines and testing. He hosts a podcast called, “This

Week in Microbiology.” Dr. Schmidt is an advisor to MicrogenDx, the second largest next

generation testing lab in the U.S.

Testing

Testing serves a vital role in understanding and controlling the spread of COVID-19, Dr. Schmidt said. He points to data from Taiwan, a densely populated island that has managed to keep its number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 to date to less than 450 thanks to aggressive testing and contract tracing.

“Going forward, given that we know there is significant asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission of the virus, pre-emptive testing may be a way we help slow the spread of the virus  in areas that have suddeningly seen a surge in an increase in new cases,” he said. “Simply, local areas may wish to routinely screen random members within their community looking for an up-turn in the number of cases. Such a program will be especially important to companies with public-facing employees, so that they can ensure that their employees and customers are as safe as possible.”

Renew is working on a strategy for preemptive testing rather than waiting for a positive case and then reacting to it. Tuchfarber said Renew should be implementing that new protocol very soon.

“Preemptive testing of all staff on a regular basis, unprompted by a positive test result, is presently a rarity in our industry, but is an important measure to assure safety. We are preparing to integrate this program in our COVID-19 safety regimen,” Tuchfarber said. “This is an extra measure of safety that we feel strongly about taking.”

Facilitating a global response

In an effort to facilitate a global response, scientists are looking at three strategies: diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

Diagnostics essentially look at how we can slow the spread faster and better, while therapeutics focus on the use of drugs.

“If we’re going to restart the economy, we need two to three drugs so the virus doesn’t adapt to the drugs like it did with HIV and hepatitis C in the 1980s,” Dr. Schmidt said.

Vaccines are the area for which Dr. Schmidt is truly excited. There are more than 90 candidate vaccines currently being studied, with microbiologists, structural biologists, physiologists and others all pulling in the same direction.


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