Employee at UC Davis Health tests positive for COVID-19

Employee at UC Davis Health tests positive for COVID-19

Photo Credits: DANIEL TAK / AGGIE FILE

UC Davis researchers continue work to identify possible treatments, vaccine

An employee on the UC Davis Health campus in Sacramento tested positive for COVID-19, according to an announcement from UC Davis Health made today, March 20.

The employee has not been at work since Friday, March 13. UC Davis Health said it was notified about the infection yesterday, and it is thought that the employee contracted the novel coronavirus through community transmission since their job does not involve caring for coronavirus patients. The Infection Prevention Team is currently conducting an investigation to ensure the safety of other employees and patients, according to a statement from UC Davis Health. 

UC Davis Health is taking several steps to mitigate the spread of the disease, including allowing eligible personnel to work from home when possible, restricting hospital visits to prevent the possible entry of the virus and advising employees to follow the current public health directives in the state of California when they are not at work.

Yesterday, Gov. Gavin Newsom introduced statewide shelter-in-place directives. Additionally, the UC Davis main campus has suspended operations, according to a March 18 announcement. Staff members are continuing to help care for crops, animals and facilities deemed necessary, and campus firefighters and police remain on duty, according to a March 20 email from Chancellor Gary May to the campus community. Employees and staff at the medical and veterinary centers, respectively, are also still working.

The email from May noted that while other research is “ramping down” due to the virus, UC Davis Health has run its first tests on patients recommended by the infectious diseases team. The center plans on testing up to 200 patients a day in the coming weeks. 

“Clinical pathologists, infectious disease physicians and scientists at the UC Davis Medical Center, School of Medicine, California National Primate Research Center [CNPRC], and Center for Immunology and Infectious Diseases [CIID]” are currently working on developing a vaccine for COVID-19, according to a March 19 press release. They are also researching reagents and diagnostic tests related to the virus. 

The research involves “isolating, cultivating, and culturing coronavirus” from a patient treated at UC Davis who is the first community-infected individual in the U.S. Specifically, the team is examining genetic differences between the coronavirus that emerged at UC Davis and other cases in both the U.S. and other countries.

 The researchers plan on identifying how COVID-19 “attacks and invades cells” and “what treatments might work against it.” Collaboration between the medical center, the CNPRC and the CIID has enabled the UC Davis Clinical Laboratory to begin testing soon, which will ideally help meet increasing demand.

A current virus model is also being developed for primates, as rhesus macaques will likely be affected by COVID-19, according to Chinese researchers. This model may aid in identifying possible vaccines and treatments, and it could help illuminate why the infection is predominantly dangerous for people older than 60. 

The researchers have applied for more funding from the National Institute of Health and are currently utilizing funds from both the campus and the primate center to continue their work.

Written by: Rebecca Bihn-Wallace — campus@theaggie.org