UC Davis hosts COVID-19 public awareness symposium via Zoom, YouTube

UC Davis hosts COVID-19 public awareness symposium via Zoom, YouTube

Photo Credits: TESSA KOGA / AGGIE

Experts across variety of disciplines answered questions about novel coronavirus

UC Davis experts on immunology, infectious diseases, pathology and emergency medicine gave presentations and answered questions from the public about the novel coronavirus. The “COVID-19 Symposium: Answering your Questions” was held on Thursday, April 23 from 1:30 to 5:10 p.m. Close to 1,000 viewers tuned in to watch the free program via Zoom and YouTube, according to a UC Davis Health article

For those who missed the symposium but still want to watch, a video of the broadcast can be viewed on YouTube. It can be found on the “Biochemistry Channel” YouTube channel owned by Walter Leal, the moderator of the symposium and a distinguished professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

One goal of the symposium was to give professionals a platform to speak about their latest insights and research regarding COVID-19, Leal explained. 

“There is a lot of pent-up demand to hear the evidence around this condition,” said Nathan Kupperman, a professor and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the School of Medicine. “It is so dramatic and there is a lot of misinformation at the highest levels of government, and the social media and the web. The UC Davis webinar presented experts that could provide solid evidence to a very interested population.”

Another goal was to provide an opportunity for the public to ask questions to experts regarding the pandemic, Leal said. The audience could submit questions beforehand or in the chat during the symposium. There was so much involvement that the symposium ran over an hour after the scheduled closing time. 

“We had so many questions, it became more than three and a half hours,” Leal said. “It was a long one, but it was worth doing that.”

Most attendants of the webinar were from Yolo County, however, people from all around the world tuned in, including from Germany, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Canada and Slovakia, Leal said. 

“People from all walks of life came,” Leal said. “People from UC Davis, staff and faculty, and the general public attended. Even some politicians [and] community leaders attended.” 

Leal drew inspiration for the webinar because so many people were asking him questions that he could not answer about the virus. Leal knows a lot of professors and experts that could answer these questions, so he used his teaching skills to organize the speakers and make the symposium happen. 

“I called a lot of professors to ask them to participate,” Leal said. “Almost every single person that was invited accepted. We got together a wonderful panel that was able to address most of the questions that [the audience] had.”

Chancellor Gary May kicked off the symposium through an introductory address in which he welcomed the presenters and described how UC Davis has been both affected by the pandemic and involved in battling the pandemic. Leal explained the schedule and the five main speakers then gave their presentations and answered questions from the audience. 

The first speaker, Emanuel Maverakis, a professor in the Departments of Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Dermatology at the School of Medicine, compared Taiwan’s strategy with that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. Maverakis spoke about what could have been done to prevent the severity of the pandemic. 

“I did complain about there not being national reporting guidelines,” Maverakis said. “This pandemic has been going on forever. You would think that our country would have some national reporting guidelines on coronavirus.”

Maverakis also explained the importance of wearing masks and keeping proper hygiene. He said, however, that washing one’s hands too frequently can be problematic for people with sensitive skin, so a balance of cleanliness and safety is important. 

“All of the soap is too much for some people,” Leal explained. “Too much soap might be problematic and may have eaten [away] from the skin.”

Kupperman, another main speaker, shared about the UC Davis Medical Center’s preparations for the pandemic. The hospital has access to personal protective equipment, ventilators and other supplies, so it is able to support infected patients. Now that the infection curve has flattened, the hospital is seeing fewer COVID-19 patients.

“My big message was that the COVID situation in California is fortunately under relative control because we have a very enlightened governor, and because of physical distancing and sheltering in place and everything we have done to flatten the curve,” Kupperman said. “We did not see the massive influx of patients that other cities like New York, Detroit or New Orleans have seen.”

People with emergencies unrelated to COVID-19 are delaying coming to the emergency room in fear of contracting the virus. Hospitals are safe places, as all staff, patients and visitors are wearing masks and staff and visitors are screened for temperature and symptom checks, Kupperman said. 

“The bigger danger is ignoring your health needs, especially if you are sick and having an emergency,” Kupperman said. “You need to come in and get care.”

Staurt Cohen, another speaker and a professor and chief in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the School of Medicine, discussed the various implementations of clinical trials to find antiviral treatment and vaccines for COVID-19, especially those that UC Davis has been involved in.  

“I went through the clinical presentation of patients, how they show up, what their symptomatology is, what we see on exams and then how long it takes to get infected [and] how the virus is transmitted,” Cohen said. “And then I talked about some of the potential drug treatments.”

Nicole Baumgarth, a professor in the Center of Comparative Medicine and the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Veterinary Medicine, explained the structure of the virus, the way it spreads and its genetic ancestry. 

State Sen. and Dr. Richard Pan, the chair of the Senate Committee on Health and a member of the Special Committee on Pandemic Emergency Response, gave an update on the status of the outbreak in California. He compared the state’s response to the outbreak to New York, illustrating the importance of California’s timely shutdown of schools and businesses as well as the shelter-in-place restrictions.  

“We are not even close to the point where we have enough people immune to the virus,” Pan said during the symposium. “The state has a roadmap to opening and lifting shelter-in-place and loosening up restrictions, but there is a need to expand testing capacity and implement consistent restrictions across the country. The restrictions are hard, but the alternative is even worse as we are as strong as the weakest link. The data and the science have to drive the decisions related to COVID-19.”

In addition to the main speakers, other experts gave presentations. You-Lo Hseih, a distinguished professor in the Department of Textiles and Clothing, explained the differences between regular masks, surgical masks and N95 masks, as well as what the public can do when masks are unavailable.

 Back in 2016, Leal organized a similar public awareness symposium about the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Cohen, who also participated in the Zika webinar, said Leal is 

“terrific about going out and finding outside experts and bringing people onto the call.”

After the webinar, the team received positive feedback. Members of the public expressed their thanks at the opportunity to be better informed, Kupperman said. 

“By trying to address the fears of people and trying to provide accurate information, I think that it really ultimately helps everybody,” Cohen said. “It helps people understand what’s going on and helps people feel like they’re not totally in the dark.”

Written by: Margo Rosenbaum — science@theaggie.org