Biology department offers insight into COVID-19 protocols

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Photo by Patrick Vitale

As members of the scientific community, the professors of the University of Dallas biology department have a unique perspective on the COVID-19 developments, both in terms of the disease itself and as teachers on campus in the midst of the university’s precautionary measures. 

Dr. Inimary Toby has a background in researching lung diseases, especially how environmental factors such as smoking, vaping or allergens can lead to weakened and diseased lungs. In recent years, she has been studying ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) and, despite being slowed by the coronavirus, over the summer she and a group of research students built a database specifically dedicated to ARDS.

Given her background, Dr. Toby said that, as the data on the coronavirus has grown, she has become interested in possibly exploring some “computational modeling to determine geographical drift as it relates to changes in the virus’ genome.” 

Based on testing, there is a protein that is changing within the virus’ genome that seems to vary geographically.

Toby said that the way the virus affects individuals differently based on age and sex “speaks to the diversity in our immune repertoire.”  

Similarly, Dr. William Cody, who is a bacteriologist and specifically focuses on respiratory pathogens and infectious diseases, has a unique perspective on the coronavirus. 

“Industrialized countries, in general, really downplay infectious disease,” said Cody. Because of this, Cody said that in his classes, he works to impress on students “just how much infectious disease is around us.” 

“I can tell you that I think that the flu is horrifying. People keep saying things like ‘Oh this is just like the flu.’ Well one, it’s not, but if it was, that would be terrifying, because the flu kills 40 to 60 thousand people a year in the US in a non-pandemic year,” said Cody. 

The professors’ base of knowledge is also important to their understanding of the coronavirus precautions on campus. 

Toby said, “We still are learning more about it, so at this point I do think that preventative measures are the best we can do. And I’ve been pleased with the way we have been doing that at UD.”

She added that, “It’s not quite clear, if for this virus, is there a time dependent? I know I’ve seen a few studies that have tried to look at droplet sizes, but I think we need to see more. I think people are curious to know how long it takes for it to evaporate, before it completely disappears. Because we don’t imagine it’s just sitting in the air.” 

Studies have shown that viral genetic material can be detected on surfaces for a longer period than those surfaces could be proven to carry a viable pathogen. Finding traces of coronavirus genetic material factored into a belief that the coronavirus could be passed by vehicle transmission. Vehicle transmission occurs when an object touched by one person transmits a virus to a second person who touches it. 

Cody explained that there have been a number of studies “trying to show that [the coronavirus is passed through vehicle transmission] and failing to show that.”

In light of this, the University of Dallas’ COVID-19 Preparedness Committee has modified its original ruling that students should wipe down their desks with disinfectant spray at the end of each class. 

Dr. Cody is a member of the multi-departmental committee which includes in its members other faculty from both Irving and Rome, members of the administrative, admissions and financial offices, as well as representatives from the clinic, Aramark, the bookstore and the athletic department.

The committee was first created in the spring of 2020 as an advisory group for the board of trustees and has since changed names several times as its objectives and the situation changes. 

Referencing the removal of the protocol about wiping down the desks, Cody said he believes it is a “really good sign that the committee can be flexible and can relax things when it’s appropriate.” 

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