By Myron Cohen, MD
Our UNC infectious diseases community, encompassing many disciplines, has responded remarkably to COVID-19. Our physicians have been deployed to patient care and to advise the University and health system’s leadership. Researchers are quickly pivoting their work to focus on COVID.
Among the many who have responded quickly:
- David Wohl and others set up a COVID-19 testing strategy
- Melissa Miller developed the University’s PCR test
- David Weber and Emily Sickbert-Bennet have managed the deployment of our infection control resources
- epidemiologists including Allison Aiello and Audrey Pettifore, have worked on social distancing and other risk-reduction strategies
- Kim Powers has worked on the North Carolina and UNC Health models
- other colleagues have set up a COVID service, a COVID ward, and a dynamic COVID treatment algorithm.
And, of course, UNC has some of the world’s best virologists. Ralph Baric’s work with SARS viruses is central to virtually everyone’s work. UNC faculty have already received funds from SOM for a variety of research projects.
Globally, we are staying in close touch with UNC Projects worldwide. Our China site has offered invaluable insight, and our collaborators there are volunteering shipments of masks and swabs and more. Our Malawi and Zambia sites are proposing research and clinical care unique to people living with HIV and pregnant women. Our South Africa site is playing a leading role in the region and our ID physicians there, including Dr. Jeremy Nel, are omnipresent.
A large number of funding opportunities are opening up as the NIH acts emergently. In NIAID, the HIV research community has been asked to pivot to COVID-19. The ACTG, with Joe Eron as co-principal investigator, will start treatment trials. The HPTN, where I serve as co-PI, will work on vaccine and passive immunity (monoclonal antibody) prevention trials.
On campus, several UNC clinics moved to prepare for a potential patient surge. Thanks to all the faculty and staff who helped our ID clinic move to Meadowmont virtually overnight. The clinic’s next move will be a permanent one, to the new UNC Eastown Ambulatory Center.
Drs. Weber, Sickbert-Bennett, and William Fischer serve on UNC Health’s COVID committee. I am serving on the University’s COVID executive committee, led by Vice Chancellor George Battle. The committee is playing a critical role in virtually all campus decisions, including the closing and opening of campus activities. Remote learning will extend into the summer semester, at least through the end of June. Most on-campus research labs are closed, with the exception of our coronavirus labs. Decisions and plans will be re-evaluated around May 31 by the chancellor and provost.
Thanks for all you are doing and for your flexibility and spirit during these challenging times. I’m proud to report that UNC is being regarded as a national model for COVID-19 crisis management.
Myron Cohen, MD, directs UNC’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases and serves as associate vice chancellor for global health and medical affairs and Yeargan-Bates Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Microbiology and Immunology, and Epidemiology.