The University of Colorado Boulder’s virtual Conference on World Affairs wrapped up Friday afternoon with a final panel that saw experts discuss the health effects of COVID-19 and what can be learned from the pandemic.
The all-female panel included Margaret Pabst Battin, professor of philosophy and adjunct professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah, Shelly L. Miller, professor of mechanical engineering at CU Boulder, Irina Petrache, a professor in the Department of Medicine at National Jewish Health and University of Colorado Denver, and Margot Witvliet, social epidemiologist and assistant professor at Lamar University. It was moderated by CU School of Medicine Dean Richard Krugman.
Panelists discussed the rampant health effects of the novel coronavirus, with Witvliet describing her own experience with falling ill.
“For the past thirty days I’ve been really sick and I can’t say for certain if I had COVID-19 or another illness,” Witvliet said. “That comes because in Texas we’ve had a lack of adequate testing.” She chronicled her experience on her YouTube channel.
Irena Petrache, who also serves as the chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at National Jewish Health, expanded on how the disease first takes hold in a host.
“The COVID-19 disease is the result of inhaling a very small virus,” Petrache said. “It is invisible and it first impacts our breathing system … eventually it can lead to multi-organ systemic condition.”
Petrache went on to address the unique challenge of the disease: Its incubation period and early phase of transmission. This, she said, is hard to detect making it more difficult to tell at first who has COVID-19.
Petrache noted the danger of “super-spreaders,” an individual who, despite having COVID-19, appears healthy and continues to be in public, leading to further spread. These people are also known as asymptomatic carriers.
Petrache went on to discuss some of the people at greatest risk of developing complications related to COVID-19.
“Definitely smoking and age are risk factors,” Petrache said. “We are now trying to understand if vaping also predisposes the younger population.”
Petrache said males those with diabetes also seem to be predominantly filling intensive care units.
Miller, the CU Boulder mechanical engineering professor, brought the discussion to her own research that looks at indoor air quality.
“If you’re an infected person and you breathe or talk or sing or cough, you generate a cloud of particles of all different sizes. The large particles drop to the floor or surfaces that can then be picked up and transmitted through your hands,” Miller said.
Virus particles can stay within the air for hours and is why physical distancing is important, especially in poorly ventilated places, according to Miller.
“We need to continue to wear masks … we need to consider increasing ventilation rates in our buildings and with outside air,” Miller said. She advised people to open up windows in their homes to increase ventilation.
Battin, the University of Utah professor, addressed the lack of testing in the United States.
“How did we get so far behind? ” Batten said. “How can we improve testing and how could we do testing that’s non-invasive.”
Battin discussed the dark details of triaging in this crisis where individuals may be denied ventilators or other treatment due to the severity, or lack of severity, of their case. She asked listeners to consider four things she thinks we owe people: The rights to information, proper communication between families and patients, a humane death and personal choice.
Panelists ended by looking to the future of how the pandemic will end, a future that still looks very uncertain.
“It’s not just about getting a vaccine for COVID-19, it’s about getting the right vaccine for America,” Witvliet said.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Mairead Brogan at firstname.lastname@example.org.