The year 2020 will remain perhaps the strangest for many decades to come. A new virus jumps from bats to humans and starts spreading in Wuhan. From there it quickly spreads to other parts of the world. Humankind faces a pandemic and a state of emergency is experienced throughout the world. Human is a social animal and this trait becomes its biggest enemy. On one hand travel becomes our foe while on the other the information technology becomes a friend! Zoom is now more than a noun; it is a verb! And now we are going through the middle of the year 2021! Before COVID-19, people would get new years’ horoscopes in magazines and newspapers, but this year, readers are getting “vaccine-scopes” in their favorite newspapers.
We as humans have witnessed a lot in this pandemic. In 2019 researchers were busy finding answers to questions about life and this universe. Then in December 2019, a virus spread to the world which changed its norms all together. Not only everyday life but work also got affected by the pandemic. We talked to SASTA members to know about their thoughts on how COVID-19 affected their work.
‘COVID-19 pandemic tremendously affected the work’, says Dr. Noureddine Melikechi, Professor of Physics and Dean of Sciences at University of Massachusetts. Like many of his colleagues, Dean Melikechi had to switch fast from normal operations to mostly remote operations within 10 days. This is not an easy switch but according to Dr. Noureddine Melikechi it has been successful. In his own words, “Impact has been mostly psychological and has forced us to rethink our professional goals and the modalities to use to do our work now and post COVID(19)”.
SASTA member, Dr. Jauad el Kharraz, got involved in studies and assessments of research dealing with early detection of COVID-19 in wastewater networks in cities. He has advocated for the adoption of a water-health nexus, on which a policy brief was published for the G20 summit in Saudi Arabia. Our readers can access it through the [Link]. Dr. Kharraz also contributed to research on the impact of use of masks on the environment and human health [Link].
Dr. Walid Aref, Professor of Computer Science at Purdue University, whose research is in database systems focused on geolocation of moving objects, storage, and retrieval of data in database research engines. Dr. Aref says tracking locations of objects has helped significantly in the context of combating COVID-19. Processing data of geographical locations efficiently helped in devising governmental policies in mitigating the spread of SARS CoV-2. During the pandemic we have seen that mass tracking has led to simultaneous tracking of the movement of people around the globe. This has helped in contact tracing and keeping people safe from getting infected.
Dr. Mohamad Sawan, Chair Professor at Westlake University China and Professor Emeritus at Polytechnique Montreal Canada, used his ongoing research to tackle the COVID19 pandemic. Dr. Sawan is leading a research team to build a miniaturized hand-held Coronavirus fast detector. This invention will help in easy and rapid detection of SARS CoV-2.
The healthcare sector remains the most affected due to COVID19 pandemic. Huge number of daily infected cases put a massive toll on the regular working of the health sector and it had to quickly adapt to the fast changing situation. ‘COVID19 took everyone by surprise. It took our team 5 days of continuous work to convert our work to a digital workflow whereby pathologists and residents can work safely from home and continue to provide patient care,’ says Dr.Mahmoud A. Khalifa, Professor and Director of Anatomic Pathology at University of Minnesota. He oversees a large clinical operation. According to Dr. Khalifa when the pandemic hit the State of Minnesota US, his job was to ensure the safety of all of the staff while maintaining adequate clinical services to their patients. Their team anticipated through mathematical models at the time that they could start to lose some of their workforce due to sickness and inability to work. The frontline workers in the laboratory adjusted their schedules to ensure social distancing. Their department also oversees the morgue and, therefore, they had to take the necessary measures to be able to handle the expected increased number of casualties. The main hospitals and operating rooms closed and that resulted in decreased patient services and revenue.
While many of SASTA’s members aligned their work to the COVID19 pandemic, others however, remained busy in their regular work. Dr. Aimen Farraj, a Research Biologist at United States Environmental Protection Agency says though he was not involved in COVID19 related work, nonetheless, this pandemic did limit research productivity in the laboratory. Dr. Yahia Antar, Professor and Canada Research Chair, Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, felt that COVID19 pandemic affected his work in communication aspects. Our readers can relate to it since this pandemic changed especially how we communicate within our professional circle. Zoom meetings from home are the new norm of life on earth and we all could find office corners in our homes.
The scientific breakthrough of 2020 is the human’s quest for knowledge which gave hope that we could survive in testing times. Although we lost a lot due to COVID-19 but it made the general public and governments realize the importance of increased opportunities in science. This includes the importance of increased workforce in biological research, better funding, and the significance of sharing knowledge. The mission of SASTA is to promote science in Arab countries and provide guidance through our esteemed members and their experiences.
Zareen Fatima, PhD