Research Universities Lend Expertise and Support Amid Crisis

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Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the three universities that comprise Michigan’s University Research Corridor (URC) have launched themselves into finding a vaccine, a treatment for the virus, and recommendations for “flattening the curve.” They’re also moving new health care professionals into the field, setting up hotlines to help health care workers, perfecting a process to sanitize used masks, and providing advice for managing mental health, food safety, and the economy.

Sandy K. Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, talked with Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, and Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson in today’s Tele-Town Hall on how Michigan’s universities are hard at work to address the fallout of the virus.

Gauging COVID-19’s Impact

Wayne State is currently monitoring the health disparities and disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having on the African American population in Detroit and throughout the state, said Wilson.

“These social inequities that exist, that give rise to these disparities have always been there,” he said, noting that he hopes that influential forces in Michigan can move more urgently to address the underlying issues that caused the disparities the virus has shed light on.

Michigan State is currently involved in coordinating a number of #COVID-19 studies, said Stanley. After many raised questions on the accuracy of Michigan’s COVID-19 tests, Michigan State developed its own test aimed at increasing the accuracy of results, which awaits federal authorization.

For the University of Michigan, artificial intelligence plays a role in discovering drugs effective in treating the virus, explained Schlissel.  The university is researching which drugs already in existence could work against the virus and artificial intelligence helps to sift through the thousands of options.

“One of the things this pandemic points out is the value that America puts in its research universities,” said Schlissel.

Transitioning Into Recovery

“The good news is that social distancing is working,” said Schlissel.

The University of Michigan projected that the virus would peak toward the middle of May, but Schlissel acknowledged that it appears to already have. The bad news, he said, is that the virus will likely remain present in Michigan for a few more years. This will depend on how soon a vaccine is created.

As Michigan prepares for recovery, the URC is helping to advise state government on the best path forth.

“Partnering with the business community is going to be incredibly important going forward,” noted Stanley.

Moving toward a new school year, all three university presidents said they expect for the fall semester to take place primarily online, especially for larger classes with hundreds of students. All three institutions are currently preparing for multiple scenarios including moving fully to online classes and also preparing to retain some activity on campus.

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