Academics and research in the news

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'Southeast Michigan is burning': Michigan's coronavirus case count doubles every 3 days

Sick people fill intensive care units of already overtaxed southeastern Michigan hospitals at a pace of about 100 new coronavirus patients a day. So far, 111 Michiganders have died, and at least 4,650 had confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Saturday afternoon, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. What we do know is that the official coronavirus case count is currently doubling about every three days in Michigan. "Southeast Michigan is burning right now," said Dr. Teena Chopra, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at DMC Harper University Hospital and a professor at Wayne State University. "Our hospital systems are being overrun at this point," Chopra said. "They are all struggling. ... We are under-resourced and we need to make sure that we get more help. You know, we are asking, all of us are asking, for help. And the governor knows that." It has been just 19 days since the state reported its first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the evening of March 10. Eight days later, a Southgate man in his 50s was the first to die of the disease, and that's when the case counts around the state began to rise rapidly because of "a combination of increased detection of cases through laboratory testing as well as community-wide transmission," said Dr. Paul Kilgore, an associate professor at Wayne State University's Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Reducing the rate of COVID-19 infections hinges on how well people adhere to the governor's order, said Kilgore. "The way I've been looking at social distancing is that it's really kind of our vaccine. You're the vaccine. I'm the vaccine. And the extent to which we apply this intervention to the population is exactly the way that we would apply a vaccine. The more people that do social distancing, or the greater the percentage of the population that social distance, that will determine the effectiveness or efficacy of social distancing, just like you would evaluate a vaccine," Kilgore said. 
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Can I complain about coronavirus? Why it is OK to vent, sometimes

Arash Javanbakht, assistant professor of psychiatry, wrote an article for The Conversation about how the pandemic has changed our normal lives. “The COVID-19 pandemic is different from many crises in that it has affected all of us regardless of politics, economics, religion, age or nationality. This virus is a good reminder that humanity is vulnerable to what nature throws at us, and that we are all in this together. This pandemic has profoundly changed our way of living. Overnight, dining out, exercising at the gym or seeing friends in person became impossible for millions of Americans. Remote working, reduced work hours and income, and uncertainty are indeed stressful. Most of us are having to make important adjustments and quickly learn new skills, such as how to do virtual meetings or be motivated to work from home. Given we are creatures of habit, these adjustments can be hard. We are also stressed by continuous exposure to sad news, often contradictory predictions and recommendations coming from different sources. The constantly changing and evolving nature of this situation is very frustrating.”
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Jobless claims in Michigan, U.S. spike in wake of coronavirus pandemic

Nearly 3.3 million people are out of work in the United States, according to the most recent jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor; quadrupling the previous record set in 1982. "These numbers are unprecedented. 3.3 million jobless claims. I think the high water mark in the 80s was 600,000. No one saw this coming," said Matthew Roling, executive director of Wayne State's Office of Business Innovation. And in Michigan, unemployment claims are also way up. There's been a 550 percent increase in the number of claims filed compared to those usually filed during this time of year, according to the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency. "And I think it speaks to the total lack of clarity that most employers feel right now," Roling said. He added that small businesses in the state have been hit especially hard under the "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order. “Employers don’t really have the freedom or flexibility with their balance sheets the money that they have available, to keep these employees on. And so the most humane thing for them to do is to let these folks go so that they can seek benefits," he said. But Roling also pointed out that Detroit's automakers shifting gears during this crisis, to help make vital medical equipment, is moving Michigan in the right direction in the both the short and long-term. “While obviously making ventilators might not employ the same number of people as making pick-up trucks, a lot of Michigan’s economy is based manufacturing," he said, noting that industry tends.
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Detroit is a COVID-19 hotspot. What the data do, and don't, tell us

Metro Detroit has become one of the nation’s COVID-19 hotspots. And experts predict the situation will get even more dire in the next several weeks. The city of Detroit is a hotspot within the hotspot. As of Thursday, the city reported 888 COVID-19 cases, with 19 deaths so far. Why is that? Jonathan Stillo, a medical anthropologist and assistant professor at Wayne State University, said some of the explanation for Detroit’s numbers in particular comes down to simple geography—densely-populated urban centers foster the spread of communicable diseases, and Detroit may just be a bit ahead of the curve compared to some other places. “But we’re still nowhere near where we need to be in terms of seeing the whole picture,” Stillo said. “Right now, we’re only seeing little snapshots, and those are totally dependent on how much testing is happening. “It makes the job of researchers, and folks who are trying to figure out what’s going on and make policy to address it, really hard. We’re flying blind, I think, in a lot of ways.” Stillo said data on racial demographics would be helpful. So would data about whether groups of people who are disproportionately sick and dying have certain underlying conditions. Although it’s difficult to tell whether specific racial groups such as African Americans might be at higher risk from COVID-19, Stillo said some basic public health and social science data tell us that’s probably the case. “African American folks in Detroit have higher rates of asthma, they have higher rates of diabetes, they have higher rates of some of these conditions that we think may make outcomes worse,” Stillo said. “You’re sort of layering biological problems on top of already-existing social problems.
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Should I exercise during the coronavirus pandemic? Experts explain the just right exercise curve

Tamara Hew-Butler, associate professor of exercise and sports science, and Mariane Fahlman, professor of kinesiology, health and sport studies, wrote an article offering practical tips on how much people should (and should not) exercise. “Both too much and too little are bad while somewhere in the middle is just right. Scientists commonly refer to this statistical phenomenon as a “J-shaped” curve. Research has shown exercise can influence the body’s immune system. 
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How to survive anxiety in the age of COVID-19

Arash Javanbakht, M.D., director of the Stress, Trauma, and Anxiety Research Clinic (STARC) at Wayne State University, wrote a piece for Psychology Today about surviving in the age of COVID-19. Javanbakht wrote: “There are aspects of all of our lives that are affected by the new pandemic, regardless of our political, religious, age, or national background. This virus is a reminder that we humans are all vulnerable to what nature throws at us, and in it together. Overnight, our ability to dine out, be at a coffee shop, or exercise declined. This is important especially for those who had routines including these activities, or those with less social support, whose social interactions were limited to such activities, or their social life did involve such activities like spending time with friends at the gym. Remote working, reduced work hours and income, and inability to predict future of work, especially for those with limited financial resources, or jobs mainly affected by the crisis are highly stressful. We all are also stressed by the news, especially given the inherent emotionally triggering nature of the U.S. news media, and too much focus on disaster pornography, as well as contradicting news, predictions, and recommendations coming from different outlets and authorities. The constantly changing and evolving nature of such news is also stressing on all those who follow them.”
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Looking for coronavirus case numbers in Michigan? Why official data lags

People looking for the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Oakland County on Thursday morning found two numbers: the state said there were 23 confirmed cases, while a report based off the county’s numbers said 94. They’re different because the state’s data lags. The state initially reported it at 6 p.m. every day, then switched to 2 p.m., reporting the confirmed cases from across the state as of midnight the day before. On Thursday the state data lagged even more as officials added in information from private labs and got the latest state number out – 336 confirmed cases, 105 in Oakland County – a little after 3 p.m. And the discrepancy with Oakland County is just one of many around Michigan as some county health departments and local hospitals release their own data in a patchwork. “It is understandable that people want as much data as possible, and government and others should work aggressively to provide that data,” said Matthew W. Seeger, dean and professor of Wayne State University’s Department of Communication. “They should do so with as much context as possible, and that’s really hard in a crisis situation.” It’s important that information is coming from trusted government sources, Seeger said, because a crisis creates an information void. That void can increase the chance of misinformation spreading. "Crisis creates an information vacuum which is going to be filled. It can be filled by subject matter experts and government officials, or it can be filled by your friend from high school,” Seeger said. He encouraged people to consult official sources like the CDC, and correct misinformation they may hear or see on social media.
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Make homemade broth, and other nutritionist tips during COVID-19

Some local groceries have been picked thin in the wake of thousands of Metro Detroiters stocking up in preparation for quarantine. But instead of frozen and canned foods, one Wayne State nutritionist says creating your own soups and grain-based dishes is a healthier way to feed yourself and your family during this crisis. “You don’t want to be throwing anything away right now. You want to maximize what you have,” said Wayne State University nutritionist Diane Cress. Cress says, before you go shopping again, pay attention to what can still be used at home. “Get your nutrients from food and then you get the right doses. If you get them from supplements, things are imbalanced. Food is cheaper and tastes better.”
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Disease expert: Michigan life won’t return to normal for months

Schools are closed, bars and restaurants shut down, and many temporarily laid off or working from home. Disruptions to daily life are growing more severe in Michigan, where 54 cases of coronavirus were confirmed late Monday. And if other parts of the country and globe should serve as an indication, a weeks-long lockdown curtailing travel outside the home could be next. As Michiganders face a new reality, the question many are asking is “how long will it last?” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has closed schools through April 5 and activity centers — including gyms and libraries — through March 30, but a local infectious disease specialist says it could be months before life returns to normal in Michigan. Chopra’s assessment of what’s in store for Michigan dovetails with recent comments from President Trump, who said in a Monday news conference that the outbreak may not end in the U.S. until July or August at the earliest. He added that he may advocate for quarantine or curfew in local “hot spots.” The San Francisco Bay Area on Monday announced a near-lockdown to last through April 7. Once things are under control, Chopra warns there will likely be a second wave of the virus as people resume social activity. That could be less severe and limited to local clusters, however, as the country will presumably be better prepared. A vaccine will still take up to 18 months to produce, she said.
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Trump is breaking every rule in the CDC’s 450-page playbook for health crisis

Amid an outbreak where vaccines, drug treatments and even sufficient testing don’t yet exist, communication that is delivered early, accurately and credibly is the strongest medicine in the government’s arsenal. But the Trump administration’s zigzagging, defensive, inconsistent messages about the novel coronavirus continued Friday, breaking almost every rule in the book and eroding the most powerful weapon officials possess: Public trust.  “For those of us in this field, this is profoundly and deeply distressing,” said Matthew Seeger, a risk communication expert at Wayne State University who developed the CDC guidebook alongside many top doctors, public health researchers, scientists, consultants and behavioral psychologists. “It’s creating higher levels of anxiety, higher levels of uncertainty and higher levels of social disruption. … We spent decades training people and investing in developing this competency. We know how to do this.” Since taking office, Trump has ousted scientists, muzzled researchers and suppressed basic information on climate change. Public health officials worry that his erosion of public trust of science, coupled with the ongoing conflicting messaging between experts and politicians, is making it unclear whom the public should listen to. “I’m fearful we’ve continued to undermine our belief that subject matter experts are people we should listen to,” said Seeger. “We’ve done a good job over the last couple decades of undermining science and telling people scientists aren’t to be believed.”
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This math professor serves up 1,200 digits of pi

Since it was first defined more than 2,000 years ago, mathematicians have tried to find pi’s exact value. Pi has many fans, who celebrate National Pi Day on March 14 (3/14). The U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution recognizing Pi Day in 2009. In recent years, Raskind says Wayne State has ramped up its efforts to spread awareness and appreciation of pi. “We have a STEM day,” Raskind says. “I did a session on everything you always wanted to know about pi. I had about 35 students or so, and they loved it.” Raskind says he hopes promoting pi day will help people appreciate math more, and break stereotypes about those who are interested in mathematics.
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Indian Country leaders urge Native people to be counted in 2020 Census

Kirsten Carlson, associate professor of law and adjunct associate professor of political science, wrote an article for The Conversation about the 2020 Census and the challenge of counting Native Americans living on reservations and in traditional villages, the most undercounted people in the 2010 U.S. Census. The Census Bureau estimates that it undercounted American Indians living on reservations and Alaska Natives in villages by approximately 4.9% in 2010. “This year, tribal leaders throughout the U.S. are urging American Indians and Alaska Natives to be seen and counted in the 2020 U.S. Census,” Carlson wrote. “Native leaders across the U.S. have been working to educate Native people about the importance of being counted in the 2020 U.S. Census. The National Congress of the American Indian, the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization, has undertaken a public education campaign and designed a toolkit to help tribes and native people participate in the Census. Tribes have devoted considerable energy and resources to preventing another undercount. Beginning in 2015, they have consulted with the Census Bureau on how to build collaborative relationships to overcome the barriers to counting people in Indian Country. Tribal leaders are using their expertise in reaching their own communities by developing outreach plans to encourage tribal participation and hiring tribal citizens to collect Census data. For tribes, an accurate count will enhance their ability to exercise sovereignty over their lands and people.
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Crisis communication researcher shares 5 key principles that officials should use in coronavirus

Matthew Seeger, professor of communication and dean, College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts, wrote an article for The Conversation discussing key principles that officials should use in coronavirus. “Infectious disease outbreaks have killed more people than hurricanes, wildfires or earthquakes. The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history, with death estimates ranging as high as 50 million worldwide. Almost 700,000 deaths occurred in the U.S.; in some cases, entire families died. Because these events are so outside our understanding of what is normal, they create high levels of uncertainty. We don’t know what is happening. And we don’t know what to do to avoid and mitigate the harm. Crises are also time-sensitive events that require quick decisions and actions to reduce and contain the harm. Delayed evacuations for hurricanes, for example, can lead to more deaths. Failure to issue advisories to boil water can result in disease outbreaks. Telling people what to do during a crisis - boil water, evacuate, shelter in place - is critical to limiting and containing the harm.”
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Data deficit: Oversight of jails fragmented

Who is incarcerated in Michigan’s county jails, their length of sentence, and how many die there is unknown — and it has been that way for decades. Policymakers say they're taking steps to fix this broken system, but with little data to go by, responding to the mental health needs of those in county jails is like working in the dark. Sheryl Kubiak, dean of Wayne State’s School of Social Work, has spent her career researching the intersection of criminal justice and heath care. She served on the Task Force with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and State Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack. Improving outcomes for inmates, connecting them with services and giving corrections officers the information they need requires an intake system that asks the right questions, Kubiak said. There are a variety of jail management software programs available to purchase, with little uniformity from county to county, Kubiak said. The software is expensive and takes training to learn how to use, making it difficult for jail administrators to justify changing even if their current system is not as effective as they’d like. “In the best case scenario, there would be a uniform system that all the jails would use,” Kubiak said, in a telephone interview. “But to require that, the state would have to fund it. And that would be a big ticket item.” Some jails, such as Kalamazoo County, are paper and pencil, Kubiak said, with no jail management information software at all. Nor is there a robust oversight mechanism to make sure county jails are operating as they should.

Democrats gear up for brutal 2020 fight with Trump in Michigan

Democrats in Michigan have been mobilizing for months for a fierce general election fight against President Trump, determined not to lose this Midwest battleground as they did in 2016. Even before they know who their nominee will be, Democratic groups are pouring millions of dollars into anti-Trump ads here, portraying the Republican president as an unstable leader who threatens Americans’ healthcare and the nation’s security. A network of progressive groups across Michigan has already identified voters susceptible to voting against Trump and started reaching out to them on issues they care about most. Michigan’s presidential primary — the biggest of six Democratic contests Tuesday — will test the appeal of former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in a state likely to play an outsize role in deciding whether Trump wins a second term. Ken Jackson, an English professor at Wayne State University, grew up in Macomb County. He sees Trump’s swagger as a big part of his appeal to white working-class voters here, including many whose families fled Detroit for the suburbs in the “white flight” that began amid the racial tensions and riots of the 1960s. “A lot of that aggressive banter is very deeply connected to the cultural habits and speech patterns of these folks,” Jackson said. “That’s something they’re quite comfortable with. They associate that with authenticity and truth-telling.”
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Wayne State team receives $1.98 million NIH award to develop diagnostic tests for sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease of unknown causes that affects multiple organs in the body. It occurs in patients around the world and is highly prevalent in Detroit and Michigan. It is characterized by abnormal masses or nodules – granuloma formations – in various organs, including lungs and lymph glands, brains and heart. Sarcoidosis has been described for more than 150 years, but there are no specific and simple tests developed to diagnose this disease. A team of researchers led by Lobelia Samavati, M.D., associate professor in the Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics and Department of Internal Medicine at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, has been working for more than 10 years to discover specific serological biomarkers of sarcoidosis and tuberculosis. With the help of a recent $1.98-million grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, Samavati’s research team aims to advance their work of developing biomarker technology for identification of biomarkers of sarcoidosis. “We believe that our technology will be able to harness the diversity of antibodies and can aid to identify protective antibodies in various diseases in humans, including viral respiratory infections such as the corona virus,” said Samavati. “We believe that this study is the beginning of new era to identify protective immunity in form of antibodies.” Sorin Draghici, the Robert J. Sokol, M.D. Endowed Chair in Systems Biology in Reproduction and professor of computer science in Wayne State’s College of Engineering, is collaborating with Samavati. He contributed to the design of the study and will supervise the data analysis.
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Cow dung won’t stop coronavirus and you can open Amazon boxes from China

Spreading as fast as the new coronavirus are half-truths, innuendo and downright dangerous lies around it, putting Michiganders’ health — as well as their wallets — at risk. One Michigan school district fought rumors that it shut down because of coronavirus. (It was a power outage.) A county health department faced accusations of hiding 800 potentially sick people in gypsum mines. (They weren’t.) And a hospital system was thought to confirm it had a patient with coronavirus. (It was a scam.) Meanwhile, the state health department is fielding calls from panicked residents, including one who wanted to know if he should destroy the Amazon package containing an office chair made in China. Matt Seeger, dean of Wayne State University’s College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts, said he received this mail this week: Dr. Seeger, we would like you to participate in our efforts to prepare for coronavirus. Please click on this link. That email likely was designed to lure recipients into clicking the link, spreading malware into the computers or seeking personal information, he said. Seeger, a crisis communications specialist, said rumors can go beyond misleading or confusing; they can be downright dangerous. Some of the most harmful flimflam involves bogus preventative measures. There’s the dangerous claim, for example, that drinking bleach will prevent coronavirus. “If you drink bleach, you're going to the hospital,” Seeger said. “Maybe you won’t get coronavirus, but you’re going to be really, really sick.”
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A coronavirus guide for older adults (and their family advocates)

A late February study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that children 10 and under accounted for just 1% of all COVID-19 cases, for example, while adults in the 30-79 age groups represented a whopping 87%. The World Health Organization (WHO) found something similar in China, with 78% of patients falling between the ages of 30 and 69. “Older people are more likely to be infected, especially older people with underlying lung disease,” says Dr. Teena Chopra, medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at Wayne State University. “For this population, mortality rates for COVID-19 are about 15%.” In this sense, COVID-19 behaves a lot like seasonal flu. From 70% to 85% of all flu deaths and 50% to 70% of flu-related hospitalizations occur among people in the 65-plus age group, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 2002-2003 SARS outbreak similarly proved lethal for more than 50% of people over 60 who contracted the disease. “People living in long care facilities have common meetings, they share common rooms,” says Chopra. Common meetings and common rooms can too often mean common pathogens. The health system itself may be playing a significant role in putting seniors at risk. People with multiple medical conditions typically visit multiple specialists, and every such visit means entering a health care environment that can be teeming with viruses and bacteria. For now, Chopra advises older patients to postpone doctor visits that aren’t absolutely essential, like “their annual eye visit. Dental cleaning can be avoided too.” Telemedicine—conducting doctor visits that don’t require hands-on treatment online—can be helpful too, as can e-prescribing, with drugs being delivered straight to patients, sparing them exposure to pharmacies.