Academics and research in the news

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Will Fourth of July ever be the same? Not if we're fortunate enough to evolve as a nation

According to Kidada Williams, associate professor of history at Wayne State University, African Americans have a history of revering the Declaration of Independence, the document that inspired the day of "pomp and parade" that its signer John Adams predicted back in 1776. With its epic statement that "all men are created equal," the declaration represents "the guarantee all Americans are supposed to enjoy," said Williams. In a year of pandemic and protest, this Fourth of July also can be a time of reflection that unites everyone with the empathy to see that we are all in this together, whether it's stopping the spread of the virus or stopping racism in a substantive way. Said Wayne State's Williams: "I celebrate the Fourth. ... I do it with a heavy heart this year because of the pandemic and the police killings. But what I know as a descendant of enslaved people (is) that even with all of the criticisms I have for the U.S.'s failure to completely live up to the national creed, I honor and respect what the nation has done in terms of making good." Williams sees the day as a chance to take action. It could be filling out a 2020 census form to help your community get its fair share of funding or making sure you're registered to vote or even vowing to run for a local government office. "Who do we want to be as a people, as a community of people, as a nation?" she asks. "It can't just be let's feel good about ourselves."
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Feeling anxious about wearing a mask? Here are 5 ways to overcome it

Feeling anxious about wearing a mask is actually a normal physiologic reaction. Jennifer M. Gómez, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute for Child & Family Development at Wayne State University says our bodies detect when we are not getting the resources we need to survive and one of those resources is air. Even though wearing a mask does not put a person in danger of actually suffocating, Gómez says the mask will tell our body, “Hey! I think there’s something bad here that’s interrupting breathing! Danger is afoot!” Our body will then respond by hyperventilating, becoming anxious, or panicking to alert us that there could be a problem, in this case trouble breathing, to cause us to do something about it. Our reaction is intended to save our lives and is actually what our body is supposed to do. Gómez notes, however, that the problem lies with the fact that the mask is tricking our body and we aren’t actually in danger of getting less oxygen by wearing a mask. This is only worsened by the fact that we actually can easily remove the mask to breathe in all of the air we want. In other words, Gómez says, “your body is responding like your fire alarm in your house does when the kitchen gets too smokey but there's no fire. It's a false alarm.”
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Fireworks can torment veterans and survivors of gun violence with PTSD – here’s how to celebrate with respect for those who served

Arash Javanbakht, associate professor of psychiatry, wrote an article for The Conversation about celebrating the Fourth of July with respect to individuals with PTSD. “For some combat veterans, the Fourth of July is not a time to celebrate the independence of the country they love. Instead, the holiday is a terrifying ordeal. That’s because the noise of fireworks – loud, sudden, and reminiscent of war – rocks their nervous system. Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans. This reaction is not unique to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Also affected are millions of others, including civilians, refugees, and first responders. As a psychiatrist who specializes in trauma and PTSD, I urge you not to overdo an act which causes so much suffering for so many of your fellow Americans.”
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Wayne State Professor Melba Boyd on George Floyd and the future of policing

Melba Boyd is a native Detroiter and a distinguished professor in the department of African-American Studies at Wayne State University. An award-winning author of 13 books, her poetry, essays, and creative nonfiction have appeared in anthologies, academic journals, cultural periodicals, and newspapers in the United States and Europe. Today (Thursday) at noon, Boyd will be joining other community leaders for Wayne State University’s George Floyd in America: Black Detroiters on George Floyd event. The virtual event is part of a new series — called George Floyd in America — that is presented by the university’s Office of the Provost, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Law School, Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Prior to the event, Hour Detroit spoke with Boyd about the ongoing protests, how the country has responded to the killing of George Floyd, and the future of policing.
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Wayne State University part of $4M grant to continue studying high energy nuclear physics

A study led by physicists and computer scientists at Wayne State University and other institutions received a renewal grant of more than $4 million from the National Science Foundation to continue studying elements of high energy nuclear physics. The team of researchers from 13 institutions is working to create an open-source statistical and computational software to help scientists better understand high energy nuclear collisions in a project called the Jetscape collaboration. The renewed grant will be awarded over four years. “This renewal will allow the Jetscape tool to broaden and evolve into a much more elaborate simulator (which we refer to as X-SCAPE), which could be applied to a variety of future experiments, such as at FAIR in Germany and the Electron-Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Lab,” says Abhijit Majumder, a WSU physics professor, lead investigator, and an expert in the development of theoretical techniques for understanding the dynamics of high-energy nuclear collisions. “This will bring all high energy nuclear experiments under a single simulation umbrella, allowing for a cross-pollination of ideas between different experiments.”
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Detroit activists plan Juneteenth march over disparities in sentencing, lack of jury diversity

Detroit activists are planning a Juneteenth march focusing on justice system reform raising awareness about the lack of representation on the supreme court, racial disparities in sentencing and the lack of diversity in juries in Wayne County. "If you think about injustice in the criminal justice system it goes from root to branch," said Wayne State University Law Professor Peter Hammer. "It is not just police brutality. It is how we define what is criminal, what is not criminal, it is who is sitting in the jury and who is not." Hammer is director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. He says judges Keith and George Crockett, Jr. helped bend the proverbial moral arc towards justice, benefitting not just African-Americans but everyone. "And they would tell you, they would not be the same judges they were if they were not Black men," Hammer said. "And they would not have had the impact that they did, because they took their life experience. They survived discrimination and knew the machinery and the physics of discrimination in this country. And they applied that knowledge on the bench. "If you have a bench full of European-Americans that have all these blinders on, even if they have the best intention and the sincerest beliefs, they are going to get it wrong.”
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Are we all OCD now, with obsessive hand-washing and technology addiction?

David Rosenberg, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience, wrote an article for The Conversation. “One of the hallmarks of obsessive-compulsive disorder is contamination fears and excessive hand-washing. Years ago, a patient with severe OCD came to my office wearing gloves and a mask and refused to sit on any of the “contaminated” chairs. Now, these same behaviors are accepted and even encouraged to keep everyone healthy. This new normal in the face of a deadly pandemic has permeated our culture and will continue to influence it. Many stores now prominently post rules mandating face masks and hand sanitizer use and limit the number of customers allowed inside at one time. Walkers and joggers politely cross the street to avoid proximity to each other. Only a few months ago, this type of behavior would have been considered excessive, irrational, even pathological, and certainly not healthy. So, where do doctors draw the line between vigilance to avoid being infected with the coronavirus and obsessive-compulsive disorder that can be harmful? This is an important question that I, a psychiatrist, and my co-author, a wellness and parenting coach, often hear.”
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Detroit area hospital systems lean against use of hydroxycholoroquine for COVID-19

A quickly retracted study that found a higher death rate among COVID-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine has deepened controversy over the drug worldwide and in Michigan. At least one local health system continues to use the drug while others have abandoned it. Many health care institutions, including the World Health Organization, suspended clinical trials of the drug touted by President Donald Trump after the faulty study was published in the British medical journal The Lancet on May 22. The WHO restarted the trials about a week ago. The observational study of about 96,000 patients hospitalized worldwide with the coronavirus concluded that patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine had a greater chance of death and heart rhythm problems than those who did not receive the drug. The politicization of medical studies was dismissed by Michael Rybak, a professor of pharmacy and medicine at Wayne State University and the primary investigator on a current study that's trying to determine the optimum dose of hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19 patients. In the midst of a worldwide pandemic, he said, doctors were grasping at straws, using an unproven treatment without really knowing if it would benefit or harm patients. "The journals have a lot at stake as well," Rybak said, noting that the publications' reputations are based on the quality of the research they publish. "It was important to get the information out as fast as possible to the prescribing clinicians so they know what to do next because there was no information," he said. "(Journals) are trying to get the information out as fast as possible because they know we're at an hour of need." 
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Neighborhood-based friendships making a comeback for kids in the age of coronavirus

Julie Wargo Aikins, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, wrote an article for The Conversation. “As the weather has warmed in my Midwestern town, my neighborhood is full of children on bicycles pretending to be riding through the Wild West. I can’t walk down the sidewalk without stepping on chalk drawings or hopscotch boards. There are children jumping rope and playing ball. In the eight years I’ve lived here, I’ve never witnessed this before. As a clinical psychologist who studies children’s friendships, I am fascinated by this development. Children’s social worlds have been upended by the suspension of school and extracurricular activities due to the pandemic. Many older children and adolescents have been able to maintain their friendships over social media. But, for younger children, this approach is less likely to be available to them and less likely to meet their social needs. In some places, a silver lining of COVID-19 may well be the resurgence of childhood friendships in American neighborhoods.”
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Insomnia, flashbacks hitting Michigan hospital workers as coronavirus ebbs

The novel coronavirus’ grip on Michigan has loosened in recent weeks amid a steady decline in the daily rate of new confirmed infections. On Tuesday, Michigan recorded just 199 new cases. But as front-line workers emerge from months of warlike chaos in their workplaces, mental health experts are already noticing a massive surge in mental health needs among a traumatized workforce. After Wayne State University’s School of Social Work and College of Nursing launched a mental health hotline for traumatized doctors, nurses, and other first responders in the early days of Michigan’s COVID-19 experience, a common theme emerged in the calls, said Suzanne Brown, an associate professor in social work at the school: Front-line workers are suspended in a state of stress that is both “acute and chronic.” Hospital staff and first responders are used to dealing with crises. But typically, they address the immediate need — an emergency surgery, a horrific accident scene — and move on to a new task. But with COVID-19, Brown said, the trauma lingers along with the pandemic. “That sense of not knowing when it’s going to end leaves very little room for people to recover,” she said.
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Retail workers without masks may be breaking the law

If you’ve ventured out into the world lately, you might be noticing a troubling trend — retail workers not wearing masks. This practice might make you uncomfortable as a customer, but is it illegal? And what’s required of local businesses as Michigan’s economy reopens anyway? Beyond what’s written in the law and the guidance, there’s also what’s best for business. “People really have to exercise a good deal of common sense, stay informed, and make things available to their employees, particularly if they asked to be protected and to wear a face mask,” says Marick Masters, a business professor and interim chair of the Department of Finance at Wayne State University’s Mike Ilitch School of Business. “If you have the potential to interact with a customer, you are probably best inclined to wear a face mask. I think that trust is absolutely critical, particularly if you’re trying to restart your business and want people to feel comfortable coming back in,” Masters says. ”There are going to be people that are going to be hesitant to come back in if word-of-mouth comes out that people don’t have face masks or they seem casual about it. I think that you are better off from both a legal standpoint and a trust standpoint, and going the extra mile and trying to reassure people, that you’re doing everything humanly possible to protect the safety of your employees and your customers.” 
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Wayne State University publishes new findings of potentially deadly bacterial infection linked to COVID-19 in older patients

A doctor at Detroit’s Wayne State University School of Medicine has published new findings of a trend in older patients who are severely ill with COVID-19 and also test positive for Clostridioides difficile — a bacteria sometimes referred to C. diff or CDI. The CDI bacteria causes life-threatening diarrhea and is usually a side effect of taking antibiotics, according to the CDC. Wayne State’s observations offer the inaugural CDC journal report of CDI infections in COVID-19 patients. “This is the first report highlighting COVID-19 patients who presented with diarrhea and were found to have both C. diff and diarrhea as a co-infection,” says Dr. Teena Chopra, who is also a professor of infectious diseases at the WSU School of Medicine and corporate medical director of infection prevention hospital epidemiology and antibiotic stewardship at WSU and the Detroit Medical Center. “Most of these patients were very sick and had a higher mortality. COVID-19 can present as diarrhea, and a lot of these patients are getting unnecessary antibiotics. We always think of C. diff when we have patients who have diarrhea, and now we have to think of COVID-19 in these patients, too.”

People are being tested post-mortem for coronavirus, but death count may be underestimated

Health officials say they're ramping up testing for COVID-19, leading to a clearer picture of the disease's spread. But, absent more robust testing of both the living and the dead, experts warn the true death toll has been underestimated. The CDC hasn't advised widespread post-mortem testing but urges medical examiners to "use professional judgement to determine if a decedent had signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 during life and whether post-mortem testing is necessary." From a public health perspective, post-mortem testing could lead to a better understanding of the disease's fatality rate — a key data point as leaders weigh whether to re-open sections of the economy. The deaths of the elderly and infirm might be chalked up to factors other than coronavirus, Kilgore said, adding that it's unclear how many COVID-19 deaths in Michigan are going uncounted. "We need a study done to look at out-of-hospital deaths," Kilgore said. "The in-hospital deaths are mostly going to be captured."
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Opinion | How Michigan universities are collaborating to continue K-12 learning

Anita G. Welch, Wayne State University College of Education dean, cowrote an opinion piece with Robert Floden, Michigan State University College of Education dean and Elizabeth Birr Moje, University of Michigan College of Education dean. "In Michigan and throughout the country, COVID-19 and the school closings that have resulted to help contain the virus have left parents and educators scrambling to help children learn from home. Our university students who were student teaching now are unable to be in the classroom, and our research and outreach to school districts around the state in many cases have been curtailed. But here at the Michigan State University College of Education, the University of Michigan School of Education and the Wayne State University College of Education, we still know how to help children succeed. Our educators and researchers are redoubling our efforts to assist school districts, parents and children deal with the challenges posed to education during a global pandemic.” “One example is Wayne State University’s #HealthyKidsQuarantined website, which provides activities, resources and fun challenges through weekly calendars for elementary and middle school children.
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What the coronavirus crisis reveals about vulnerable populations behind bars and on the streets

Stephanie Hartwell, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences dean, Sheryl Kubiak, School of Social Work dean, and Ijeoma Nnodim-Opara, assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics, wrote an article for The Conversation about how COVID-19 has disproportionately hit lower-income areas and communities of color. “Nowhere is this discrepancy more evident than in prisons, jails and homeless shelters – made up disproportionately of poorer, black and Latino men and women. Here, COVID-19 cases have mushroomed due to dormitory-style living conditions and the inability of people, often with underlying health issues, to practice social distancing. As the virus rages on, comprehensive COVID-19 testing for these populations remains elusive. As experts on jails, health disparities and how to help former prisoners reintegrate into society, we believe that missteps in how we transition incarcerated individuals back to the community would only put this vulnerable populace at greater risk of getting and transmitting COVID-19.”
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Wayne State study offers guide to reopening businesses safely

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has introduced a 6-step plan to re-start businesses that have been shut down during the coronavirus pandemic. It aims to balance the desire to revive the economy against the need to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19. A new study says states can do both if they prioritize industries where workers can keep their distance from each other or work remotely. Wayne State University researchers Shooshan Danagoulian, Zhe Zhu and Philip D. Levy wrote the report. Danagoulian, an assistant professor of economics, says professional services such as accounting are best-suited to resume safe operation. “Accountants work in separate offices, which precludes the spread of the virus, but they can also do their work from home fairly effectively,” Danagoulian says. By contrast, factory workers can’t do their jobs from home. But manufacturers can take steps to help workers maintain their distance. “We suggest giving priority to industries where — if people can’t work from home — they can operate effectively while minimizing the spread of the virus,” Danagoulian says. “It would provide a bigger boost to the economy should production resume in those industries.”
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To protect crime victims, support jail reform | Opinion

Sheryl Kubiak, School of Social Work dean, wrote an op-ed supporting jail reform. “Before the Michigan Jails Task Force released its report earlier this year, it wasn’t well known that tens of thousands of people were jailed in our state for driving on a suspended license or for unpaid tickets, fees, and child support. It wasn’t well known that rural counties in our state were outpacing Wayne and Kent Counties in jail population and seeing extremely high rates of serious mental illness among those jailed. Somewhere along the way, as Michigan’s jails tripled in size, their purpose got muddled. They became a tool for debt collection. A tool for responding to homelessness, mental illness, and addiction. To address this problem, we have to sharpen our focus on public safety. At each point in our justice system — from issuing warrants, to making arrests, to deciding who should be released pending trial, and how those found guilty should be punished — our laws should focus police, judges, and other decision-makers on immediate safety threats rather than money, addiction, and nuisances.”
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WSU researchers study industry characteristics to guide openings in face of COVID-19

Researchers at Wayne State University have completed an analysis that studied specific industry characteristics to guide industry openings in a way that lowers contagion risks and maximizes economic benefits until broader COVID-19 testing becomes available and immunity testing becomes efficient and reliable enough. “With protective gear and testing still in limited supply, there is a need to find the safest way to open and operate businesses to avoid a resurgence of the virus,” says Dr. Phillip Levy, professor of emergency medicine and assistant vice president for translational science and clinical research innovation at WSU, and chief innovation officer for the WSU Physician Group. “It is critical that we look at alternatives to lower contagion risks and maximize economic benefits. Using specific industry characteristics to guide industries in their reopening efforts will be key to lowering the further spread of the virus.” Shooshan Danagoulian, assistant professor of economics, led the research. Levy and Zhe Zhu, assistant professor of economics, also worked on it. The scope for physical distancing and remote work will vary by industry and region. The team focused on Michigan and metro Detroit.
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Michigan got a crash course in treating COVID. Here's what doctors learned

Just when you think you understand COVID, it changes. It's a very deceptive virus; to keep up with it, it is a challenge,” says Dr. Teena Chopra, corporate medical director for Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Control at Detroit Medical Center and a Wayne State University professor. “And particularly, it is manifesting differently by age, by race, by sex. Very early on, we were able to understand that, particularly in the city of Detroit.” One set of her COVID patients, especially the younger ones, are developing pulmonary embolisms – blood clots that get stuck in the lungs and can be deadly. “They are manifesting as sudden onset shortness of breath,” Dr. Chopra says. “And some of them are showing higher mortalities than others.”  Meanwhile, patients coming from nursing homes (a big part of DMC’s patient population) may not even appear to have COVID during a first examination, says Dr. Chopra. They may not have a fever or chills. “These older patients do not have the same symptoms,” she says. “They don't mount up the same immune response.” Yet many of them are testing positive for the virus. “We are beginning to test every patient coming from a nursing home, whether they have symptoms or not, because we want to assume they have it.”