Reopening Research @UTM Biology


Mary Cheng: Hi, my name is Mary Cheng and I'm a professor in the Biology Department. Shannon McCauley: My name is Shannon McCauley, associate professor and currently serving as the Associate Chair of Research for the Biology Department at UTM.

Starting on Monday, June 15, labs with approved plans for reopening restarted/resumed their research. What was your experience so far?

Mary Cheng: So I've returned to the lab since the university opened on June 15 and my experience has actually been quite mixed. I've noticed that most of the researchers have been wearing masks, while in public areas of the campus, such as the quarters, but there's still there was still a sizable number of people that elected not to wear masks. So that was actually at the beginning when the university just opened. But since then, I feel that things have improved, with consistent and frequent messaging more and more people are actually wearing masks now.

Shannon McCauley: So my lab does a lot of its work off campus. We have had some work going on since the university began reopening and we've had a pretty good experience now partly we do some work in the lab, but we were able to maintain very few people. The other thing is, some of our work is actually happened at the UTM grounds and people have been quite respectful and have managed to keep their distance and so well my experiment. Well, but for example my graduate student ran an experiment out in the courtyard of Davis, she found that people were very respectful and of course being outdoors is quite a lot safer so we've been fairly comfortable. However, we have been trying to minimize our amount of time in the building, in part because we know that capacity is limited and if we can work out of the building that sort of frees up some of the capacity within the building. So that's been part of our strategy.

Is Koffler Scientific Research open?

Shannon McCauley: So the Koffler Scientific Reserve is open, although it's subject to the same sort of rules. So you have to apply and you have to make sure that your plan is approved and that all goes through John Stinchcomb who's the Reserve director. Being outdoors, we're able to conduct research relatively safely. But still, we're maintaining social distance. So for instance, people aren't working together my graduate students are having to do the work on their own. Also facilities are not open so the lab is not open if you need equipment in there. You need to coordinate with Kate Brown, who's the manager. Nonetheless, they've been incredibly helpful both John Stinchcomb and K Brown have been very helpful with graduate students are beginning to resume their work with getting the permissions very quickly and with getting equipment that they need. So Koffler is open, but you do need to go through all those procedures and I think if you do that, we have a very safe work environment there.

What concerns you the most and this point?

Mary Cheng: My primary concern is actually for the health and safety of our graduate students, undergrads, staff and our faculty. Covid 19 has really changed how universities work and how we do research and teach. It's actually very important to realize that the research must go on. But it must go on in a safe environment. So for me I think as a professor of biology and as a number of this community I would want to emphasize that mask wearing will save lives. This is a very dangerous virus, people should not let their guard down people must remain vigilant so mask wearing will ensure that you don't infect another person. And if we all wear masks, we can protect not only the community, but our also our families when we return home from work.

Shannon McCauley: My biggest concern right now is that, as things begin to open up, we face the risk and one of the big issues is fatigue. We are all right, tired of doing some of the things that we have doing to protect ourselves and to protect our loved ones and protect our colleagues. Masks are incredibly valuable. They're very simple, but they can help us protect our families and it's very easy as it gets warm and we move out of what is typically flu season you'd feel like, yeah, it's probably okay. You know, Ontario has been doing a pretty good job. But as we've seen in the States, these things can come back very quickly and very viciously. I'm also concerned that young people, you know, they haven't typically been as badly affected but nobody is safe. And that's the thing that we're really learning about coven is that who is hit hard by this does not seem to be related. Just to the risk factors we know but sometimes can be really random and because of that, we want to make sure that young people are taking care of themselves and also taking care of their families. We know that a lot of people can be transmitting they're asymptomatic and so one of the big concerns I have is that people will feel like I'm tired of this. I'm tired of wearing a mask. "I'm tired of not seeing my friends" and the let their guard down. And as a result, they'll either become very ill or they'll carry it to their families and there's there's both the risk to their own health physical as well as psychological, you know, and so I really think we have to we have to hold the line and that's critical. And it's hard. And we just have to all realize we're in it together. This will pass. And when we do now is going to have a huge effect on the future that we go to.

Our department is advocating for mandating the masks at UTM. Why is important to wear mask and even face shields?

Mary Cheng: So on the Department of Biology, there's been a very good effort to educate and push for mandatory mask wearing while on campus. Recently, our Department's Chair, Professor Joel Levine and his graduate students, Rebecca Brooke, with the help of others, put together a petition asking the university to mandate mask wearing. I can't emphasize enough how important this is. Recent studies have shown that up to a third of covert individuals are asymptomatic and they contributes to over 50% of transmission. So even if you think you don't have, you may unintentionally be spreading it to others. So the best way to protect yourself is to wear a mask, when in public places. Now, that's not the only way you know we need to adopt and embrace core behaviors that limits the spread of COVID 19. So in addition to mask wearing, we should be observing physical or social distancing, we should not be congregating in the large crowds. We should practice good personal hygiene like frequent handwashing and if you think that you've put yourself at risk, you should get tested. And if you're positive, you should self isolator home.This is really the only way for us to defeat this virus.

Shannon McCauley: I'm really in support of this petition. And I think one of the things that we've learned is you know the science has changed. Initially it was unclear whether masks mattered. But more and more evidence is coming out that a lot of transmission occurs through aerial transmission of droplets and this doesn't even necessarily mean a big sneeze. This means that as we speak, we expel droplets. This very simple mask can be even kind of cute ,right technique can save lives. You may feel fine. Again, a lot of people, we don't know the exact percentages, but up to 30% are asymptomatic. Also, people may become symptomatic, but still be transmitted before they actually develop symptoms. So, wearing a mask is really a way to very politely protect other people and you're asking them to do the same. You know, we've all adopted a number of things we all wear shoes right you go into a store you wear your shoe and we don't question that right it's polite. You don't want your dirty feet on the floor. In this case, we're just trying to protect any of those small droplets any of the things that we might be transmitting from reaching others. And this, in combination with physical distancing with good hygiene, washing your hands are critical for protecting other people. I think that's one of the things that really has to be emphasized, people sometimes say, I'm not afraid. I don't think I'm at risk. It's not about you. Right. The truth is you need other people to be wearing their masks to protect you. You're wearing a mask to protect other people and so it's a relatively simple thing. You don't need to do it when you're on your own. You don't need to walk around your house with that you have lots of the day where you don't need to wear a mask. But when you're in public. And when you're on campus please wear this.

Your message to our graduate students

Mary Cheng: So my message to the graduate students is, even though COVID 19 has really changed how we live our lives. You shouldn't live in fear. You shouldn't be afraid to come to work and progress with your graduate research and graduate education. I want you to know that at here at UTMBiology, the staff and the faculty have your back. We will advocate for safe working conditions for you as you come back to work at the same time I ask that. You make some responsible choices in your life, such as physical distancing, not going out to bars and having a good time remaining vigilance, because we are still in a very serious pandemic. We only need to look at south of the border to see how bad it can be. So I ask you to make responsible choices, but not to live in fear and I hope to see many of you back to work come September.

Shannon McCauley: To our graduate students, you are a critical part of our community in everything we're doing right now is to try to protect you protect your family's protect your friends.And I think that in a way this you know these are hard times, but on some level, it's showing us the best of ourselves. We see people coming together. We see people making tremendous efforts to stay shirt to stay connected with one another, to keep their work going even in difficult conditions and to do things to protect each other and to help each other. And I just asked you to keep doing that: reach out to people if you're if you feel like you haven't seen a lot of never heard from a lab member in a while. You know, people are struggling. It's hard to be this isolated. It's hard sometimes to be very concerned about where's your work going, what's going to happen. So reach out to lab members, Zoom is a great tool, you know, or give them a call. Make responsible choices do the things you need to do to protect yourself to protect your lab and protect your family. But make sure you do it in a way that is healthy for you right by reaching out to people by recognizing that you know this is a community, and it's a community that cares about you. And we're all just: ee'll get through this and we'll be back together. And the best way to do that is to make those good choices and to take care of yourselves and to take care of others. So thank you for all the work you're doing in this community.