Navigating uncertainty: Finding answers and hope for the community during a pandemic

From the early days of researching the novel coronavirus sweeping the globe, to administering COVID-19 vaccinations nearly a year later, University of Oregon faculty, staff, students and alumni continue to provide resources, equipment, and expertise to the community

In early 2020, a novel virus started spreading around the world. By February our conversations filled with a new vocabulary: coronavirus, flatten the curve, social distance, quarantine. But the risk still felt distant.

By March 2020, life as we knew it was gone.

In rapid succession, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. The University of Oregon shifted to remote instruction and halted most in person activities. Oregon’s governor issued a stay home order, closing schools and businesses.

It was a time of uncertainty, frustration and fear. Little was known about COVID-19.

How does it spread? Should we wear masks? Is it safe to go outside?

As more questions were asked, UO researchers offered answers – such as how coronavirus acts in indoor environments and how circulating fresh air helps limit the spread – and sought new answers and solutions to help the community.

The two-week stay home order turned from weeks to months and our focus continued to change.

As more challenges arose, the UO community stepped up the help.

Some donated protective equipment for medical workers or gave funds to support the Student Crisis Funds. With parents and children now home together for school and work, the College of Education made some of their online curriculum tools available to families navigating distance learning.

As the public health need for testing and contact tracing grew urgent, the UO filled a void – donating equipment to allow McKenzie Willamette Medical Center to offer drive-through testing. UO faculty with expertise in genomics, data science, and prevention science created the Monitoring and Assessment Program, greatly expanding Lane County testing capacity for students, employees and community members. A battalion of contact tracers made up of UO student employees called the Corona Corps helped connect dots and reduce the spread of the virus.

As 2020 drew to a close and the first approved vaccines offered a glimmer of hope as the UO joined a cooperative of government and health partners. Drawing from expertise in staging big events and holding previous vaccine clinics during a meningitis scare, the UO helped organized dozens of vaccine clinics in the community, work that will continue through all of 2021.

COVID-19 pushed us to overcome challenges and illuminated our appreciation for connection – driving our efforts to continue to discover, learn, work and serve our community, together. And our work continues.

Below are examples of the many ways the UO supported our community and state since the start of the pandemic.
 

Vaccine needle icon
Testing & Vaccination

In early March 2020, the UO anticipated the need for coronavirus testing and ordered a specialized instrument that was soon in short supply. By April, the university partnered with a local hospital to provide 200 COVID-19 tests per day for Lane County residents. The UO continues to administer thousands of tests within the community and helps with planning of mass vaccination clinics.

Person looking at a test tube vial while in full personal protective gear

“One of the benefits of a public research university like the UO is that we have access to world-class equipment and expertise that can be leveraged to support our state and community. I’m grateful to the many people who have come together on campus, from our purchasing office to researchers, to partner with the local health care community to help provide critical infrastructure that is desperately needed right now.”

Cassandra Moseley, senior associate vice president for research and innovation

UO joins with partner to provide critical coronavirus testing

12,000
Vaccines administered at 10 clinics organized by the UO by early March, 2021
$4.9M
National Institutes of Health grant to test Latinx communities in six Oregon counties
57,924
Tests administered by March 7, 2021 by the MAP program

Two people at a COVID testing center

“Our county is quite fortunate that the University of Oregon has leveraged its talent and resources to create a sophisticated, high-volume, federally certified COVID laboratory and has opted to use it for COVID surveillance. Participating in an asymptomatic testing event will help keep individuals, families and our broader community safe.”

Dr. Patrick Luedtke, Lane County’s senior public health officer

UO expanding COVID-19 testing to Lane County community

A drive-through COVID testing location

“The University of Oregon’s expertise in event planning and project management has been absolutely critical in getting our mass vaccination drive-thru clinics and phase 1b group 1 clinics up and running. Vaccinating hundreds of thousands of Lane County residents with a vaccine that is in relatively short supply requires all of our community partners working together and bringing their respective strengths to the table. We are very fortunate to have the University of Oregon at that table and working hand in hand with Lane County on so many different facets of the COVID-19 response.”

Steve Mokrohisky, Lane County administrator

UO teams are playing key roles in local vaccination efforts

 

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Community Service & Support

A pandemic may have kept us apart, but it also brought us together in unexpected ways. Medical supplies from UO research labs were donated to health workers and a machine shop on campus was used to make face shields. The university community rallied to donate to the Students in Crisis Fund. Academic programs found ways to support parents in distance learning and businesses that needed guidance.

Rows of N95 masks on racks during a cleaning process

“An emergency of this scale requires partnerships across all levels of government and with the private sector. This is a great example of partners working together to bring an innovative solution forward to help save lives.”

Andrew Phelps, director of Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management

UO partners with state to house N95 mask decontamination unit

21K
Surgical and N95 masks donated by international UO alumni
$67,900
Collected in royalties from UO-licensed face coverings and donated to the Student Crisis Fund
20,000
Pounds of produce donated by the Urban Farm to the student Food Pantry

A family looking at a laptop

“Families are reaching out and grateful for any services they can get right now. To have that in-person delivery gone for these families — it’s not just our clinic, it’s all of those in the community — it’s a hard time. A lot of parents are relying on us for support to keep things on track, so we’re providing that now as a telehealth model.”

Beth Stormshak, a professor in the College of Education, a Philip H. Knight Chair and head of the Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services

HEDCO clinic helps parents, families with coronavirus stress

The UO Corona Corps

“This is a global crisis, and we think that students can really help. They can be trained, they have the energy, they’re inspired to help solve the problem. We want to make sure that as our students learn to do that, they’re in contact with students doing similar work across Oregon, in states up and down the West Coast and in countries around the Pacific Rim.”

Dennis Galvan, dean and vice provost for global engagement

New UO student corps aids virus tracing and community support

 

COVID Stories

 

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Research

In the last days of 2019, many University of Oregon researchers had already shifted their focus, applying years of data and analysis to a novel virus spreading across the globe. UO faculty directed their research as new facets of COVID-19 emerged, ranging from the effect of stress on pregnant women and children, the design of hospital rooms that could limit the spread of infections, to how cities and the economy can recover from a pandemic.

Illustration of the side of a house

"Reducing our exposure to this new coronavirus is the most important thing we can be doing, and understanding the mediating role of our indoor environment is vital.”

Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, director of the Institute for Health in the Built Environment and co-director of Biology and the Built Environment Center

UO's indoor research center takes aim at COVID-19 risks

Woman with a phone sitting on a couch

“It is in our best interest to know better how to handle these global crises, and a lot of it has to do with people’s emotional reactions, because those emotional reactions cause amplification of risk across multiple areas. Part of that is real things are happening — maybe you physically can’t get supplies — but part of it is fear-based. Risks can get amplified emotionally and socially. That’s what we’re trying to understand more about.”

Ellen Peters, director of the Center for Science Communication and Research and Philip H. Knight Chair

Study will look at perceived risk of new coronavirus in real time

An empty hospital room with a bed

“This could truly be a significant contribution. If we could design a room that could help minimize the spread of infections, we could change the way hospitals are built in the future.”

Dr. Robert Martindale, professor of surgery and chief of the Division of Gastrointestinal and General Surgery in the OHSU School of Medicine

UO, OHSU to study new coronavirus in a hospital setting