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COVID-19 “Survival Guide” Event Explores Behavioral Changes for Coping and Next Directions for Research

On April 16, AAAS and Fondation Ipsen convened a webinar titled "Coronavirus: A survival guide". In addition to promising upcoming research, attendees discussed the ways they've found (both professionally and personally) to persevere during our rapidly changing circumstances.

COVID Webinar Registration screen
Panel registration | Image captured by author.

Sharing tools and information to help people navigate -- and even thrive in -- the pandemic was the focus of a recent Science and Fondation Ipsen webinar, “Coronavirus: A survival guide.” On April 16, Science editor-in-chief Holden Thorp, serving as moderator for the highly viewed event, posed questions to leading scientists about everything from dealing with uncertainty, to using social media effectively, to the drugs most needed to help us in the short-term.

"This webinar was aimed at the general public and was intended to provide a realistic look at how we might get through this pandemic intact, both physically and mentally,” said Sean Sanders, Science’s Director and Senior Editor in Custom Publishing. “We wanted to move past the doom-and-gloom negativity to provide helpful advice and information.”

During the webinar — with 3,000 attendees watching live, and with twice as many overall registrants — the speakers talked about mental resilience strategies, the dangers and benefits of social media as a source of new information on the virus, the importance of antivirals among therapies for combatting mild cases, and how contact tracing could work most effectively to identify those exposed. 

To begin the event, Laurie Santos, a professor of psychology at Yale University, discussed coping mechanisms for maintaining mental wellbeing during this time. “We know the kinds of things we can do scientifically to calm our minds and decrease panic to deal better with uncertainty,” said Santos. “Taking a deep breath commands our body to calm down, which can be powerful because finding ways to shut off the sympathetic nervous system protects the immune and digestive system.”

But it’s also important to develop new strategies, Santos said. At the “remote office,” and in particular for managers leading remote teams, Santos stressed the value of checking in on others and becoming more other-oriented, and of promoting self-compassion, which managers also need to show themselves.

For Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, varying meeting sizes has fostered intimacy and cohesion during this fully remote time. He said in addition to large “all-hands” weekly meetings focused on logistics and project deadlines, he holds smaller meetings with his students to allow for discussions that are happier, and that give him an opportunity to check in on the wellbeing of a staff member.  

Many of his lab members focused on COVID-19 are working on an unprecedentedly busy schedule. “Those who are involved directly in the coronavirus work are feeling overly stretched and [may] need the day off,” he said. “So, there are stressors, but we are navigating them by managing the overloads of multiple projects, and delegating tasks to [principal investigators] in their sectors because the demands keep coming.”

Dr. Arnaud Fontanet, director of the Department of Global Health at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, said that his group has taken some positives from their all-video meeting time. “We have learned a new way of working through video conferences,” he said, noting that it was surprising to him how well this approach could support collaborative research.

“Besides small project-related video calls with four to five people to discuss work progress, we also have weekly seminars at Pasteur Institute followed by videoconferences with approximately 70 scientists of the Institute from various scientific fields,” said Fontanet. “The online discussions last around 20 minutes, including a five-minute Q&A, while also discussing two strategic axes [e.g., diagnostics, vaccines].” Santos talked about ways people are reporting taking time to improve their lives during quarantine, including using technology to reduce loneliness, creating exercise routines and having more meals with family. She said that it’s important for people highlight to themselves, and to the teams they may be managing, that the strategies they are developing to cope could also make life better when the pandemic abates – something Santos calls “post-traumatic growth.”

Prof Santos discussing positive changes people are making to cope with the uncertain circumstances. | Image captured by author

In another section of the webinar, the speakers addressed the way, from the moment the COVID-19 pandemic was reported, social media usage among scientists increased – offering a channel for information about new studies or local case counts in real time. Fontanet said that like many scientists, he is using social media, particularly Twitter, more than ever before, to stay current by reading new papers from colleagues in his field and in other fields related to COVID-19.

But Fontanet also lamented that social networks can so quickly spread information that has yet to be vetted, which can – and has – inspired a lack of trust in COVID-19 science among the general population. Fontanet acknowledged that for scientists who communicate research iteratively in segmented updates, which the public might consider “final,” communicating on social platforms requires special consideration.

Communicating new COVID-19 science accurately is a focus of the Science Press Package team, which promotes all breaking research and commentary published at the journals to a global network of 6,000+ reporters each week. Each new paper promoted by the team is communicated in a lay summary that conveys not only how the work moves the field forward but also any limitations, including to clinical translation. This information is turned into news stories that the public reads at online outlets or in shorter social media posts.

Santos cautioned mindfulness in the way scientists and others consume social media on COVID-19, and of being more self-aware about how it makes us feel. “It is ok to take a break, and it is important not to consume the information all the time.” 

In a final section, Thorp asked the speakers about the most important contributions scientists could be making now, in the short term. Lipsitch emphasized the importance of continued development of antiviral drugs, like remdesivir, that could be used to treat more mild cases of the virus.

Fontanet talked about the importance of innovations around contact tracing, moving from traditional methods – based on manual counts – to efforts using mobile phone data, which could greatly accelerate the ability to track those exposed to infected individuals so they could quarantine more rapidly, and prevent further spread.

Fontanet added that the crisis has made him consider the pitfalls of short-term research funding approaches that he has observed. "Instead, we should take lessons from the ongoing COVID-19 research funding to help inform future crises, including pandemics,” he said.

Later in April, another COVID-19-focused Science webinar, “Monitoring the immune system to fight COVID-19: CD4 status, lymphopenia, and infectivity,” featured experts on the front lines using cytometry and immunophenotyping to fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

To learn more about Science’s COVID-19 and other webinars, visit https://www.sciencemag.org/custom-publishing/webinars.

 

 

About Valeria

Valeria Sabate Headshot

 Valeria currently serves as the Sr. Communication Associate and International   Communications Lead for the Science Press Package team, which promotes findings   related to forthcoming Science family journal papers to a global press. Val is currently   pursuing her Master’s degree in communications with a public and media relations   concentration at Johns Hopkins University.

If you’d like to share your own #SciEngage tips with Val, you can reach her on Twitter.

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