September 30, 2020
Behind the Scenes of the Pandemic

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Behind the Scenes of the Pandemic

A UF institute is at the cutting edge of coronavirus research.

Mark R. Howard | 3/26/2020

Florida’s creation of an Emerging Pathogens Institute in 2006 at the University of Florida showed dividends in the COVID-19 coronavirus breakout. Researchers at the Gainesville institute brought plenty of experience with coronaviruses, including SARS and the run-of-the-mill human coronaviruses responsible for so many mild upper respiratory infections. Institute director J. Glenn Morris Jr. says the institute had its own assay to test for COVID-19 weeks before tests were widely available nationally and got busy screening study participants. Researchers isolated the virus from the first case diagnosed at UF Health in Gainesville and set to work on studies that could lead to vaccines or treatment options. A mathematical modeling group including investigators from the UF Center for Statistics and Quantitative Infections Diseases worked with the World Health Organization and Florida Department of Health on modeling the pandemic globally.

Meanwhile, at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology Dr. Natasa Strbo worked on a vaccine for COVID-19 in collaboration with North Carolina-based biopharm company Heat Biologics. UM’s Dr. Silvia Daunert, again in collaboration with Heat Biologics, is developing a COVID-19 test to provide point-of-care diagnosis in under 30 minutes.

UF work included an initiative with The Villages to screen 400 to 500 people a day for five days. Those in need of actual tests received them while those with no symptoms could sign up for a community surveillance study. In March, UF rolled out a test for COVID-19 it could do inhouse, getting patients results within 24 hours.

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