MADISON (WKOW) -- While COVID-19 research can continue at UW-Madison, the researchers are not immune to the societal impact from the coronavirus pandemic.
The 60 to 70 researchers who would normally be in the AIDS Vaccine Research Lab (AVRL) at UW are now down to five or six in person, with the others working at home.
“People need to realize that scientists are people too," said Dave O'Connor, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine who helps run the lab. "We ourselves might get sick, or family members might get sick.”
In recent years, the AVRL has grown to include viruses beyond AIDS, including recently the new coronavirus. The lab has already been sharing research data in real-time with other labs around the world.
"Fortunately, (COVID-19) hasn’t touched our direct collaboratory yet, but I would be surprised if that good luck holds out over the coming months," O'Connor said.
Right now, the only people inside his lab are those who have to do experiments in person, and there's an effort to train as many people on as many jobs as possible.
“If a couple of people who do a particular technique were to get sick or would have to become caregivers, there would be other people who can step up and help take their place,” O'Connor explained.
As the virus has become more local, the lab has shifted its focus to working with health officials and hospitals to not only understand how the virus spreads in general, but understand how it spreads here.
“As you know, we had a patient in Dane County who recovered in late January," O'Connor said. "One concern was, did that patient’s virus seed a silent spread that’s been going on since January? And it turns out that does not seem to be the case.”
He says that's good news in the fight to contain the virus, but the worst is yet to come.
“The people who are being infected now aren’t going to show up in the hospitals for two weeks," O'Connor said. "And the people who are in the hospitals now were infected two weeks ago.”
That's why he says stay at home orders are so important, and why what he calls a "patchwork" of different state orders should be replaced by consistent messaging on a national, or even international level.
“A couple weeks ago when we spoke, it might have sounded like fear-mongering to say that this was going to be coming," O'Connor said. "But now that it’s here, we know that it’s here, and we just need to try to deal with it.”
The AVRL has also been more conservative with its use of personal protective equipment, and O'Connor says it has donated extra equipments to healthcare workers who need it.