As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is not only turning to long-standing collaborators to identify scientific solutions, it is also providing information and support to its neighbors in the Mid-Columbia region and across Washington State.
Conversations that propel us forward
On Dec. 8, PNNL and the Washington State Academy of Sciences co-hosted a webinar with Tri-Cities community leaders to explore the role of COVID-19 testing in helping businesses stay open while keeping their employees and customers safe. The event was one of many ongoing virtual community dialogues in which PNNL shared its scientific expertise to answer frequently asked questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The intent was to help business leaders learn more about how to address both the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As PNNL Director Steve Ashby welcomed the more than 100 participants, he acknowledged the hardships that local businesses have been facing. “We recognize that our local community and business leaders face unprecedented challenges, growing pressures, and difficult decisions that mount as the pandemic wears on,” Ashby said. “Today, we wish to demonstrate how we can be a resource to you and a connection point to other resources you seek.”
As a panelist in the event, Kristin Omberg, who manages PNNL’s Chemical & Biological Signatures group, helped explain the three main types of COVID-19 tests available. She provided information about what each test measures, which tests provide the most reliable results, and why some results from some tests take longer to receive.
A wide range of business and community leaders attended the event, representing hair salons, cleaning businesses, arts organizations, a bank, and more.
Additional information about the event, including a recording of the discussion “Science in Support of Local Decision Making for COVID-19: A dialogue with the Tri-Cities business community” is available on the academy’s website.
Shortly after COVID-19 was first detected in Washington State, King County officials called PNNL to contribute to local emergency efforts. This marked one of the first, but certainly not the last, incidents where PNNL worked with local, regional, and state entities to offer support to address the pandemic.
With a long history of research and development focused on countering biological threats, PNNL scientists and engineers quickly applied their expertise to address this new challenge. Dozens of research projects are currently underway specifically aimed at detecting, treating, and preventing the novel coronavirus.
Locally, one volunteer pilot study in collaboration with Kadlec Regional Medical Center seeks to identify protein patterns unique to patients with COVID-19. PNNL scientists collected specific components of ventilators, a plastic part called the heat moisture exchanger, that captured air from patients’ lungs as they exhaled. By studying the proteins left behind on the filters inside these components, researchers can study the breath of COVID-19 patients and compare it to patients who were on ventilators due to other illnesses.
By studying these samples, researchers can look for patterns that explain why some patients get sicker than others or possibly shape treatment options.
Another example is PNNL’s collaboration with the University of Washington to broaden the nation’s COVID-19 testing abilities. Due to the Laboratory’s long-standing partnership with UW, the research team led by Omberg improved testing capability across the United States.
Looking Ahead: Demystifying COVID Special Edition Seminar Series
PNNL is planning additional COVID-19 community seminars that will take place each Tuesday from 5-6 p.m. during the month of March 2021.
Five speakers will tell the story of the science behind COVID-19 based on what scientists have learned over the course of the past year. Talks will include the difference in symptoms between a cold, flu, and COVID-19; how COVID-19 made the initial jump from animal to human populations; methods to curtail the pandemic; what to expect next; and more. For more details, check out the series webpage: https://www.pnnl.gov/demystifying-covid-19.