A COVID-19 early-warning system

Focus on research

I am thrilled to launch “From Ideas to Answers,” a monthly glance into UNC Charlotte’s robust research enterprise. Since arriving as chancellor on July 20, I have been impressed by the work underway in our seven academic colleges and the Graduate School — in the “virtual” classroom as well as the laboratory — particularly by the commitment of our faculty to both teaching and research. They are providing UNC Charlotte students access to meaningful, hands-on experiences — creatively, I might add, during a pandemic — and engaging in research with the potential to make a lasting impact on communities, and in many cases, all of society.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, UNC Charlotte researchers are not backing away from trying to find answers to challenging COVID 19-related questions. In fact, the NC General Assembly, recognizing the important COVID-19 research taking place here, funded two such projects in the recent budget session with $9 million, the largest research appropriation to our campus. One is led by Dan Janies, co-director of UNC Charlotte’s Bioinformatics Research Center. It involves tracing coronavirus origins and sources of COVID-19 strains occurring throughout North Carolina, assessing the potential for resistance to antiviral drugs, and exploring the use of computational tools to investigate key features and characteristics of the novel virus, particularly its persistence in certain environments. 

campus Testing and safety

The other, which is receiving widespread media attention on a local level as well as from the New York Times, supports the exemplary work of an interdisciplinary team of researchers who are sampling and testing wastewater from a number of campus locations to serve as an early-warning system by identifying potential COVID-19 outbreaks before individuals are symptomatic. The outcomes of the work of this group, led by bioinformaticians from the College of Computing and Informatics and a civil engineer from the Lee College of Engineering, will likely serve as a model for viral tracking and surveillance at the neighborhood level that will benefit city planners, public health officials and policymakers to enable the development of healthier, “smarter cities.”   

The rest of us are doing our part by following new health measures and safety guidelines — even with classes having started online — ready for when we hope students, faculty and staff will be able to return on Oct. 1. A daily digital symptom tracker, the Niner Pledgeface-covering requirements, on-campus COVID-19 testing, and a campus-based contact-tracing team — in addition to rigorous social distancing, clear campus signage, cleaning and sanitizing guidelines — have been implemented to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during this unprecedented time. Until we are able to see you again, at our main campus and at The Dubois Center at UNC Charlotte Center City, please stay safe and healthy.