By Imani Wj Wright
Dr. George Ude and Dr. Supriyo Ray of the Bowie State University (Maryland, U.S.) were interviewed on their perspectives regarding the impact of COVID-19 in the U.S. over the last two years. Dr. Ude is Professor, and Dr. Ray is Assistant Professor in the Department of Natural Sciences. The COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented in the last 50 years and the fear of death pervaded countries globally, especially as COVID vaccines were not available at the time of the outbreak (January 2020) while the death toll was rising. Previous pandemics such as SARS were false alarms; it was not expected that COVID would be as devastating as it turned out to be.
The U.S. Government, due to the inability of the Trump Administration to effectively address the pandemic, was initially not well prepared. False information provided by some medical experts prescribing chloroquine and malaria drugs for COVID were widespread causing general confusion. As a result, negative sentiments from the general public led to opposition of the COVID vaccine which was later launched. Despite the delay of the Trump Administration, vaccine production in the U.S. was developed quickly; this is because the scientific research was continuous and studies were already underway. The U.S. together with China and India, took the lead in distributing vaccines to the rest of the world, thereby playing a major role in controlling the pandemic. The U.S. is believed to have done well in the development of vaccines, with the sharing of information on national media platforms about healthy living and preventative measures (such as social distancing).
COVID and its protocols of social distancing forced people to remain at home, negatively impacting on learning and the workplace. At the Bowie State University, COVID-19 and its protocols of social distancing forced remote and online learning which presented challenges for students accustomed to traditional classroom learning. University faculty members felt that they had little control of the learning process as they interacted online with students who were in their homes, with no face-to-face interaction. One of the major concerns during virtual learning was that some students lacked motivation to engage fully. This resulted in a post-COVID situation where some students had failed to learn the basic principles in higher education as they lacked this learning from previous classes during COVID. This challenge will have to be addressed at the university with the aim of instilling confidence in students. Online learning also impacted some faculty members who were not accustomed to distance teaching and communication technology, such as online management systems that facilitate interaction for both teachers and learners.
The impact of COVID and the shift to online teaching and learning was challenging for many students, however, Bowie University supported students in terms of tuition waivers and distribution of free tablets to facilitate virtual learning from home. The particular difficulty was virtual learning in the laboratories, which was not always precise. Hands-on experience is what is required in science modules as universities are preparing students to work in federal government laboratories. Currently, it is a matter of re-training students to acquire the necessary hands-on laboratory experience to pursue their careers in science. Despite this, there are benefits of the COVID lockdowns in the area of teaching and learning. It has forced the Bowie State University to launch online classes with the flexibility to allow students to participate in virtual classes from home.
The lesson from COVID is that research in infectious disease should be ongoing and well-funded. This is disputed by some in the general public who assert that the intensive research is a waste of resources; these are Americans with negative attitudes regarding COVID; the necessity of vaccines; and the need for adequate preparation for a pandemic. It should be emphasized that COVID has shocked the world into being better prepared, and research in the U.S. needs additional investment and funding for the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). In this regard, integrated research should include study of the body’s immune system which is currently conducted by Dr. Joshua Doloff, Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine.