• Leslie Sedgeman

BCLA Webinar: Coronavirus by the Numbers with Prof. Rob Phillips


On Tuesday April 20th, BCLA hosted its first webinar “Coronavirus by the numbers”, addressing the very topic that has us working from home and connecting via online platforms. The webinar was presented by Dr. Robert Phillips from Caltech. At the end of March 2020, Dr. Phillips and collaborators published a paper entitled “SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) by the numbers” in the journal eLife, highlighting diverse aspects of the virus and its effects on humans. His webinar expanded on this topic by providing a quantitative outlook on viruses, their effect on humans and vice versa.

Previously a physicist, Dr. Phillips became interested in biological questions two decades ago, especially focusing on how quantitative approaches can answer biological questions. He takes a similar approach when thinking about the current COVID-19 pandemic, and how numbers and data about the virus and humans shape our understanding of public health measures.

One example is data explaining why it is recommended that we stay 6 feet apart from each other. High resolution photography combined with modeling has shown that when a person coughs or sneezes, droplets which could contain the virus can travel up to 6 feet. Similarly, Dr. Phillips showed quantitative data of the effectiveness of masks in blocking particles from the air entering the mouth and nose, ranging from 30% for homemade masks to less than 1% for N95 masks. Finally, as we move into the next phase of the pandemic in the United States and look forward to returning to work and reopening the country, Dr. Phillips discussed different models put forth that account for the virus infectious cycle. One model proposes a staggered work flow with people working for four consecutive days, followed by ten days of shelter-at-home, whereas other models include randomly testing members of the population to ensure that while new infections occur, it does not overwhelm the medical system.

This webinar was a great success with over 160 attendees tuning in. It was a great honor to host such a distinguished member of the Los Angeles scientific community and to have so many attendees engage in thoughtful discussions. We hope everyone is staying safe during these uncertain times. Stay tuned for more virtual programs from BCLA to keep you connected to the LA biotech community!

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