What On Earth? Episode 2: Breaking down COVID-19 with an immunologist

By Molly Lowney and Jennifer Ng | October 6, 2020 9:01pm

In Episode 2 of What on Earth? Molly and Jennifer discuss all things COVID-19. Photo illustration by Jennifer Ng.

Molly Lowney  0:00  

Hey, Jen. 

Jennifer Ng  0:01  

Hey Molly, can you believe it's been seven months since COVID-19 really hit the US? 

Molly Lowney  0:07  

No way, over half a year of social distancing and wearing masks? 

Jennifer Ng  0:12  

Yeah, no hugs or high fives either. 

Molly Lowney  0:15  

I miss giving hugs.

Jennifer Ng  0:17  

Same. But even though it's been going on for so long, I still feel like I don't really have the full picture. 

Molly Lowney  0:25  

Yeah, totally. Like, I know, there's definitely foundational information about viruses and symptoms and vaccines that I don't know, but probably should. 

Jennifer Ng  0:34  

Yeah, between the mixed messages from national and local governments and everything else on the media and news. There's so much information and misinformation to sift through. The blessing and the curse of the internet. 

Molly Lowney  0:46  

Communication about accurate information is important in general, but during a pandemic, it's key. So we're here to figure out what on earth is up with this pandemic? Hopefully, we'll clarify some things for you and answer some questions you may have. I know I have questions.

Hello, and welcome to What on Earth a podcast from The Beacon. I'm Molly Lowney. 

Jennifer Ng  1:17  

And I'm Jennifer Ng, and this is a podcast where we look at climate change and environmental issues through the lens of current events.

Molly Lowney  1:24  

Alright, so today we're talking with special guest, Dr. Susan Murray, a professor at University of Portland's biology department. Thank you for talking with us. Would you like to introduce yourself a bit?

Susan Murray  1:36  

Yeah, thanks, Molly, and Jennifer. So I'm Susan Murray, and I'm an associate professor in the Department of Biology at University of Portland, and I've been here for about six years. And I teach introductory biology to bio majors and then some upper division courses in my field of study, which is immunology. 

Jennifer Ng  1:56  

Let's get right into it. Starting with the basics, what exactly is a virus?

Susan Murray  2:03  

Well, so a virus is a small particle that sometimes can cause disease, although the vast majority of viruses are actually commensals, meaning they live in and on our body and don't usually cause problems. But of course, we study and know about the ones that do cause infectious diseases. And viruses are distinct from bacteria, you hear about viral infections versus bacterial infections, because viruses are obligate parasites, meaning that they cannot replicate on their own. Instead, they have to infect and get inside a host cell in order to replicate and then they hijack that host cell’s machinery in order to force the host cell to make more copies of them.

Molly Lowney  2:52  

So in terms of talking about COVID-19, where did this virus originate from?

Susan Murray  3:00  

Yeah, so we think this particular virus, jumped to humans from bats, because there's a bat species of Coronavirus that infects Chinese horseshoe bats that is very, very similar, genetically speaking, to SARS-CoV-2 two, which is the name of the virus that is causing our COVID-19. outbreak. It's unclear at this point, if there may be an intermediate species, in other words, intermediate host species, I should say in other words of all the coronaviruses scientists have studied the SARS-CoV-2 causing our current pandemic is most similar to this bat coronavirus. But that's not to say that there isn't one that's even more similar that it went from bats to some other intermediate host and then to humans.

Molly Lowney  3:51  

Is it common for viruses to jump from animals to humans? Is that usually how our viruses originate?

Susan Murray  3:59  

Yeah, that's a great question. And it really depends on the family of viruses. But yes, especially for Coronaviruses, it's extremely common. If you look at a phylogeny of viruses in the Coronavirus family, so that's like an evolutionary tree that tells you what viruses are related to what, what you'll see is that almost all of the human coronaviruses that infect us, so it's not just the SARS-CoV-2 that's causing our current pandemic, but at least six other coronaviruses infect humans, that all of those viruses are actually more similar, genetically speaking again, to viruses that infect other species, not to viruses that infect humans. So essentially, all of the coronaviruses that cause disease in humans did come to us from another species, and many of those are probably bats. 

But what people don't realize is that there are also many coronaviruses. At least four that we know of that cause basically just the common cold but outside of the Coronavirus family. So I think you were asking a general question about is this how a lot of viruses come to us through getting them from other species, which is called a zoonotic infection. And there are other examples that we can talk about. So Ebola, for instance, would be another virus that is zoonotic that jumped to humans from possibly primates, as an intermediate species again, and then HIV, obviously, that's a really famous one that also came to humans from primates. So those are just a few examples. But yes, there are many others.

Jennifer Ng  5:47  

Once the virus infects the cells, how? And then that takes over the body? How does that virus travel from person to person? Can you talk about that?

Susan Murray  5:59  

Yeah, sure. So for Coronaviruses that are typically respiratory, and the virus initially is going to infect cells in the airways, so cells in the nose and the nasal epithelium, or in the throat, or in the lungs, if you breathe them in. And as you said, it'll take over those cells and force the cells to make many copies. And then, as the person who's infected, breathe out, especially if they cough, or are speaking, or yelling, or singing, sneezing, especially any of those kind of things that are going to spew a lot of particles, that's how they can infect somebody else, is somebody else then inhales those tiny, tiny droplets that then contain newly made viruses.

Molly Lowney  6:53  

So once you're inhaling those droplets, and the virus gets into your system, how does it affect the body?

Susan Murray  7:01  

So for the SARS-CoV-2 that's causing our current pandemic, I think we're still learning a lot about that. Because this particular virus is unusual among other coronaviruses, and that it seems to have a much broader range of organs that it targets. Clearly, it's infecting cells within the respiratory tract initially. And that's the kind of symptoms that we're hearing most about, you know, coughing and inability to breathe, a lot of people who are hospitalized and wind up having to get put on respirators in order to help them breathe. But also, it seems to be affecting other body systems in some people who catch it. And so some people are having neurological effects, a lot of people are having sort of systemic level effects of overt inflammation, which can cause problems in lots of different systems, kidney problems, even heart problems. 

I was actually just listening this morning to NPR. And they were talking with a woman who is one of these people who's having long term side effects. And it's actually estimated that almost a third of people who get symptomatic COVID-19 have these much longer lasting effects, well, well, months, sometimes past when the virus is out of their system. And it seems to be able to, again, affect many different body systems. And so it's not entirely clear how that works. But we do know that this particular virus can infect cells other than cells in the respiratory tract. So although those are the first cells that they infect, the receptor that this virus uses to bind to cells to get inside is expressed in many other locations in the body. So it may be that the virus itself is infecting cells and other organs. It may be that the virus is causing inflammation, and then the inflammation goes on to affect other body systems.

Jennifer Ng  9:14  

Yeah, speaking of severe cases, I've heard that people with underlying conditions and who are immunocompromised are at higher risk for catching the coronavirus. So, what exactly do those phrases mean?

Susan Murray  9:31  

Yeah, so when we talk about underlying conditions for Coronavirus, the things that seem to be most impactful in terms of increasing one's risk of both catching it as well as then having more severe complications, severe symptoms are things like obesity, any kind of underlying heart disease, kidney disease, so people who are diabetic, for instance. And, of course, the elderly, which is not an underlying condition, per se, but certainly people over 65 account for a large portion of the people who are getting sick and getting the most sick.

Molly Lowney  10:18  

So in terms of understanding prevention of spread and roles that we can play in preventing spread within our communities in our homes, can you talk a little bit about masks and how they work to prevent the spread?

Susan Murray  10:34  

Yeah, that's a great question, because we've gotten a lot of conflicting advice from the start of the pandemic, up through the first several months. But it's, and I think a lot of that was because your, your sort of typical masks, that we have are not N95. So that's a terminology that's used in the medical profession. N95 are masks that are very, very good, they form a very tight seal around your face, and prevent medical professionals from getting infectious diseases from their patients. But the typical, just plain old surgical mask, that really is much better at preventing you from spreading things to other people than it is from protecting you from the outside. And I've heard the analogy that it's like a, it's like a garden hose. So if you're trying to catch things as they come out of a garden hose, that's what a typical mask, like the ones who are all expected to wear, will do, it'll catch most of the particles coming out of your mouth and protect other people. But if you're trying to catch garden hose water that's already spewed way out and you're trying to catch it at the level of the grass, that's much harder to do. And so it was initially thought that typical surgical masks that we might be advised to wear were not particularly good at protecting the wear. So the first thing is that that means that in order to help prevent the spread, you have to expect people to wear masks in an attempt to protect other people, but not themselves. And so that only works if everybody does it, right. It's a very sort of altruistic way of thinking about it. But then it turns out that actually, as scientists and epidemiologists study this more, the mask that you wear actually does protect you more than we used to think. It's still not protecting you to the same level that it's protecting other people. But it still is decreasing your own risk by 30 to 40%. So those two things together, you're not spreading it to other people and then also you not being able to catch it from other people, at least a decreased risk of that, both of those are those two things are why mask usage is so critical. 

Molly Lowney  13:04  

There's talk about like the combination of wearing your mask as well as social distancing. So could you just talk a little bit about maybe, like defining social distancing, and why it's important, in addition to wearing a mask?

Susan Murray  13:18  

Yeah. So the general recommendation for social distancing is to stay six feet apart, when possible from other people. And there's no real magic number about that six foot rule. It's clear that if you're three feet away from somebody, it's more likely that any particles that you breathe, or cough or sneeze out will go, you know, more than three feet. But it's not like at six feet, there's this some special wall and nothing can go beyond six feet, if you're 10 feet, even better. So people like to have kind of a number to go on. They need some sort of a yardstick. And six feet seems to be you know, on the steep part of the curve for getting safer. But yeah, there's there's no magic number about that. But that is what it's about. It's about how far are these droplets that can carry the virus, how far are they likely to go before they just basically fall to the ground. And we've heard a lot about whether or not this virus can be spread by aerosolized particles. And all that really means is, if you watch somebody sneeze, and they're sort of like backlit, you can see little droplets coming out, right. And so those are droplets that don't go particularly far and then they fall to the ground because they have weight they have they have more mass aerosolized. It's still little particles of water that are carrying the virus, but those droplets are so so tiny, that gravity doesn't act on them very fast, and so they can stay suspended in the air around us for hours, and so that's what scientists have been trying to figure out - can it spread in these tiny, tiny droplets that can stay aerosolized and stay suspended in the air and potentially be breathed in by another person, can it spread that way? And initially, again, because the science is changing so fast with this brand new virus, initially, we thought that it really could only be spread in these larger droplets. But now there's some evidence, epidemiological evidence, where people have seen it spread among a group of individuals, that it can be transmitted in this aerosolized fashion. So that makes it even more important to wear masks, even if you're socially distancing. Because if they're staying suspended in the air for longer periods of time, yeah, you, you need to continue to protect yourself, not just when you're six feet away from somebody.

Jennifer Ng  15:51  

So let's say that you have symptoms, you show some symptoms, you have a fever, or you find you find yourself having trouble breathing. There's been a lot of confusion about the testing process. So can you break down the different tests you could take?

Susan Murray  16:08  

Yeah, so there are basically two types of tests to test whether you have a current infection. And so the scenario that you're you're suggesting is, yeah, you want to know, am I infected, and therefore could I potentially infect others. And so those two tests are often referred to as an antigen test and a molecular test. What that really just means is you're detecting the presence of the virus in somebody's respiratory tract, two different ways. And so in both cases, what you would do is you would start with a swab, either a nasal swab, or an oral swab, where they're literally just using something that looks essentially like a Q tip, and getting some of the secretions from your nose or your throat. And then if you're infected, then there should be presence of viral particles in those swabs. And so the antigen test is actually just testing to see whether or not we can detect proteins from that virus in that swab. And so it's just a very direct test. Some of them are quite rapid. Imagine something similar to a pregnancy test, where you can apply this swab material to a solid like stick and basically see a plus or minus depending on whether or not that viral protein is present. That test is if you're positive via that test, it's a pretty good indicator that you are in fact positive, there's not a lot of what we would call false positives. However, if you're negative via that test, it doesn't give you very much peace of mind, or it shouldn't give you very much peace of mind, because that test has a high rate of false negatives. In other words, it's not very sensitive. So a lot of people who actually have the virus will still come up negative via that test, because again, it just doesn't have high sensitivity.

And the molecular test takes longer, but it is more sensitive. And that test, the reason it's more sensitive is it's looking for genetic material, the virus’s genome. And we have good ways to amplify that signal. And so you only need a tiny, tiny bit of the viral genetic material in order to be able to detect it. But again, those tests are taking a long time. And they're taking longer now in many areas in many states than they were three or four months ago. Because the testing facilities, mostly you have to send the sample away somewhere to be tested and then send it back and they're falling behind. Basically, there's not enough competitive point out there is a third test people may have heard of that is not to detect whether you're currently infected, but I just wanted to sort of clear up in case there are misunderstandings, and that's an antibody test. And so an antibody test, instead of taking like a nasal or oral swab, you have to take a sample of the person's blood. And that's a completely different question. You're asking has that person ever been exposed to this virus? Because if they have, then they should have made antibodies, so part of your immune defense against infections. They should have made antibodies that are specific for the coronavirus. So if you're positive for that test, it doesn't mean that you're currently infected, you might be, you might still be infected but it might mean that you had it three or four six months ago.

Jennifer Ng  19:51  

Would you recommend like even if you've never displayed symptoms, would you recommend for peace of mind getting those kinds of tests or just wait, until?

Susan Murray  20:03  

You know, probably not only because A, I think it might give you a false sense of peace of mind, right? I mean, personally, if I took one of those tests, I haven't, but if I did, and I found that I had antibodies. And even me as an immunologist, I would feel, Yeah, I would feel some peace of mind. And I think, Oh, great, I already had it. I had it basically, without any symptoms. And now I'm immune, I can't get it again. But we don't actually know that that's true. I mean, many infectious diseases, that's true, you get it once you don't ever get it again. But we just don't know what level of antibodies are protective against this, this disease. And so I think it it has the potential to give you a false sense of security. And I think to some degree, it's kind of a waste of precious resources in this time when research scientists and epidemiologists need to use those tests in order to get a handle on how widespread the infection has been, and to answer some of those scientific questions.

Molly Lowney  21:12  

So another concept that we've heard a lot is the idea of people being asymptomatic. So could you kind of explain what's going on with all of that? Because I think it's pretty confusing to a lot of people, the word just gets thrown around and they don't necessarily know what the deal is.

Susan Murray  21:30  

Yeah, yeah, that's, that's a great, that's a great follow up question to what we were just talking about. Because the the way that we know that there are people, the main way that we know that there are people who are asymptomatic is through these antibody tests. And so if you screen people in a community, like let's say, New York City, where we know there was a high rate of infection back in March and April, certain neighborhoods in New York City, when they just screen, basically everybody who walks through a clinic door for whatever reason to look and see whether or not they have these antibodies that would indicate they were ever infected. And they find in some neighborhoods, over 50% of the population has these antibodies, indicating that they were exposed to this virus, in sufficient amounts that their immune system recognized it and, and did something about it. And yet, most of those, many of those people never had symptoms. 

So asymptomatic means exactly what it sounds like you the virus actually was able to infect you, infect your cells, and your body recognized it made an immune response quickly enough, presumably, that you never actually felt sick from it. And the reason that, that that's a really big problem for this virus is that it's clear that even if you're asymptomatic, you can spread it. So when people are clearly symptomatic, obviously, they know they're sick, they're not going out and about their business, they're trying to hopefully maintain quarantine, and so they're less likely to spread it. But if somebody catches it, and has no clue because they have no symptoms, then there's no reason for them to think that they need to quarantine themselves or curtail their normal activities. And so that is something about this particular virus that makes it quite insidious, as well. And again, this is unlike other coronaviruses, it seems to be that you are most infectious in some cases, or at least as infectious, presymptomatic, so presymptomatic, asymptomatic, some people get infected, and then never have symptoms, and most of the time never know that they've been infected. Some people get infected and then the symptoms don't start for several days, or even up to two weeks. So this has this window, this particular virus is unusual in that it has this window, that's quite a broad range of the time from when you're infected, to the time when you start showing symptoms. And so during that time, whether it's in some cases, three days, but in some cases up to two weeks, you could easily be infectious, even though you're not showing symptoms. So again, you can be asymptomatic because you're presymptomatic, or because you're never going to show symptoms, and all of those people can be infectious.

Jennifer Ng  24:34  

So with this new virus, there's been a lot of talk about vaccines, when like, we're still we're still in the process of getting one or making one, developing one. So can you talk about what that process is like and where we are in that timeline?

Susan Murray  24:56  

Yeah, so this is really an unprecedented effort in terms of vaccine development. Prior to this COVID-19 pandemic, I think that the fastest vaccine ever went from initial, like, let's try to make a vaccine to actually getting it approved, was about four years, the average is more like 10 years. So the fact that we're talking about trying to get a vaccine out by the end of this year, slash beginning of next year, in other words, in one year, is absolutely unprecedented. That's super fast. But it is crazy. Yeah. The New York Times actually has a really nice website that they update, I think daily, or at least weekly. And it's called COVID tracker, or vaccine tracker, maybe. And it tells you how many vaccines are currently in phase one trials, phase two trials, phase three trials. And you'll see there's huge numbers, especially in the phase one trials. 

So I want to just break that down a little bit, because I think people throw these words around within a lot of people in the community might not know what that means when we talk about phase one, phase two, phase three trials. So whether it's a vaccine or any other drug, you have to go through extensive testing, for safety, and for effectiveness before a drug is going to be approved. And so phase one trials are the very first time you're putting something into a person. A lot of these will have preclinical trials, which would be like, infecting some animal model, like a mouse or a rat. But phase one means it's going into people for the first time. And so it's a small number of people. And it's really mostly to assess safety, like is there going to be some weird side effect that we hadn't anticipated? And that's with a small number of people like, maybe a couple dozen. And assuming there's nothing horrible happens in a phase one trial, then you can move on to phase two. And phase two is now starting to say, okay, we think it's safe. But we need to test this in a larger number of people and start to see is it even worthwhile moving forward? Is it going to be effective. And so in phase two trials, you might be talking about 100 or 200 people, that kind of number. And then phase three is, okay, we've gotten good data from our phase two, it seems like it's working. And we still haven't seen any bad side effects. But there could potentially be rare side effects so let's really be sure before we put it into a whole countries or globes or event people. And so that's now going to be in the tens of thousands of subjects in a phase three trial. And that's really important, again, to discover any kind of unlikely or rare side effect, that nonetheless, could be serious. And it's especially important if you're talking about it in terms of trial for a vaccine, because vaccines are given to healthy people. And so the last thing you want is for a vaccine that's given to somebody who's not already sick with something to actually cause the sickness, we have a very high sort of bar, safety bar, to cross in order to be confident enough in a vaccine. 

So where are we now in that process? At the moment, there are three, I believe, three, at least three, I'll say it that way. As of a couple days ago, there were three vaccines that have made it to phase three trials, so being put into tens of thousands of people. And each of those is a somewhat different from one another in terms of the composition, how those vaccines were made. But I think the thing that's more interesting and not really talked about so much is that all three of those are very different. They're made completely differently from any vaccine that has ever been licensed before. So it's, it's a little disconcerting for me, because we have, you know, hundred years worth of evidence that vaccines work and they have low side effects. And, you know, vaccines are great, I'm an immunologist, right? I'm very, very, very pro vaccine. But these particular vaccines that have made it the quickest interface through clinical trials have been able to do that so quickly because they work via a completely different technology than what other approved vaccines have used. And so we just don't have that track record of understanding what vaccines made in this new way will do to the body. The difference with these new vaccines that are all different from one another, but have one thing in common that makes them different from vaccines for other infectious diseases, is that instead of injecting little pieces of the pathogen or little proteins from the pathogen, instead, they're actually injecting pieces of DNA, or RNA. So genetic material from the pathogen. And then the expectation is that your own cells will then use that genetic material from the pathogen as a template to then make the proteins and then your body will respond to those proteins that it is made by making an antibody response.

Molly Lowney  30:29  

Obviously, UP is online this semester. But there are a large number of schools that did go back in person to somewhat disastrous results like UNC Chapel Hill, University of Alabama, University of Notre Dame. I think a what a lot of students are wondering is, whether they're living off campus in the up neighborhood, or they're living at home, what should they be doing now so that we can increase our chances of safely returning in the spring?

Susan Murray  31:01  

Wow, that is a great question. Um, because I, of course, would love to return in person in the spring, I don't like teaching on Zoom. Um, I think, really, it's just adhering to all the guidelines that the health officials are putting out. So you know, wearing your masks when you go out in public. Certainly all the time when you're out in public indoors, and even outdoors if you can't maintain that six foot distance.

And then really being conscientious about maintaining your own social bubble. So I think nobody's expecting everybody to wear a mask when they're around every single other person. And everybody needs sort of a social bubble, where they can really interact with people and still get hugs and right. But really communication, I think, within your social bubble to make sure that everybody's on the same page that you are, and that you don't have this social bubble and then overlapping with this one, and then this person here is overlapping with another one. You want to you want to have trust and communication within within your social bubble to to prevent these wider spread events. 

We know that there's some proportion of the population that are super spreaders, and there's no way to tell who is or who is not one, I mean, that would be really cool if we had a test for that, we don't yet. But there's some crazy statistics about something like 80% of the infections that are spread actually come from only 20% of people who are infected. So the majority of people actually, if you're infected, you don't infect anybody else. Or maybe you infect one other person. But there are, you know, a small proportion of people who are infected, who end up spreading it widely. And it seems to be both a factor of behavior. So people who are, you know, in either have jobs or social lives that put them in contact with lots of people in unsafe ways, but also there's some biology there too. So some people just shed way more viruses when they're sick than others. And so since we don't know who those people are, and some of them may be asymptomatic, that's really, again, why we want everybody to keep gathering small. So if one person does happen to have COVID, and is a super spreader, they're still only spreading it to the six other people in that social gathering instead of the hundred, you know, at a wedding or a funeral or something like that, or a pool party. So yeah, I think, you know, mask usage, social distancing, and then keeping your your bubble and your gatherings small.

Jennifer Ng  34:02  

We wanted to talk a little bit about the environment and link it to our ongoing climate change crisis. So can you talk a little bit about how climate change might be affecting diseases in general?

Susan Murray  34:19  

Yeah, well, this. So first of all, this isn't my area of expertise, by any stretch of the imagination. And but I think environmental issues in general, if we think about the fact that these are zoonotic diseases. When we encroach on wild places, the chances of these encounters that could lead to a jump from another species, a pathogen from another species to humans, really increases and a lot of the things We're doing that to contribute to climate change. So, you know, cutting down the rainforests, or burning the rain forests to make way for arable land, those kind of things that are accelerating climate change, because you're getting rid of the carbon sinks are also things that can increase our risk of these zoonotic diseases.

I guess, if you want to get a more direct link to climate change, one thing might be that we know with climate change, there's going to be mass migrations, people who live both on coastal lands that may become flooded. But also people who live in equatorial regions that are already hot, actually become unlivable because you start to be able to not grow crops any longer. And these migrations do have a tendency to concentrate people, I mean, you get people concentrated in refugee camps, for instance. And so displaced persons in general, are at risk of a higher risk for infectious diseases by virtue of you know, the migrating en mass and things, like I said, refugee camps where people are living in very close quarters, and things can just spread like wildfire.

Jennifer Ng  36:23  

Lastly, just do you have like the New York Times vaccine tracker? Do you have any other resources or websites for that you can recommend if people want to learn more, where they can get reliable, accurate information and COVID updates?

Susan Murray  36:40  

Yeah, yeah. So the Oregon Health Authority is another good source. And they have a lot of data also, on you know, how many cases in Oregon and whether those are going up or down. And, and, you know, the numbers in each county? I think they even have a breakdown, you know, by ethnicity. And so they've got case numbers, and deaths, etc. And so if you want sort of a more local, you know, what's going on in our state, I assume other states have something similar, but obviously, I'm just familiar with the Oregon Health Authority.

Molly Lowney  37:20  

I think that's all the questions that we have for you. Thank you so much for answering them. I am really excited for this episode. I think it will give a lot of good information out there.

Susan Murray  37:30  

Oh, I'm so glad you invited me. Thank you very much for having me.

Jennifer Ng  37:33  

We recorded this conversation with Dr. Murray back at the beginning of September. She mentioned that at the time, there were three vaccines in later stages. Now, according to the New York Times vaccine tracker, that number is up to five. So the process is moving but still slowly as it should.

Molly Lowney  37:50  

Also in the time since the interview, the number of COVID cases in the US has increased to over 7.3 million, and deaths are over 208,000 people. It was announced recently that Donald and Melania Trump tested positive for the virus, and that could cause some major waves for the election.

Jennifer Ng  38:10  

And more relevant to the immediate up community was the announcement made on Friday, October 2, the plan for most classes to remain online in the spring, with the possibility of freshmen getting to come live on campus and maybe even have one in person class.

Molly Lowney  38:24  

A big bummer for the seniors. So shout out to the class of 2021, keep hanging in there.

Jennifer Ng  38:29  

Yeah, it's disappointing but not surprising given the circumstances of how clearly things in the US have not gotten better.

Molly Lowney  38:36  

But even though we have this rough plan for this spring semester, those precautions, the social distancing and mask wearing still apply for everyone's general health and safety.

Jennifer Ng  38:47  

Even if you're off campus, especially if you're off campus, don't go partying it up because you think there's no way you're going to be attending in person classes next semester. We all still have a responsibility to the rest of our community to everyone in our circles, to stop the virus from spreading.

Molly Lowney  39:04  

You can keep up with what on earth on Spotify, anchor FM, Google podcasts and upbeacon.com. If you would like to submit a topic or questions for future episodes, go to upbeacon.com and click the story idea button on the right hand side of the page.

Jennifer Ng  39:20  

Thank you for listening to this episode of what on earth. Keep asking questions 

Molly Lowney  39:24  

And keep wearing your masks. See you next time. 

Jennifer Ng  39:30  

Special thanks to Dr. Murray for appearing on this episode. This podcast is brought to you by The Beacon hosted and produced by Molly Lowney and Jennifer Ng, and music from free musical archive.org.

Jennifer Ng is the Opinions Editor and a photographer for The Beacon. She can be reached at ng21@up.edu.

Molly Lowney is a photographer for The Beacon. She can be reached at lowney21@up.edu.

Susan Murray is an associate professor with UP's biology department. She can be reached at murrays@up.edu.