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  • NATURE PODCAST

Coronapod: The state of the pandemic, six months in

Benjamin Thompson, Noah Baker, and Amy Maxmen discuss the latest COVID-19 news.

In a few weeks, we’ll be wrapping up Coronapod in its current form. Please fill out our short survey to let us know your thoughts on the show.

In this episode:

03:13 What have we learnt?

We take a look back over the past six months of the pandemic, and discuss how far the world has come. It’s been a period of turmoil and science has faced an unprecedented challenge. What lessons can be learned from the epidemic so far to continue the fight in the months to come?

Financial Times: Coronavirus tracked: the latest figures as countries start to reopen

Wellcome Open Research: What settings have been linked to SARS-CoV-2 transmission clusters?

12:55 Unanswered questions

After months of intensive research, much is known about the new coronavirus – but many important questions remain unanswered. We look at the knowledge gaps researchers are trying to fill.

Nature Medicine: Real-time tracking of self-reported symptoms to predict potential COVID-19

20:36 How has lockdown affected fieldwork?

The inability to travel during lockdown has seriously hampered many researchers’ ability to gather fieldwork data. We hear from three whose work has been affected, and what this means for their projects.

Never miss an episode: Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app. Head here for the Nature Podcast RSS feed.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-01953-x

Transcript

Benjamin Thompson, Noah Baker, and Amy Maxmen discuss the latest COVID-19 news.

Benjamin Thompson

Welcome to Coronapod.

Noah Baker

In this show, we’re going to bring you Nature’s take on the latest COVID-19 developments.

Benjamin Thompson

And we’ll be speaking to experts around the world about research during the pandemic.

Amy Maxmen

I really don’t know how this plays out. We also don’t know a ton about this virus, so there’s so many open questions. I just have a really hard time making predictions because I don’t know how the outbreak is going to change.

Benjamin Thompson

Welcome to episode 15 of Coronapod. I’m Benjamin Thompson, back in the South London basement, and I’m joined, as always, by Noah Baker and Amy Maxmen. Hi, both.

Noah Baker

Hi, Ben.

Amy Maxmen

Hi.

Benjamin Thompson

Before we get started today, a little announcement from us all here. It feels like the pandemic is moving into a new chapter – I think maybe you’ll both agree – although, of course, it’s still ongoing, and the nature of science coverage is changing, and we’re looking to change with it. So, we are coming to the end of Coronapod. We’re going to retire the show in a few episodes, isn’t that right, both?

Noah Baker

Yeah, I think it’s starting to become clear to us that we’re kind of entering a new phase of the coronavirus pandemic, certainly for us here in the UK and in the States. Now, that’s not to say that things aren’t still very much going on, and in other places in the world they’re in a very different phase, but the way that our coverage is working at Nature in general is that it’s starting to become more integrated into all of our coverage of science and less sort of the sole focus, and I think that’s kind of what we’re trying to do here, is retire the coronavirus-specific show and instead we’ll start bringing all of that reporting into the regular Nature Podcast, which we produce on a Wednesday every week.

Benjamin Thompson

Yeah, that’s exactly right. It’ll be a kind of cut-down version with all the latest stories that have gone on in the world of coronavirus research that week.

Noah Baker

But even if we are ending the show, we’re going to try to make sure to keep bits that people like.

Benjamin Thompson

Yeah, that’s right. We want to reach out to the listeners, to you listening right now, and find out what you enjoyed, what you maybe didn’t enjoy so well, because we want to take what we’ve learnt into our future shows. So, we’re doing a small survey. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes which you’ll either get on your podcast app on your phone or you can find on the show page on nature.com/podcast, and if you could spare a couple of minutes just to fill in those questions – there’s only like three or four of them – that would really help us out in the future.

Amy Maxmen

This is not the last one. We’re going to do one more, right?

Noah Baker

We’re actually maybe going to do two more. 10 July will be the last episode of Coronapod in its current iteration, and then it’ll move into the Nature Podcast. And that’s also not to say that there’s no reason this couldn’t come back, right? So, we do this because it’s what feels natural at the time and we’re trying to make sure we can bring the best that we can to you guys, to the listeners at home, but right now this feels like the sensible move and we’ll have to see how this goes because, as I think it says in the intro to every one of these episodes, we just don’t really know how this pandemic is going to turn out, still. I think that’s something that Amy said in our first ever recording.

Amy Maxmen

It is safe to say that we’re in a different sort of chapter now, and I do feel like in the beginning, I really had no idea what was going to happen, but I think now I have a little bit more of an idea because before we had no past precedent to look to and now we do, which is sort of interesting. Now, we can kind of see the trajectories of various countries and using the past, maybe there’s a little bit more guessing that we can do.

Noah Baker

Absolutely, and when the past stops being the last epidemic and starts becoming the last three months, we’ve kind of got current past, as it were, that we can start to refer to.

Amy Maxmen

Yeah, there’s a number of nice websites out there from different outlets that kind of show graphs of different countries and their trajectories, So, for example, and I can put these links in the show notes, but Financial Times has a neat kind of series of graphs from different countries, and one way that they look at it is they measure what are the excess deaths over time compared to previous years, and you can see there, in some places, like Norway, Iceland and Israel, they don’t really have a huge number of excess death, so that says to me they managed to really contain their outbreaks pretty swiftly. Other places have a very sharp mountain, like the UK, Italy, Spain – huge climbs there where deaths are 50% over usual, 50,000 more deaths than usual, around there. And then you get the US, which is different than anywhere else where, like in Europe, we have a very quickly escalating mountain, but we’ve got more of like a mountain range, and in fact, right now, cases are going up in 27 states. So, when I was saying we know a little bit more now, I think if you’re in a country like, say, Italy where they’re really seeing a huge decline, chances are we’ll see like what we saw in Singapore and in Germany. Sometimes there are big surges, but if the things that helped contain the outbreak in the first place are in place, then presumably they’ll continue to stay in place.

Noah Baker

So, I’ve had a look at some of these graphs as well and there are kind of three sort of broad categories that I can kind of divide the graphs into. There’s the graphs which have a kind of tiny little bump that doesn’t seem to make a huge difference, like the first countries that you talked about, and then you have this very characteristic sort of exponential, huge spike that then also drops pretty quickly, and that’s where the UK is currently sitting and a lot of European countries. And then you look at the US and it is hard to sort of work out what it represents because it is this sort of just like angulating up and down and up and down. It seems to be kind of gradually going down, but it’s hard to, I guess, really understand what’s happening in the States if you look at just sort of the whole of the United States in one graph because what’s happening in each individual state can be really quite drastically different, and those graphs could look very, very different if you were to look at different states, which I guess makes sense because they have different governances and they have different public health responses in different places.

Amy Maxmen

Yeah, and it’s a bit country so it’s going to look a little bit different there. I guess one thing we don’t see is if there’s a drop, it’s not a rapid drop like it is elsewhere. What we see right now is that whereas in March and April it was New York that was just skyrocketing, now what we see is California, Texas and Florida are kind of leading the way in rising numbers of cases. Arizona is distinct in that it’s got such a steep rate of increase right now. They’re outbreak is doubling every 12 days. Compare that to, say, in New York where the outbreak seems to be doubling roughly every 416 days. That’s just to say it’s not increasing at the same rate. In 11 states, it’s decreasing and in the other ones it’s sort of hard to say. So, like you were saying, if you break it up, it changes depending on the state, and this claim that the US has a lot of cases because of a lot of tests is just patently untrue. There’s various measures to look at that. We’ve been at around 5% positive even though the number of tests has gone way up, so that part is not true. Some other things that people are pulling out of the stats, and I say people because the US CDC and health departments aren’t really leading the way as far as displaying data, but there’s been a number of universities and also news outlets that have sort of picked up the slack here, so John Hopkins is one of various places that are tracking, say, racial disparity. So, from the data we have, it looks like even though Black people are 13% of the US population, they account for 23% of the deaths, so that disparity is looming pretty large. And the other thing we might want to talk about is the US has remained around 12% of all global deaths for quite a while, but Latin America is coming up pretty heavily. They’ve been coming up for the last few weeks or so. At this point, they account for more than half of the new deaths in the world, so that’s really disconcerting even though they’re 8% of the world’s population. The biggest surge there is in Brazil and Mexico is right behind that. Those both have leaders that were really downplaying the seriousness of this pandemic and that’s playing out now, but also in countries where I’ve talked about how they’ve put in really early, strict measures like Peru, they’re still doing pretty poorly right now and it’s going up. It’s pretty disconcerting.

Benjamin Thompson

Those are the ones that maybe stood out to me, Amy, as the ones that, say, did put efforts in place very, very quickly. It doesn’t seem to have necessarily stemmed the tide.

Amy Maxmen

No, it didn’t. So, that was really disappointing. What it might have done is slowed it down but it did not stem the tide, and I’ve talked to, informally, I haven’t reported this out as a story, but just talking with some people there in Peru and in Nigeria, I think some of the story might be they did try and ramp up testing but Peru, when I wrote about Peru, they really could only test in the capital, so testing is constrained by their resources. And the other thing is Nigeria and Peru and Brazil, these are emerging economies, so yes, there’s some affluent people, but they also have a huge number of people who live in poverty in these places, so once the virus moves the people who live in informal settlements, lockdowns are pretty much impossible in those situations.

Noah Baker

When you look at these graphs, there are so many and there’s a lot of places people can go and find them. There’s a site called Our World in Data where you can sort of graph out almost anything you can imagine. And for people like us that are interested in data, you can get a bit lost in them. But it’s interesting to think about what you can glean from all of these data. So, the graphs are there and you might think that hidden within them is some kind of information about how successful treatments have been, but right now, treatment isn’t really part of this picture. Really, what we’re looking at at this point so far in the pandemic, is just how well or not well various public health responses have gone, and even that’s kind of hard to unpick from these sort of big, broad data.

Amy Maxmen

I think the thing that I find personally irritating is in the US, we’ve had more than 2 million cases. I feel like this is a huge experiment. I want more data just than when there’s a positive case, what might have been your exposure. Did you just go to a wedding? Have you been living in a nursing home or do you live with 12 people? I want to just sort of know where are people likely getting infected. I feel like that would be hugely useful right now, especially as the US starts to open up the economy. I think the overwhelming response in the US is, ‘We don’t even really care what the numbers are, we are opening up right now,’ so I guess I would really like to also just see, instead of these conjectures with different models about did this lead to this, I just want to know where are people getting infected. I saw a Google doc that was passed around that is interesting of 300 super spreader-events that somebody compiled from around the world. Most of the data is from Singapore. A lot is from China. Some is from Germany. So, super-spreader events are just one event so it wouldn’t be like a grocery store. It means there is this particular thing – a wedding – and this is where 300 people were infected or something like that. That’s hypothetical. So, that was sort of interesting. I saw a lot of, let’s see, refugee accommodations in Germany, dorms for migrant workers in Singapore. Japan and China listed a lot of restaurants that were kind of places of super spreading. There were about a dozen things labelled ‘parties’, like nightclubs in Germany, a private event at a restaurant in Germany, a river boat party in Tokyo, a bar in New Zealand, and then there was a number of church services also listed, so I feel like those are the kind of places where we’re seeing that transmission could be a problem. Notably, mainly, indoors. Almost all indoors.

Noah Baker

It puts me in mind of the current situation in the UK. So, right now, as of 4 July, most of the country is opening back up. Now, albeit with various restrictions in place, so we have to stay further away than a metre from someone, a metre plus is what they’re saying because it should be a metre plus some kind of other protection like a mask or something like that, but most places are able to open apart from ten. There’s ten classes of business that can’t open and they’re specific and they’re listed down, and I can’t help but wonder whether or not there’s any data about super-spreader likelihood or something like that that has fed into why these ten are being chosen. Now, that includes nightclubs. It includes swimming pools and gyms. Logically, I can see why a gym might be a really risky place to go from a transmission perspective. People are breathing heavily. it’s hot. It’s enclosed. But I would wonder whether or not there’s been any data that’s fed into this and whether or not it might be linked to the potential of super-spreading events.

Amy Maxmen

Fitness classes was one of the things in that Google doc I noticed. That was Singapore, but yeah.

Noah Baker

So, one thing that I wanted to ask you, Amy. So, we’ve talked a little bit about this in the past, especially with regard to some of the post-Ebola crisis countries that you’ve looked into and some countries in the African continent and South America. Are we still waiting to see that kind of rapid rise that we’ve seen in Europe and in the States? Are we waiting to see that happen in some of these other countries? Is it just delayed or is it likely to look different or do we not know?

Amy Maxmen

What’s so tricky is in countries where it’s not clear if the testing is super widespread, it’s really hard to know, wow, are they succeeded in slowing it down a lot or are we just not finding many cases? In countries where there’s very poor health systems, people don’t have a habit of going to the hospital where they’re going to get a test, so I’m not sure is the answer. It could take some time before you really see the punch of these things and we still might yet see a spike.

Noah Baker

If I think back to the very first episode of Coronapod, one of the things that we discussed in there was the things we didn’t know yet that we wanted to find out, and one of them was would this virus be affected by temperature as we know that some sorts of flu could be or would younger people perhaps be less likely to have poor outcomes when they’re infected with the virus. I mean I’m interested to know how many of those questions we now know the answers to. I’m not sure it’s that many.

Amy Maxmen

It definitely is that middle-aged people can certainly become very sick with this virus and occasionally die, but it does seem like older people and people with underlying conditions, specifically especially diabetes and hypertension, it seems like people with those conditions are hit harder. They do more frequently have severe disease or death. So, that part I think we do have some clarity there. Children certainly don’t seem to be sick very often, but I still don’t know what the deal is with whether or not they spread a lot. As far as heat killing it, I have not seen anything convincing about that being true. I stay away from those studies that are very over-simplified correlations because there’s a lot of reasons for why a hot place has it more than another hot place or less than a hot place. There was the whole antibody question that was really big for a while there, like I know around me, people are still talking about how they’re going to get an antibody test, so there’s still a lot of hope like, ‘Oh, I’m going to get a test and then I’m going to be fine,’ but I think scientists are sort of like beginning to realise it’s maybe not going to be super straightforward. There was a study in Nature Medicine last week or the week before that suggested that antibodies might only last for two or three weeks after an infection, meaning it could wane, and it also wasn’t very sure about whether or not they protect everybody against a new infection. So, it didn’t say they don’t. It just doesn’t appear to be a very straightforward, strong effect. It could be that there’s very low levels of these really potent neutralising antibodies that they just didn’t pick up in this study that are sort of protective, but they didn’t find that. We could have immune cells, B cells and T cells that stick around that help, but the fact is that’s sort of an open question still, and also the evidence doesn’t suggest that it’s a very straightforward, ‘Yay, you’re infected. You’re immune forever,’ sort of situation.

Benjamin Thompson

And what about convalescent plasma then – the idea that you can infuse blood from people that have recovered from the virus as a potential treatment for COVID? We’ve chatted about that on the show a fair while ago, and we know that scientists were looking into it. What became of that?

Amy Maxmen

So, at this point, I think they’ve infused 20,000 people with blood from survivors or people who have recovered from COVID. A lot of people, but it wasn’t a clinical trial, and there’s some hint of efficacy but again, it’s not super strong.

Noah Baker

Amongst all of these ‘we don’t really know the answer very well yet’ realisations, there are a couple of things that in the beginning we definitely didn’t know that we do now know for sure. So, there was a question early on about whether or not you could have an asymptomatic infection. We now know that you definitely can. There is still potentially an open question about how much asymptomatic people might be spreading the virus. I don’t think that’s completely clear as of now – how likely they are to be shedding the virus and spreading it – but at least now that we know that you can have an asymptomatic infection, it can inform policy decisions that can be made.

Amy Maxmen

And we know like that when they find positives, it’s usually somewhere between 10-15% of people who had fevers, so this idea of the way that they screen people without having to do a test is just taking temperature, that’s really not going to be a protective force here. You’re just going to catch 10-15% of people infected if you’re just looking for fevers.

Noah Baker

Equally, there have been other symptoms that have been added to the list. So, we’ve talked about on Coronapod about this anosmia symptom which the UK picked up from a couple of observational studies about people who had contracted the virus and that were self-reporting their symptoms. This seems to be another symptom which is certainly not present in every person – I don’t think there’s a single symptom which is present in every case – but it does seem reasonably prevalent, so a useful one to add to the list of symptoms for doctors and medical professionals to look to. There has been a lot learnt there even if we don’t have answers to some big questions yet.

Benjamin Thompson

If we don’t have answers to these big questions yet, it does seem that just as we said very much early on in Coronapod that an efficacious vaccine that can protect people is what we need to really get on top of this and stop this sort of continued potentially bubbling under and this virus becoming endemic in the human population over the next months and years.

Noah Baker

That is a big question, right. Is that the end game, right? Is a vaccine still the endgame because that’s what it felt like early on, or is there another way out?

Amy Maxmen

Well, vaccines are often the endgame. I think that’s true and Anthony Fauci, he recently said we’ll have a vaccine by the end of the year or early next year. I think that sounds extremely optimistic to me, especially the idea of getting it around the world. So, I think vaccine eventually is the endgame, but what the WHO keeps repeating is there’s all that time in between. Let’s see, the US right now has 122,000 deaths, so what do we do to keep it from doubling or tripling before we get that vaccine, and that’s where unfortunately we’re stuck with the same tools that some countries have very successfully deployed.

Noah Baker

Another thing, at the very beginning of this outbreak that everyone asked very quickly is how do we treat this? There was no specific treatment for this condition, but there are doctors that have a lot of experience of dealing with respiratory infections and similar symptoms and so they all started treating things and drugs trials were started, and scientists have made progress to understand possible treatments for coronavirus.

Amy Maxmen

Yeah, there’s some novel drugs that have been in the pipeline that are moving incredibly fast, considering it usually takes 10-13 years to develop drugs, so it’s moving really fast. There’s a couple of novel antibody therapies that either are based on antibodies that people generate or there’s one group that uses humanised mice to generate antibodies. So, those drugs are moving into phase II trials. They probably will be in phase III later. There’s some new antiviral drugs, so hopefully we will get better drugs to treat this so it won’t be so dire for so many people.

Benjamin Thompson

10-15 years down to less than a year – I mean it makes my head spin it’s that fast, my goodness.

Noah Baker

This kind of speaks to something I remember you quoted someone in the past where you were talking about homelessness and they said it took a pandemic for us to realise that we could do this. It makes me think about these drug trials as well and think sometimes it takes 15 years but it can be done in a year. I mean there’s a lot of good reasons that it normally takes a very long time, but it does make me think whether or not there’s going to be kind of new expectations from scientists in the future to do this stuff quicker because they’ve shown that it can be done quickly, so why not always do it.

Amy Maxmen

Yeah, totally. There’s ideas of doing trials in multiple hospitals in the same time or even multiple countries, of doing trials where you compare different drugs to one another. I think all those interesting study designs, you’d think those would move forward, yeah.

Benjamin Thompson

Alright, well, let’s call it there this week. Amy and Noah, thank you so much for joining me and I’ll see you both again next week for episode 16 of Coronapod.

Amy Maxmen

Cool.

Noah Baker

Indeed, the penultimate episode. Thanks, everyone.

Benjamin Thompson

A few shows ago, reporter Julie Gould investigated some of the challenges that researchers are facing as they look to reopen their labs after lockdown. Now, of course, not all researchers spend their days in the lab. Many are doing fieldwork. This week, Julie finds out how fieldwork has been affected by the lockdown, speaking to one researcher who’s come up with a creative solution to continue their work and to others who have lost the opportunity to get out and collect data. Here’s Julie.

Julie Gould

As local lockdowns ease across the world, scientists are slowly and safely heading back to their laboratories to do their research. But for some researchers, the laboratories are a bit further afield and often out of doors, and so there are some additional challenges that need to be faced. As a result, scientists like Daniel Bolnick are becoming creative in their data collection methods. Daniel is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut in the USA. He is looking at how vertebrate animals adapt to their parasites and their environment by looking at their genetic diversity, and one of his projects is based on Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada. Daniel has been working with Switzerland-based Marius Roesti to study the differences between lake and stream stickleback fish, and for the last two years, Marius has been travelling back and forth to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre in Vancouver to breed these fish, and the plan was that he would return this spring to put them back in their grandparents’ lake and stream environments to see how they fared. But then lockdown happened and the borders between countries closed. So, with the experimental plans on hold and potentially years of work going to waste, Daniel and his team had to come up with an alternative plan.

Daniel Bolnick

So, this was a huge experiment with a vast amount of money invested into breeding these fish for a couple of years and then of course Marius was unable to actually travel to Canada to do the work and we were unable to travel to Canada to do the work for him. And so, through word of mouth and through Twitter, I got contacted by one researcher at Bamfield Marine Science Centre who normally teaches a summer course at the marine science centre, but the summer courses were all cancelled. She needed a job, and she was already there on site so there was no travel required and she had all of the qualifications necessary, in terms of animal research training and fieldwork experience. A former postdoc of mine at Quest University in British Columbia had an undergraduate who was going to be unemployed for the summer because his normal job wasn’t going to be available, and so he happened to already be on Vancouver Island as well, and so it was just a matter of insuring the social distancing and maximising the safety and so we could skip travel entirely and achieve the fieldwork that we wanted to do.

Julie Gould

Apart from giving specific instructions about how fish specimens should be handled and collected, the researchers onsite were able to dive right in.

Daniel Bolnick

They have done an incredible job. They’ve really been heroic level of effort. It’s quite a lot of work because it’s far fewer people than we had planned to do this work, so they’re going above and beyond. And I’d say it’s lucky for us in that we get to complete the experiment that while respecting all of the rules, both locally in British Columbia and the rules of my university in terms of research policy and safety, while also being able to employ these people who were in financial hardship because they were unable to pursue their normal plans for their own jobs.

Julie Gould

Daniel hopes that this concept of hiring local experts will become more commonplace.

Daniel Bolnick

That’s where social media can play a role. That’s where ideally one can imagine academic societies stepping in to try and facilitate those kinds of contacts.

Julie Gould

This view that reaching out to people in the local area to undertake fieldwork is shared by Marianne Falardeau, a postdoc at Laval University in Quebec City in Canada.

Marianne Falardeau

I think we can find some new ways to use more of the citizen science tools that exist out there but maybe that are not used enough. So, I think it might have some positive impacts at the end of the day by creating more capacity at the local level for doing the research.

Julie Gould

Marianne started her postdoc in March this year, and she had planned to travel two days to reach some of the most northern parts of Canada to study Arctic char fisheries and how they benefit indigenous communities there. But for Marianne, the lockdown hit hard.

Marianne Falardeau

I went into this kind of research because I love being outdoors. I love talking to people and trying to address applied questions and guide sustainable management of ecosystems and going out in the field to me is really motivating and rejuvenating. It makes me make sense of the data a bit more, just to see how the ecosystems function and to talk to harvesters and elders who know so much about the land and can teach me so much about what we see. So, just missing all of this human and ecological connection to my field of research is making it very different.

Julie Gould

So, instead of travelling north, she’s spending her days in front of a computer trying to find ways that she can get her research done without doing any herself. It’s a new way of existing for her and for many other researchers, and it’s not easy.

Marianne Falardeau

Yeah, there were some days where I’m just like having a harder time to do my work because I feel like a little bit overwhelmed by all of this, but at the same time, this crisis has really transformed how we work, how we behave as societies, so I think it’s normal to have our ups and downs. So, I really feel like I need to find ways to cope with it, such as by spending more time outside when I can, talking about it with peers. That’s really helps. But it’s like there’s something missing.

Julie Gould

Fortunately, Marianne is at the start of her project, so hopefully she’ll have time to get the data she needs during another field season. But the same can’t be said for the California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations or CalCOFI project. Marc Oman from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography is director of another project on the California Current called the California Current Ecosystem Long-Term Ecological Research project, or CCELTER, which works closely with CalCOFI to conduct a spectrum of measurements of ocean ecosystems in the California Current. Four times per year, the CalCOFI team heads to the sea to carry out pivotal shipboard biological and ecological measurements and sampling. CalCOFI have been going out to sea for 72 years, and this spring the crew were preparing for the second voyage of the year, but once again, lockdown struck.

Marc Oman In April of 2020, for the first time in 47 years, we were not able to go out to sample the ocean, and this has created many challenges for us. I have to say, I understand the basis for decision-making to stand down the research fleet in the United States. This is a matter of human health and safety and it was a necessary action to take, but it does have repercussions for us.

Julie Gould

Spring is the start of the coastal upwelling season, a time when the flora and fauna of the ocean kick into action. Plankton blooms, the growth and survival of fish and the influences of carbon dioxide on the system are just some of the measurements that will be missed this season.

Marc Oman

So, the ability to integrate the measurements we make into models is going to be restricted as a consequence of this particular springtime period. There and forever and a day when we plot the time series measurements that are such important records of changes in plankton populations, changes in fish larval populations, changes in DNA measured biodiversity in the upper ocean, that those plots will have a hole in spring of 2020. Now, life will go on, science will go on, but we’ve missed an opportunity to understand the natural variability in the system and also how this human-induced anthropause might have perturbed that natural variability.

Julie Gould

Come 1 July 2020, the academic research fleet is allowed to set sail again. For obvious reasons, social distancing on-board the ship will present some challenges, so extra pre-boarding precautions have been put in place for those wanting to go out to sea.

Marc Oman

First of all, they’re going to need to shelter in place and quarantine for a minimum of 14 days in advance of a research cruise. At Scripps, we’ve imposed a system of three successive COVID tests by PCR that must be taken at intervals across that 14-day time period. People will be isolated in hotels for the last six days prior to a cruise. If they pass the final PCR test for COVID, they will then be escorted directly to a research vessel where they will need to remain on that vessel until the end of the research interval. It will be a culture change. It will also require a lot of human behavioural changes. But if you’re sufficiently motivated to answer the scientific questions, then you’re willing to deal with these additional obstacles, and we’re hoping that we can get back to the scientific work that motivates us all.

Julie Gould

The scientific enterprise has undergone dramatic change over the last three months, but hand in hand with a crisis comes adaptation, and scientists are well trained to cope with this.

Marc Oman

Science is of course filled with, at certain moment, immense satisfaction and insights, but along the way toward those insights, there are often frustrations. We all have experiments that fail, instruments that don’t perform the way they were supposed to, challenging whether circumstances that make it difficult to complete a sampling pattern in a field study. And in this particular spring of 2020, we encountered this nearly unprecedented inability to get out into the ocean environment. It’s highly frustrating from a professional perspective, but often times in science we land face down on the floor, we have to pick ourselves up and do the best we can moving forward.

Benjamin Thompson

Marc Oman there, ending that report from Julie Gould. So, that’s it for another edition of Coronapod. If you’ve got a couple of spare minutes and could fill out this survey we talked about at the start of the show, that would be amazing. I’ll put up a link to that, of course, in the show notes. Look out for a corona-free edition of the regular Nature Podcast on Wednesday, and I’ll see you back here in seven days for the penultimate edition of Coronapod. I’ve been Benjamin Thompson. Thanks for listening. Stay safe.

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