11 March 2020

Act now or people will die from COVID-19

The viral pandemic COVID-19 is here, and we must act now or people will die. As that blogpost explains, COVID-19’s fast exponential spread, 2-week latency, and low testing rate provoke complacency. The decisions we make today affect how many people will die in 2 weeks time and beyond, and so we should take action today to flatten the curve of infections.

Inspired by Leslie Vosshall’s twitter thread, How to keep science-ing safely in a pandemic, here’s suggestions on how to be safer and also productive during the epidemic. I wrote this for my lab and am happy to share it.

Be safe - avoid people as much as possible

Social distancing is an effective containment measure. The risk of transmission goes with the square of the number of people: a seminar or bus with 50 people is 100x as risky as a meeting with 5.

Be safe in your life outside the lab

Stock up on prescriptions, consider human food and pet food.

Ideally cancel personal travel and large public events

Rethink your experiments

Downsize/postpone experiments where possible

Order critical reagents now

Develop list of critical lab functions and volunteers to do them

This will help if/when the university is closed to non-essential personnel.

Don’t go to meetings in person

Lab meetings and 1-1s will be online until further notice

1-1s I prefer https://whereby.com/ewallacelab.

Lab meetings probably zoom or skype for business - this is work in progress.

Don’t go to seminars

Ask for a remote option where possible. This is upsetting because of course we want to hear other people’s science. Yet the risk squares with the number of people.

Cancel work travel

Will anyone die if you don’t make that trip? No? Don’t go.

Work from home if you can

If you must go to work, for example if something will catch fire or mice will die:

walk/bike to work

avoid public transportation

drive in if you must

Prepare your computers

install and test VPN and remote desktop


UoE remote desktop

put all the data you need somewhere sensible

For us that means UoE datastore, which is backed up to tape.

install any other software you might need

You can be plenty productive during the epidemic

Everyone, in my lab at least, has some written or computational work that will move their project and their career forward. Even the most dedicated experimentalist has data to analyse, papers to read, etc. Perhaps something you have been putting off for months. What a wonderful opportunity to focus on that instead, without guilt! So ask yourself:

What data analysis do I need to do?

What do I need to learn?

What do I need to write?

What should I prioritise?

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