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Local researchers say there is still a lot of uncertainty about COVID-19


Several local researchers and public policy experts got together in a televised virtual forum seen and heard on WXXI TV, radio and online on Thursday night to talk about COVID-19.  They had some answers but also a lot of questions.

With pre-eminent researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health, as well as Monroe County Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Mendoza, you would expect to get thoughtful answers, based on science. But during the hour long session about current medical research into the virus, these scientists weren’t afraid to say there is still so much about the coronavirus we don’t know.

Dr. Angela Branche is Co-Director of the URMC Vaccine Trials and Evaluation Unit. She said that usually, vaccines can take an average of 10 years to develop, so the work to get a virus against COVID-19 within a year or two is pretty unusual.

“Hoping to have a vaccine within a year or within two years is extremely optimistic, and it’s certainly something that scientists are working hard at all over the world, but it would be something that we haven’t seen before, that sort of rapid development of a brand new vaccine,” Branche said.

Mendoza also revealed plans to do more testing at assisted living and group homes.

“And just today, we’ve developed a plan to deploy to assisted living facilities and adult care facilities to do more testing, both of the residents and of the staff to see if we can find those cases of asymptomatic infection," Mendoza explained.

Mendoza said that testing should help, since a lot of the infections at those facilities likely begin with the staff , since many residents have not really been outside those facilities very much. He says the testing could help isolate staff who are infected to keep them away from the residents.

Dr. Dave Topham is Director of the New York Influenza Center of Excellence at URMC. He said that studying how antibodies develop in people who have had the coronavirus is important.

“I think studying the actual infections, people that are protected will inform us a great deal as we move forward with developing vaccines and tests to understand how those vaccines are working. But we have a lot to learn, this is all new territory for us," Topham said.

Dr. Ann Falsey is an infectious disease specialist with Rochester Regional Health.  She said the coronvirus could come back, but it's hard to say when that will happen.

"Unless we have widespread infection with herd immunity, that it’s likely that we will have a second wave, especially if things start opening up and people start congregating again. When it would happen, I think we have no idea," Falsey said.

You can watch the entire broadcast here:

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.