Tag Archive for COVID-19

Gershberg ’95 Plays Key Role in Reuters’s Pandemic Coverage

Michele Gershberg '95

Michele Gershberg ’95

With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States in February, and as doctors and scientists intensified their search for ways to stymie the virus, it quickly became clear to Michele Gershberg ’95 that her already challenging job was about to get even more complicated.

As the U.S. health editor for the Reuters news agency, Gershberg leads a team of eight reporters covering health and scientific innovation, as well as the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. “It runs the whole gamut,” Gershberg said. “We are part of a larger global team of health and pharma industry reporters, with reporters in London, Paris, Zurich, and Beijing, so we really work together very closely to try to tell the global story.”

Wesleyan Announces Initial Plans to Reactivate Campus in the Fall

fall

Wesleyan President Michael Roth announced that in-person classes will resume for the fall 2020 semester.

Wesleyan President Michael Roth ’78 announced in an all-campus message on Monday, June 15, that the University plans to resume in-person classes in the fall, pending the ongoing recommendations of University, state, and federal health and safety experts.

“Given the current public health trajectory for Connecticut, we are hoping to welcome most students, faculty, and staff back to Middletown in safe conditions in late August,” President Roth wrote. “One thing we are certain about: it will be good to be together again—safely—on campus.”

Roth noted that the coming semester will look different than those of the past because of the additional safety measures and adjustments to campus and curricular offerings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The University has convened a contingency planning workgroup, which has proposed that 2020 fall semester classes begin on campus August 31 (one week earlier than initially scheduled), with the possibility of finishing online after Thanksgiving, allowing for more time on campus during the warmer months of the year. Food services and residence halls will be organized with safety in mind, as will classrooms and co-curricular activities, and the University does expect to offer athletes on-campus programs; it will, however, limit visitors to and excursions from campus to reduce the possible spread of any illness. Distance- and hybrid-learning options will be made available to those students unable to return to campus.

Williams ’20 Raises Funds to Deliver Care Packages to Congregate Care Settings

follow me home

A Follow Me Home volunteer delivers a care package.

Despite the effects the COVID-19 pandemic had on much of the population, a recent alumnus’ addiction and wellness recovery program continues to offer essential services and compassion for local residents in need.

Patricelli Center Fellow and Posse Veteran Scholar Lance Williams ’20 created his program, Follow Me Home, in 2017. Based at the Trinity Episcopal Church in nearby Portland, Conn., Follow Me Home partners with local mental health care providers, recovery treatment facilities, and other community-based organizations to provide Follow Me Home Fellows with the infrastructure to build their social networks and recovery capital.

“As [the state reopens], there are many who are still suffering from the mental health fall-out from this natural disaster,” Williams wrote in a recent Engage blog.

On June 1, Williams celebrated Follow Me Home’s first GoFundMe campaign, which raised more than $1,100 and afforded the delivery of a weekly care package to more than 60 congregate care settings. Working in partnership with Gilead Community Services, the organizations prepare packages of baked goods and crafts for the deliveries.

Lance Williams '20

lance Williams ’20

“More than a simple act of compassion, these care packages have allowed Gilead’s clinicians and case management teams to safely engage with community members and clients to provide more in-depth services after their main outpatient offices were forced to close,” Williams said.

Follow Me Home is now launching a second GoFundMe campaign to continue the expansion of care package deliveries throughout Connecticut over the next month.

“Our new goal of $2,400 will provide us with the opportunity to continue supporting the care package delivery services and human-centered case management throughout the south-central Connecticut region—a region whose congregate care settings have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic,” Williams said.

Young ’88 Addresses the Severity of the COVID-19 Crisis for Black Americans

Al YoungAlford “Al” Young Jr. ’88 is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of Sociology and professor of Afroamerican and African studies at the University of Michigan. Young’s research focuses on low-income, urban-based African Americans, African American scholars and intellectuals, and the classroom-based experiences of higher-education faculty as they pertain to diversity and multiculturalism.

In this Q&A, Young addresses the severity of the COVID-19 crisis for black Americans, particularly in Michigan. Michigan is ranked fourth in the country for having the most coronavirus-related deaths (4,915+).

How has COVID-19 affected your research interests?

Alford “Al” Young Jr.: I have spent the better part of my career studying the plight of socioeconomically disadvantaged African American males who live in large or midsized cities. I am interested in their vision of how mobility unfolds in America, especially the extent to which that broader vision relates to their conceptions of personal possibilities for advancement. In doing this work I pay a lot of attention to how these men talk about perceived challenges, problems, and struggles concerning the effort to get ahead. They argue that some of these factors are created by others (racism, public fears of black men, etc.) and some were created by themselves (black-on-black violence, etc.).  The basic point of the research has been to assess how much whatever they imagine to be pathways forward are grounded in their broader understandings of pathways for Americans more generally. I seek to know whether they maintain distance or connection between how they think other Americans get ahead and how they think they might do so.

Moezzi ’01 Shares Reflections, Advice on Applying Rumi’s Wisdom to Modern Life

Melody Moezzi

In The Rumi Prescription, Melody Moezzi ’01 shares her story of studying and learning from the wisdom of 13th-century mystic poet Rumi, whose verses she found relevant even in today’s world. Moezzi majored in philosophy at Wesleyan.

The timing of the release of The Rumi Prescription: How an Ancient Mystic Poet Changed My Modern Manic Life (Penguin Random House, 2020) was far from ideal. Officially out March 3, the new book by Melody Moezzi ’01 was barely in readers’ hands before social distancing restrictions were imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Moezzi was able to participate in a handful of events near her home in Wilmington, N.C. . . . and then the remainder were canceled or rescheduled in virtual form.

The Rumi Prescription coverHowever, The Rumi Prescription is the sort of book that people with extra free time on their hands—and the inclination to obtain meaning from difficult experiences—might value. Moezzi’s third book, The Rumi Prescription details how she came to interpret and apply the lessons of the 13th-century mystic poet Rumi to her modern-day world, a process that was ultimately life-changing.

An Iranian-American Muslim author, attorney, activist, and visiting professor of creative nonfiction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Moezzi has also written about mental health in her 2014 memoir Haldol and Hyacinths: A Bipolar Life. On May 18, she will participate in a live Zoom conversation about The Rumi Prescription with fellow mental wellness activist and illustrator Ellen Forney ’89, as part of a series offered by Literati bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Click here to join the event on May 18.

Moezzi recently answered questions about The Rumi Prescription, how Rumi’s words can apply to today’s world, and her advice for taking care of your mental health during a pandemic.

First of all, how’s The Rumi Prescription doing? What a time to launch a new book.

Melody Moezzi: It’s not the best time to be releasing a book, but it turns out that the topic of this book is actually something that is helpful for people right now, so I’m glad for that. At least people seem to be finding comfort in it.

Traveler’s Lab Creates Map of COVID-19 Cases in the NYC Commuting Region

COVID-19 map

Wesleyan’s Traveler’s Lab released a time-enabled regional map of COVID-19 cases in the tri-state area surrounding New York City.

In late March, as New York City’s coronavirus infection rate skyrocketed to five times higher than the rest of the country, members of Wesleyan’s Traveler’s Lab explored a movement-focused approach to the rapid spread of the disease.

Rather than focusing on political borders, lab members depicted major freeways, highways, and commuter rail lines out of New York City, and examined counties within a 2.5-hour drive from the City.

“While New York City may be the center, it is the travel region immediately surrounding the city that provides the true context of how COVID-19 has spread and is spreading to, and from, the City,” said Traveler’s Lab manager Jesse Torgerson, assistant professor of letters. “Informed by geographic and historical methods, this approach provides a truer context for human interactions.”

Varekamp Plots Pandemic, Measures Growth Curves in US, Italy

varekamp map

In this linear graph, Professor Joop Varekamp shows logged plots of coronavirus time versus death data in Italy (green) and the United States (blue). The straight-line segments represent exponential growth, and the curved arrays occur after social distancing rules and lockdowns were imposed. Extrapolation of the straight line for the United States (deep blue line) would have reached 1 million casualties (black circle) around April 21 if the U.S. had not imposed social distancing rules, according to Varekamp.

Last March, Johan (Joop) C. Varekamp, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, intended to teach an ore deposit and formation class in Italy; however, the COVID-19 pandemic caused him to stay near campus.

Nevertheless, Varekamp kept a keen watch on Italy. With a fascination with the pandemic’s wildfire spread, Varekamp began plotting coronavirus data from both the United States and Italy to see how their growth curves compared.

“Infectious diseases follow initially exponential growth patterns until measures are taken to limit transmission or a vaccine becomes available,” Varekamp said. “I wanted to know how disease propagation compares to population growth, which I teach in some detail in my classes.”

On May 7, Varekamp shared his ongoing Coronavirus Plot Maps with the campus community through Wesleyan’s Community Forum. His study features some of the differences in the progression of the disease in the two countries that may provide some insights “and possibly some dark thoughts about our future.”

Varekamp suggested that if social distancing rules are weakened too early, the disease will pick up where it left off at the exponential end. “This will all be repeated until about 60–70% of the population has been infected with the disease,” he said. “Only then the virus burns itself out, to some degree as a result of lack of non-immune individuals, and transmission rates will decrease to values below one.”

He also stated that if no social distancing had been ordered in the U.S. in late March, the U.S. would have stuck to its exponential growth pattern, and close to 1 million people would have died by the end of April.

If he’s able to safely fly internationally next year, Varekamp hopes to have another attempt at teaching the EU-coordinated ore deposit class at the University of Bologna.

“It is hard to see how all of this evolves,” he said.

Theater Department Produces, Livestreams The Method Gun

method gun

The cast and crew of the Theater Department’s production of The Method Gun answered questions from the public following their livestreamed performance on May 2. Speaking (highlighted in yellow) is the show’s director Katie Pearl, assistant director of theater.

The shows must go on.

Rather than allowing the COVID-19 pandemic to force a final curtain call on theatrical productions, Wesleyan’s Theater Department pivoted to an online format. On May 1, and again on May 2, the department offered livestreamed performances of The Method Gun, featuring 10 student-actors.

A replay of the Saturday performance is available for viewing on The Method Gun @ Wes website.

After countless hours of line rehearsals, overcoming technical frustrations, and learning how to act and teach theater in a virtual world, show director and Assistant Professor of Theater Katie Pearl breathed a sigh of relief during the Thursday night dress rehearsal.

“I almost can’t believe what we pulled off,” Pearl said. “It was super down-to-the-wire. We were cutting and rewriting scenes up until the last minute and wrestling with livestreaming software, but it all came together on Thursday. For the first time, it really worked. And all of us just wept afterwards. Because we’d made a thing. We’d transcended what felt like an impossible situation, and stayed committed to each other and the process to create something that really meant what we wanted it to mean.”

SC&A Launches New Collection of Pandemic-Related Reflections

amanda nelson

Amanda Nelson

On April 13, Wesleyan’s Special Collections & Archives launched a new project asking the Wesleyan community for personal reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic. University Archivist Amanda Nelson introduced the project by saying, “It’s clear that we are all living and making history right now. As an archivist, I am always interested in recording these efforts so that . . . later, with the benefit of hindsight, [they can] give us and future generations of Wesleyan the ability to reflect on and learn from them.” Here, Nelson provides more insight into how the project came about and how the Wesleyan community can help.

What gave you the idea to do this project?

Amanda Nelson: As an archivist, I am sort of the steward of Wesleyan’s history. It’s my job to keep and make available what’s happened in the past. That’s not just maintaining the records that we already have, but also collecting what’s going on right now, so that future generations will have access to it and get a feel for what [was] going on at Wesleyan.

Wesleyan Student Assembly Commends Faculty on Distance Learning Efforts

wes fest andy

After the Wesleyan Student Assembly commended Wesleyan faculty for their efforts transitioning to distance learning, Andy Szegedy-Maszak, Jane A. Seney Professor of Greek, penned a responding resolution, expressing gratitude to the students.

When President Michael Roth announced in mid-March that Wesleyan would suspend in-person classes for the remainder of the spring semester because of the increasing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty had less than two weeks to prepare their courses for distance learning before classes resumed after spring break. Trying to recreate the immersive Wesleyan classroom experience in a digital format presented a variety of challenges, particularly for faculty who had never taught online previously.

It’s become clear over the last month that faculty have been able to rise to those challenges, and the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) formally recognized their efforts on April 19 with the unanimous passage of a resolution “Commending the Wesleyan Faculty for their Efforts in the Transition Towards Distance Learning.” Chair Jake Kwon ’21 and vice-chair Ben Garfield ’22 of the WSA’s Academic Affairs Committee sponsored the resolution in order to recognize the faculty’s hard work and advocacy for students.

“Faculty are going through a lot of similar extenuating circumstances as students are” in transitioning to distance learning, said Kwon. “This has definitely proven difficult, and I wanted to make sure that the faculty knew how appreciative the students were of their efforts, and that in fact they are not unnoticed.”

The resolution recognizes “the faculty’s efforts to maintain the integrity of Wesleyan’s liberal arts education.” It expresses appreciation for “the empathetic faculty who have provided accommodations for students encountering various challenges surrounding the transition to distance learning and the determined professors who aim to continue providing learning opportunities while being conscious of the various potential stressors that could befall the student body and seek to alleviate additional stress from academic work.”

Kwon noted that while the WSA has passed resolutions in solidarity with many groups on campus, “I do not think we have addressed the entire faculty before in a resolution.”

“Many of my professors have been very understanding about deadlines, and many prioritize student health over academia, which I am so thankful for,” Kwon said of his personal experience with the transition to distance learning. “Some have changed testing formats to accommodate online learning, and many professors had to change their entire course design to allow students to learn at home. For me, I have been fortunate to remain healthy amid the crisis, so I have been able to focus on academia, but it is nice to know that I have a safety net to fall onto if I ever get sick as we finish off the semester.”

Faculty have responded to the resolution with deep gratitude. Sean McCann, chair of the faculty, said that at their next meeting on May 20, faculty leadership plans to ask the faculty to endorse a responding resolution written by Andrew Szegedy-Maszak, Jane A. Seney Professor of Greek, Professor of Classical Studies. It states: “We, the Wesleyan faculty, collectively express our gratitude to you, our students. During the immense upheaval in all our lives and our difficult transition to online teaching and learning, you have been patient, thoughtful, good-humored, and responsive. We deeply appreciate your good will and engagement, and we will do our best to ensure that you continue to get the excellent education you deserve.”

“Personally, I was deeply touched by the WSA resolution, and I know many other Wes faculty were as well,” said McCann. “It was such a very kind and thoughtful thing to do.

“In general, I think many of us have found teaching-by-Zoom a trying experience, and a pale substitute for in-person learning. But I’ve also just been very grateful for the opportunity to work with students, even if virtually. Seeing them pop up on the computer screen is one of the best parts of my day and always a mood lifter—very welcome indeed in a time that can seem so bleak and isolating.”

Bill Johnston, John E. Andrus Professor of History and academic secretary, echoed this sentiment. “I tell my students that my meetings with them are the highlights of my week, and I really mean that. Many write to say that they do find the virtual classes challenging, but I very much appreciate the efforts they are making to learn through Zoom meetings, emailed papers, and Moodle posts. Not perfect, but it is working.”

McCann noted that the faculty will also be expressing their gratitude to staff, administrators, and librarians through a tandem resolution.

Campus Community Captures Themselves Wearing COVID-19 Protective Masks

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that United States residents not only practice social distancing, but wear masks in public. In this piece, we highlight Wesleyan faculty, staff, students, and alumni donning their masks and explain a bit about them.

mask sillasen

Roseann Sillasen MALS ’07, associate director/project manager for Physical Plant-Facilities, wears a standard-issue surgical mask that was donated by families of Wesleyan students. The mask “has special meaning because it demonstrates caring and concern for our safety from around the world,” she said. Sillasen, who continues to work on campus, wears the mask daily in the office. “It not only protects me from others but also protects others from me. Although we practice social distancing, you do not realize how exposed you are unless you truly trace every contact every day,” she said. “This virus is insidious. It knows no boundaries.”

mask williams

Frantz Williams, Jr. ’99, vice president for advancement, wears a mask crafted by his wife, Anne Johnson ’01, from felt samples they had in their house. Johnson also made one for herself. “I wear this to the grocery and pet store when I need to get supplies,” Williams said.