Early COVID-19 research conducted by Biola University School of Science, Technology and Health professors revealed the virus could be transmitted via aerosols. The CDC affirmed in October the research professors Drs. Don Galbadage, Brent Peterson and Richard Gunasekera realized in April — the transmission of coronavirus is likely not limited to droplet spread. A diagram describing the potential transmission routes developed by these professors based on their research was published in an academic journal and used widely at a World Health Organization conference addressing the possible aerosol transmission of COVID-19 this summer.

A talk on COVID-19 by Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society, also used this published summary figure as an educational tool.

“The summary figure is now used for didactic purposes. The reason for including a summary figure is that it gives a lot of information of what we are trying to describe in a way that can be easily understood,” said Galbadage, professor of public health.

Although Biola’s campus was closed over the summer, the professors were able to collaborate with other Biola faculty including professor of statistics, Dr. Jason Wilson, professor of computer science, Dr. Genti Buzi and professor of psychology Dr. David Wang to work with students remotely to carry out COVID-19 research studies.

Their COVID-19 related research findings have been published as five separate scientific peer-reviewed articles. Gunasekera, professor of science, Peterson, professor of kinesiology and health, and Galbadage did not miss a beat when the opportunity arose to collaborate, share their findings and contribute to the cause of finding solutions to the pandemic.

On October 5, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially announced that COVID-19 can sometimes spread through airborne droplets. The three professors began researching the aerosol droplet spread of COVID-19 and published their findings back in April, 2020.

In their article published in a Frontiers journal, they compared COVID-19 to the 2003 SARS outbreak. They presented epidemiological and molecular-level evidence showing that  SARS-CoV-2 could potentially live for an extended amount of time on contact surfaces. The article also discussed how improved air ventilation could help prevent further virus spread in high risk areas like hospitals, as closed spaces could transmit COVID-19 further than the established six foot distance. However, by wearing a mask and practicing proper hand hygiene, the viral spread can be greatly reduced.

“Indoor versus outdoor spaces also play a role. If there’s any chance of aerosolization, the viral particles can remain in air longer indoors,” said Galbadage. “If it is an outdoor environment, the space for viral spread is much higher, and  the virus tends to disperse as it moves away from the source. Indoors, the air tends to circulate and the number of viral particles increase in the air, providing a high chance of infection.”

The research team also conducted two sex-specific studies, both focusing on the possibility that men could be more susceptible to contracting severe forms of COVID-19 because of their chromosomal makeup and the action of certain enzymes and receptors. According to Galbadage, their research findings show that it is important for men to seek medical attention without waiting too long at home while symptoms worsen, as early medical interventions could prevent severe forms of the disease.

“In clinical settings, this might be something physicians can keep in mind if they have male patients with COVID-19 and have a lower threshold to consider medical intervention before it progresses to severe disease,” said Galbadage.

Another article published by the research team contrasted this pandemic to the Influenza Flu pandemic over 100 years ago and compared the responses to the health crisis made by certain cities in the United States. Another article assessed the early spread of the virus that could have been caused by delayed interventions, low compliance, and health disparities. Both of those articles were written in conjunction with Biola students and an MPH student who is a recent Biola graduate. The researchers also discussed in an article the more personal matter of end-of-life rites and the importance of healthcare teams caring for their patients in psychological and spiritual needs during such a vulnerable time of their lives.

The research team is currently focusing their efforts on understanding COVID-19 treatments, vaccines, and influence of infectious dose on disease severity.

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Written by Sarah Dougher, media relations assistant. For more information, contact Jenna Loumagne, assistant director of strategic communications and media relations, at media.relations@biola.edu.