Studying in autumn 2020 during coronavirus

Ten ways MDX is involved in the response to Covid-19

29/06/2020
University is deeply engaged with tackling the pandemic, with hundreds of student nurses on frontline, PPE made for the NHS, and research on testing, mask-wearing and more

Middlesex University has been involved with diverse aspects of the response to coronavirus. Academics have conducted research into tackling the disease itself, and into the wider impacts of the outbreak and the lockdown, in the long-standing spirit of members of the university and its predecessor institutions applying their expertise to pressing social problems. Meanwhile staff and students across departments have worked and volunteered to support the NHS and other services. Here are a few examples of Middlesex's activities:

1. MDX staff produced nearly 70,000 protective visors for NHS employees, using the university's six laser cutters. The visors were based on an open-source design, using which each visor takes just a few minutes to produce. The laser cutters ran up to nine hours a day, seven days a week. The visors were boxed up with a personal message from MDX and sent to a range of London hospitals.

Meanwhile, MDX Arts and Creative Industries staff cut out the material for hospital gowns and hundreds of sets of scrubs which were then sent to homeworkers to stitch together. The material and half-finished garments were transported between locations by Hendon Fire Brigade and the NHS.

2. Around 500 MDX nursing and midwifery students have been working on the frontline of the Covid-19 crisis, in hospitals and other healthcare settings. Second and third year students could elect whether to continue their placements, and could also choose to opt in to government's emergency register ready to be activated if the health service was struggling to cope. In addition, apprentice trainee nursing associates continued their work in their Trusts as healthcare assistants and first year students could volunteer as healthcare assistants through the Capital Nurse programme.

3. Economics lecturer Dr Valerio Capraro collaborated with Helene Barcelo of Berkeley Mathematical Science Research Institute on research surveying around 2,500 people in the US about their willingness to wear a face mask in public. The research found American males less willing than females to wear a mask, but the gender difference was smaller in US counties were mask wearing had been made mandatory. However, the degree to which more men than women thought wearing a mask "uncool" and a "sign of weakness" was the same in areas with mandatory and optional mask wearing. The research was widely covered in a range of liberal and conservative-leaning media in the US, UK and around the world.

4. Senior Lecturer in Law Joelle Grogan coordinated the COVID-19 and States of Emergency Symposium, which showed that emergency powers implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic have impacted nearly 80% of the world’s population. The Symposium, co-hosted by journalistic and academic forum Verfassungsblog and Democracy Reporting International, engaged more than 100 specialists and published reports from 74 countries over a seven week period at the height of world governments’ response to the pandemic.

5. Professor of Biophysics and Engineering Richard Bayford has been working on a rapid test for Covid-19 that could give results within minutes and would be as intuitive as a home pregnancy test. The test is based on work Professor Bayford and colleagues have been doing on biosensors for a number of years, for example to detect early-stage Alzheimer’s Disease. The matchbox-sized detection device could be connected to a mobile phone to display and record the results, would test for Covid-19 and seasonal flu simultaneously and would be easily adaptable for mutations of Covid-19.

6. Senior Lecturer in Childhood Studies Dr Jacqueline Harding reviewed academic studies on play for a report in conjunction with toy manufacturers Fisher Price, which concluded that parents could reduce their stress levels during self-isolation by playing with their children, and that laughing with children during playtime is as good as a gym workout for the immune system. “Sitting down and playing could not only be the best thing you do for your child, it could also be the best thing you do for yourself as a parent” Dr Harding wrote in the analysis of the report, released soon after the start of lockdown.

7. Professor of Environmental Science Lian Lundy, is co-ordinating a global network to develop an open-access database on the occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) in sewage. Results will feed into research on the use of sewage to provide an early warning of local outbreaks of COVID-19.

8. Two MDX Psychology academics conducted research on how confinement during the lockdown affected couples' relationship with each other. Participants kept a written or audio diary of their experiences over the course of a week. Dr Deborah Bailey-Rodriguez's 10 tips to couples and other co-habitees to manage the strains of the situation were widely reported in UK and international media.

9. Jeffrey DeMarco and Elena Martellozzo from the University’s Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS), who have extensively researched online child abuse, have urged parents to be vigilant about Apps such as Zoom, House Party and Tik Tok, downloaded everyday by millions of young people, and offered other advice about the best way to keep children safe during lockdown

10. A study led by Professor Arie Nouwen is examining the psychological effects of social distancing on people with diabetes, amid concerns they are particularly vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2

"It's been wonderful to see how the university has risen to the challenge of coronavirus, both on the caring frontline and in research around the virus and its impact across so many different fields” says Vice-Chancellor Professor Nic Beech. “It's a reflection of MDX's strength in innovation, the professionalism and compassion of MDX staff and our engagement with community. The months ahead will be daunting but there will be many more positive stories to tell of collaboration, creativity and extraordinary commitment".

“Given the prevalence and spread of the virus, all students [on placement] will be taking risks on our behalf" said Head of School of Health and Education, Professor Carmel Clancy. "While we did not anticipate anything less, we are so grateful for the outstanding contribution they are offering."

Related stories:

Fika and MDX launch nationwide study of COVID-19 impact on higher education staff and students

MDX Italian staff urge people to follow social distancing rules amid COVID-19 outbreak

MDX lecturer staging virtual cycling sessions with Fulham FC players during COVID-19 crisis

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