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COVID-19 stories and experts: Detecting COVID-19 pneumonia, challenge trials, Halloween

October 28, 2020 By Veronica Rueckert

MADISON — The following UW–Madison stories and experts are available on current topics surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

New study quantifies impact of social distancing orders on COVID-19 caseload 

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in regions across the United States in the spring, governors, mayors and local leaders hoping to quell the spread of the virus turned to the only actionable defenses available at the time: They closed schools and businesses, banned mass gatherings, issued stay-at-home orders and enforced other social distancing measures. 

Now, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers quantifies the region-specific impact of social distancing measures on the COVID-19 caseload in three distinct areas: New York City, the Milwaukee metropolitan area and Dane County in Wisconsin. 

Using aggregated data on the movement of cell phones, researchers from UW–Madison’s College of Engineering and School of Medicine and Public Health created a computational model to simulate COVID-19 cases based on when social distancing directives were implemented and eased, as well as how diligently people adhered to those orders. Read the full story here.  

Contact: Oguzhan Alagoz, alagoz@engr.wisc.eduNasia Safdar,

UW-Madison researchers find more precise way to detect COVID-19 pneumonia 

Using cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology, University of Wisconsin‒Madison investigators have developed a far more precise way to identify cases of COVID-19-induced pneumonia. 

Using a custom artificial intelligence algorithm called CV19-Net, the UW research team dug into a vast resource database of tens of thousands of COVID-19 chest X-rays to show its method could identify pneumonia caused by COVID-19 at a sensitivity of 88 percent, according to Guang-Hong Chen, professor of medical physics and radiology at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Read the full story.  

Contact: Emily 


Badger Talks VideoHow to Safely Celebrate Halloween 

Halloween has enough spooks and scares without worrying about catching a virus. But COVID-19 has added a new frightening element to the holiday. In this Badger Talks video, Malia Jones, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, shares how we can safely celebrate Halloween with a few changes to our traditions. 


AstraZeneca trials resume 

Ed Elder, an expert in drug development and FDA regulations, is available to discuss the status of paused and resumed clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines.  

Elder says, “When a serious adverse event occurs in a clinical trial, such as the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine trials, both the sponsor and the FDA must weigh the benefits and risks of continuing that trial.  Safety considerations are designed into all clinical investigations to stop the study under pre-determined circumstances to conduct a thorough risk/benefit analysis.  In some cases, this may result in further review of previously submitted toxicological or clinical data by the FDA or the FDA may even require completing additional animal toxicology studies to investigate the underlying cause or impact of the serious adverse event before allowing the trial to resume.” 


The ethics of upcoming U.K. challenge trials 

Researchers in the U.K. have announced plans to begin human-challenge trials in early 2021. The effort would administer controlled doses of COVID-19 to healthy young adults to test the effectiveness of multiple vaccines. Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics, is available for interviews about the ethical implications of the upcoming trials.  

Charo says, “It is highly unusual to do challenge studies for a potentially lethal or debilitating disease that does not yet have a variety of approved, effective therapies, regardless of how healthy the research volunteers might be.  Challenge studies are most often used for failure benign conditions (e.g. inducing a common cold in volunteers to test an intervention). It is also not clear why this will be started in January 2021, by which time there is a good chance one or more vaccines from current, traditional trials will be at or near approval.” 


Pilar Ossorio, a bioethicist and associate professor of law, is also available to comment on the news. Ossorio says, “When there is wide consensus that challenge trials are ethical, we usually have a great deal of experience with the underlying disease (decades or centuries).  We have either developed effective treatments aside from the vaccines under study, or we can support people through the illness and we have good reason to believe they will not suffer long-term, irreversible consequences, e.g., challenge trials for malaria or influenza vaccines.  We cannot satisfy these conditions (yet) for SARS-CoV-2.”  


Tags: media tips