14 Jul 2020
Chasing the New Normal during the COVID pandemic
'The Pathologist' asked Malcolm Bell, CEO, about how his professional and personal life has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic
Article: Malcolm Bell, Esther Youd | | Opinion
Malcolm Bell, Co-Founder and CEO of Technopath Clinical Diagnostics, Fort Henry, Ireland
My primary work focus is on business development – managing the relationships with our customers and partners globally and developing the overall company strategy. I live in Ireland and I’ve gone from spending 50 percent of my time in the US to working entirely remotely – the new normal worldwide. I am pleasantly surprised by the unprecedented global experiment in working from home, given that I normally fly internationally almost every week.
One of the challenges of the current crisis is that many of our schedules are completely in disarray, especially with weekends blending into the working week. Work is becoming “unfiltered.” I receive text messages, emails, and unscheduled phone calls every day. The psychological benefit of looking forward to the weekend and having some restorative time with my family is, unfortunately, challenging when every day feels like the one before.
My company has been examining antibody responses to COVID-19. At this point, I would summarize the results into three buckets:
- At the beginning of the pandemic, patients showed low levels of antibody production, which was worrying for both immunity and vaccine development.
- We are now capturing data that shows very strong positive IgG results from totally asymptomatic donors through our testing with frontline responders in the US. Subsequently, we tested their partners and children over the age of 18. In all cases, partners and children were negative for antibodies. These results, albeit from a relatively small cohort, indicate that asymptomatic patients may not be infectious.
- Determining seroconversion can be important for understanding the immune response and infection rates. Our findings indicate that seroconversion and antibody production are delayed, but increase significantly over time. As we continue to collect data from repeat donors, results indicate that antibodies levels increase 200 to 300 percent between weeks six and eight post-infection, potentially resulting in a good level of immunity. How long that immunity is sustained will be better understood as we continue to sample these patients.
Unfortunately, nearly half of the U.S. states are currently reporting a spike in new coronavirus cases. For healthcare professionals, my advice is to continue focusing on people exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms (rather than asymptomatic patients). It’s about considering a person’s viral load, immune response, and overall health – and multiple studies now report that viral load is highest at the time of diagnosis. For the rest of us, it’s best to reduce exposure to any amount of virus, because the virus is transmitted efficiently from symptomatic person to person. For those who are unsure, antibody tests can establish whether you have been exposed to the virus.
Despite the terrible disruption around the world, people are creatures of habit, and how society will change in response to COVID-19 remains to be seen. Personally, having my elderly parents live with us for almost six weeks and interact with our kids has been great. I do think it’s important to establish some structure separating weekdays from weekends so that the pandemic doesn’t steal valuable family time. We all need to find ways of engaging in leisure to help reduce uncertainty – for me, it’s fishing!