A salute to heroes in the pandemic war

They’re deep in the trenches. Health care workers and medical professionals fighting a war with a common enemy: the coronavirus.

For months, doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, as well as researchers and mental health care professionals, have put their own personal safety on the line to save lives. They’ve sacrificed time with loved ones, nights of sleep and even the right to live in their own homes while caring for COVID-19 patients.

Jmore proudly recognizes the health care heroes among us. Hundreds of members of our community are on the front lines, researching treatments and vaccine possibilities, caring for the critically ill and providing strength to those struggling with this horrific virus.

Here are some of their stories.

Dr. Matthew B. Frieman’s career focuses on studying coronaviruses. For 16 years, the associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine has researched strains like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

Now, Dr. Frieman’s lab at the School of Medicine is working around the clock to find a way to combat COVID-19.

“Everything we have learned from SARS and MERS we have used to turbo-charge our response to [COVID-19],” he says. “We were already working on this family of viruses and knew how to do it, so when it became apparent this was a real outbreak in China, we started planning how to respond, getting approvals we needed and working full force.”

Beginning in February, Dr. Frieman and the five scientists in his lab received samples of COVID-19 and began studying it in a highly secure containment laboratory. It was around that time they also began researching drugs to test against the virus.

“We know how to make antibodies to the virus and ways to make vaccines,” he says. “We are working with companies on drugs, antibodies and vaccines while trying to figure out what the virus does and what makes it so transmissible between people. Many of the drugs we are focusing on are already FDA-approved so they can be used in people soon after they are proven to work against the virus in the lab. But it will take more time to validate vaccines since they must go through clinical trials. …

“There are a lot of trials going on with drugs that are coming out of our tests, but these trials are slow, take time, need to be developed and then need to be tested against people who are already affected.”

Dr. Frieman says there are four highly contagious strains of coronavirus that have been circulating worldwide for decades. The general public knows those strains as the common cold.

“This new virus transmits just like a common cold virus, but is more fatal,” he says. “With COVID-19, you can be symptomatic and spread the virus well before you are showing symptoms, which is one of the biggest concerns and inherent problems when it comes to containing the virus.”

In the short-term, social distancing is what’s needed to prevent the spread, Dr. Frieman says.

“It’s not as bad right now as some predicted because people did stay home,” he says. “What’s very clear is it’s not just people 65 and older who are getting severely ill. There are just as many hospitalizations of people 65 and younger. We need to continue with good hand washing, minimizing our time in public and wear a mask if you must go out so we can slow the spread of this new pathogen.”