The following experts from the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences are available to discuss impacts of COVID-19 and to provide tips and information related to some of the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Impacts on dairy markets and policy
Mark Stephenson is director of dairy policy analysis with the UW–Madison Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and UW–Madison Division of Extension. He can discuss the impact of COVID-19 on dairy prices, including the potential for market loss.
“In 2019 Wisconsin lost dairy farms at more than double the typical rate, after enduring five years of low milk prices,” says Stephenson. “Two months ago, dairy markets were expecting a continued milk price recovery that had begun in the fourth quarter of 2019. As the reality of COVID-19 sets in, farmers now realize that 2020 will not be a year of milk price recovery, but rather another difficult year.”
Read more here.
Food supply chain disruption
Under normal circumstances in the United States, we spend more than $600 billion per year on food and consume more than half of it away from our homes. The COVID-19 crisis has upended this usual state of affairs. What does this mean for food supply chains? Michelle Miller, researcher and associate director at the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, can discuss disruptions to food systems, supply chains, and food transportation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Disruption to food supply chains from COVID 19 is catastrophic to many independent businesses, from farmers who sell direct to restaurants to food distributors who sell to institutions,” Miller says. “The way the system is structured, large companies are positioned to knock out independent businesses that serve our local farmers, rural towns, and small cities and accelerate reduced resilience in the system. Now more than ever, we need a reasoned approach, based on data, to fairly distribute food and federal aid.”
Food safety and health
Monica Theis, a distinguished lecturer in the Department of Food Science, has expertise in food systems, food safety and food law, as well as healthy food and dining habits. She can discuss food safety concerns related to grocery shopping as well as restaurant carry-out, curb-side pickup and delivery. She can also discuss meal planning, food preparation, healthy eating and dining habits during this “Safer at Home” period.
Theis notes that, according to the FDA and the CDC, there is no evidence that COVID-19 spreads through food. Standard practices in restaurants already include the most important preventive measures: keeping sick employees out of the operation, enforcing correct and frequent hand-washing, cleaning and sanitizing all food contact surfaces on a regular basis, and cooking foods to minimal internal end-point temperatures. She says the grocery industry is working to keep shelves stocked, keep employees healthy and has implemented shopping practices to protect customers. Many grocers are reducing store hours to allow for frequent and deep cleaning, as well as limiting the number of customers permitted in stores at a given time to enable proper “social distancing.”
“Please know that there is no evidence at this time that this virus can be transmitted through food. The primary route of transmission is person-to-person,” says Theis. “Theoretically, a virus could be ‘picked up’ from a surface and then transferred through touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth; however, according to the CDC, this is not considered a primary route of transmission. My best advice is to follow the best food handling practices that are recommended any time: wash hands frequently and thoroughly, keep surfaces (especially food contact surfaces) clean, and cook food to the correct temperatures.”
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Beth Olson, associate professor and extension specialist in the UW–Madison Department of Nutritional Sciences, can discuss healthy eating to help boost the immune system. In particular, she can speak to how to eat healthy when your food choices may be limited because grocery store trips are less frequent, stores aren’t fully stocked, and/or people need to rely on more shelf-stable or frozen foods than usual. She notes this challenge of “cocooning” at home can be an opportunity for people to cook or bake more, to try new recipes, and to involve their children in cooking lessons. Measuring cups provide an interesting way to teach about fractions, for instance. At the same time, this is a time when people may need to do careful meal and snack planning—to avoid slipping into mindless eating because food is so readily available in the home.
“Spending more time at home, and lacking the ability to go out to eat, may provide us with an opportunity to spend a little more time being creative in the kitchen. It’s possible to eat healthy, even if you are using more shelf-stable and frozen foods than you normally would,” says Olson. “This may also be a good time to involve family members in preparing meals and snacks—perhaps involving kids in some learning activities—and to try a new recipe or two.”
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Public health implications of the coronavirus
Malia Jones, an assistant scientist with the Applied Population Lab in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology, is an expert on population health science. She is available to talk about the public health implications of the novel coronavirus and share information about how to best proceed from a personal and institutional health perspective, from sick days to social distancing. Her thoughts and practical advice, first shared in a message for friends and family “What I think about COVID-19 this morning,” have since been widely shared via social media and mass media.
Coronavirus impacts on global and domestic economies
Ian Coxhead, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, can discuss the impact of the coronavirus on global and domestic economies, including the impact of COVID-19 on the Chinese markets, volatility in U.S. markets, and possible policy reactions.
Wildlife response to coronavirus quarantines
As COVID-19 cases mount, people around the world are going inside. David Drake, an urban wildlife specialist in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, is available to talk about how wildlife is responding to a world with a reduced human impact.
Role of bats (and humans) in viral outbreaks
Amy Wray, a doctoral candidate of wildlife ecology, can discuss the intersection of wildlife diseases and the food web, specifically the role of bats (and that of humans) in viral outbreaks and how conservation can be a solution. Her master’s thesis research focused on the feeding habits and pathogens of common vampire bats in Guatemala, and now she’s using next-generation DNA sequencing and other methods to study the diets of insect-eating bats in Wisconsin. Read a Q&A with Wray at https://news.cals.wisc.edu/2020/03/25/qa-with-amy-wray-bats-and-covid-19/.
Pandemic emergence and preparedness
Josh Garoon, an assistant professor in the UW–Madison Department of Community & Environmental Sociology, studies the sociology of public health. He can address the social, economic, and political dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially health inequalities, and he can speak about how we’ve handled preparedness, planning, and response to COVID-19 and how that has affected people who are already disadvantaged. Garoon can also speak about global human-wildlife interactions, including how zoonotic diseases emerge and are managed and studied, with respect to COVID-19 and other diseases.
“We must recognize that our pandemic preparedness and response plans rarely consider social justice seriously. This is not intentional, but it is by design. Our plans are designed to provide biomedical care; assist epidemiological analysis; and preserve the economy at the macro level,” Garoon says. “They are not designed to help localities deal with baseline inequalities, and they don’t dovetail with broader political, economic, and social reforms at the federal or state levels.
“Our plans provide certain comforts to the comfortable: messages that ‘we will get through this together, but we are going to have to change our way of life for a while – and then we will get back to normal.’ But we now have an opportunity to recognize that our ‘normal way of life’ is itself the very operating ground of pandemics: it’s how and why pandemics emerge, and it’s how and why they are extinguished. And we could use that recognition as an opportunity to improve our ‘normal way of life.’ In short: we could, and should, act like two weeks is enough, and accept it’s not.”
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How coronaviruses infect cells
Robert Kirchdoerfer, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry, is an expert on how coronaviruses infect cells and make copies of their genomes once inside their hosts. He can talk about the biology of coronaviruses.
Dominique Brossard is an expert in public opinion dynamics related to risk issues, such as pandemics. She can discuss public behaviors in the context of fearful situations; media coverage of such issues; social media dynamics and misinformation exchange; how people understand and process scientific information; and the role played by trust. She can also give advice on the best way to communicate in times of public health crisis.
“It is extremely important to take into account what we know about the science of risk communication in order to make sure we can control this pandemic in a timely fashion,” Brossard says. “We are in this together, and we will solve it together.”
Student project to develop coronavirus infographics
Ahna Skop, professor in the Department of Genetics, makes sure that students in her Genetics 564 genomics course learn how to communicate science visually. This past spring break, students could earn extra credit by making an infographic for the public about either their previously-selected semester-long project or about COVID-19. Skop shared some of the COVID-19 posters on her Twitter page, including here and here.