COVID-19 Weekly Briefing, 24 August 2020

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Through our research, community outreach and expert commentary, the University of Birmingham is taking an active role in the fightback against COVID-19. Read our latest statements and follow our research updates.

Through Birmingham Health Partners, a strategic alliance between the University and two NHS Foundation Trusts, we are working to support frontline healthcare professionals. Visit Birmingham Health Partners.


Preventing the spread of infection through contaminated surfaces

A team of chemists and microbiologists at the University of Birmingham have developed a surface coating, called NitroPep that could help prevent the spread of infections through regularly-handled surfaces and air conditioning systems. NitroPep is clinically proven to kill bacteria such as MRSA and E. coli within minutes, making it an ideal solution to tackle hospital-acquired infections. Initial tests have also found that the coating shows efficacy against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in under five minutes. Further research is underway to verify these findings.

The coating is non-toxic and can last for up to ten years on a wide variety of surfaces, including metals, plastics and even touch-screen glass. NitroPep works by ‘popping bacteria and viruses when they land, just as a row of pins would pop a balloon. Since it provides a physical method of destroying pathogens, NitroPep could be used as a valuable tool in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

Coronavirus-related children’s diseases linked to blood cell changes

A newly-described disease occurring in children and linked to COVID-19 has significant changes in white blood cells – a discovery that may allow doctors to better assess their young patients’ condition and predict their resistance to current treatments, a new study reveals.

Paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome temporally associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection (PIMS-TS) is a new disease which shares some features with Kawasaki disease, as well as toxic shock syndrome.

Experts examined blood samples from children admitted with the diseases to Birmingham Children’s Hospital during the UK’s coronavirus lockdown – discovering that large changes in the monocytes (a type of white blood cell) in patients with PIMS-TS and Kawasaki disease.

Led by researchers at the University of Birmingham, scientists and healthcare experts from the UK and Ireland have published their findings as a preprint paper on medRxiv.

Impact of Covid-19 has created stark discrepancies in students’ experiences of taking A Levels says new study

The researchers, Professor Kalwant Bhopal at the University of Birmingham and Dr Martin Myers at the University of Nottingham, conducted over 500 survey questionnaires (to date) over a four month period, between April and July with students whose A levels were cancelled due to the pandemic. This has been followed by a total of 53 interviews with students (to date). The results show how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought up concerns about the fairness of exams this year and various discrepancies in how their schools has managed their final, and arguably most important, year in school.

The survey reported how just 21% of students who took the survey suggested they were happy exams were cancelled, while more than twice this number (46%) would have preferred to sit their exams and 33% of students were undecided. The majority of students recognised the unfairness of the situation and felt they would be identified as the ‘COVID-19 generation’ who were awarded estimated grades. Many students were also concerned about the long-term impact on their mental health.


Mental skills training to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 among young homeless people

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have produced a series of Mental Skills Training Toolkits aiming to impact on homeless or at-risk young people by improving resilience and building capacity among frontline staff. The toolkits were created in partnership with St Basils, a West Midlands housing charity, Youth Voice and homeless charity Homeless Link.

Housing and homeless services can access these resources for free online. The launch of the toolkits is timely, given the projected impact ofCOVID-19 and the increasing need forevidence-based resources to support the wellbeing and employability of marginalised youngpeople, and aid recovery from the pandemic.

The team are also calling on the Government to provide extra resources to homeless and housing services to ensure adequate staffing levels and the proper provision of support.


The neglect of adult social care during COVID-19

Jon Glasby, Professor of Health and Social Care, and Catherine Needham, Professor of Public Policy and Public Management, discuss the impact the pandemic has had on the adult social care sector in an article originally published in the British Medical Journal.

The authors note the report from the Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons, which highlights failings in testing and personal protective equipment. However, they recognise that top-down approaches tend not to work in adult social care, since the sector is more complex and fragmented than many people realise. They conclude that a lasting settlement for social care must be achieved, if any good is to come from the tragic consequences of the pandemic.

What might happen to charitable giving in the forthcoming recession?

Professor John Mohan, Director of the Third Sector Research Centre, writes that voluntary organisations face the prospect of a significant reduction in resources in the event of a recession, which would have a knock-on effect to those people in greatest need.

Studies suggest that charitable giving will recover in due course, however the key will be the numbers of individuals and households who are in a position to donate.

COVID-19 - six months on

Professor Alan McNally, talks about our understanding of COVID-19 and how he personally joined the fightback against the pandemic by being asked to lead the Government’s main Lighthouse Lab. He talks about the “second wave”, a vaccine, and forensic fingerprinting.

Why fast fashion’s slavery problem is woven into its business model

Dr Christoph Biehl, Associate of the Lloyds Banking Group Centre for Responsible Business, writes about the crisis in garment factories during COVID-19 and how online fashion retailer Boohoo kept their factories in Leicester open and forced staff to come in. Dr Biehl writes that responsible businesses must have community welfare at the core of their business model.

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In partnership with Birmingham Women's and Children's NHS Foundation Trust, NHS University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and Birmingham Health Partners.