In my previous blog I was describing how my life had changed in a, relatively short time since I joined the PROTECTED ITN.

WRONG!

No matter how dynamic your life could be, nothing prepares you for a fast-spreading-global-scale virus.

So… I was working as usual on my stuff at the lab, quite happy since I had a student and I was trying to do my best as mentor. News, updates, last minute changes coming from everywhere, and then suddenly, the email that we were expecting and afraid of getting. Finally, the authorities in Belgium decided that it was time to proceed with the lockdown. Pretty obvious, due to the increasing cases and everything that goes along with it. I could not participate in the lockdown right from the beginning since I had some experiments running. Then, I had to get a special permit that would allow me to commute from home to my working place. My freedom of movement was compromised. 

Days gone by, I finished my running experiments and prepared to lock myself down. Eventually, (two days after I started my lockdown) we got a general call. People in my research institute (GIGA-Institute, Liège) wanted to contribute to the increasing (and very much needed) testing efforts in Belgium. Thus, they assembled what they gallantly called the COVID-Task Force. In few words, we were analysing samples from people that presented some of the symptoms related to the novel virus strain and performing RT-qPCR tests to confirm or not, the presence of the virus in the patients. They have split the teams according to how you feel about the kind of “dangerous” work you were about to perform and your skills and experience in lab.

We were trained and then we started to work around mid-April. Some of the shifts were sometimes a bit long and overwhelming. After talking to my lab partner, we arrived at the conclusion that it was mentally demanding because a single mistake could derive in a misdiagnosis and we were basically having someone else’s life in our hands. Each ones of those tubes represented someone that might be battling hard the disease.

I wish I had more pictures of this experience, but as you may imagine, being in a biohazard level 2 laboratory and working with a novel virus, we were not allowed to bring our personal stuff along. So, this single picture was taken during my training. Once we started processing actual samples, no more devices were allowed in the premises.

Why am I telling you this considering that is not part of our duties in the PROTECTED project? Well, for a simple reason. We are scientists concerned about the fate and consequences of pollutants, meaning that we care about what happens in our world. The training that we have got so far, has allowed me to contribute to a noble cause, Plus, I was not allowed to initiate any new experiment therefore, I decided to do my best with what I had, so I took my talents and skills and provide some aid to this fight. 

Finally, I want to share some good news. Since we all have been experiencing issues and delays because of this crisis, and after some talks, we finally got an extension of the project (hurray!) I am truly thankful with Dr. Lisa Connolly, Katie Austin and Dr. Marc Muller for the efforts done to get this extension which means a lot to me. This will definitely help me to finish my endeavours within the project worrying much less about anything else that is not science.

We have lost a lot, but also, we gained some… – Corona giveth and corona taketh away.

I hope, wherever you are, you are safe and sound. Follow the rules, they aren’t fun but is just for a while. We’ll get through this.

Till the next time,

-Gus

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