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Bucknell COVID-19 Tip Sheet

LEWISBURG, Pa. — The following may be Bucknell University ideas of interest for your coverage of the COVID-19 health crisis.

VIRAL SPILLOVER FACTS — While all molecular studies of the virus that causes COVID-19 strongly suggest a bat origin, it’s entirely possible that the spillover from wildlife to humans occurred through an intermediate host. So says the science according to Bucknell biology and animal behavior professor DeeAnn Reeder, a leading bat biologist and expert in white-nose syndrome, a disease that has decimated the brown-bat population in North America. But she believes spillover is fundamentally a human problem. “Viruses have co-evolved over millennia with their wildlife hosts, which are largely tolerant of infection [they don’t get sick],” Reeder says. “Emerging infectious disease outbreaks have been exponentially increasing in recent decades due to changes in human behavior; so the fault does not lie with animals.” A variety of human practices have driven this increase, according to Reeder, including: cultural and subsistence preference for and dependence upon bushmeat, traditional medicine, global travel, ecotourism [e.g., humans going into bat caves], exotic pet ownership, encroaching on natural habitat, the loss of biodiversity, and intensification of domestic animal production systems. CONTACT: Reeder, 570-447-8789 (c),

TELLING THE COVID-19 STORY — Bucknell psychology and animal behavior professor Reggie Gazes and students in her “SciComm: Communicating Science to Non-Scientists” class aren’t just following the latest coronavirus news, they’re actively analyzing it. In the course, Gazes and eight students devise ways to convey complex subjects to non-experts. When COVID-19 began dominating headlines, Gazes asked her students for input on what they’d like to discuss over the semester’s remaining months. “We had an opportunity to rework the second half of the course,” Gazes says. “A lot of them said, this is a science communication class, and we’re living in a time where science is being communicated way more than it ever has before.” Gazes asked her students to collect both good and bad examples of how the media is telling the story of COVID-19 through maps, charts and infographics. But they’re doing more than dissecting what others have done. Gazes split the group into four pairs and asked them to develop their own COVID-19 communication materials. This time, the audience is their peers — people their age who might not be following the advice of health officials to stay home. “They can use whatever media they want, whatever format they want, to create effective communication that might cause people to actually make a behavioral change,” she says. “I’m really interested to see what they come up with.” CONTACT: Gazes, 914-907-4853,

LENDING START-UP SUPPORT — The COVID-19 crisis is wreaking havoc upon small business, particularly those needing much needed capital for start-ups. Denny Hummer, an incubator manager/consultant with StartUp Lewisburg, the startup incubator of Bucknell University’s Small Business Development Center, says that may continue while the stock market continues its downward trend. “Start-ups are usually financed by private equity, not traditional lending. If investors have been hit hard in their traditional portfolios, they may be more inclined to retract available capital in the riskier markets,” he says. But Hummer also sees a rather unique time for start-ups in that capital comes in human form and not just financial. “With projected short-term inflation rates of 30% or greater, start-ups may have a much better opportunity attracting key talent to the team in exchange for equity than raising capital and hiring it,” he says. “So there could be a silver lining to this.” CONTACT: Hummer, 570-275-1404,

NO TIME FOR MIXED MESSAGES — In times of uncertainty and crisis, like this current COVID-19 health emergency, citizens value consistent communication. So says Eric Martin, a Bucknell Freeman College of Management professor who studies disaster and response. He attributes at least some of the slow initial response to the nature of this “slow crisis.” “When messaging appears inconsistent — whether between federal, state or local governments; public or private sector organizations; or states or locales — it causes concern, questioning and often politically-motivated reactions about equity,” Martin says. “None of that helps the goal of slowing the spread of the virus.” Experts suggest this could be a long, drawn out crisis. According to Martin, many voices with no understanding of disease, disaster or epidemiology suggest otherwise. “This adds to our difficulties,” he says. “Slow crises like this provide time for various opinions to emerge as stakeholders make sense of their situation. Since we first learned of this impending COVID disaster, we have seen a gradual rollout of temporary measures, half-steps and incremental changes that became increasingly more stringent as political winds change. That is fine for normal policy implementation. Not for emergency policy, as Italy now knows.” Martin has observed that we’ve been hearing one thing from President Trump, another from his infectious disease specialists, another from governors and another from local leaders. “Strong leaders explain that painful short-run decisions are based on long-term concerns for others,” Martin says, “We haven’t heard enough of this.” CONTACT: 570-594-9444,

WHAT’S WITH HOARDING TP? — We’ve all seen the images of store shelves emptied of such necessities as toilet paper, hand sanitizer and sanitary wipes during the health crisis. What’s behind that kind of behavior? Bucknell psychology professor Anna Baker studies mental health and behavior and sees fear and anxiety as the cause. “This response can be adaptive and rational or irrational, an over response — meaning most people wouldn’t respond that way or that the situation is not, in actuality, very dangerous,” Baker says. “Often, even if we rationally know a situation isn’t dangerous, if we have learned to fear it, we have a physiological response [heart racing, panic symptoms, etc.] that happen even though we know we aren’t in danger.” Based on these concepts, she sees a situation where people feel their lives and the lives of their loved ones are in danger and there is a high level of uncertainty about everything related to COVID-19. “And we are now bombarded with messages online and on social media — including pictures of empty shelves of toilet paper — and we are stuck at home, so most likely overwatching and engaging in media,” Baker says. Since some of our most effective coping mechanisms are altered by social distancing — activities, social support, exercise, etc. — people can’t escape excessive media use. “So one fear we have is that there will be a scarcity of something, like toilet paper, and we feel we can control that by engaging in excessive buying, even though we know that it is VERY unlikely to run out.” According to Baker, the important thing right now is to focus on effective and productive coping, and she has some tips on how to do that. CONTACT: Baker, 954-439-6504,

CHINA CONFIDENCE — China has increasingly been targeted by President Trump as the worldwide villain in the COVID-19 pandemic. Bucknell political science and international relations professor Zhiqun Zhu says Trump’s deliberate use of the term “Chinese virus” is undoubtedly aimed at diverting attention from his administration’s own efforts to contain the virus. A member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations and author of the recent book A Critical Decade: China’s Foreign Policy (2008–2018), Zhu says it also reveals a bigger problem in the deteriorating U.S.-China relationship: an insecure America and an assertive China. “U.S.-China relations have worsened, partly because the two countries have traded places,” Zhu says. “America feels less secure and China is more assertive. Yet America’s falling confidence derives from an inflated and distorted assessment of China’s influence and power. America must restore its confidence as a global leader, just as China must continue to be humble and focus on domestic development.” CONTACT: Zhu, 570-523-2010,

A MOLECULAR UNDERSTANDING — Bucknell biology professor Marie Pizzorno has taught virology for more than 25 years and has an understanding of coronaviruses on the molecular level. She could discuss where the virus came from, why it may be more infectious than SARS, or how a vaccine or antiviral drug could be developed. CONTACT: Pizzorno, 570-217-3050 (leave a message and she will call you back),


CONTACT: Mike Ferlazzo, 570-238-6266, mike.ferlazzo@

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