ASM’s Effort to Combat the COVID-19 Pandemic

April 6, 2020

I hope you are staying healthy and safe during these uncertain times. I urge you to stay home and avoid public places, unless absolutely necessary. I am proud to report that ASM staff, leaders and coronavirus experts have come together to share knowledge and find collaborative solutions to the many challenges we are facing. 

On Monday, March 23, 2020, the ASM Council on Microbial Sciences (COMS) hosted an international summit on COVID-19, where a distinguished group of experts - virologists, infectious diseases specialists, epidemiologists and clinical laboratory scientists - gathered via video conference to get a better understanding of SARS-CoV-2 and find solutions to control its spread. The meeting was recorded and diagnostics experts from the summit published a report in mBio on the hot topic of diagnostic testing. A press conference was held the following day to share summit highlights with reporters. 

During ASM’s COVID-19 press conference, ASM member Dr. Vineet Menachery, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, spoke with The New York Times about the potential for convalescent plasma to be used as a COVID-19 treatment. Dr. Esther Babady, Councilor of ASM’s New York City Branch and microbiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, spoke with The Los Angeles Times about the need for antibody testing so health officials can assess the level of immunity in various populations. 

As a result of the summit, ASM is undertaking an initiative to accelerate the dissemination and the coordination of basic scientific information on SARS-CoV-2. Stay tuned for more information on this front and for opportunities for ASM members to participate.

ASM has also developed a protocol to verify EUA COVID-19 testing. This is an important contribution since the demand for sensitive and specific SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic testing is high, but the process of verifying molecular tests is complex. Each EUA test is unique with different characteristics and limitations; ASM’s clinical microbiology community wanted to provide guidance to ensure tests are performed properly. 

On March 25, Congress reached an agreement on a massive emergency legislative package to address the ongoing pandemic. Here’s a breakdown of some of the key provisions of the bipartisan Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This act is important for many reasons, specifically to provide direct aid to health care institutions on the front line of the crisis, to require health insurers to cover COVID-19 diagnostic tests, vaccines and treatment and to require inclusion of diagnostics, swabs and test kits in the Strategic National Stockpile.

As you’ve probably heard, after careful consideration, the ASM Board of Directors has made the difficult decision to cancel ASM Microbe 2020, scheduled for June 18-22, 2020, in Chicago, IL. Meeting leaders are working with the Program Committee on alternate plans for members of the microbial science community to present and discuss their research, including digital and virtual options. 

I applaud the work that each and every one of you is doing. Challenging times like these are a testament to the importance of the work we do every day as microbial scientists. Though I wish the circumstances were better, I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with you through newsletter updates and am proud of the difference the ASM community is making during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Author: Past President

Past President
Chair of the Division of Clinical Microbiology, at Mayo Clinic.