Published 4/22/20 in the Baltimore Sun

Central to Marylanders’ anxiety about COVID-19 is the uncertainty that accompanies it — uncertainty about the disease, its spread and the precautions we should take to stop it; uncertainty around the questions of when we’ll get back to normal and when we can resume work, school and socializing without putting one another at risk.

Projects are underway across the system to advance the discovery and development of solutions: virology and vaccine research; medical interventions and protocols; engineering solutions; and IT, informatics and artificial intelligence projects that can inform and accelerate the state’s public health strategy. I’ve established the USM COVID Research and Innovation Task Force to steer this essential work to make sure that the full power of the system can be applied at this critical moment in time.

Innovation is what the university system does. But we amplify our innovative impact when our institutions work together, when they leverage each other’s expertise and assets to achieve focused goals. The university system has one of the world’s top academic medical centers, and renowned programs in nursing, computing, engineering, public health and public policy. Marylanders deserve this full capacity aimed at safeguarding their health.

The task force will engage business and industry to exchange ideas, to forge collaborations that move technologies to scale and to get lifesaving products and processes into the marketplace and into established practice. The task force will support faculty and entrepreneurs by targeting resources to their work, and waiving or revising policies that inhibit joint projects and rapid action. It will prepare the system long term to mobilize quickly in addressing future pandemics and other crises.

Facilitating this work is the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership, an alliance formed in 2012 between the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore to speed innovation in education, research and technology commercialization. While universities across the system will identify their most promising research and resources with potential impact on COVID-19, the task force — composed of leaders from the College Park and Baltimore universities, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the university system — will bring together the people and capital that can advance and scale solutions.

The work will focus on two outcomes: inhibiting disease transmission and advancing treatment. To mitigate transmission, the university system faculty are already at work: preparing for large-scale COVID-19 testing; developing a robotic testing device; fabricating and resterilizing personal protective equipment; designing hands-free door latches; aggregating big data to track human mobility; and developing coronavirus exposure monitors and air purification systems.

To accelerate treatment, they’re testing therapeutic and vaccine candidates, exploring stem cell therapies, innovating emergency respirators and ventilators, conducting remote home monitoring of patients with chronic respiratory illnesses and developing new physical therapy programs.

The university system is on the front lines of Maryland’s pandemic response. The system’s institutions graduate 4,000 health sciences students every year. Among our alumni are tens of thousands of health professionals working around the clock to provide critical care to Maryland citizens. The system’s virologists, epidemiologists and public health experts are guiding our understanding of COVID-19 and its impacts, and shaping Maryland’s science-based policy response. Our social workers and community health workers are in neighborhoods and towns across the state, serving people who are acutely in need and linking them with care and counseling. Our faculty and staff are connecting with vulnerable populations at a time when social isolation threatens physical and emotional harm.

We do all of this because the University System of Maryland is a public good. Our science, our knowledge, our discovery and our daily work are applied to improving human health and well-being, to protecting Maryland’s people and communities, to enriching lives and advancing equity and to fostering economic resiliency and fueling inclusive growth.

In an uncertain time, this mission is certain. Our work will not change; it will continue to be transformative. But we will do it smarter and faster — together.

Jay A. Perman (chancellor@usmd.edu) is chancellor of the University System of Maryland.