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How Some Amgen Scientists, Researchers Navigate COVID-19 Complacency


People walk past graffiti of Prince Harry wearing a hoodie reading "Keep Calm and Wash Your Hands" in Los Angeles. Amgen researches all agree hand-washing is a key safety measure during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Robyn Beck, AFP via Getty Images)

Wear a mask at the grocery store, but gloves, too? That new movie looks great, but do you feel it is safe to sit in a theater? Planes are in the air, but are you comfortable flying in one?

Navigating life has become a series of weighing odds and sometimes wondering if the mundane choices could be life-or-death decisions. With the United States crossing the threshold of 200,000 deaths and 7 million COVID-19 cases (33.2 million cases worldwide along with nearly 1 million deaths) we have had to make adjustments in our daily lives while trying to stay vigilant and avoid complacency.

More than six months into the pandemic, we asked some Amgen scientists and researchers about how they are doing daily life as we all continue to move forward through the pandemic. These are not official recommendations but rather the personal choices that a handful of scientists and researchers are making based on what they know and the demands of everyday life. They are also views captured at a specific point in time, which may change as conditions and public health recommendations do.

Here are the responses of Steven Galson, senior vice president Global Regulatory Affairs and Strategy; Victoria Elegant, JAPAC Regional Medical (based in Hong Kong); Katie Lindahl, Process Development and senior associate scientist in Massachusetts; and Sara Detmer, Process Development and senior associate scientist in Thousand Oaks, California.


Hollywood is slowly starting to release movies back into theaters – the big one being Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.” Would you go to a movie theater to see a movie?

Elegant: Yes, as long as the current very low number of cases continue [in Hong Kong], and the theater observes masking, social distancing etc. A month ago, I would not.

Galson: I would not. It is safer to avoid all situations where you are close to multiple people, particularly indoors because it increases the risk of transmission if someone in the audience is sick.

Lindahl: I would not! I’m still avoiding being indoors as much as possible. Also, if I’m going to a movie, I’m going to want popcorn! That would mean taking off my mask while inside with others and that seems like an unnecessary risk.

Detmer: I generally don’t go to movies; however, I don’t think I’d go to a movie. While I’d feel safer in a theater that has recliner chairs (more room) and limited seating arrangements, I just think it’s an easy place to eliminate risk.

Do you feel comfortable dining at a restaurant – indoors or outdoors? Why?

Elegant: In Hong Kong currently, we are allowed four people at a table, up from two last week. All restaurants observe social distancing, many have plastic dividers between tables. Wait staff and patrons wear masks, and the restaurants record contact details for contact tracing. So yes, in those conditions.

Galson: We’ve ordered a lot of take-out and delivery food but eating in an indoor dining room with people not wearing masks is too risky. I ate once in an outdoor restaurant in North Carolina over the summer. It was in a tent but there was not much of a breeze and I was not comfortable since the tables were large and not adequately spaced. I have heard there are outdoor restaurants with widely spaced tables but the ones I have seen close to my home have tables that are not adequately spaced.

Lindahl: I’ve dined outdoors at restaurants about once a week since mid-June. I am very impressed with how many places have found space to make this an option and how they’ve adjusted their service to make things safer. For me, eating outdoors balances the lower risk of an outdoor space with needing social time with a few friends. I don’t see myself dining indoors at a restaurant for quite a while; I’ll continue to do take-out and delivery to support local restaurants.

Detmer: I’ll do ‘take out’ food and since Covid-19 started, we’ve dined in one outdoor restaurant. It’s not that I don’t feel safe, it’s that it’s largely that it’s a hassle to do anything now.

Would you - or have you - flown on an airplane?

Elegant: At the moment in Asia, all countries are requiring mandatory quarantine, and testing prior to boarding a plane, and are also limiting entry to their own nationals – generally the plane seems relatively safe based on data to date so far, but having to do quarantine at each end precludes travel at the moment, so no not at the moment.

Galson: I have flown once since March and I will be taking two cross-country trips this fall to visit two to three family members. We will all get COVID tests prior to the visits. I will wear an N95 mask and face shield in the airports and planes and try to avoid taking them off during the flight. Delta is spacing passenger’s out unlike other airlines, so I’ll fly with them. I will avoid being close to other people in the airport as much as possible, but the mask and face shield provide a lot of protection so I’m not too worried. I found the one trip quite stressful so I wouldn’t recommend it unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Lindahl: At this point, only if necessary (funeral or the like) and I would try to stick with a direct flight if possible and obtain an N95 mask for the flight. The air flow and filtration systems on planes lowers my worry about flying but traveling across the country for a vacation seems unnecessary at this point. We moved away from the ‘Stay Home’ advice as the pandemic wore on and the weather got nicer, but I think we should be giving that more consideration – especially when thinking about traveling outside of the local area.

Detmer: I would and have been on a plane. It was a different feeling in that there was not the hustle and bustle of LAX. The whole time, we were masked, were able to distance from fellow travelers and were able to wash our hands when needed. One of our hobbies is to explore new places. We aren’t able to do that this year but when it makes sense to travel again, we’ll be back at it.

Do you go to a gym to work out?

Elegant: Yes, I do. Our gyms were closed for the last two months and they have opened up again last week, but require temperature testing, distancing of at least 2 meters (6-feet) between patrons, so we workout in distanced pods, and wear masks while working out. We also wipe down the equipment before and after use. While they were closed there were socially distanced outside bootcamps, also wearing masks.

Galson: Gyms are quite risky because infected people working out are likely to breath out more aerosolized virus particles. Some gyms have created physically distanced outdoor space, which is a good development. I have been working out at home.

Lindahl: The gym I go to did a great job switching to online classes and even rented out their equipment! I’ve been working out with them from my living room three times a week for the last six months and will continue to do that!

Detmer: I do not go to the gym. I do however practice Taekwondo. Initially on zoom, then to limited amount of people indoor and now all outdoor classes. Three of us in our family are in TKD. We go because it makes us feel like our lives are normal and for our wellbeing. The workouts allow us to work towards our goals and the studio did a great job at setting up so that we can work out together, with the proper distances. The workouts have changed; we can’t spar and it’s rare that we hit pads, but it works for us for now. They clean the mats, the pads and the baskets that hold our gear after each workout. I look forward to that workout more than anything else each week. I also work out with a friend in my garage three times a week. We’re trying to be as normal as possible while living within our current environment.

Assuming you wear a mask, going out, do you also wear gloves? Carry hand sanitizer with you at all times?

Elegant: Masks are mandatory in Hong Kong. I have been wearing a mask since the start of the pandemic – in fact I wore one on my flight back from Switzerland at the end of January, before they became more universally worn. We have a long history of mask wearing in Asia, so people are very comfortable wearing masks, in fact if you don’t wear one, one can be stigmatized. Masks make an enormous difference and protect both other people and one’s self. Everyone should wear one when they are out. I don’t wear gloves; I do carry hand sanitizer.

Galson: I don’t wear gloves. I always carry sanitizer. When I go to the grocery store, I sanitize the handle of the cart. Then I sanitize my hands prior to getting back in the car and wash my hands very well when I get home. Of course, we have to always avoid touching our faces with our hands when we’re out.

Lindahl: I don’t wear gloves unless I’m doing specific activities that require it (volunteering at the food bank, delivering meals for the local Elder Care Service), but I do keep hand sanitizer in both my purse and backpack.

Detmerh: I do not wear gloves when I go out. I think gloves give a false sense of security. I believe in washing your hands. I do have a bottle of hand sanitizer in my car. It’s there for when I can’t wash my hands.

How comfortable are you meeting up with friends? If you are, what precautions do you take?

Elegant: Yes, now the numbers are down so much, we are only allowed to meet in groups of four, so I generally meet three other people, outside and we wear masks.

Galson: We have been having one to three people over for meals. We stay outside all the time and we stay masked unless we’re eating. We’ve set up two tables. The guests sit at one; we sit at the other so we’re more than 10 feet away when we’re eating unmasked. Of course, we’ll allow someone inside to use the restroom but we don’t go in the house with them.

Lindahl: I see a small group of friends about once a week, but we always meet in an outdoor setting. There’s no more sharing food or hugs, but the social outlet has been uplifting for our spirits.

Detmer: I’ve met up with a limited number of people. Those people are people whom I trust to tell me if they don’t feel well. When we do meet up, it’s at a park or the beach or out for a hike. Limited people come into the house; I have to be able to trust them to make the right choices. We constantly see our neighborhood friends. We’re all outside after work more than normal now that we all work at home.

Election Day is coming up in the U.S. Will you vote in person or by mail and is the pandemic dictating the method by which you’re casting your ballot?

Elegant: Not applicable

Galson: It is so important for everyone to vote, COVID or not! I will vote by mail, as usual.

Lindahl: I’m planning to vote in person. I voted by mail in the primary, but I have a desire to cast the presidential vote in person. Every time I’ve gone to my polling station in the past it has been a short visit, never taking more than 10 minutes from walking up to the building to leaving. If it were a longer endeavor, I would vote by mail instead. I will bring my own pen this year, though.

Detmer: I generally vote by mail. I will be voting in person this year. The pandemic is not dictating the method by which I’m casting my ballot.

How often have you been tested for COVID-19? What was it like?

Elegant: Once – not the most pleasant experience but perfectly bearable.

Galson: I’ve been tested three times using the at-home PCR test. I expect to be testing more around upcoming family visits. The data shows that a lot of people are getting infected from family members so I think it’s safe to test before getting together with people you have not been seeing - if you are intending to share a living space.

Lindahl: I was tested at a hospital drive-in in June and have done the self-test kit twice (third time next week). The nasopharyngeal swab for the hospital test was a bit uncomfortable, but it was over quickly. I had results back in three days, which was pretty good turnaround in June. The self-test kits for working onsite have been very convenient and are easy to administer.

Detmer: I have not been tested nor have I had a reason to be tested.

Some stadiums are allowing limited numbers of fans to attend games. Would you attend a sporting event with limited fans in attendance?

Elegant: Not applicable

Galson: No, I don’t think attending sporting events is worth the risk.

Lindahl: It would be tempting and my favorite teams play outdoors, but for me it falls into the bucket of unnecessary risk. I would stay home and watch on TV.

Detmer: As much as I’d like to go to a football game, I would not go. I feel like there would just be too many people. Generally, at games, people are drinking and when you drink your responsibility level goes down therefore all safety precautions go out the window.

Halloween is around the corner. Would you allow your children to go door-to-door to trick or treat? Do you feel safe answering the door and handing out candy to costumed kids and their parents at the door?

Elegant: Not applicable

Galson: No, I think this year Halloween should be celebrated within the family.

Lindahl: I don’t have children, but I would feel safe answering the door and handing out candy. I would have my mask on and the interactions are short. It could also be fun to create a slide for the candy on the porch railing – I could sit on the porch and give them treats from a distance!

Detmer: We have opted out of trick-or-treating this year and will have a small gathering at the park with neighbors. I would feel fine handing out candy (my kids came up with a fun-distance way to hand it out.) Previous years though, since we were out, we left candy on the step. I don’t see this year being any different in that respect.

Have you been to a dentist or a doctor’s office and are you comfortable with that?

Elegant: Yes, I have been to both. They take precautions here, so masks, face shields, distancing, screens where appropriate and reduced numbers in waiting rooms.

Galson: Yes. The medical and dental offices I have visited since March have been extremely organized to achieve a minimum of patients being present together. Additional rooms are used as waiting areas. Masks are strictly required. My dentist was wearing goggles too. I was initially uncomfortable but once I saw the precautions being taken, I became more comfortable. I would not put off needed medical or dental care because the result could mean that you could require more care on a rushed basis.

Lindahl: I just went to the dentist last week and it felt comfortable. They’ve spaced out patients and everything is cleaned and/or autoclaved before each patient even when it’s not a pandemic. I have not gone to my primary care doctor though; we did a virtual visit in the spring and are calling that good for this year.

Detmer: I have been to the dentist. I see the dentist wash their hands and put on their PPE and feel comfortable with the precautions they’ve put into place.