Ateneo responds to COVID-19
BY JB BEJARINPhotos courtesy of Ateneo DReam Team, Tanging Yaman Foundation, and Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan, and Ateneo de Manila University Marketing and Communications Office (UMCO)
Still reeling from the Taal Volcano eruption last January, the country now faces a calamity of unprecedented magnitude. Hospitals have transformed into frontlines while millions have been cut from their daily sources of income as the battle against COVID-19 continues.
Composed of representatives from each university unit, the Ateneo Disaster Response and Management (DReaM) Team knew that lending support to communities during this period would be vital. The DReaM team, which was first organized in 2009 to respond to the onslaught of Typhoon Ondoy, figured early on that the crisis would be remarkably different from the others it had faced before. It immediately launched Ateneo’s response to COVID-19 alongside Tanging Yaman Foundation (TYF) and Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan (SLB).
Human resource—in terms of workforce on site—was an initial challenge due to the enforced physical distancing rules and campus lockdown. However, the presence of dormers, Jesuits, and other residents on campus became key in the assembly lines for relief packs.
Logistics was another challenge given the difficulty in accessing some communities. This prompted the facilitation of cash transfers to select families living in Laguna, Pampanga, Rizal, and Zambales, which were coursed through their respective community leaders. In other areas, pre-arranged relief packs by the supplier were distributed.
Backing up the frontliners
As the carrying capacity of medical institutions became overburdened, personal protective equipment (PPEs) and packed meals were also given to healthcare workers.
Through the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health (ASMPH), blue hazmat suits were designed and produced. True to its nature as the university’s innovation hub, Areté was utilized to make face shields while Jesuits on campus assembled homemade protective shields.
Project Panunuluyan [Project Accommodation] welcomed medical frontliners to the Institute of Social Order (ISO) Residence Hall. They were given a place to rest, recharge, and renew as they continued their work at the nearby Quirino Memorial Medical Center.
The university also pitched in to help frontliners who experienced difficulty traveling to and from work through the Lend-A-Bike Project. As of April 23, 2020, the project has raised P229,002.83 in cash donations and donated 130 bikes to 24 institutions.
The Ateneo de Manila High School’s Christian Service Involvement Program, Loyola Schools’ Office for Social Concern and Involvement, Gawad Kalinga, Pathways to Higher Education, Ateneo Center for Educational Development, and other Jesuit partner communities have been instrumental in the formation of Ateneo students for years. Together with our security guards and tricycle drivers on campus, they have been critical in fulfilling the COVID-19 mission of the Ateneo. As of May 8, 2020, we continue to give back through the distribution of 30,730 meals to healthcare workers, PPEs to 135 healthcare and military facilities nationwide, and food packs to 90,424 families in 203 communities.
Standing at this critical point of our nation’s history gives us a chance to rediscover the value of Ateneo education. We revisit what it means to pray for generosity: In what ways are we called to give and not to count the cost? What structures do we fight? For which cause we do not heed the wounds? And why do we toil and not seek for rest? Moving forward, what does it mean for us to choose the more loving option?
SOSE professor suggests coconut oil as treatment against nCoV-2019
Last January 31, 2020, School of Science and Engineering (SOSE) Professor Emeritus Dr. Fabian Antonio Dayrit released a study on the potential of coconut oil as an effective antiviral agent against the novel coronavirus, which was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Entitled “The Potential of Coconut Oil and its Derivatives as Effective and Safe Antiviral Agents Against the Novel Coronavirus (nCoV-2019),” the research was conducted alongside Dr. Mary Newport of Spring Hill Neonatology, Inc., Florida, USA.
In the research, Dayrit revealed that coconut oil is a good treatment candidate against nCoV-2019 due to multiple components. He shared, “Lauric acid (C12) and monolaurin, its derivative, have been known for many years to have significant antiviral activity. Lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid which makes up about 50% of coconut oil; monolaurin is a metabolite that is naturally produced by the body’s own enzymes upon ingestion of coconut oil and is also available in pure form as a supplement. Sodium lauryl sulfate, a common surfactant that is made from lauric acid, has been shown to have potent antiviral properties. Lauric acid, monolaurin, and sodium lauryl sulfate are used in a wide range of products for their antiviral properties.”
Previous studies have revealed that coconut oil and its derivatives are safe for both humans and animals. These can cause disintegration of the virus envelope, inhibit late maturation stage in the virus replicative cycle, and prevent the binding of viral proteins to the host cell membrane. Dayrit and Newport’s research proposes that clinical studies be conducted among patients who have been infected with nCoV-2019, and that virgin coconut oil be considered as a general prophylactic against viral and microbial infection.
Human excellence and encounters at a distance: Remapping and reimagining Ateneo education in the “new normal”
BY BENJAMIN GERARDO T. TOLOSA, JR., Associate Dean for the Core CurriculumCampus photos by Aaron Vicencio, courtesy of the Ateneo de Manila University Marketing and Communications Office (UMCO)
When Dr. Maria Luz C. Vilches, Ateneo de Manila Vice President for the Loyola Schools (VPLS), issued the memorandum “Remapping Academic Life in the Second Semester, SY 2019-2020” on April 7, 2020, many were impressed by its boldness and decisiveness. People were also amazed at the swiftness of its release—on the very same day that the government extended the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) beyond April 15. The favorable reaction was immediate both from within and outside the Ateneo community. That night, Ateneo was trending on Twitter with at least 13.4K tweets.
What many people didn’t realize was that the policy decisions contained in the memo went through a grueling online discussion and revision process in the LS Vice President’s Council that began soon after the ECQ was declared. It was truly the product of communal discernment involving not only senior LS administrators, but also other key stakeholders in the Ateneo de Manila community. Those who were consulted included members of the President’s Council, Deans’ Councils, and the Sanggunian ng mga Mag-aaral [Student Government].
The highlights of the April 7 memo are already quite familiar: shortening the second semester; giving a “P” (Pass) to all eligible students (except those who had overcut or filed leaves of absence prior to the ECQ, and graduating students who request for letter grades); waiving the computation of the yearly QPI and thus promoting students to the next level; providing partial refunds in tuition and fees; and making available free make-up audit classes and workshops especially for foundational courses.
These policy decisions were actually only the second part of a two-stage memo. The first part was Dr. Vilches’ March 20 memo—a response to the one issued by University President Fr. Jose Villarin, SJ on March 17—suspending online classes during the ECQ, which had been declared the day before. But it was the second memo released on April 7 that caught the attention of the wider public and was much praised. Its main points had already been thoroughly discussed and essentially agreed upon by the LS Vice President’s Council when the first memo was issued. This anticipation of a likely extension of the ECQ beyond April 15 enabled Dr. Vilches to issue the second memo on the day the government made the announcement.
The Ateneo de Manila had scheduled a dry run of contingency measures on March 12 to 18, which included holding online classes as the COVID-19 pandemic took shape. But the rapidly deteriorating health situation overtook these measures as face-to-face classes were already suspended by the government on March 11, and the ECQ itself was implemented on March 15. The dry run, which overlapped with the actual quarantine, exposed the problems of internet connectivity for at least 12% of LS students as a Sanggunian student survey showed. As a result of the ECQ, the original plan to lend computers and portable Wi-Fi units to students (especially financial aid scholars) could not be implemented because students had to get the equipment on campus. Even faculty members also had internet connectivity problems. More importantly, the courses they had prepared for and were teaching during the second semester were designed for face-to-face learning. They had to adjust their course content and teaching methods for online delivery on very short notice. These difficulties were on top of the personal, social, and psychological challenges experienced by many individuals and families during the lockdown.
Thus, in her March 20 memo, Dr. Vilches said that even as learning materials are to be made available online to students, there should be no graded assessments in consideration of students who have weak or no internet access in their places of residence. If teachers are to hold synchronous classes, these sessions should be agreed upon with students, attendance should not be required, and any lectures and discussions should be recorded and made available to those who were not able to participate live.
There was a need to urgently address the anxieties of individual students and teachers regarding their academic responsibilities, amidst the continuing uncertainties of the public health and socioeconomic situation in the country. The consensus in the LS Vice President’s Council was to shorten the semester and to give a “P” mark as “the most humane way of dealing with student grades under the circumstances we are in.”
Indeed, more than the specific academic policy decisions—and the VPLS memo provided clear and detailed directions—it was the very compassionate, deeply caring spirit and manner in which it was written that truly touched those who read it. Dr. Vilches’ memo demonstrated how personally concerned the Ateneo is for the students’ total well-being. @jimmijares tweeted,
“Dr. Vilches’ memo is the document equivalent of somebody comforting you while you’re in the depths of sadness. Thank you, Ateneo! History will remember the schools who stood up to care for their students; history will remember the Ateneo.”
Meanwhile, Carlo Agdamag (@carlothew) listed the three reasons why he loves the Ateneo even more. After citing the decisions to give passing marks and tuition refunds, he then called attention to “not one, not two, but three emoticons in a formal memo!”
Anj (@janangelidc) mused,
IDK if senti lang ako, pero punong-puno ng pagmamahal at malasakit ‘yung pagkakasulat sa memo na ’to. Thank you Ateneo for always choosing the MORE LOVING option!!! Kay sarap maging Atenista.💙💙💙💙💙” [“I don’t know if I’m just being sentimental, but the way the memo was written was overflowing with love and concern. Thank you Ateneo for always choosing the MORE LOVING option!!! It feels so good to be an Atenean.”]
Similarly, Neil Christian (@kneelreyes) expressed the reason for his school pride.
“Ang sarap maging Atenista hindi dahil tapos na ang semester. Kundi dahil pumapasok ako sa eskwelahang may pakialam sa kundisyon ng kapwa ko.” [“It feels good to be an Atenean not because the semester has already ended. But because I study in a school that’s concerned about the condition of others.”]
Former Sanggunian President and 2019 Class Valedictorian Hya Bendaña (@hyabend) thanked the university for its decision and then challenged her fellow Ateneans.
“Ateneo chose the most loving option for its students. Ateneans, let’s choose the same. 💛 For those who don’t need their refunds, please donate them to families in need. With the lockdown extension, marami pang lalong magugutom. [With the lockdown extension, many more will go hungry.]”
The Ateneo VPLS memo triggered discussions in other university communities. Both those who wanted their schools to follow Ateneo’s lead, and those who were against it called the LS decision as “mass promotion.” But the blanket term didn’t quite get the nuances of the memo, which included an option for letter grades for graduating students, nor understand the links between the non-computation of the yearly QPI, LS retention requirements, and academic promotion. In offering to provide free make-up classes and bridging lessons, the administrators were conscious that the ECQ and the decision to shorten the semester may have created gaps in learning that need to be addressed in succeeding terms.
Moreover, the word mass with its connotation of a faceless, nameless collectivity gives a wrong image of how the LS administration looks at students. Dr. Vilches’ memo was precisely experienced as a loving letter expressing the Ateneo’s concern for individual students in unique circumstances during the crisis. It was cura personalis [care for the entire person] even from a physical distance.
When the Society of Jesus founded schools, St. Ignatius and the early Jesuits saw education as “an institutional way to help students find God and their mission in life through encounters with the mystery and meaning of human life whose model and fullness is Jesus Christ.” Human excellence, not just academic excellence, is the goal of Jesuit and Ateneo education—by providing specialized professional training and holistic formation that nurtures intellectual depth, creative imagination, social involvement, and spiritual maturity (Undergraduate Education in the Ateneo de Manila University Loyola Schools, 2019).
As our education goes online in AteneoBlueCloud and our community adopts Adaptive Design for Learning, the challenge now is how to foster human excellence and facilitate human encounters that help our students discover a loving and merciful God acting in their lives and in the world. How will these experiences move them to respond in grateful and generous service to help renew the world in their own spheres of professional competence? This is truly a daunting mission in a new teaching and learning environment that we need to prepare well, work hard, and pray fervently for.
The LS memo on remapping academic life and the way it was experienced by our community is a real sign of hope that human presence and social connectedness is possible even as we are seemingly isolated and separated from one another. It is a reassurance that we can reimagine education and recreate the “new normal” world into one that is truly humane, kind, and generous.
Ateneo partners with DOH and DOST-PCHRD to develop FASSSTER than COVID-19
Feasibility Analysis of Syndromic Surveillance Using a Spatio-Temporal Epidemiological Modeler For Early Detection of Diseases (FASSSTER) is a web application for creating disease models and visualizing syndromic surveillance reports through a spatio-temporal map.
Created by the Ateneo Center for Computing Competency and Research (ACCCRe) under the leadership of Dr. Maria Regina Justina E. Estuar, FASSSTER COVID-19 was developed in partnership with the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Science and Technology–Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) to complement the disease surveillance programs implemented by the DOH. The multidisciplinary team is composed of:
mathematical modellers led by Dr. Elvira de Lara-Tuprio, Chair of the Mathematics Department of Ateneo de Manila University;
Data Management Team led by Dr. Marlene de Leon, Coordinator for Metric, Data Collection and Monitoring, LS Quality Assurance Office;
Data Science Team led by Dr. Estuar;
System Development and Data Visualization Team led by Mr. Christian Pulmano, DISCS Faculty and Head of the Ateneo Block Chain Laboratory (ABC Lab); and
Epidemiologists and Public Health Practitioners including Dr. Nori Benjamin Mendoza of AGSB/ASMPH and Dr. John Wong of Epimetrics.
FASSSTER was previously used to create predictive models and visualize possible scenarios of outbreaks of dengue, typhoid fever, and measles at specified time periods. As a response to the recent worldwide pandemic, the modeling tool was adapted to act as a disease surveillance system to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 in the Philippines.
FASSSTER extracts and processes data from the DOH’s Epidemiology Case Surveillance System and SMS-based reports from Tanodcovid self screening and reporting app on a daily basis to generate projections based on a combination of selected scenarios. It can provide forecasts on the number of confirmed positive cases, estimated infectious symptomatic and infectious asymptomatic, mild, moderate, and severe cases, deaths, and recoveries for a specified mode of community quarantine (e.g., ECQ), health systems capacity, and percentage of population that will be allowed to go out during quarantine period.
The flexible web application is being utilized by health planners, local government units, and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases in making decisions related to the COVID-19 disease. To date, FASSSTER has been deployed in 17 regions with distribution in 80 provinces and 274 cities and municipalities.
Understanding the relevance of FASSSTER in continuing disease surveillance beyond COVID-19, ACCCRe has partnered with the National Telehealth Center under the National Institutes of Health, UP Manila through the leadership of Dr. Raymond Sarmiento, in establishing a Fast Health Information Resource (FHIR) warehouse to pave the way for interoperability of ehealth systems during and beyond the crisis.
Areté remains active despite ECQ restrictions
Areté is an ambitious concept. It broke ground in 2014 as the creativity and innovation hub of Ateneo de Manila University, and has hosted a wide variety of activities since its completion in 2017: shows, conferences, lectures, classes, workshops, celebrations, discussions, collaborative projects, and more. It is home to eight different offices, and accommodates hundreds of visitors daily.
With the declaration of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), Areté’s operations ground to a halt. The first few days of ECQ forced us to think of strategies for continuity, reimagining our programs, and going back to Areté’s original goals. Providing a home for creativity and innovation brought about by interdisciplinary collaboration needed to take on a new form in extraordinary times.
The team’s first response was to use its resources to address pressing issues. The Eugenio Lopez Jr. Makerspace—a venue equipped with 3D printers, laser cutters, milling machines, and large-format printers—was tasked to create alternative low-risk personal protective equipment (PPEs) for frontliners. An ad-hoc on-the-ground Makerspace team was formed, and together with Dr. Jeremie De Guzman and Dr. Cenon Alfonso of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health (ASMPH), were able to prototype 13 different face shields.
After evaluating the designs, the chosen face shield was a visor-like acrylic frame with a sheet of clear acetate mounted on its frontside, resting a few inches away from the user’s face. An attached piece of garter secures the face shield on the head, and a thin strip of rubber foam glued to the inner edge of the visor provides the user a comfortable, stable fit. The Office of the Executive Director began sourcing raw materials by opening its communication lines to in-kind donations, and facilitating purchases and transportation of materials to Areté. Face shield mass production started on March 25, 2020.
As of April 29, 2020, Areté’s Makerspace has manufactured and distributed over 2,160 face shields to various hospitals through ASMPH, with frontliners claiming that Areté-made face shields are effective and high-quality alternative PPEs. There are 1,000 more face shields currently in production, while discussions of creating body shields, gowns, and gloves are also underway.
As the Makerspace team continued to create face shields for frontliners, the Offices of the Executive and Artistic Director began to imagine a version of Areté that would continue its mission in the face of a global pandemic. After some back and forth, it was decided that Areté’s guiding principle would be to look toward the future and consider a bigger-picture approach to responding to the crisis.
On April 15, 2020, Areté’s projects took on a new form in Areté Connect—an online portal where its programs could be accessed by anyone. Through a brand new series entitled Our Way Forward, experts across various fields shared their analyses, speculations, and projections on the way the COVID-19 crisis might shape the future, and envisioned resilient systems in a post-pandemic world. In just two weeks, 11 essays and videos have been published under the series, tackling a variety of topics such as economics, education, and the arts.
Areté’s regular workshops and classes have migrated online. Launched in September 2019, Areté in Motion is a series of classes that allows people to incorporate creative movement in their daily lives for exercise, expression, or skills development. Areté Makerspace, launched only in January 2020, is a series of workshops that encourages exploration in both traditional and digital crafting methods. Areté in Motion has already released eight pre-recorded movement classes on the Areté Connect platform, while more classes are being created for both series.
On the horizon, Areté intends to produce a collection of recorded magisterial lectures on various subject areas. These videos would support academic continuity in the coming months while physical distancing practices are still in place. The filmed stage play of Suzue Toshiro’s If He Doesn’t See Your Face, directed by Ricardo Abad and staged in The Doreen Black Box, will also be posted on Areté Connect.
It can be difficult to take a long haul, future-focused perspective when uncertainty and isolation remain constant during the ongoing crisis. Present concerns demand so much from us, and it is important that we pay attention. However, Areté looks toward the future not out of anxiety or insensitivity to our current needs, but to pursue hope through curiosity and solidarity.
Visit Areté Connect at arete.ateneo.edu/connect.