Can coronavirus be transmitted via breastmilk? And other briefs from our research issue

Research Issue

Can coronavirus be transmitted via breastmilk? And other briefs from our research issue
Jonathan Hill illustration

If a mother tests positive for COVID-19, should they continue breastfeeding their child?

That's the question that University of Idaho researchers Mark and Michelle "Shelley" McGuire hope to answer, along with colleagues at the University of Rochester in New York. Their project to test human milk samples has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

As of yet, no studies have definitive evidence that the coronavirus lives in breast milk, and the CDC still recommends that mothers continue breastfeeding even after a positive test. But the Idaho team wants to make sure that's safe. They'll obtain samples from women across the country who test positive for COVID-19.

"I really hope the virus isn't in milk," says Shelley McGuire in a news release. "But hope doesn't make for good science."

Women who want to volunteer can find more information at


There are all kinds of models out there projecting case counts, deaths and other measures related to the coronavirus. They're important tools for governments deciding what kind of social distancing measures to take.

Ben Ridenhour, an assistant professor at the University of Idaho, started developing his own model in January. As it turned out, it came in handy for Idaho Gov. Brad Little's plans.

"Really our goal was to make something that was Idaho-specific," Ridenhour says.

It was tailored to Idaho's rural, older population. But that's not the only reason to make an Idaho model. It's also the best way to understand how disease might spread in Idaho.

"If you do your own modeling, you get to control it," Ridenhour says. "You get to run interventions, scenarios, and play with ideas."


In some cities across the world, COVID-19 has overrun hospitals that simply can't handle the sheer number of sick patients who stormed their emergency rooms. That means it's crucial for hospital systems to know exactly what their capacity is for a COVID-19 surge.

That's where WSU's Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine comes in. Researchers Ofer Amram and Sterling McPherson developed an online tool that allows hospitals to predict how equipped hospitals are to handle a potential surge.

It's already been used locally by Multicare. A team in Sao Paulo, Brazil, even used the tool to predict its own capacity, McPherson says.

"If someone were to do this by hand every day and try to provide a written report to a response, it would be extremely time-consuming," McPherson says.

The online tool allows any hospital to input things like the number of hospitalized cases, hospital beds available and the number of ventilators available. The tool quickly comes back with a short-term picture showing what kind of personal protective equipment, ventilators and nurse hours will be needed.

"It was really designed to be a ground-up — as opposed to a top-down — type of tool," McPherson says.

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