Manchester University / Alumni / @manchester Newsletter September 2020 / Towne provides leadership with infectious disease expertise

Towne provides leadership with infectious disease expertise

Trent-Towne-largeFor Trent Towne, an associate professor of pharmacy practice at Manchester University, everything changed in March.  

As COVID-19 spread across the globe and the University moved to distance learning for the remainder of spring semester, Towne adjusted to teaching and conducting patient care online. He also drew upon his expertise in infectious diseases to advise Manchester on navigating a pandemic, and on matters of risk and safety for students, faculty and staff.

In MU’s Pharmacy Program, Towne teaches academic and clinical courses ranging from pharmacotherapy of infectious diseases to precepting fourth-year students on their clinical rotations. He also provides patient care in community health care facilities, accessing patient records through a secure server from home. He reviews patient medical records for improving antimicrobial use, looking at patient antibiotics to find ways to optimize medication use. The ultimate goals are to reduce cost and prevent overuse, which may lead to antibiotic resistance.

A board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist with expertise in infectious diseases, Towne understands the epidemiological threat of COVID-19.

“Viruses are evaluated for transmissibility by what’s call an R naught (R0) value,” Towne explains. “The influenza virus has an approximate R1 value which means every infection causes one new infection, making it more stable to control.”

Early data showed that the COVID-19 virus is closer to an R3 value. One case causes three more infections, which cause nine, which cause 27, and so on, exponentially. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examines data from the initial viral spread in China. Models indicate that the virus actually may have reached a median R6 value in China. The study, released online early May, was published in July.

We are dealing with a virus that we have known about for less than a year, Towne said.

As an infectious disease expert, Towne has been a valuable resource for Manchester University, Allen County and the local community. He has advised the University and community decision-makers since early March, as the novel coronavirus began to spread rapidly and take root in every state in America.

As a member of the Allen County COVID-19 Pandemic Advisory Board Task Force, Towne joined many other medical professionals, first responders, police and community leaders. At the first meeting, the county health commissioner proposed a purely hypothetical scenario of what school closings might mean. It was a shocking suggestion that task force members thought would never happen, Towne said.

He and his colleagues soon came to understand the reality of a never-before-seen virus with high transmissibility, paired with lack of population immunity — and lack of a vaccine.

“Now, I will be more shocked if we get through the next academic school year without interruption, such as a new round of social distancing,” said Towne. “The virus is too easy to transmit without a vaccine.”

Under the task force, Towne also serves on the Resource Allocations Committee, which analyzes how the most difficult decisions might be made if the health system becomes overwhelmed with more patients than beds, an insufficient supply of lifesaving equipment, or other seemingly impossible choices. The committee’s early work focused on establishing policy, protocols and education, before turning to operations and implementation stages.

To help educate the broader community, Towne also has participated in a local television series for PBS Fort Wayne. The weekly “Coronavirus:  A Live Community Forum,” addressed evolving questions and issues related to safety and effectiveness of existing medications, and clinical trials leading to new drug treatments or vaccines.

By Linda Homewood, freelance writer and former director of news and communication at the University of Florida