Fifth graders learned about both biology and current events from a special guest speaker, Dr. Karen Fields – a renowned medical oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center and the mother of fifth-grade teacher Michael Fields.
Reassuring and informative, Dr. Fields explained how viruses form and what makes COVID-19, the coronavirus, such a challenge for researchers. But as scientists and doctors work on finding a cure and a vaccine, students also have an important role to play. Students can help stop the spread with healthy habits and by staying at home, she said.
"I'm proud of all of us," Dr. Fields told Corbett Prep's fifth grade class via Zoom.
Viruses are tiny particles that cause disease, such as the common cold and influenza. Although they are lifeless on their own, they turn into "virus factories" when they take over living cells, Dr. Fields said. And that's when people get sick.
Humans have natural defenses, such as fevers, to fight off viruses. Medications also help, while vaccines can prevent viral infections. Certain viruses even benefit people by protecting the human body from bacteria, and scientists can use genetically engineered viruses to deliver genes to cells with genetic malfunctions. Even getting sick has a positive side – a mild viral infection can strengthen your immune system.
COVID-19 is receiving so much attention it is new and spreads easily.
"Nature made a brand-new virus," Dr. Fields said, "and our scientists and doctors had to figure out that it was present and come up with treatments for it."
People may feel helpless and frustrated staying home, Dr. Fields said, but they are actually fighting the virus by slowing its spread.
Dr. Fields has worked for Moffitt for about 30 years and was a founding member of the cancer center's blood and marrow transplant program.
She has held several leadership positions at Moffitt and also served as the vice president of global academic programs at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the president and CEO of Cancer Therapy and Research Center in San Antonio, Texas. She is consistently named one of the Best Doctors in America and one of America's Top Doctors for Cancer.
She also has a longtime relationship with Corbett Prep, beginning in the 1990s when Michael Fields enrolled at then-Independent Day School as a first grader.
"I still love Corbett Prep," said Dr. Fields, whose granddaughter will enroll in the 2021-22 school year. "You do wonderful work there. You kids are lucky to be there."