COVID-19 Update: Penn Summer staff are available online or by phone at (215) 898-7326. More Info & Resources >
close alert box button

COVID19 – 101

Session A: July 6 - July 16, 2021
1:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.
Philosophy and Society
Ruth Elliot

COVID19 – 101 will give students an opportunity to understand the basic biology, virology, immunology, and epidemiology involved in the COVID19 pandemic (also known simply as Covid or Covid-19). The central dogma of molecular biology, the basics of the structure of the cell, the life cycle of viral parasites like SARS-CoV2, and the mammalian immune system will be covered in enough depth to give students the tools to comprehend the different COVID19 prevention, testing, treatment and vaccine strategies available.  Students will prepare a final public service announcement for their peers, friends, and family to educate them on ‘what they need to know’ about the pandemic. 

Learning Goals

  • Students will gain a basic understanding of the genetic code of DNA and how this translates to protein sequences
  • Students will be able to list the basic components of a cell and how these are used to replicate viral pathogens
  • Students will learn key terminology that is familiar to them from reading the news, but might be fuzzy to them in terms of the true biological meaning
  • Students will collaborate with other students to analyze data, look up resources, interpret information found in articles, and put together a final public service announcement

Course Structure

In the first hour of each day, students will listen to an interview and have time to reflect and discuss the conversation they heard.  In the second hour of each day, students will listen to a lecture on the scientific principles required to understand a particular aspect of the COVID19 pandemic and do activities to use this newfound knowledge to understand the information all around them.  In the last 30 minutes of each day, students will continue activities or discussions in groups and often have time to work on their final project and answer their own questions. 


Day 1 – A century of Pandemics;  What is a Pandemic?
Definitions: epidemic, endemic, pandemic, vector, reservoir, pathogenesis, pathology, pathogen, virulence, microbes
Examples: 1918 Spanish flu, 2013-2014 Ebola, smallpox?
Activity: questions you and your loves ones want answers to, time capsule

Day 2 – A day in the nucleus;  How do organisms use their genetic information?
Definitions: DNA, mRNA, tRNA, ribosome, nucleus, protein, amino acid, nucleotide, transcription, translation, replication, polar, charged, nonpolar
Examples: COVID19 variants
Activity: using the genetic code, amino acid mutation analysis, SARS-CoV-2 variant discovery

Day 3 – A day in the life of SARS-CoV2; How does the virus reproduce?
Definitions: entry, amplification, membrane, tropism, receptor, life cycle, parasite
Examples: Rdrp, spike, nucleocapsid, ACE2, epithelial tissue, envelope
Activity: start final PSA project, look up other viruses and define major features and life cycle, replication curve, remdesivir

Day 4 – A day in the life of your immune system; What is the immune system and what does it do?
Definitions: killer T-cells, cytotoxin, B-cell, antibody, antigen, innate and adaptive response, cytokine, pattern recognition, inflammation, memory,
Examples: graphs on vaccine effectiveness, COVID19 memory response, symptoms, nsp3, capping enzymes, convalescent plasma, artificial respiration
Activity:  ELISA, graphs on vaccine effectiveness, COVID19  memory response

Day 5 – A day in the life of a germophobe/epidemiologist?; How can we prevent infection and transmission?
Definitions: amphipathic, filter, aerosol, epidemiology, transmission modes,
Examples: soap, sanitizer, masks and social distancing
Activity: work on final project, look up recommendations from CDC, WHO, local government, and explain

Day 6 – A day/week/more? Of anxious waiting; Do I have COVID19?
Definitions: pcr/molecular test, primer, amplification, IgM, IgG, IgA, rapid test (look for nucleocapsid), serological test, antigen test, titer, BSL
Example: IgA, IgM, IgG graphs and what they mean; pcr gel;
Activities: data comparing different tests; what do the results mean?

Day 7 – A year in the production of a vaccine; What are vaccines?
Definitions: attenuated, inactivated, adenovirus, seroconversion, protection, clinical trials
Example: Pfizer/Biontech BNT162b2, Moderna mRNA1273, J&J Ad26.Cov2.S, AstraZenena/Oxford AZD1222, Sinovac and Sinopharm, Regeneron/EliLilly REGNCOV2
Activities: clinical trial data, measles, polio, typhoid, rubella, tetanus etc vaccines, work on final project

Day 8 – A day in your life during the Pandemic; What is happening in the world?
Definitions: comorbidities, death and infection rates, collateral damage?
Example:  equity, access, insurance, cost of treatment, religious/cultural beliefs, global perspectives,
Activities:  look up data on different populations, countries, states, podcasts

Day 9 – 5 minutes of you as a public health activist: What is your PSA?
Definitions: none
Example: listen to some PSA from around the world
Activities: Present your PSA and receive/give feedback