Newsletter – May/ June 2020

Welcome to the May/June 2020 chapter newsletter. Let us know what you think, and remember, you can also read it on the chapter website. You can find previous newsletters on the website as well. And we always welcome suggestions for newsletter topics.

In this issue:





Next Book Club

The next book club will be held on Monday, September 28, 2020.  We will discuss the book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou.

Southeast Minnesota Networking

The next southeast Minnesota meeting is planned for September 2020. Stay tuned for details.


Take an active role in AMWA – Volunteers needed!

AMWA North Central is a volunteer-based organization. If members don’t take an active role, the chapter will cease to function, and members will lose access to programming, news, and networking opportunities. Consider taking your turn to lead (or join) a committee or serve as a chapter officer.

The following positions are open:

  • Finance Committee Chair: The Finance Committee Chair coordinates the annual audit of the chapter’s financial records at the close of the fiscal year (July) and reports the findings to the Chapter Treasurer.
  • Committee members: Committees that need members include:
    • Programming committee: Plan, schedule, and execute events
    • Publications committee: contribute articles to the monthly newsletter.  Examples of articles include profiles on members and “What we write” articles describing a type of medical writing describing a type of medical writing

In addition to keeping our group viable, volunteering with AMWA is a great way to network with your fellow members. It’s also a good way to fortify your C.V. with an extra line showing how you give back to your profession! If you can volunteer a few hours a month to help, contact our president, Michele Cleary: president at amwanorthcentral(dot)org


AMWA Annual Meeting Summary

COVID-19 Update: A Talk and Q&A Session on the Novel Coronavirus Outbreak with Dr. Michael Osterholm held on May 14, 2020

By Kendra Hyland, PhD

Dr. Osterholm is an infectious disease epidemiologist and Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Osterholm served in various roles at the Minnesota Department of Health from 1975 to 1999.  From 2001  to 2005, in addition to his work at CIDRP, Dr Osterholm also served as a Special Advisor to the Department of Human Services Secretary.  For the past two decades, he has been sounding the alarm about the threat of an influenza pandemic for many years. He is the author of the 2017 book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs,  in which he not only details the most pressing infectious disease threats of our day but lays out a nine-point strategy on how to address them, with preventing a global flu pandemic at the top of the list.

On May 14th, Dr. Osterholm spoke virtually to the AMWA North Central Chapter members. Dr. Osterholm has been in high demand given the current events, and he is often interviewed, so we were lucky that he agreed to speak to our group. He touched on a wide variety of topics related to COVID-19, including related coronaviruses SARS and MERS, cloth/surgical masks, a potential vaccine, and the tests that are currently available. Dr. Osterholm presented his outlook on the COVID-19 outbreak and reflections on what the future holds. One phrase resonated: “we are not driving this tiger, we are riding it”.

During the Q&A session, the discussion turned to what we as medical communicators might contribute:

  • Don’t over-reassure the audience if many unknowns characterize the situation
  • Be honest. Acknowledge uncertainty
  • Consider the long term impact.  Often, the news focuses on the now and doesn’t describe the long term.
  • Balanced reporting is needed.  This is an emotional topic.
  • Consider the quality of the data that you are reviewing.  Some information is presented as fact when the data has not been through the peer-review process. For example, mass testing of the population has been suggested as needed before re-opening restaurants, etc.  What is the basis of this recommendation?

Dr. Osterholm definitely followed this advice.  He provided a frank and somewhat sobering assessment of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Please see below for additional resources and a link to the recording.


Click on this link  to access a recording of the AMWA North Central Chapter’s Annual Meeting and the session with Dr. Osterholm. Please see below for notes on topics discussed. Suggested browsers for accessing these files are Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Mozilla Firefox.

Annual Meeting

  • 0 – 16:00 Chapter leaders introduce themselves
  • 16:30 – 20:10 Introduction of Treasurer Ellen O’Malley and chapter financial report

Dr. Osterholm’s talk

  • 22:10 – 23:30 Chapter President Michele Cleary introduces Dr. Osterholm
  • 23:30 –  Historical perspective on COVID-19 and respiratory diseases (influenza)
  • 25:00 – Related (“cousin”) coronaviruses: SARS in China and MERS in the Arabian peninsula
  • 28:30 – Review emergence of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China and its spread around the world
  • 30:40 – Impact of COVID-19 on different areas and countries (China, Italy, Sweden). Similarities with 1918 outbreak of influenza.
  • 33:00 – “We are not driving this tiger, we are riding it”. Human impact on the course of the outbreak and possible scenarios.
  • 34:30 – Immunity to COVID-19; development of a vaccine
  • 41:30 –  Social vs physical distancing; thoughts on the impact of the virus
  • 42:00  – Risk factors for more severe disease: heart disease, obesity, etc.
  • 43:50 – Testing and contract tracing
  • 46:50  – Q&A session
    • 48:00 Advice on how to communicate this information to different audiences
    • 53:00 Example of outbreaks in closed communities
    • 54:00 Aerosols and N95 vs surgical masks vs cloth masks
    • 59:00 Quality of data; recommendations for accurate resources for finding the latest information (see list below)
    • 1:01:00 Updates on ongoing clinical trials? (none were available)
    • 1:02:00 Treatments that warrant special attention?
    • 1:04:50  Question about 5-15% of the population infected- does it account for asymptomatic infection?
    • 1:06:30 Question about cloth masks and 6 ft distance
    • 1:08:50 Which countries have implemented the best mitigation strategies and what can we learn from their approach?  Examples: Sweden, Korea, Thailand
    • 1:15:00 Is it possible that we contracted the COVID-19 virus when we thought it was another cold or influenza?
    • 1:18:00 Are there sequelae in patients that have recovered from COVID-19 infection
    • 1:19:30  This crisis has illuminated shortcomings in our health care system.  Is there reason to be optimistic that this crisis will force changes to the health care system
    • 1:25:00 Wrap up and final thoughts

Recommended sites for up-to-date information about COVID-19 and other diseases:

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Book Club Notes: Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller

By Paul W Mamula, PhD

We held our first virtual book club on April 27, 2020, to discuss Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller. The meeting was originally scheduled for The Mirror of Korea, an excellent restaurant on Snelling Avenue in St Paul, but the coronavirus pandemic forced us to use a remote service. 

The Book

Extra Virginity concisely traces the history of olives, olive oil processing, and the olive oil business. It is a compact 238 pages, consisting of 7 chapters, a glossary, an appendix, and acknowledgments. The writing is nontechnical, making the book an easy read. Mueller provides several first-person stories that illustrate the workings of the olive oil business (both large and small). His accounts of the families who operate olive orchards and their interactions with regulatory organizations are captivating. Two nice sections of illustrations complement the text. The author and his wife live in Tuscany, giving the book a personal touch.

Technical details and supplemental information are in the glossary, so the text is free of long descriptions and lengthy footnotes. The appendix provides multiple weblinks detailing aspects of olive oil and resources about assessing quality, as well as tips on buying, storing, and using olive oil. If you don’t want to read the whole book, you can browse the glossary and the appendix for a worthwhile skim.

We all liked the book, although the differences between chapters led us to suspect that some had been reworked from articles published elsewhere. Mary Knatterud summed up our feelings by saying, “I enjoyed this (literally mouth-watering) narrative about the often-nefarious world of olive oil. I made pasta for lunch as soon as I finished it.”

Fun Facts

Here are a dozen fun facts and figures from the book:

  1. More than 700 cultivars of olives exist worldwide.
  2. Olive trees are often interspersed among other plants such as figs, almonds, and grapes that crosspollinate to give the olives distinct flavors.
  3. Olive oil comes in 3 qualities: extra virgin (the highest quality), virgin, and lampante (”lamp oil,” the lowest quality).
  4. Although the term “extra virgin” originally meant the oil from the first pressing, most olive oil is now produced by grinding the olives and centrifuging the mix to extract the oil.
  5. The musty stench in bad olive oil is referred to as pipì di gatto (“cat pee”).
  6. Olive oil should be stored in a dark bottle and away from heat to prevent spoiling.
  7. Australia has produced award-winning olive oil and is one of the largest producers outside of the Mediterranean countries. Argentina, South Africa, and New Zealand are also large producers.
  8. Cheating is still common in the olive oil industry. Unscrupulous suppliers adulterate low-quality olive oil or even cheap vegetable oils with traces of extra-virgin oil to fool inspectors and market the adulterated product as extra virgin olive oil. Adulteration is illegal, but industry purity statutes are often not enforced, and inspectors often abet the cheating. (A New York Times infographic summarized the subterfuge.1)
  9. California has a booming organic olive oil industry.
  10. Olive oil adulteration was partly responsible for passage of the US Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 (multiple people had died from using adulterated oil and other harmful products).
  11. Several stores that employ stringent quality standards have websites to assist those buying olive oil without tasting it:,,, and
  12. A Minnesota connection, too: Ancel Keys and Henry Blackburn are mentioned in the book. Keys suggested reducing dietary fat to reduce heart disease and also developed military field rations (K-rations), while Blackburn worked with Keys to promote what is now the Mediterranean diet.

Readers who want to borrow the book during the shutdown may be able to arrange a curbside pickup from their local library. Mary Knatterud said, “I was elated to have obtained this book—remotely—from my beloved St. Paul Public Library, a few of whose branches partially reopened under an electronic-ordering/social-distancing protocol a little over a week ago, after being shuttered for a month.” Maplewood, Roseville, and Shoreview libraries in Ramsey County also offer curbside pickup. Check with your library to see if they offer this service.

Up Next

Our next book club is scheduled for Monday, September 28, 2020, when we will discuss Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. It details the fraud perpetrated by Elizabeth Holmes with her diagnostic company, Theranos. Please join us!

  1. Blechman N. Extra Virgin Suicide: The Adulteration of Italian Olive Oil. New York Times. Jan 24, 2014, The Opinion Pages [Infographic. Correction: Jan 29, 2014]
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