CAS Blog

COVID-19 in Munich: Experiences from the Corona-Testing-Unit at University Hospital, LMU Munich

Guenter Froeschl, 17 November 2020

Universities play an essential role in COVID-19 control strategies, as they are providing a direct link between patient care, research and public health measures. Political decisions have to be based on evidence, and we are able to contribute to the generation of patient centered evidence. The Tropical Institute of the LMU Hospital is one of the leading institutes in researching and combating COVID-19. Since March 2020 there has been a walk-through test station for which an entire road has been closed. In April 2020, the research project "Prospective COVID-19 Cohort Munich" (KoCo19) was launched at the Tropical Institute. In this study, the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the Munich population is investigated on the basis of the antibody status. In addition, the Tropical Institute together with CureVac AG is conducting a clinical study to test the new CureVac vaccine against COVID-19, which began recruiting volunteers in June 2020.

We have diagnosed the first five German cases of COVID-19 at our Division of Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine at the University Hospital, LMU Munich, starting on 27 January 2020. Within 24 hours of the first positive case we have put in place a COVID-19 Testing Unit (CTU) that started off within our main building, where fortunately there were two upper floors vacant due to reconstructions. After 6 weeks, in agreement with the city of Munich, we could open up a tent structure in Georgenstrasse in front of our main building, a street that was closed down for that purpose, located quite centrally in Munich. This CTU tent is the longest running structure of this kind in Germany. We have tested more than 5000 persons here. At the same time we were engaged in producing Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) guidelines, including donning and doffing guidelines for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which have been adopted frequently in- and outside Germany. Due to our rigid IPC measures we have so far not had a single nosocomial infection within our facility, neither amongst staff, nor amongst patients.

Walk-through test center, Tropical Institute of the LMU Hospital

In the course of the German experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to contribute to IPC measures all along, from the very first case up to this date, through our diagnostic capacity in the CTU as well as through our commitment in several advisory entities. In the meantime we have implemented in an extremely short time a randomized household prevalence study (KoCo19 Study), a study on outbreak dynamics in retirement homes (CORESA Study), and a phase 1 study on safety of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate, amongst others.

We have noticed a very supportive environment, especially in the beginning of the activities, in cooperation with authorities and the public. However, as time moved on administrative issues became more and more prominent, and today our team of experts is more frequently busy with compiling administrative forms and reports rather than promoting innovation and serving our citizens and patients. Even the persistence of the CTU tent structure has been put to doubt by authorities and individual citizens that at times seem to be more concerned with limitations for motorized vehicle traffic than with infection prevention. I am wondering whether a new full lockdown in the city of Munich would receive equally ample support in the general public as it did in the first place in March 2020.

To me personally the COVID-19 pandemic has very much highlighted pre-existing structural deficits: our weakness in cooperating across administrative borders based on real needs (COVID-19 as crisis of solidarity); but also a systemic disregard for vulnerable populations such as elderly people in retirement homes or people without proper health coverage (COVID-19 as crisis in social cohesion).

Guenter Froeschl, COVID-19 in Munich: Experiences from the Corona-Testing-Unit at University Hospital, LMU Munich, CAS LMU Blog, 17 November 2020, https://doi.org/10.5282/cas-blog/6