2021 Science Reporting – Large Outlet - Silver

Opening with the story of a young woman who tested positive multiple times for the coronavirus even after her symptoms of COVID-19 disease had resolved, Roxanne Khamsi described efforts by scientists to determine whether the virus can hang around in the body for much longer than initially believed and, if so, whether it can remain infectious. Her piece offered a nuanced look at confusing and incomplete data as scientists struggled to better understand the activity of the virus and the limitations of existing tests for detecting its presence in the body. Over time, does the standard PCR test, which amplifies signals from the genetic code of the virus, accurately identify lingering and potentially infective virus in the body or is it merely detecting harmless fragments of the virus? Delving into whether viral persistence truly occurs during the pandemic, Khamsi also offered a richly detailed look at the persistence in the body of other viruses such as HIV, Epstein Barr and varicella-zoster (which causes chickenpox). “This story dove into the fascinating and urgent question of how long viruses can persist in the body,” said judge Laura Helmuth, editor in chief of Scientific American. “It stood out among other excellent coverage of the COVID pandemic by bringing in fundamental questions about virus behavior, historical mysteries that COVID may be clarifying, and immediate concerns about when someone is or isn’t still able to pass a virus to others.” Paul Basken, North America editor for Times Higher Education, called Khamsi’s piece “a creative, out-of-the-box and personal-level look at a critically important topic.” Khamsi said her award “helps bring attention to a topic I care about — viral latency. In other words, the notion that some viruses might stick around in us longer than we have thought. I hope that we continue to learn much more about this for the sake of patients, and for improving public health.”