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Confronting COVID-19

COVID-19 guidelines ahead of Fall term start

Masking

In line with current provincial and public health guidance, the university’s suspension of mandatory masking continues across campus at this time, however members of the Queen’s community are still strongly encouraged to wear a medical grade mask in indoor spaces where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Queen’s University is a mask-friendly campus, and we ask that our community be considerate and respectful of one another’s decisions regarding masking. Individuals who enter private offices or other confined spaces where face to face interaction is required may be asked to wear a mask as a condition of entry. Some activities and roles may have mandatory requirements for masking, such as those in health clinics, hospitals, some laboratories, and in some organizations where students complete their placements.

The status of the university’s mask mandate Is subject to change at any time based on Public Health guidance. Medical grade masks continue to be available across campus for those who need them.

COVID-19 Vaccination requirements

At this time, proof of vaccination is not required to attend most in-person university activities or to live in Queen’s residence. However, we continue to strongly encourage all Queen’s students, staff, and faculty to stay up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters.

Students, faculty, and staff in the Faculty of Healthy Sciences accessing hospital or other external facilities are required to adhere to the guidelines, policies, and procedures of the institution which they are attending. As well, activities that involve any other third parties (such as health clinics, elementary and secondary schools, and other organizations where Queen’s students complete experiential learning placements) will continue to be subject to the COVID-19 safety requirements of those third parties, including any proof of vaccination requirements.  Students, staff, and faculty are advised to contact their respective Faculty for further details.

The university may reinstate its Policy Regarding Mandatory Vaccination Requirements for In-person University Activities, possibly on short notice, if the local public health environment changes, or, if government mandates or public health recommendations restore proof of vaccination requirements.

If the university does reinstate its policy, all students, faculty, staff, and others who cannot provide satisfactory proof of vaccination, based on the definition of “fully vaccinated” in place at that time, could find their in-person university activities restricted or discontinued. This could impede students’ ability to remain in their classes or in residence. It could also impact employment status for faculty and staff and the permitted activities of university contractors and visitors.

The university strongly recommends that every person intending to live, work or study on campus, or otherwise engage in in-person university activities, maintain up to date vaccinations and boosters to reduce the risk of an interruption to their studies, work or access to university facilities and resources.

Capturing the Art of Research

With a reimagined focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the annual Queen's Art of Research photo contest reveals seven winning images.

From photos depicting the nanoscale to the freezing landscape of the Artic, the annual Art of Research photo contest takes us behind the scenes of the everyday research experience at Queen’s. With engagement this year from faculty, staff, students, and alumni, the contest aims to represent the diversity and creativity of research across disciplines and from all contributors to the research ecosystem.

The 2022 contest introduced five new categories inspired by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Guided by the mission and vision of the new Queen’s Strategy and the universal call to action of the SDGs, this year’s contest placed a spotlight on the intrinsic connection between research and social impact. Discover this year’s winners below and to view more contest winners and top submissions from the past six years, explore The Art of Research Photo Gallery.

2022 Art of Research Adjudication Committee

  • Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research)
  • Kanonhsyonne - Janice Hill, Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation)
  • Nicholas Mosey, Associate Dean (Research), Faculty of Arts and Science
  • Heidi Ploeg, QFEAS Chair for Women in Engineering, Mechanical and Materials Engineering
  • Ruth Dunley, Associate Director, Editorial Strategy, Office of Advancement
  • Jung-Ah Kim, PhD Student, Screen Cultures and Curatorial Studies
  • Melinda Knox, Director, Thought Leadership and Strategic Initiatives, University Relations
  • Véronique St-Antoine, Communications Advisor, NSERC

[Photo of the SNO+ detector at SNOLAB by Dr. Alex Wright]

Category: Innovation for Global Impact

The SNO+ Detector

Submitted by: Dr. Alex Wright for the SNO+ Collaboration
Faculty, Physics, Engineering Physics, and Astronomy
Location: SNOLAB, Sudbury, Ontario

The SNO+ experiment studies the fundamental properties of neutrinos. The detector consists of an active volume of 780 tonnes of liquid scintillator housed within a 12-metre diameter acrylic vessel that is held in place by ropes and viewed by an array of about 10,000 photomultiplier light detectors. In this image, taken by a camera embedded in the photomultiplier array, the detector is illuminated only by light from the clean room at the top of the vessel neck, producing a beam effect. The SNO+ experiment is currently collecting data, carrying on the work of the Nobel-prize winning Sudbury Neutrino Observatory.


[Photo of 3D vascular trees in animal models]

Category: Good Health and Well-Being

The Tiniest Tree of Life

Submitted byDr. Elahe Alizadeh
Staff, Queen's CardioPulmonary Unit (QCPU), Department of Medicine 
Location: Queen's CardioPulmonary Unit

COVID-19, the second pandemic of the current century, is still an ongoing global health emergency. Its complications and mortality are associated with pneumonia and alterations in the pulmonary vasculature. Acquiring 3D images of vascular trees in animal models provide a useful tool to evaluate the effects of COVID-19 in humans. In our research aimed at finding new drugs for COVID-19 under the supervision of Dr. Stephen Archer, vascular trees of a mouse were pressure perfused to maximal dilation with a radio-opaque material (barium). The heart and lungs were fixed and scanned using VECTor4CT scanner. VECTor4CT is the first tri-modality imaging system equipped with an ultra-high-resolution micro-computed tomography (µCT) scanner at Queen’s University.


[Photo of George Konana collecting ice by Saskia de Wildt]

Category: Creative and Sustainable Communities

George Konana Collecting Ice

Submitted bySaskia de Wildt
PhD Student, School of Environmental Studies
Location: Gjoa Haven, Nunavut

The Inuit practice an ongoing relationship with the land through camping, hunting, and fishing. As part of the BearWatch project, I explore how such knowledge, accumulated over many generations, and Inuit values can be ethically engaged in a community-based polar bear monitoring program. This picture is taken on one of our trips out on the land around Gjoa Haven during spring 2022. It captures George Konana collecting ice from the lake for tea. He traces ice with the right quality to give his tea a nice ‘reddish, brown’ color. At this exact moment, he cracks out a huge piece, enough for a month of tea.


[Photo of a gastropod mummy laying eggs by Ruqaiya Yousif]

Category: Climate Action

Gastropod Mummy

Submitted byRuqaiya Yousif
PhD Student, Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering
Location: Qatar

This is a picture of a gastropod mummy laying down her egg cases. My research assesses the stable isotope (C and O), clumped isotope (∆47), and trace element compositions of living and quaternary shells from the Arabian/Persian Gulf. The aim is to link these analyses with modern oceanographic data to develop a robust proxy for understanding oceanographic change in the rock record. In other words, I am trying to link the shell chemistry with its surrounding environment and then use this link to assess oceanographic changes over the past 125,000 years. At the time of this picture, we were growing gastropods under laboratory conditions and performing invitro fertilization of oysters.


[Photo of a researcher collecting environmental DNA in a maternal polar bear den by Scott Arlidge]

Category: Partnerships for Inclusivity (Tied)

Polar Bear Denning

Submitted byScott Arlidge
Graduate Student, School of Environmental Studies
Location: Coral Harbour, Nunavut

This photo demonstrates the collection of snow from inside a maternal polar bear den to collect environmental DNA. When the mother digs out the den, skin cells from her paws are abraded and stuck to the snow. Some preliminary research shows that we may be able to identify individual bears by analyzing these snow samples, information which can inform polar bear population management. My research is a pilot of ground-based non-invasive polar bear monitoring techniques, with a focus on Inuit inclusivity. Inuit Elders and polar bear hunters are key knowledge holders and collaborators throughout this research.


[Photo of a mural of the Oasis logo by Riley Malvern]

Category: Partnerships for Inclusivity (Tied)

Aging with Oasis

Submitted byRiley Malvern
Staff, Health Services and Policy Research Institute
Location Kingston, Ontario

Oasis is a program co-developed by older adults to strengthen and sustain their communities to support aging in place. The Oasis Evaluation and Expansion research team has been working with Oasis communities since 2018 to expand the program across Canada and to evaluate a number of health and well-being outcomes. This photo depicts a mural that represents the power of communities coming together. Each square of this mural was designed by an Oasis member from communities across Kingston and Belleville. Together, these squares form the Oasis logo, which was designed by members of the original Oasis community.


[Photo of a crystallized decanoic acid by Dan Reddy]

Category: People's Choice

Crystalline Acid

Submitted byDan Reddy
PhD Student, Chemistry
Location: Chernoff Hall, Queen's University

This photo taken with scanning electron microscopy depicts an extremely small yet precise volume (i.e., nanolitre-sized) of crystallized decanoic acid. We are using these spots of crystalline acid to extract and preconcentrate, or soak-up, chemicals of concern like opioids from wastewater samples. This preconcentration step improves our ability to monitor these chemicals. By doing so, we can improve how we detect these harmful compounds and protect local watersheds.


To learn more about this year’s winners and explore past winners and top submissions, visit The Art of Research Photo Gallery on the Research@Queen’s website.

Funding to advance bold, innovative research programs

Queen’s receives $3 million from the New Frontiers in Research Fund programs for projects pushing the frontiers of knowledge and pioneering solutions to overcome challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Queen's campus in Kingston, Ontario
Queen’s researchers are developing out-of-the-box solutions to wicked problems. 

The Government of Canada has announced a $45 million investment to support high-risk, high-reward research through the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) Exploration and Research in a Pandemic Context streams. The announcement was made Monday by the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health. Queen’s researchers have received a total of $3 million in support.

"The NFRF programs challenge researchers to come up with out-of-the-box solutions to complex global problems – from climate change to how we can leverage learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic," says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). "Congratulations to our funded research teams for their novel ideas and creativity. I look forward to seeing how these projects progress and evolve."

Pushing the boundaries of research

The 2021 Exploration stream grants funding for programs that propose exciting new areas of research with an interdisciplinary approach. Five Queen’s research programs will receive $250,000 each:

  • Cao Thang Dinh and Laurence Yang (Chemical Engineering) will work with a team of experts in electrochemical engineering, computational system biology, and microbiology to find solutions to improve the efficiency of bioprocesses – that is, processes that use living cells to convert carbon dioxide, renewable, non-food biomass and waste into chemicals with industrial applications – by powering them with renewable electricity such as wind and solar using an electrochemical process. Their research has potential impact in reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as enabling cost-effective, large-scale production of biodegradable bioplastics to reduce plastic waste.
  • The genetic and epigenetic origins of cancer are the root of a program led by Anna Panchenko (Pathology and Molecular Medicine) and Maria Aristizabal (Biology). The team will investigate the role of mutations in histone genes in the genesis of cancer using an integrative in silico/ in vivo platform. Histones are proteins that help form the structure of chromosomes and might have the potential to be used as diagnostic biomarkers or targets for therapeutic intervention.
  • Zongchao Jia (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences) and Yong Jun Lai (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) are partnering to develop a microsensor to help test novel drugs with potential to treat bacterial infections without causing antibiotic resistance. They will work with a family of compounds that, instead of killing the bacteria, reduce their virulence. The immediate application of the research would be to treat infections caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an opportunistic bacterium known for causing severe disease, particularly in immunocompromised patients and those with cystic fibrosis.
  • A team led by Beata Batorowicz (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) and Sidney Givigi (School of Computing), experts in the fields of rehabilitation science, child development, computer science, engineering, education, and ethics will work together to develop new tools to improve communication for children with neuromotor disabilities. Their idea is to use robots to improve quantity and quality of social interactions, helping children overcome the challenges posed by impaired speech and mobility.
  • Jason Gallivan (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences/ Psychology) and Anita Tusche (Economics/ Psychology) are looking into the potential of digital technology to  protect people from the bodily effects of social isolation – experienced, for example, during the pandemic lockdowns. They aim to understand the multifaceted neurobiological changes that occur during isolation and test how virtual interactions – like video chats – can reduce them. The team expects results could be used to rethink digital technology applications (e.g. remote education, telemedicine) and social policy (e.g. concerning vulnerable populations with limited access to digital resources).

Seeing the pandemic impacts and opportunities through multiple lenses

Seven research projects at Queen’s received funding from the 2021 Innovative Approaches to Research in the Pandemic Context competition, a program that encourages scholars to pioneer innovative solutions to research challenges brought on by the pandemic. Each project was granted $250,000:

  • Understanding how urbanisation affects biodiversity is essential for the sustainability of healthy human and wildlife communities. Scholarly attention is lacking, however, on urbanisation in economically disadvantaged areas. After shifting to community-based research in response to Covid restrictions, researchers Frances Bonier (Biology) and Paul Martin (Biology) began developing a novel, community science method to survey bird populations in cities in developing nations, while working in partnership with local experts and trained participants. Bonier and Martin’s new community science method will allow for important advances in urban ecology, while also addressing the neglect of economically disadvantaged regions in ecological research.
  • Due to COVID-19, activities that involved singing were restricted, forcing Julia Brook (Drama and Music) and Colleen Renihan’s (Drama and Music) study examining accessible and inclusive music theatre to pivot online. After the online medium proved surprisingly beneficial, particularly for older adults who can experience difficulty travelling to a particular location, Brook and Renihan aim to accelerate the exploration of virtual music theatre to address the pressing need for virtual leisure opportunities for older adults that foster overall well-being. This study is both unprecedented and incredibly relevant given the growing population of older adults in Canada and around the world.
  • Although we understand what influences mental health, we do not understand the way influences change across situations, nor how they vary between demographics. In response to this gap in understanding and pandemic restrictions highlighting how changes in situation sometimes prevent social interaction, researchers Jonathan Smallwood (Psychology) and Jeffrey Wammes (Psychology) propose developing new methods for quantifying influences on mental health without in-person data collection. Their study will use smartphones to measure a person’s “in the moment” thinking and machine learning will identify how these data are linked to their happiness and productivity. This project could facilitate the creation of a comprehensive mental health database to help researchers and community members better understand how context shapes individual mental health.
  • The onset of the pandemic came with a huge increase in pandemic-related research, as scientists worked to understand how to reduce transmission and aid in recovery. Journals often struggled to review and disseminate results quickly, leading many researchers to share results publicly without peer review. This increased concerns about the quality and reliability of research findings that policymakers and the public were exposed to, potentially generating confusion, distorting policy, and decreasing some people’s trust in the scientific process. Researchers Christopher Cotton (Economics) and David Maslove (Medicine) are assessing the pandemic experiences of researchers and policymakers who rely on research, as well as exploring novel methods of rapid review and better quality control, including an experiment with a peer-reviewed journal that has been inundated with COVID-related submissions. Their results could revolutionize the ways in which research is reviewed and disseminated, especially during crises.
  • The waiting time for triage in hospital emergency departments (ED) is an ongoing challenge across Canada. Farhana Zulkernine (School of Computing) and Furkan Alaca (School of Computing) have developed a novel solution to the problem with Triage-Bot: an AI robot used to leverage existing hospital-triage systems by assessing patient’s symptoms and securely linking them to hospital data to assess the criticality of a patient’s health condition. Also deployable to personal residences, this technology could allow remote assessments of patients with COVID or chronic health problems in addition to reducing triage wait time and improving health care services in Canada, overall.
  • Infants born with complex health conditions require ongoing neonatal follow-up visits to track their health and development to ensure their future wellbeing. The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions have compounded the myriad of geographic and socioeconomic factors posing significant barriers for families to access the care they need. Sandra Fucile (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) and her team at Kingston Health Sciences Centre are proposing the creation of a parent-administered, virtually guided standardised tool for evaluating developmental milestones of at-risk infants. This study has potential to allow for equitable health service delivery to all children across Canada.
  • The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is the world’s second largest after Syria. Researchers Susan Bartels (Emergency Medicine) and Amanda Collier (Emergency Medicine) are proposing the use of an app (Balcony.io) to help migrants and humanitarian responders communicate even when travel is restricted, while simultaneously collecting important research data to inform responsive decision making and resource allocation during crises. If successful, this study on the use of Balcony.io in Latin America’s migration crisis will bring the voices and needs of migrants to the forefront, while allowing response teams to pivot in real time to rapidly changing circumstances.

The NFRF is an initiative created by the Canada Research Coordinating Committee. It is managed by a tri-agency program on behalf of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. To find out more about the funding announcement, visit the website.

Queen’s updating its COVID-19 health and safety measures

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Queen’s has been working closely with provincial and local public health experts with the primary objective of protecting the health and safety of our community and to preserve the ability of our healthcare system to serve the local community.

Over the past six weeks, the pandemic outlook across the province has changed significantly. The Ontario government has lifted most public health measures.  Locally, health care authorities are indicating a continued decline in the number of COVID cases requiring hospitalization.

With this in mind, Queen’s is announcing the following changes to our COVID-19 health and safety measures for the start of the spring/summer term – as of May 1, 2022:

  • The university’s vaccination requirement will be suspended, at which point most students, faculty, and staff will no longer be required to provide proof that they are fully vaccinated to participate in in-person university activities. Most students looking to register for classes in the summer term with in-person components will now be able to do so, regardless of their vaccination status.
  • The university’s mandatory masking policy will be suspended.
  • The SeQure app daily screening will no longer need to be completed before attending in-person university activities
  • Certain activities and roles that involve third parties (such as health clinics, hospitals, elementary and secondary schools, and other organizations where students complete their placements) may have different requirements for both masking and vaccination that will still have to be followed. Students, staff, and faculty members should contact their respective faculty for details.

Everyone should be aware that the suspension of these measures is based on the current state of the pandemic and corresponding public health considerations. If the situation changes, Queen’s may bring back vaccination and/or masking requirements on short notice. If government mandates or public health instructions reinstate masking and/or vaccination requirements at any time after May 1, Queen’s will, of course, comply with any such mandates and implement appropriate processes to do so. To that end, the university will be looking at ways to continue to collect community vaccination information and we will update you with more details about that process when available.

If the university does need to reinstate its proof of vaccination requirement, students, faculty, and staff who are not fully vaccinated in accordance with the definition that is applicable at the time could find their in-person activities interrupted and/or may not be able to get necessary vaccinations in time to be able to return to campus. This may impact eligibility to remain in classes, employment status, eligibility to remain in residence, and access to on-campus resources or facilities. We strongly recommend maintaining up to date vaccination status to reduce the risk of interruption to your studies or work.

As we look ahead with cautious optimism, we must also emphasize that this pandemic is not yet over and preventing the spread of COVID-19 remains a priority. We strongly encourage all students, faculty, and staff to receive updated vaccinations and boosters, as these remain the best way to protect yourself and the community against serious illness from COVID-19. We would also encourage all community members to continue wearing masks indoors when in places that are crowded or involve close contact with others. Some individuals may prefer to continue wearing masks at all times when indoors, and some may choose not to do so. As a community, we need to be respectful of everyone’s choices and keep in mind that everyone’s situation is unique.

As always, we urge you to remain vigilant. If you are in contact with a COVID-19 case or experience symptoms of COVID-19, please consult the Ontario government’s COVID-19 self-assessment to determine if you should be tested or refer to the university’s Updated Isolation Protocols.

While the current situation is encouraging, we have seen that circumstances can change at any time, and the risks of new variants and outbreaks remain a very real possibility. Our entire community needs to remain flexible and adaptive in responding to ‘real time’ changes. In suspending the mask and proof of vaccination requirements for in-person university activities, the ability to reinstate either or both of these requirements if necessary is essential.

We anticipate that this announcement is welcome news to many but understand others may have concerns or questions.  Support for staff and faculty is available through the Employee and Family Assistance Program and additional wellness resources are available on the Human Resources website.  Undergraduate and graduate students can contact Empower Me, 24/7 from countries around the worldGood2Talk, a 24/7 support line for post-secondary students, or Student Wellness Services.

The last two years have been extraordinarily challenging for all of us, and we trust that you will continue to do your part to keep yourself and those in our community healthy and safe. Queen’s will continue to monitor public health directives and government decisions, and we will be updating the community as things change. We also recognize that many people may have more specific questions about how the lifting of health and safety measures may impact their work or study. More information on these topics will be shared as soon as it is available through email and on the Safe Return to Campus website.

Updated COVID-19 isolation protocols

Queen’s University has updated its isolation protocols for students, faculty, and staff to align with the current provincial guidelines. In line with those guidelines and effective immediately:

  1.       If YOU HAVE symptoms of COVID-19 or have tested positive for COVID-19 you must isolate:
    1. For at least five days if you are fully vaccinated or are under 12 years of age
    2. For at least 10 days if you are over the age of 12 and not fully vaccinated, are immunocompromised, or live in a highest risk setting
  2.       If you LIVE WITH someone who has symptoms of COVID-19 or has tested positive for COVID-19, you do not need to isolate if one of the following applies to you:

a. You have had COVID-19 in the last 90 days, have fully recovered from it, and do not have symptoms

b. You are over 18 years old and have received a third COVID-19 (“booster”) dose

c. You are under 18 years old and are fully vaccinated

If none of (a), (b), of (c) above apply to you, you must self-isolate for at least five days, and are not permitted on-campus. If you develop symptoms, you must isolate even if you are fully vaccinated. For isolation times, see #1(a) and (b) above. Additional details regarding isolation and symptoms can be found on the Ontario government’s COVID-19 website

Queen’s Protocols for In-Person Classes have been updated to reflect the new isolation guidance.

3.      If you've been in CLOSE CONTACT with someone who has the virus but you don't actually live with them:

  1. You are not required to self-isolate, regardless of your vaccination status.
  1. For 10 days, you are still strongly advised, to: (i)  self-monitor for symptoms; (ii) wear a mask in public; and(iii) avoid being around vulnerable demographics, such as long-term care residents.

Please note that students in residence must follow the updated Residence Isolation Protocols. Learn more about Queen’s COVID-19 policies on the Safe Return website. Information and vaccination availability in Kingston is provided on the Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health website.

The pandemic has been challenging for all members of the Queen’s community. Support for staff and faculty is available through the Employee and Family Assistance Program and additional wellness resources are available on the Human Resources website.  Undergraduate and graduate students can contact Empower Me, 24/7 from countries around the worldGood2Talk, a 24/7 support line for post-secondary students, or Student Wellness Services.

Please check the Safe Return website regularly for further updates.

Protecting a critical resource

In recognition of the UN's World Water Day, Queen's researcher Sarah Jane Payne speaks about the importance of water quality and access in combating a global crisis affecting over two billion people. 

[Photo of Dr. Sarah Jane Payne]
Dr. Sarah Jane Payne (Civil Engineering)

Clean drinking water is a critical component for sustainable development – from poverty reduction to economic growth and environmental sustainability. Currently, according to the United Nations (UN) there is a global water crisis affecting almost 2.2 billion people who lack access to safe water. To raise awareness of the crisis and support the global work advancing Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation the UN identified March 22 as World Water Day.

To learn more about innovations in water system infrastructure, the role of sanitation during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the improvements needed to provide equal access to clean water in Canada, the Gazette spoke with Queen’s researcher Sarah Jane Payne (Civil Engineering). An expert in emerging water contaminants and water quality management, Dr. Payne previously worked in the federal public service holding roles in water, wastewater, and environmental policy and regulation for Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada. At Queen’s, she is Co-Lead of the Queen’s COVID-19 Wastewater Surveillance Initiative and Co-Director of the Drinking Water Quality Group (DWQG), an affiliated research program of the Contaminants of Emerging Concern-Research Excellence Network (CEC-REN).

Could you tell us more about the Drinking Water Quality Group and facilities such as the Drinking Water Distribution Lab (DWDL) at Queen’s and how they support your research?

Queen’s is home to two world-class facilities with labs at Mitchell Hall and the Drinking Water Distribution Lab (DWDL). In fact, DWDL is only one of two full-scale research facilities in the world and the only one in North America. When I started working at Queen’s, I quickly discovered that I had many complementary academic interests with DWDL’s lead Yves Filion (Civil Engineering). We formed the Drinking Water Quality Group as a way for us to envision and explore complex, collaborative, and interdisciplinary research, recruit students, and situate Queen’s at the centre for solving critical issues in the water industry.

Currently, the Group is focused on understanding and predicting drinking water quality deterioration and looking for ways to prevent it, specifically through analyzing utilities data collected for regulatory compliance purposes. The DWDL allows us to conduct research in a controlled environment and look at the causes of drinking water discolouration or the accumulation of contaminants on pipe walls and learn about the optimal ways to remove them. We can also conduct smaller scale experiments in Mitchell Hall that allows us to further isolate the key mechanisms. Combining all of this knowledge together, we plan to develop machine learning tools to help predict high risk areas for water quality deterioration. This type of artificial intelligence (AI) tool could allow utilities to optimize their resources by strategically targeting the right areas for maintenance or replacing problematic pipe materials.

[Photo of Simon van der Plas preparing a wastewater sample for analysis]
Simon van der Plas prepares a wastewater sample for analysis. [Supplied photo] 

What is something people may be surprised to know affects their local water quality and what actions could to be taken to minimize harmful effects?

The question I get asked the most is: do I drink tap water? I do! I am a tap water enthusiast, and I enjoy taste testing tap water in different cities. The challenge with local water quality is that the problems can be very localized and can even be specific to your home. Awareness of what issues you might encounter and knowing where to find resources to help is key.

My two biggest "local" water concerns are for private wells and lead service lines. Private wells can become contaminated and pose risks for users such as gastrointestinal illness. The most important thing owners can do is test their wells routinely for microbial contaminants. In Ontario, this water testing is free and there are several resources and actions owners can take to improve their well water quality if needed.

My other big worry is about lead exposure and its harmful effects for infants and children as a powerful neurotoxin. The largest sources of lead in drinking water come from building plumbing materials, such as the service line connecting the distribution system to your house (allowed until 1975), lead tin solder (allowed until 1986), and brass fittings that could contain up to 8 per cent lead (allowed until 2014). Depending on the age of the home, I advise people to connect with their local water utility to ask whether or not lead service lines are expected in their neighbourhood and to have their water tested if needed. If lead is present, there are several options for eliminating it or using a certified treatment device and flushing your taps every day.

[Post-Doctoral Fellow, Dr. Abdul Rahman Alashraf examines the results of a test for viruses]
Post-Doctoral Fellow Abdul Rahman Alashraf examines the results of a test for viruses. [Supplied Photo]

How did you pivot your wastewater research to confront COVID-19? Your team has been working in partnership with Utilities Kingston, Loyalist Township, the City of Cornwall, and KFL&A Public Health to monitor trends in transmission locally, do you plan to build on your partnerships for future collaborations?

One my undergraduate students asked me if there was a connection between COVID-19 and wastewater. In searching for an answer, I read about some early and important proof-of-concept work out of the Netherlands that also suggested that SARS-CoV-2 wastewater surveillance could be both an early warning tool and non-invasive and inexpensive way to monitor the level of infection in a whole community. There was a lot of initial skepticism that it could be done at all, as detection is almost a needle in a very inhospitable haystack. However, through highly collaborative and open research endeavours provincially, nationally, and globally wastewater-based epidemiology has generated a whirlwind of scientific discovery and insight.

At Queen’s, Stephen Brown (Chemistry) and I lead an amazing team of post-doctoral fellows, technical staff, graduate, undergraduate, and summer students who are working tirelessly in the lab to hone this technique and explore its application possibilities. We have plans to advance wastewater-based epidemiology to monitor other viruses and bacteria as an early warning system for public health decision makers. We are also looking to optimize analysis for other targets and refine the technique as the applications expand.

Our utility and municipal partners are vital to this project and provide sample collection and operational expertise to interpreting sample quality issues. We share the data with our public health unit partners and it is used in their situation awareness and public resources, such as KFL&A Public Health’s COVID-19 in Wastewater dashboard. It is a privilege to do work that is helpful to public health decision makers and an honour to work with the talented people on our team, our partners, as well as our colleagues across Ontario, Canada, and around the world. This project to confront COVID-19 has been the most unexpected, challenging, collaborative, and also the most rewarding work of my career. I’m very excited about our future work together, and the opportunity to protect public health through advancing wastewater science and engineering research.

While Canada is a freshwater-rich country, many here to do not have access to safe and clean water, particularly in Indigenous communities. The federal government has identified water treatment systems and infrastructure as crucial investments with a significant focus on renovating and upgrading existing systems to expand access. What key innovations and developments do you think are needed to retrofit Canada’s ageing water infrastructure for a sustainable future?

For innovations and development, I think of two things. The first is a community-based approach to ensure that the infrastructure is what a community wants, needs, and can operate and maintain. The second is a fulsome definition of sustainability that ensures adequate funding for operation and maintenance, resources for the recruitment, training, and retaining of talent to operate and maintain that infrastructure, and that the infrastructure is robust, efficient, resilient, and climate change ready.

Water is essential to life, and it is a universal need. We need to value it, protect it, celebrate it, and make sure that we can all access it.

Queen’s to resume in-person instruction on Feb. 28 as planned

Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty, 

I write this email firstly to welcome you back after our holiday break. The end of 2021 was tumultuous to say the least and our new year, 2022, started not as we had hoped. As we edge closer to the two year mark of this pandemic, I am acutely aware of the toll it has taken on all of us. It seems fitting to be sending you this note on the last day of Mental Health Promotion Week. The many months of isolation and uncertainty have had an enormous impact on our lives and I know that now, more than ever, we must support one another with kindness and generosity. When the pandemic began, I said that my intention for our institution was to keep us whole, so that when the crisis was over we could lose no time pursuing our goals and engaging with our future. I maintain that commitment, but it is clear that our community will not emerge unscathed and we will be addressing the impact of this pandemic long after the immediate threat to our health has lessened.

On that note, the second reason for my email is to confirm that in-person instruction will resume as planned on Feb. 28. I had promised to let the community know our decision by early February, but with the government announcements earlier this month for a staged reopening of the province and recent direction for the postsecondary sector from our Ministry and public health earlier this week, I can be definitive. We will indeed move to in-person instruction at the end of next month. This timing will allow us to conclude the necessary arrangements to support this move over the next few weeks. A more detailed memo about our academic delivery and the return of students to campus will be released next week. Updates will continue to be posted to the Safe Return Website.

Thank you again for your flexibility and willingness to adapt to very unstable and unpredictable circumstances. Like our colleagues everywhere in the sector, we are grappling with the twists and turns of this virus. As we move out of the winter months, the newest challenge presented by the Omicron variant appears to be nearing an end, and given the advice of our medical experts we have reason for optimism. I am hopeful for what 2022 will bring and although we may have had a rough start to the new year, the future does look bright. Happy new year, everyone. I look forward to seeing you back on campus in the not too distant future.

Patrick Deane
Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Updates on vaccine third dose, isolation, masking and testing guidelines

Students, staff and faculty are strongly encouraged to seek a third vaccine dose when eligible and, if possible, before returning to campus; third doses reduce the chance of acquiring and transmitting Omicron. Individuals age 18+ who are 84 days post second dose in the KFL&A region can now book an appointment to receive their third dose here. A student-focused social media campaign is also being launched today to encourage students to get their third dose prior to returning to campus.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, isolate

Individuals with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 are presumed positive and they should follow isolation and/or self-monitoring guidelines.

  • Individuals with symptoms of COVID-19 who are fully vaccinated, as well as children under 12, are required to isolate for five days following the onset of symptoms. This also applies to their household contacts.
  • The isolation can end after five days if symptoms are resolved or improving for at least 24 hours (or 48 hours if the symptoms affect the digestive system), and all public health and safety measures, such as masking and physical distancing, are followed.
  • Individuals 12 and older who are unvaccinated, partially vaccinated or immunocompromised are required to isolate for 10 days.

COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • fever or chills
  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • decreased or loss of taste or smell
  • two or more of:
    - runny nose or nasal congestion
    - headache
    - extreme fatigue
    - sore throat
    - muscle aches or joint pain
    - gastrointestinal symptoms (such as vomiting or diarrhea)

Masks

There is increasing evidence that single layer cloth masks are insufficient protection against the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Individuals are strongly encouraged to wear double or triple-layered non-woven disposable masks instead of cloth masks. Fit is important – make sure the mask is well-fitted to your face.

New PCR testing guidelines for select groups

Given the prevalence of Omicron, symptomatic isolation provides us with the best protection against the spread of the virus - testing is no longer the best line of defence.

In addition, the province has implemented new testing guidelines, which focus on testing those designated as high-risk either by virtue of setting or risk of severe illness to continue to safeguard hospitals and ICU capacity, protecting the most vulnerable and maintaining the stability of critical infrastructure and workforces. KFL&A Public Health, in accordance with Ontario Public Health, announced that effective Dec. 31 publicly-funded PCR testing will only be available for individuals designated as high-risk. A full list of eligible individuals can be found here.

Testing for asymptomatic contacts of cases is generally no longer recommended, except for those designated within a high-risk category.

Appropriate Use of Rapid Antigen Testing

Ontario currently has a limited supply of rapid antigen tests that are being prioritized for health care and high risk settings, including hospitals, long-term care, retirement homes, other congregate living settings and institutions, and other settings as directed by the local public health unit. This includes rapid antigen test use for “test-to-work” in which asymptomatic staff in these sectors can return to work when they would otherwise be in isolation at home.

Provincial government announces new temporary COVID-19 restrictions

The Government of Ontario announced on Monday that it is introducing updated public health measures to slow the spread of the Omicron variant and preserve hospital capacity. The measures will take effect Wednesday, Jan. 5 and remain in effect until at least Jan. 26.

The government has announced a series of targeted time-limited measures. Those that may directly impact campus operations include:

  • Social gathering limits reduced to five people indoors and 10 people outdoors and limiting capacity at organized public events to five people indoors.
  • Employees are required to work remotely unless the nature of their work requires them to be on-site.
    - Human Resources and the Human Rights and Equity Office have developed numerous resources to provide guidance to staff and managers related to remote work and caregiver responsibilities.
    - As it relates to faculty members, librarians, and archivists whose professional responsibilities are impacted by this announcement, Deans and the University Librarian, supported by Faculty Relations, are available to receive and consider requests for accommodation based on family status.
  • The ARC will be closed effective Jan. 5. Virtual fitness programs and on-demand workouts will continue to be provided recognizing the importance of physical activity to positive health and wellbeing.
  • Campus libraries are limited to 50 per cent capacity. Curbside pickup of materials will be available.
  • Retail food locations limited to takeout only.
  • Details regarding residence dining facilities operations will be communicated in the coming days.
  • Indoor meeting and event spaces are closed.
  • Museums and galleries on campus are closed.

Students with program-specific queries are asked to contact their faculty advisor directly.  

We recognize that these changes can impact people’s mental health and well-being. Employees in need of support should contact the Employee and Family Assistance Program. Additional wellness resources are available on the Human Resources website

Students needing wellness support can contact Empower Me, 24/7 from countries around the world, Good2Talk, a 24/7 support line for post-secondary students, or Student Wellness Services.

Rapid antigen test kits available for all faculty, staff and students Dec. 16-23

Kits can be obtained at Grant Hall from Dec. 16-23.

Rapid test handed out at Grant Hall
Team member Moby Onuoha hands out Rapid Antigen Testing kits to Queen's employees. The kits are available at Grant Hall through to Dec. 23. (University Communications)

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the KFL&A region, Queen’s is providing all faculty, staff and students with rapid antigen test kits to help keep them and the wider community safe.

Kits can be obtained at Grant Hall from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, Dec. 16 to 23.

Individuals should be prepared to show their Queen’s employee ID or student card to receive the kits.

Information regarding testing options for students can be found on the Safe Return website.

Learn more about other testing options in the Kingston region on the KFL&A Public Health website, and find information about rapid antigen test pop-up sites in the province on the Government of Ontario website.

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