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Confronting COVID-19

Queen’s medical students helping with Kingston’s vaccination rollout

More than 200 of Queen’s medical students have answered the call for assistance and have begun volunteering with Kingston Health Sciences Centre.

Queen's medical student Tania Yavorska prepares to vaccinate a patient
Queen's medical student Tania Yavorska prepares to vaccinate a patient at Kingston Health Sciences Centre (Photo by Matthew Manor / KHSC)

Canada’s vaccination rollout is picking up across the country and within the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington region. This rapidly increasing rollout has sparked the beginning of the largest immunization campaign in Canadian history, and in order for it to run smoothly healthcare professionals across the country are being called upon to administer the delivery. As Kingston has begun to receive an increasing supply of the vaccine over the last several weeks, more than 200 of Queen’s medical students have answered the call for assistance and have begun volunteering with Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC). Every day the site, which is primarily staffed by these students, vaccinates hundreds of frontline workers, health care professionals, and senior community members. 

Tony Li, who is in his second year of medical school and is president of the Aesculapian Society, has been involved with the vaccination rollout for the last three weeks. The opportunity was borne from a medical school graduate who approached Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences Jane Philpott asking for assistance.  

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, students in the Faculty of Health Sciences have been looking for ways to support the community, and they have led many fantastic initiatives. A few weeks ago, a QMed grad, Dr. Elaine Ma, reached out to ask if the medical students would be available to help support with the rollout,” says Dean Philpott. “Our students are so eager to contribute, I was not surprised when I reached out to the Aesculapian Society and received a resounding ‘yes!’”  

Initially upper-year medical students were engaged in the vaccination clinic, but the campaign grew so quickly that all four years of medical students have had the opportunity to be involved. 

Each day at KHSC there are two four-hour shifts where medical students take part in all aspects of the vaccination process. This includes screening patients, tracking information, administering the vaccine and monitoring for adverse effects. Li describes the process as an assembly line and notes how impressed he is with its efficiency. 

“It’s a non-stop process and the four hours just fly by,” he says. “Each medical student can administer upwards of 40 to 80 vaccines in a single shift.” 

Right now, Li and his classmates are vaccinating healthcare workers, but moving forward, as the KFL&A region looks to expand its community rollout, Queen’s students will play a critical role in serving the wider community.

The School of Nursing has already created a unique placement which has allowed a student to be involved in the rollout in long-term care facilities in Kingston. Various teams, including upper-year nursing and medical students, have also been involved in the delivery of the vaccinations to priority communities, many located in the geographic north, through the Operation Remote Immunity initiative. 

As the rollout ramps up, so will the ways in which students from across health professional programs in the Faculty of Health Sciences participate. 

“I’ve been working with KFL&A Public Health,” Li says. “We built scenarios for the community rollout of a vaccine and worked out various roles for medical students, nursing students and other healthcare professionals in the faculty so that we can do our part to assist with the vaccination distribution and implementation plan. It’s exciting to know that our involvement can continue to grow.” 

While participating in the administration of the immunization campaign has served a functional role for the hospitals and community members, this experience has also provided an excellent learning opportunity for those involved. In addition to developing technical skills, the students are also practicing interacting with patients and to working effectively on inter-professional teams.  

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most people would go through medical school without having the experience of administering vaccines at a large-scale like we have,” Li says. “In just a few days, each medical student has already given over 100 vaccines. This will now be something that we will all be comfortable with moving forward in our training. On top of that we’re strengthening valuable clinical skills such as how to approach patients and communicate with them. There are so many benefits all around, and we’re all just so proud to be a part of it and give back to the community.”

Queen’s announces additional closures and restrictions to help prevent spread of COVID-19

Queen’s University is taking additional proactive measures to help curb the spread of COVID-19 variants of concern (VOC). On the advice of KFL&A Public Health and the university’s public health advisors, a range of campus services are being closed or restricted as a precaution. These changes are in addition to Wednesday’s announced closure of the Athletics and Recreation Centre (ARC) and include the following:

  • All retail food outlets on campus, including the Grad Club, will be restricted to takeout service only. Each operator will have the latitude to decide if they will remain open with the restrictions, or to close
  • Casual seating areas in congregate areas such as the John Deutsch University Centre (JDUC), all retail food areas in the Queen’s Centre, and casual seating in Mackintosh-Corry Hall are closed
  • The University Club remains closed

“The arrival of variants within our community is cause for much concern and we are going to do our part to help prevent further spread of the virus on our campus and beyond,” says Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Green. “We are all in this together and we are cooperating closely with our community partners to ensure all of our students are aware of what’s expected of them and to strongly encourage everyone to adhere closely to the incredibly important public health measures in place.”

The university is working closely with KFL&A Public Health to manage the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the community and continues to closely monitor students in residence through established protocols.

“Today, Public Health confirmed the virus is now spreading in small social circles, rather than through any large gatherings,” says Provost Green. “We are grateful to the vast majority of our students who have been staying home and limiting their contact with others. This was particularly apparent over the past few days as this is a time of year where we usually see St. Patrick’s Day gatherings.”

Residence dining hall operations are unchanged by today’s announcement. Take-out and online ordering is available for all students in residence and is encouraged.

Bookable study spaces remain available to students as those spaces are controlled to ensure compliance with Public Health protocols including recording information for contact tracing and masking at all times. Bookable spaces in Stauffer Library, the Education Library, Douglas Library and Mackintosh-Corry Hall remain available for use and can be reserved through the Bookable Spaces library page. Existing bookable Faculty-specific spaces also remain available for use.

COVID-19 testing on campus:

All members of the Queen’s community are reminded that even those without symptoms can spread the virus. The variants are very contagious, and the university is strongly encouraging students who have been in close contact with anyone outside their household without wearing a face covering or physical distancing, to get tested during the next two weeks, even if they are not experiencing symptoms.

Anyone developing COVID-19 symptoms should also get tested right away.

The KHSC satellite COVID-19 assessment centre located in Mitchell Hall, is regularly open to test students from Monday to Friday, 9 am to 4 pm. Appointments can be booked by calling Student Wellness Services at 613-533-2506.

The COVID-19 Assessment Centre at the Beechgrove Complex at 51 Heakes Lane, Kingston, is also available. It is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm, by appointment only.

For the latest information from the university on COVID-19, please visit https://www.queensu.ca/covidinfo/updates.

Queen’s closes Athletics and Recreation Centre as a precaution

Over the past week, the Kingston community has seen a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern (VOC). To help address this risk, Queen’s is taking the proactive step of closing the Athletics and Recreation Centre, effective March 18, as a precaution.

This closure comes on the advice of KFL&A Public Health and the university’s own public health advisers and will be in effect until further notice.

The closure affects all in-person programming in the ARC. The ARC will continue to provide virtual fitness programs and on on-demand workouts given the importance of physical health and wellbeing. Other services such as the university’s bookable Library study spaces currently remain open under existing restrictions.

All members of the Queen’s community continue to be asked to self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, and get tested right away if they develop any signs of illness. In addition, the University is strongly encouraging students who have been in close contact with anyone outside their household without wearing a face covering or physical distancing, to get tested during the next two weeks, even if they are not experiencing symptoms.

The KHSC satellite COVID-19 assessment centre located in Mitchell Hall, is regularly open to test students from Monday to Friday, 9 am to 4 pm, and will be running extended hours until 8:30 pm, now through March 19, inclusive. Appointments can be booked by calling Student Wellness Services at 613-533-2506. Evening appointments (4 pm - 8:30 pm) can also be booked online.

The COVID-19 assessment centre at the Beechgrove Complex at 51 Heakes Lane, Kingston, is also available. It is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm, by appointment only.

For the latest information from the university on COVID-19, please visit https://www.queensu.ca/covidinfo/updates.

Connecting with students

Queen’s staff go door-to-door to share information on academic resources, wellness, COVID-19, and more.

  • Bags set up for the Community outreach initiative
    Bags were filled with information about resources available to students including from Career Services. (University Communications)
  • Bags set up for the Community outreach initiative
    Hundreds of bags were handed out by Queen's staff to students living near campus on March 15 and March 16. (University Communications)
  • Queen's staff speak to students living near campus
    Queen's staff speak to students living near campus, checking on their wellbeing and providing information on keeping the community healthy and safe. (University Communications)
  • A Queen's staff member hands over a bag with treats and information
    A Queen's student living near campus accepts a bag filled with care items and the latest updates from public health, employment resources, and wellness information. (University Communications)
  • A Queen's student holds her dog as she greets a Queen's staff member taking part in a community outreach initiative on Monday, March 15. (University Communications)
    A Queen's student holds her dog as she greets a Queen's staff member taking part in a community outreach initiative on Monday, March 15. (University Communications)

Queen’s staff from across Students Affairs were busy March 15 and 16 going door-to-door in the near-campus neighbourhood, safely connecting with students to raise awareness of measures in place leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, the latest information from public health, as well as summer employment, and wellness information.

The effort marks the third time this academic year that Queen’s staff have engaged directly with students living in nearby housing to highlight the need for everyone to continue following best practices for staying safe and healthy.

“We have received a tremendous amount of positive feedback for these community outreach initiatives. We have been delighted to see how excited students are to chat with us, get their questions answered, and receive details about campus resources,” says Lindsay Winger, Assistant Dean, Support Services and Community Engagement. “The pandemic has been difficult for our entire campus community, and we are so grateful for the support to be able to connect safely with students through this engagement. Thank you to all the volunteers and campus partners who have made this a success.”

Students responded positively to the visits and conversations. Upper-year students were particularly interested in the resources offered by Career Services as they look for summer jobs, or take the first steps in post-university life.

““Preventing the spread of COVID-19 is important, but also can be extremely isolating. This is why it is important for the university to engage with students – which creates a personal connection,” says Jared den Otter, President of the Alma Mater Society. “I know these visits are appreciated while also being an important way to share information.”

With an increasing number of cases involving Variants of Concern (VOC), students are being encouraged to be tested even if they are not experiencing symptoms. The KHSC satellite COVID-19 assessment centre located in Mitchell Hall, is regularly open to test students from Monday to Friday, 9 am-4 pm, and will be running extended hours until 8:30 pm, now through March 19, inclusive. Appointments can be booked by calling Student Wellness Services at 613-533-2506. Evening appointments (4-8:30 pm) can also be booked online.

The off-campus visits were also an opportunity to share information about the Section 22 Order by KFL&A Public Health as a precautionary measure to help limit the spread of COVID-19. This order, currently in effect March 13-21, prohibits hosting or attending indoor or outdoor social gatherings with more than five people. The order, which in place city-wide, also includes several restrictions for businesses that serve alcohol.

For more information on Queen’s University’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and for related resources, visit the Queen’s COVID-19 Information website.

Students who didn’t receive a visit can email supportservices@queensu.ca to receive the information that was distributed. 

Marking one year of COVID-19

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane shares a video message with the campus community on the first anniversary of the pandemic.

Dear Queen’s Community,

This time last year we felt the first impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The university moved to remote learning and most of us began working from home. The entire world changed dramatically and now, a year later, it is necessary to reflect on what has happened over the past twelve months and to mark the significance of this anniversary. So many things are different and we cannot ignore the impact and the toll this virus has had on us all. Sadly, we are not done with it yet. But there is reason for hope. Mass vaccination will be here soon and we are doing everything we can to ensure that our community stays safe and healthy until then. As we look to a brighter future, we must acknowledge that there are still challenges ahead. We must continue to support one another, show compassion and understanding and know that working together, we will get through this. I encourage you to watch my short video that reminds us of how far we have already come and to acknowledge and thank all of you for your courage, resilience and commitment to our institution.

With gratitude,

Patrick Deane
Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Video call system to reduce PPE demand

Queen’s University researcher Michael Greenspan safely improves the way patients and health care workers connect during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The patient call button is a piece of equipment that is taken for granted in most hospitals. In fact, the technology behind it hasn’t been updated in decades.

But now, Queen’s researcher Michael Greenspan, Department of Electrical and Computing Engineering,  is running a pilot project at Belleville General Hospital that aims to upgrade the  call button system with some modern technology.

 “Basically, there is a computer tablet in a patient’s room, and one outside of the room for a health care worker to use,” says Dr. Greenspan. “The patient and nurse can interact safely, and it saves the hospital staff from changing into and out of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

While certain patient interactions still require health care providers to be physically present in the room, many routine interactions, like ones that are currently handled through hourly or intentional rounding, can be done as effectively and more efficiently, through a face-to-face video call conversation.


a modern call button system being piloted at Belleville General Hospital
A modern patient call button that is being piloted at Belleville General Hospital 

The COVID challenge

One of the main challenges hospitals are facing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is a shortage of PPE, especially masks, N95 respirators, goggles, visors, and gowns.

“Even though hospitals are re-using or extending the use of some of these PPE elements to conserve these limited products, PPE shortages remain prevalent across Canada and worldwide and these shortages are likely to be a concern for the foreseeable future,” says Dr. Greenspan. “Whereas other efforts have been oriented to increasing the supply of PPE, we’ve focused on the other side of the equation, ad are working towards decreasing the demand through the use of this interactive technology.”

The research was initially funded through the Ingenuity Labs Research Opportunities Seed Fund, and then through the Ontario Centres of Excellence VIP project, which included a contribution from HHAngus and Associates Ltd, an engineering firm with a focus on health care facilities. The project involves collaborators  Dr. Jennifer Medves (School of Nursing), Dr. Dick  Zoutman (Medicine), as well as colleagues from Queen’s Ingenuity Labs. Several other students and recent Queen’s graduates are also working on the project, including an ECE MEng recent graduate, software developer and team lead Ankit Dhanda.

Beyond the pandemic

Officials at Belleville General Hospital are keeping the system in place for now. Dr. Greenspan says the researchers have developed a new version, with a number of additional and advanced features based on the feedback that they have received, and are on track to install this new version in the spring.

Plans to evolve the patient call button were well underway when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and, once it subsides, the research team is hoping to circle back to the original vision of re-engineering the call button system entirely. The original vision involved adding in a series of sensors to monitor the patient and their environment, and then processing the data with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning methods, in order to detect and predict unsafe events or conditions. The technology could one day provide a better way for health care workers to interact with and monitor patients

“We hope to not only apply a different version to a hospital setting, but expand the system even further,” says Dr. Greenspan.  “The technology could be used in the Intensive Care Unit of hospitals, because the patients there are especially vulnerable and need to be protected from infection,” says Dr. Greenspan. “Overall, this technology upgrade  could lead to better efficiencies, better health outcomes, and higher patient and health care worker satisfaction.”



Public health introduces new limits ahead of St. Patrick’s Day

Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Green reached out to the Queen’s community informing them that, due to concerns around St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, the KFL&A Public Health’s Medical Officer of Health has implemented a new Section 22 Order as a precautionary measure to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in the Kingston community  

The Section 22 Order is effective from 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, March 13, 2021 until Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. The order, which is in effect city wide, prohibits hosting or attending indoor or outdoor social gatherings with more than five persons. The order also includes several restrictions for businesses that serve alcohol.

Provost Green added that the university has confirmed with KFL&A Public Health that the five-person gathering limit does not apply to residents of your own household. For example, if you live with seven other individuals, you are permitted to gather, however you cannot add additional non-household members. If your household only has four people, you could add one additional non-household member to the gathering.

Failure to comply with the order may result in a Part 1 Summons that can carry a fine up to $5,000 under Ontario’s Health Promotion and Protection Act (HPPA), and can also be considered under the Student Code of Conduct. 

KFL&A Public Health has advised that this Section 22 Order has been established to address the following concerns:

  1. The increasing concern in Ontario due to risk of COVID-19 variants;
  2. To protect our community and keep our schools and economy safe and open;
  3. To prevent illness given that Kingston has not received the same amount of vaccine as other communities in Ontario and the time to achieve maximum immunity after a first dose of a vaccine;
  4. To minimize impact on our EMS and hospital resources during a time that typically sees an increase risk for impact.

“I’m very grateful to the Queen’s community, and to our students in particular, for your committed efforts to adhere to the Public Health guidelines over the past year,” Provost Green writes. “I know the limitations on social gatherings haven’t been easy. Let’s continue to stand strong and keep our campus community, and Kingston, safe. With the continued roll-out of the vaccine in Canada, there is hope for brighter days ahead.”

Tracking COVID immunity

Researcher Anne Ellis, along with co-investigators Stephen Vanner and Prameet Sheth, receive federal funding to study COVID transmission and immunity among students and staff working in healthcare.

Researcher, clinician, and chair in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Queen’s University, Anne Ellis (Medicine) is perhaps best known for her role as Director of the Allergy Research Unit at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre. Now, her internationally recognized expertise in allergies and allergy treatment testing is being applied to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research Pivot

Through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), the Government of Canada recently announced over $220,000 in funding for Dr. Ellis to advance a new research study that will examine SARS-CoV-2 transmission and immunity among students and staff in clinical placements. The research goal is to test for SARS-CoV-2 and monitor the seroprevalence of health professional students returning to Queen’s campus, on arrival and throughout their studies.  

“A study of this size and nature is completely in our wheelhouse,” says Dr. Ellis. “The Research Unit routinely performs large-scale pharmaceutical or investigator-sponsored clinical trials featuring hundreds of research participants with significant logistics and safety measures at play. With allergy studies temporarily on hold due to COVID-19, our multidisciplinary team, including nurses, phlebotomists, technical and research staff, and graduate students, efficiently pivoted to develop this study in two short months.”

[Photo of healthcare workers]
Ellis' internationally recognized expertise in allergies and allergy treatment testing is being applied to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the support from the CITF, Dr. Ellis, along with co-Investigators Stephen Vanner (Medicine) and Prameet Sheth (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences), will recruit 500 asymptomatic students from the Faculty of Health Sciences. Through their placements, students will have direct interactions routinely with each other, the general public, and ambulatory and in-patient populations at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre, putting them at greater risk of exposure to the virus. With guidance from Gerald Evans, the Chair of the Division of Infectious Diseases, researchers will test the students for active COVID-19 infection. They will also test their blood for the presence of antibodies, which would suggest they had a previous infection. Participants will also complete a questionnaire to establish associations between their test results and other factors such as demographics, physical health measurements, mental health, lifestyle factors, medical history, travel history, COVID-19-related history, COVID-19 prevention practices, exposure, and testing.

Both types of tests will be repeated on all participants three more times over eight-months to capture any changes in infection rates and antibody levels.

Measuring Antibodies

“Our study will evaluate the likelihood of the students becoming infected with the virus and developing antibodies following infection,” says Dr. Ellis. Antibodies are protective proteins produced by our immune system upon exposure to a specific threat, such as a virus or pathogen, that help our body fight off the infection. They stick around in the blood after the body has cleared the infection, providing us with some immunological protection against reinfection. “If participants previously had COVID-19 but have no detectable antibodies in their blood, this might indicate that they are not protected against future reinfection of the virus. The presence of antibodies or lack thereof is equally exciting to determine."

[Photo of a healthcare worker]

Given the recent developments and vaccine approvals, the team has made some changes to the research. “We recently added several recovered COVID-19 patients from the local community into the study to measure their antibody levels as controls to further inform this study,” says Dr. Ellis.

Dr. Ellis plans to share the questionnaire findings with epidemiologist Kathie Doliszny to gain a ‘bigger picture’ understanding of COVID-19 infection and long-term immunological impacts. The results from this research study are also expected to help shape pandemic management policies and procedures instigated by universities and public health units across the country.

COVID Immunity Task Force

In late April 2020, the Government of Canada established the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force a representative set of volunteer experts, including Chief Public Health Officer and Head of Public Health h Agency of Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam, from across the country who are focused on understanding the nature of immunity arising from the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and its prevalence in the general population, specific communities, and priority populations.

For more information on the COVID Immunity Task Force, please visit the website.

Planning for 2021-22 academic year

Planning for the 2021-22 year at Queen’s is underway, and the university looks forward to expanding on-campus activities in the fall term.

Decisions regarding on-campus activities are guided by the Academic Operations Group and the Campus Operations Group, and the Senior Leadership Team. These groups consider a range of factors, including advice from local public health officials, the evolution of government regulations, consultation with bargaining agents, input from student governments, international travel restrictions, forecasts on the vaccine roll-out in Canada, and the varied needs of students, staff, and faculty. With COVID-19 expected to still be active in the fall, flexible options may still be required as appropriate.

Fall 2021: As part of the hope to be back to some degree of normalcy by fall, the university is planning that many small classes, labs, and tutorials will be offered in-person, with appropriate safety protocols in place. If restrictions remain in place throughout the fall, such as physical distancing measures and class size limitations, Queen’s expects most large classes may need to be delivered remotely.

Winter 2022: Depending on the vaccine distribution timeline, government regulations, and public health guidance, Queen’s is cautiously optimistic that on-campus activities will return to normal in the winter term.

“I know this past year has been challenging, and I want to thank the Queen’s community again for all you have done to adapt to these difficult circumstances and limit the spread of COVID-19,” says Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Green.

Updates on the 2021-22 academic year will be shared on the COVID-19 website as more information is available.

Research@Queen’s: Clinical trials for game-changing cancer research

To recognize World Cancer Day, Queen’s is profiling the Canadian Cancer Trials Group and its role in facilitating cancer clinical trials that lead to better outcomes and quality of life for cancer patients globally.

[Illustration by Gary Neill of petri dishes]
Illustration by Gary Neill
Discover Research@Queen’s
Did you know that the university launched a central website for Queen’s research? From in-depth features to the latest information on how our researchers are confronting COVID-19, the site is a destination showcasing the impact of Queen’s research. Discover Research@Queen’s.

Will exercise help prevent colorectal cancer from coming back? Can a new blood test for DNA markers predict which prostate cancer patients will be helped most by experimental targeted therapies? Is it safe for young women with breast cancer who wish to become pregnant to temporarily interrupt endocrine therapy to try to have a baby? Will a new four-drug combination save the lives of more pancreatic cancer patients after surgery?

The Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG), headquartered at Queen’s University, asks and finds evidence-based answers to critical questions about the best treatment options for the 225,000 Canadians diagnosed with cancer each year. Innovations proven to be effective through CCTG led clinical trials have set new standards of care that guide treatment decisions for patients today and tomorrow: curing disease, preventing recurrence, saving lives, and improving quality of life.

Continue the story on the Research@Queen’s website.


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