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Confronting COVID-19

Supporting teachers with online education

Faculties of Education and Engineering and Applied Science share teaching resources webpage to help educators across Canada.

A teacher's desk with an apple, books, and letter blocks.
With students and teachers connecting from home, Queen's Faculty of Education has created a webpage to share a wide range of teaching resources. (Unsplash / Element 5) 

When the Government of Ontario made the decision to close elementary and secondary schools across the province to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on March 13, teachers and school boards were tasked with moving their programs online. While the required infrastructure was mostly available, resources to develop a quality online learning experience were in need.

Seeing an opportunity to share its teaching knowledge and expertise, the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University quickly created a teaching resources webpage to support teachers as they made the transition to remote learning.

The webpage has become a valuable resource hub for the teaching community, students, and parents during these unprecedented times.

“Creating a teaching resources page to share the knowledge and expertise in our faculty has been an idea we’ve been thinking about for awhile,” says Rebecca Luce-Kapler, Dean of the Faculty of Education. “When the schools closed and students, teachers, and families were suddenly learning from home, we knew right away that sharing our expertise would be an impactful way for us to support teachers and families.”

Sharing ideas

Dean Luce-Kapler reached out to the Faculty of Education community to share their ideas and immediately received a flood of responses from faculty members, instructors, teacher candidates, alumni, and the experienced online teachers from the Faculty’s Continuing Teacher Education unit.

The webpage is divided into five categories – STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), Arts and Literature, Indigenous, Geography, History and Social Sciences, and General – where teachers  and parents can access a variety of resources including activities, books, games, worksheets, videos, and more.

Teacher candidates pitch in

One particularly rich source of ideas is the Faculty of Education’s teacher candidates, who, as part of their studies, are asked to create lesson plans and resources that can be used when they enter their own classrooms. Highlights include the Art at Home videos by Nelligan Letourneau, and the Phases of the Moon video provided by Craig Harris.

“I am very proud of the efforts by all of those involved with this project,” says Dean Luce-Kapler. “Queen’s Faculty of Education has always supported teachers, through their time here as teacher candidates and as alumni. It is exciting to see this project be so well supported by our community.”

Adding resources

New resources are continually being added, such as the recent contribution from PHd student Hassina Alizai with resources and ideas for learning about Ramadan.

To contribute, contact Becca Carnevale, Director of Operations, Advancement and Communications, Faculty of Education.

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Engineering engagement

The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science’s outreach teams are creating online programs which are giving elementary and high school students at home opportunities to virtually participate in fun STEM activities, and teachers much-needed resources for keeping young minds engaged.

Aboriginal Access to Engineering (AAE) works with Indigenous students and their teachers at Six Nations, Tyendinaga and Akwesasne, as well as with local Indigenous family networks through the Limestone District School Board, providing hands-on outreach to students in all elementary grades.

The team has launched InSTEM@home, an online program that features content they have developed for their partner schools. Running until the end of June, the program lets elementary students participate in weekly design challenges, using common household materials, and to share those creations back with the instructional team for a chance to win weekly prizes. Guest appearances by Indigenous engineers also help relate content to the "real world" of engineering.

Parents can enroll their children even if they aren’t a student at one of AAE’s First Nation partner schools.

Building Connections

Connections provides a wide range of outreach programs, both on and off-campus. Along with the ‘Tech and Tinker’ trailer, a mobile engineering classroom that visits local schools, the Connections team runs a number of programs for students of all ages, including STEM workshops and clubs for girls, and a Summer Engineering Academy. They also provide valuable training for teacher candidates in the Faculty of Education.

In early May, the Connections team reached out to school contacts to offer them support while transitioning their students to online learning. The response was overwhelmingly positive and resources were sent out to 100 teachers in the Kingston area, who have since shared videos of completed student work.

The team will also be delivering workshops for 200 Faculty of Education students in June, and is planning a remote version of their Summer Engineering Academy, designed for students in grades 4 to 11.

Queen’s to host virtual Homecoming 2020

Due to ongoing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, Queen’s University is canceling all in-person activities related to Homecoming 2020, as well as all in-person alumni events for the rest of the calendar year.

“We know that this decision will cause great sadness and disappointment to the members of our alumni family,” says Karen Bertrand (Artsci’94), Vice-Principal (Advancement). “We had always hoped that this measure would not be necessary.”

The announcement comes as the university anticipates most undergraduate classes to be held remotely for the duration of the 2020 fall academic term.

“The health and safety of all members of the Queen’s community is our number one priority,” says Vice-Principal Bertrand. “We want to ensure that the same measures we are taking to protect our students are also in place for our alumni.” 

The decision was made as public health guidance continues to emphasize not only good hygiene practices, but also minimizing close contact among groups of people to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus and ease the burden on hospitals and other healthcare providers. Queen’s Homecoming routinely attracts more than 3,000 alumni and their guests from around the world.

“We know that our alumni look forward to reconnecting and reuniting with their former classmates, housemates, teammates, and students and many of them plan their reunion activities months and even years in advance,” Vice-Principal Bertrand says. “Our Homecoming team is actively exploring virtual activities to help keep the spirit of this cherished event alive this October. We look forward to the day when we can all be together again in-person to celebrate our relationships, our memories, and our university.”

For more information on Queen’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit our COVID-19 information website.

 

Disrupting routine thinking

Psychedelics can help reset the brain, shaking it out of old patterns. The coronavirus pandemic could have similar impacts.

An image of a male with a medical mask on.
Leaving predictability and entering into uncertainty is a threshold to transformation. (Fearghal Kelly / Unsplash)

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the widespread disruption of our usual routines. The ambiguity of when it will end, how things will unfold and what will happen in the future has resulted in a collective liminal state, a kind of a waiting area on the threshold of change.

The ConversationCOVID-19 has undermined our usual expectations and assumptions. Evidence from my work on how our brains react to psychedelics tell me the transient anxiety — which occurs when expectations collapse — may yield benefits. To gain the benefits, we must be intentional in the viewing of this era as a transformational opportunity.

I have looked at how medium-to-high doses of psychedelics can help reset the brain, shaking it out of old patterns. I wonder if our current state of uncertainty could have similar impacts on the brain — a metaphorical psychedelic dose — for new insights, values clarification and a collective reset.

The brain is a prediction machine

A recent study shows experiences with psychedelics such as psilocybin (also known as magic mushrooms) can have disruptive impacts on our brains. Neuroimaging of the brain on psychedelics have revealed a state of chaos, or entropy and a loss of synchronization of brain waves.

Entropy is a measure of uncertainty and randomness or disorder. British neuroscientist Karl Friston defines entropy as a measure of uncertainty, the “average surprise.” Low entropy means, on average, that outcomes are relatively predictable.

In Friston’s view, the brain is a prediction machine. We construct the future from the past. We make predictive inferences (conscious and unconscious) to conserve energy and simplify the interpretation of a continuous input of stimuli.

We gain mastery, but at the expense of novelty.

Disrupting the patterns

Poor mental health often revolves around excessive rumination and repetition. Rumination is rigid, repetitive and negative thinking characterized by low entropy.

In 1949, McGill University psychologist Donald Hebb predicted much of what modern neuroscience would go on to prove with neuroimaging technologies. Hebbs’ postulate — that the neurons that fire together, wire together — provides a summary of the way synaptic pathways bond and are reinforced by repetition.

This repetition and rumination robs the mind of flexibility, especially when attached to memories with heightened (positive or negative) emotional resonance. Repetition-habituated brains marinate in a soup of low novelty and lack of surprise, forecasting tomorrow to be much the same as today.

Psychedelics disrupt our repetitive or ruminative ways of thinking and rewire brain communication patterns. The result is often an altered state of consciousness marked by transient confusion, followed by a high probability of novel, meaningful and possibly even mystical experiences.

When the rigid, top-down control of the ego is loosened, the anarchy of the creative unconscious blooms.

Concert goers at a rave
We construct the future from the past. (Unsplash)

How psychedelics can help

Our research group at Queen’s University recently completed a review of existing studies on psilocybin-assisted therapy. From over 2,000 records, we found nine completed clinical trials with a total of 169 participants.

Overall, the trials showed that most subjects safely tolerated these interventions and showed improved mental health. However, some experienced transient distress and post-treatment headaches. The trend suggests positive outcomes in various conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, addiction, depression, psychological distress associated with life-threatening cancers and demoralization among long-term AIDS survivors.

In short, although psychedelics can be accompanied by known adverse experiences, trials seem to indicate that psilocybin is relatively safe (with the right supports and in a supportive setting) and has a marked ability to interrupt psychopathologies.

To ensure safety and support, the majority of psilocybin trials used the PSI model (preparation, session, integration) with multiple moderate-to-high-doses sessions happening in the company of trained therapists.

Participants report experiences of transient anxiety, distress and confusion, states of joy, interconnectedness, catharsis, forgiveness and wisdom experiences. In contrast to talk therapy, psychedelic sessions are experiential, meaning that we experience changed ways of both seeing and being in the world.

Being OK with uncertainty

Mystical experiences have been reported both by clinical trial subjects and by recreational psilocybin users. Mysticism can be thought of as an experience of absorption, a dissolution of separateness and a sense of deep connection. Absorption is the opposite of rumination.

Rumination carries you away on an eddy of self-referential and self-containing thoughts, while when experiencing absorption, you leave behind your narrow sense of self, experiencing something greater that is both inside and outside of you.

The psychedelic experience is a classic hero’s journey. The hero leaves the comforts of home, faces disruption and challenges to their previous way of thinking and being, has profound and transformative experiences, and returns a changed person.

Leaving predictability and entering into uncertainty is a threshold to transformation.

When predictions fail, opportunities are born

In one study, psilocybin trial subjects reported feeling more deeply connected, open and relational as a result of their entropic, and often difficult, psychedelic experiences. In another study, they have been found to hold less authoritarian political views and be more in touch with nature.

Participants in collective psychedelic rituals commonly experience feelings of deep bond, kinship and even telepathy with other participants. I believe we may be in a similar moment during COVID-19.

COVID-19 has disrupted the normative habits of society. It has forced the economic machine to pause. It has forced many to reevaluate practices and priorities. In some cases, I believe it is dissolving our normal sense of human separateness (even though we are physically distanced).

Perhaps, like the liminal psychedelic state, the uncertainty in which we find ourselves in this moment will lead to more visions of what can be.

The future does not have to remain in the past.

Those of us with the luxury of space and time have an opportunity to reset, unbind our minds, quit repeating old patterns, experience anew what life can hold and to do better.The Conversation

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Ron Shore, PhD Student and Teaching Fellow, School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Research@Queen’s: Championing AI for social justice

How Queen’s researchers are using AI to level the legal playing field for Canadians, including those affected by COVID-19 unemployment.

Research at Queen's

Queen's researcher Samuel Dahan is focused on making legal services more equitable, and he knows all about winning and losing disputes in battle, and the importance of a level playing field for combatants. While researching alternative dispute resolution for his PhD in law at the University of Cambridge, this versatile, black-belt competitor won many bouts in the ring as Cambridge taekwondo team captain and a varsity kickboxer. He also earned medals in the French taekwondo nationals, and the French and British kickboxing championships.

Discover Research@Queen’s
Did you know that the university recently launched a new 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.

“In martial arts competition, you don’t want to fight someone less experienced than you or someone better than you. Fights are arranged so there is a balance of power,” says Dahan, Director of the Conflict Analytics Lab and assistant professor in the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University. “But fighting is the worst scenario for settling disputes in the real world."

Dahan has teamed up with Xiaodan Zhu, assistant professor in the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Queen’s, to develop an AI (artificial intelligence)-powered set of tools to help level the legal playing field for lower- and middle-income Canadians.

In the wake of COVID-19 unemployment, Dahan and collaborators also recently launched MyOpenCourt.org, an open access app to help recently laid off workers.

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

Samuel Dahan and Xiaodan Zu

Samuel Dahan, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Law, teamed up with Xiaodan Zhu, assistant professor in the Ingenuity Labs Research Institute and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, to develop an AI-powered set of tools to help level the legal playing field for lower- and middle-income Canadians. (Photograph was taken before social distancing measures were implemented.)

Queen’s summer camps cancelled for COVID-19 safety

Given the current public health environment and challenges presented by physical distancing, Queen’s University has made the difficult decision to cancel all in-person youth camps normally delivered throughout the summer.

“We understand that this is disappointing news for campers and their parents,” says Donna Janiec, Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration). “The impacts and restrictions imposed on our community as we respond to the COVID-19 situation continues to be hard on everyone, and it’s been especially tough on families with young children.”

The health and safety of campers and camp staff is the university’s top priority. Based on its most current public health guidance, and given the indefinite nature of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, the decision was made not to run any in-person camps this summer. Physical distancing requirements will likely remain in place through to the end of the summer.

The university notes any registration fees paid will be refunded; parents should consult their specific camp website or administrator for details. A few camps are exploring options for online summer camp programming, but these are still in development.

Students that are unemployed as a result of this decision may be eligible for one of several federal COVID-19 emergency benefits programs. Impacted students are welcome to contact the Student Awards Office if they have questions.

The university knows that the camp experience is an important one for children and counsellors. Queen’s camps have been a popular tradition in Kingston for years, and the university looks forward to maintaining that tradition once it is safe to do so. Information on the variety of Queen’s camps can be found online.

Principal Patrick Deane shares details of Fall 2020 planning

Senior leadership meets with hundreds of faculty and staff online to talk about the coming year.

Principal Patrick Deane held a virtual town hall for Queen’s faculty and staff to discuss ongoing planning for the Fall 2020 term. Joining the Principal were Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Green, Vice-Principal (Finance and Operations) Donna Janiec, Vice-Principal (Research) Kim Woodhouse, and Special Advisor on COVID-19 David Walker. Together, they shared their thoughts on how the university will be responding to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and answered question on topics ranging from autumn program delivery methods and research, to health and safety and employee supports.

Stephanie Simpson, Associate Vice-Principal (Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusion), hosted the discussion, following a welcome and introduction from Janice Hill (Kanonysyonne), Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation).

“The strength of our institution depends on the health, happiness, and prosperity of everyone in it,” said Principal Deane during his opening remarks to over 1,300 employees who joined in the virtual gathering. “In the shadow of a global health crisis like this we all feel vulnerable, so any opportunity for certainty gives us consolation. Our community of staff, faculty, and students has showed remarkable resilience, patience, and dedication as the university continues to respond to this complex global health crisis, and while we continue to move forward senior leadership will be doing all that we can to provide further clarity and support.”

Principal Deane highlighted that the most pressing issue expressed by faculty and staff was preparation for the fall semester.

“The university is planning for a number of scenarios, and our primary concern remains the health and safety of our community,” he said. “Our hope, of course, is that operations will resume as normal, but this is not realistic. We will most likely see a phased-in approach to our return to campus, with many, if not most courses being delivered remotely.”

What will Fall term course delivery look like?

In planning for a variety of Fall term scenarios, university leadership is working closely with local and provincial government and public health authorities to look at how the institution can advance our educational and research mission while maintaining full support of the city’s management of the current health and economic challenges.

“It is becoming increasingly unlikely that public health circumstances will allow a return to normalcy by the fall,” says Provost Green. “While this does challenge the in-person experience for which we are renowned, I am confident that our spirit of innovation and collaboration will guarantee an outstanding fall semester for our students.”

Discussion of fall planning also extended to issues relating to faculty and staff, with questions posed to the speakers about employment outlook and an eventual return to the workplace.

“The university is about its community and, as we find ourselves in this situation, preserving that community has been of paramount importance to me and the senior leadership team,” says Principal Deane.

Employees who could work from home have been doing so for many weeks, and essential workers continue to do exceptional work on campus, however a small number of those whose jobs depended upon services that can no longer be provided in a remote workplace have been issued a temporary lay-off.

“We are seeing this as temporary and we expect to have all of our employees back to campus as soon as it is possible,” says Donna Janiec, Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration). “The planning for a phased-in return to operations is moving ahead and will incorporate measures to see the community back together as health and safety guidelines permit.”

The university continues to work with these employees to assist them in accessing federal relief programs, like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Following evolving public health advice

In planning for a phased-in return to operations, the university is in close consultation with public health officials. Though the term will be largely remote for most students and many employees, certain programs in the Faculty of Health Sciences and a limited number of graduate research programs will be offered in person.  Some students will be on campus for these programs and others may choose to return to the city even if their studies are largely remote.

“So far, Queen’s and Kingston has done excellent work on prevention, which will now have to be amplified by our ability to monitor this situation as some students return in the fall,” says Dr. Walker. “We continue to work closely with public health officials on these plans and are looking at many strategies that will help mitigate risks, as faculty, staff, and students eventually transition back to campus.”

A video recording of the townhall session will be made available on the Principal’s website in the coming days. Those questions submitted but not answered during the live broadcast due to time constraints will be shared anonymously with senior leadership and be addressed as well.

More information on planning for Fall 2020 can also be found in an update on the Provost’s Office website.  

Connecting youth to the Queen’s experience

The Enrichment Studies Unit is linking elementary and secondary school students with resources that introduce them to university studies. 

Photo of a laptop, notebook, and pens.
The Enrichment Studies Unit has compiled over 100 online learning resources.

The month of May is usually a time when the campus is bustling with students from grades 5 to 12, spending a week at the university with the Enrichment Studies Unit (ESU). These students experience what university is like by taking classes and living in Queen’s residence. But due to COVID-19, ESU cannot bring students to Queen’s this spring. So instead, ESU has found ways to bring the Queen’s experience to them.

Reaching Higher is a new catalogue of more than 100 free online resources, compiled by staff who are Ontario-certified teachers, to help students and families easily access high-quality educational content on a variety of subjects. The academic areas range from pathology and engineering to languages and history, and include a wide array of engaging learning options, such as virtual tours of museums and labs, educational games, documentary films, and apps.

“This is a time when parents and students may be looking for educational activities that can help them make the most of their time at home,” says Morgan Davis, Manager, Enrichment Studies Unit. “There’s a lot of material out there, so we have curated what we think are some of the best resources available for free online. Through Reaching Higher, students will be able to get a sense of the subjects they can learn about at university.”

A number of the resources were developed by Queen’s staff and faculty. For example, participants interested in learning more about art can take a virtual tour of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Those looking to learn about engineering research can virtually explore some of the research facilities in Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. For those interested in Indigenous cultures, there are Indigenous teaching and learning resources developed by the Queen's Faculty of Education.

“We can’t completely recreate the Queen’s experience without bringing the students to campus, but we hope Reaching Higher provides students with a glimpse of how dynamic and exciting it can be to study at Queen’s,” says Davis.

The collection can also connect younger students to places around the world, at a time when many are spending most of their time at home. Some of the learning materials take students inside renowned institutions such as the Louvre, NASA’s Langley Research Center, and the Canadian Museum of History.

To learn more about the Enrichment Studies Unit and to explore the new Reaching Higher catalogue, visit their website.

Queen’s launches AI-enhanced tools for those affected by pandemic layoffs

MyOpenCourt, a project of the Conflict Analytics Lab at the Faculty of Law and Smith School of Business, helps out-of-work Canadians to understand their legal rights and options.

MyOpenCourt, a project of the Conflict Analytics Lab at the Faculty of Law and Smith School of Business,
MyOpenCourt currently features two free and simple-to-use web-based tools that harness artificial intelligence and data science technologies. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, millions of Canadians are out of work and facing uncertainty about returning. These circumstances can put workers, particularly those in ‘gig economy’ jobs, in situations where their legal rights are unclear. 

MyOpenCourt, a project of the Conflict Analytics Lab at Queen’s University’s Faculty of Law and Smith School of Business, will now help these workers understand their rights – and options. 

“Most Canadian workers cannot afford an employment lawyer, or live in areas with few skilled employment law experts,” says Samuel Dahan, Director of the Conflict Analytics Lab and a professor in the Faculty of Law with a cross-appointment to Smith. “Since COVID-19’s arrival in Canada, we have seen nearly 2 million jobs lost with terminations and layoffs across many different sectors, and decided to launch our tools to help Canadians who have lost work.”

MyOpenCourt currently features two free and simple-to-use web-based tools that harness artificial intelligence and data science technologies. Both are available at the project site at myopencourt.org

The “Am I an employee or contractor?” application can determine the likelihood that a work arrangement is an employment relationship or that of a contractor through a fast, anonymous questionnaire.

Workers who believe they have been wrongfully dismissed can use the “How much severance am I entitled to?” tool to calculate reasonable notice for dismissal.

“These tools are as valuable for employers as they are for workers,” Professor Dahan says. “Navigating employer-contractor relationships is challenging, and severance is difficult to calculate. We hope to provide both workers and employers with ways to avoid pitfalls and find equitable solutions to the challenges created by the pandemic.” 

Powerful AI technology lies behind both tools. Working from thousands of Canadian employment law cases, MyOpenCourt can make predictions that can offer guidance to workers in these uncertain situations. While these applications cannot take the place of a lawyer, they can help users understand if they have a case before contacting one.

Should a user discover they have a case, MyOpenCourt will automatically connect the user to a partner law firm at no cost. 

The MyOpenCourt tools have been developed by students and researchers at Queen’s Law, the Smith Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence, Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and partners like McGill University and institutions based in the U.S. and Europe. Professor Maxime Cohen of McGill and Professor Jonathan Touboul of Brandeis University provided data science expertise, helping to translate the case data into predictions.

“We are thrilled that the Conflict Analytics Lab has been able to launch this platform, at a time when these tools will be able to help many Canadians,” says Yuri Levin, Executive Director of the Analytics and AI ecosystem at Smith and an instrumental player in the creation of the Conflict Analytics Lab.

 MyOpenCourt reasonable notice calculator cannot currently be used to generate case outcomes for Québec-based users.

To learn more about the work of the Conflict Analytics Lab, visit conflictanalytics.queenslaw.ca

About Conflict Analytics Lab

The Conflict Analytics Lab (CAL) strives to build a fairer future by improving access to justice.

We are experts in applying artificial intelligence to help resolve conflicts in a transparent, consistent, and innovative manner all over the world.

Housed at Queen’s University, the CAL combines academics, technology experts, and the legal industry to revolutionize the way we approach conflicts and better serve those who cannot afford traditional justice. 

Helping leaders make public health decisions during COVID-19

Queen’s researcher Dongmei Chen and collaborators receive federal funding to explore how the social dynamics of coronavirus transmission impact decision making.

[Photo of Toronto skyline featuring the CN Tower]
Queen's researcher Dongmei Chen and her collaborators are examining the social dynamics of COVID-19 transmission. They are collaborating with community partners in Toronto to examine the epidemic's impact on the Chinese community in the Greater Toronto Area. (Image: Unsplash/ Richard Kidger)

As governments and public health agencies move to rapidly address the COVID-19 pandemic, they face the challenge of making decisions under considerable time constraints and with uncertainty. Developing evidence-based responses will be a key tool, now and for the future, for leaders to make confident decisions on assessing preventive measures, allocating resources and equipment, identifying high-risk groups, and establishing policies on emergency response.

Social dynamics of virus transmission

[Photo of Dr. Dongmei Chen]
Dr. Dongmei Chen (Geography and Planning)

Queen’s researcher Dongmei Chen (Geography and Planning) is working on a project that will help decision-makers access vital information they need for their public health response to COVID-19 and future infectious disease pandemics. Dr. Chen, along with researchers Lu Wang (nominated PI) and Lixia Yang from Ryerson University, have received support from the Government of Canada’s rapid research funding competition to address COVID-19. The Canadian Institutes for Health Research has awarded their project more than $180,000 to study the social dynamics of virus transmission in a large urban hub to help us better understand the impact of our public health response. 

How the social dynamics of coronavirus transmission impact a community are largely shaped by the relationship between community prevention behaviour and individual activity space.

“The effectiveness of preventive measures depends fundamentally on the public’s willingness to cooperate, which is highly associated with the level of risk a person perceives,” explains Dr. Chen. “Because COVID-19 typically spreads via close contact, it is of critical importance to understand, at an individual level, the characteristics of activity space for individuals during an outbreak or a potential outbreak.”

Collaborating with community partners in Toronto

Their project will also explore the importance of how risk perceptions and the specific measures taken in a community can be tailored to the unique circumstances of a transnational community. Specifically, Dr. Chen and her collaborators will examine the epidemic’s impact on the Chinese community in Toronto.

At the time of the proposal in February, the majority of cases in Canada could be traced to travel from China. As the Greater Toronto Area is home to the largest Chinese diaspora outside of China, Dr. Chen and her collaborators believed that the impact of the outbreak would be large for this community because of their many connections to mainland China and Hong Kong. The team, whose research expertise range from transnational healthcare to health among immigrant populations and spatial modelling, will work with three Chinese community organizations and health centres in Toronto to provide new insights on the cultural dimensions of the epidemic and the implications of pandemics within large global cities.

Future emergency responses

Dr. Chen’s expertise in understanding and modelling the interactions between human activities and their physical environment will be key to analyzing the data collected from the team’s community partnerships. Under Dr. Chen’s leadership, Queen’s LaGISA (Laboratory of Geographic Information and Spatial Analysis) will conduct the project’s spatial analysis, geovisualization and modelling of individual activity spaces before and during the pandemic, and help to interpret their implication in COVID-19 prevention and transmission.

Their project will not only be crucial to the current public health response to COVID-19, it will have long-lasting implications. “Such evidence-based findings can be utilized by public health, locally and internationally, in assessing community preventive measures and enhancing the collective capacity for emergency responses to COVID-19, along with other future infectious diseases,” explains Dr. Chen.

More than food banks are needed during the coronavirus pandemic

The Conversation: The ability of food banks to meet the needs of food insecure Canadians has plummeted just when it is needed most.

People pack boxes at a foodbank
Many people who have never used food banks before have had to rely on them during the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 is revealing critical weaknesses in how we care for each other. While many Canadians are being thrown out of work and need emergency food assistance, food banks have had to shut down operations to deal with physical distancing requirements, reduce staffing as elderly volunteers stay home to self-isolate and ration food as donations decline.

The feel-good vibes of food drives might suggest that if we all just pitch in a little bit more, food banks could meet their goal of feeding all hungry Canadians. But decades of evidence convincingly shows food banks have never remedied the inadequate or insecure access to food faced by Canadians, whether in booming economic times or faltering ones.

There are thousands of food banks and affiliated agencies in Canada. Businesses and individuals donate millions of dollars, millions of pounds of non-perishable food and millions of hours of volunteers’ labour.

Yet rates of food insecurity in Canada are shockingly high and rising. The latest statistics from 2017-18 estimate that more than 4.4 million Canadians and one in six households with children worried about what to eat or reduced the quality or quantity of food they ate because of lack of money.

These numbers are higher than ever and we have no idea how much higher food insecurity rates will climb in the next few months as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Lack quantity and variety

Even before COVID-19, only about a quarter of those who meet the objective criteria of food insecurity ever went to a food bank. Many neighbourhoods don’t have an accessible food bank or one with convenient hours. Food banks seldom have the quantity or variety of foods that people need for dietary and health needs or because of religious or personal reasons.

And even when food bank staff or volunteers are kind and caring, the experience of going to a food bank is inherently stigmatizing. This means many would rather go hungry than accept charity.

Food banks are simply unable to address the core reason that too many people don’t have enough food — poverty. Nearly all food bank clients report experiencing severe food insecurity, which means skipping meals, losing weight or potentially going for entire days without eating.

Given all we know about the insufficiency of food banks, it’s distressing to see governments promoting them as a means to address food insecurity.

Shelves are filled with non-perishable food items.
Businesses and individuals donate millions of dollars, millions of pounds of non-perishable food and millions of hours of volunteers’ labour. 

Charity isn’t the solution

In late March, Premier François Legault told Québecers not to be ashamed to go to the food bank to get what they need. “It’s not your fault if you lost your job,” he said.

While this is true — no one should feel embarrassed for needing help — we should all be ashamed that government officials would point to food banks as the solution for deficiencies in government income supports.

The government of British Columbia then announced $3 million for the province’s struggling food banks “to help ensure that people continue to have access to the food they need.” And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared the federal government would invest $100 million for food banks and similar organizations so that “vulnerable Canadians can get the food they need, when they need it most.”

Let’s be clear: food banks have never been where Canadians can get the food they need.

For almost 40 years, governments of all political stripes have called on food banks to address food needs instead of developing meaningful policy solutions to reduce poverty. During the coronavirus crisis, politicians have thrown the frayed rope of charity instead of a strong lifeline to a robust social safety net.

People need sufficient income

Contrary to what our politicians are telling us, food banks have never — and cannot — adequately address food insecurity. Struggling Canadians need sufficient income to feed themselves now and in the post-pandemic future.

If we are “all in this together,” as politicians keep reminding us, perhaps new food bank users will join food bank veterans and other Canadians to demand that our governments provide a real safety net. This would include a basic income that would allow all of us to meet the material necessities of life.

The best sign of a successful national response to the food insecurity crisis is that food banks will finally close after 40 years — not because of lack of food or physical distancing rules, but lack of demand.The Conversation

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Elaine Power, Associate Professor in Health Studies, Queen's University; Jennifer Black, Associate Professor of Food, Nutrition and Health, University of British Columbia, and Jennifer Brady, Assistant Professor, Applied Human Nutrition, Mount Saint Vincent University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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