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Confronting COVID-19

Learning how to adjust

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Queen's Human Resources is offering webinars to help employees adapt to their new remote working situations.

Photo of hands typing on laptop
New webinars from Human Resources will teach skills like how to balance work and life while working from home.

As most Queen’s employees are now working from home to help slow the spread of COVID-19, they are adjusting to new routines and new ways of doing their work. Since schools and daycares are closed as well, staff and faculty may also be navigating new arrangements in their personal lives. To help everyone cope with the stresses of the current moment, Queen’s Human Resources is offering a series of webinars on topics such as personal resilience and balancing work and life while working from home.

“As Human Resources has had to suspend our usual in-person training sessions for the time being, we wanted to ensure that employees still have opportunities to learn and develop professionally. Since so many of us are facing new remote working situations, we wanted to take to the opportunity to create learning modules that can help people adapt and thrive,” says Marie Doherty, Director, Client Services and Organizational Development and Learning.

These new webinars will be delivered live on Microsoft Teams by staff from Organizational Development and Learning. Throughout these sessions, the instructors will present strategies and tips while also encouraging participants to share their own experiences. The topics and schedule for the first four webinars are:

While Human Resources is starting with these four webinars, they plan to develop new offerings as needed.

“The development of Queen’s employees is our priority, and we will continue to innovate and offer training remotely for as long as the current situation lasts,” says Doherty.

There is no formal registration for these webinars. Any interested member of the Queen’s community can attend the session by joining the meeting in Teams using the relevant code. For more information on the webinars and how to join them, visit the Human Resources Learning Catalogue.

Protecting mothers and babies

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Queen’s University professor Graeme Smith says hospitals have made preparations for childbirths during the COVID-19 crisis.

A newborn baby's feet
Despite the COVID-19 epidemic it is business as usual for labour and delivery as policies and procedures are in place to protect mothers, babies and their support teams. (Unsplash / Janko Ferlic)

While many aspects of daily life have come to a halt as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still babies being born. Queen’s University professor and head of Obstetrics & Gynecology Graeme Smith spoke to the Gazette about some of the policies and procedures in place to protect mothers, babies and their support teams.

What is your message to parents who are concerned as they prepare for childbirth?
Dr. Graeme Smith: For those that are not affected, it’s still business as usual on labour and delivery, though it may look somewhat different. We may get to the point where all patients/support people must wear a mask during their entire stay and may get to the point where staff are as well but we’re not there yet as the prevalence in Kingston is still very low. The precautions are already in place to protect our patients and their babies and our staff.

How are staff being protected?
Dr. Smith: At this point, staff are being protected by extra screening of patients and support persons. There is close screening getting into the hospital and a second screening to get in to labour and delivery. We expect we may see some patients go into labour who are also COVID-19 positive or have symptoms. These patients will be asked to wear masks and wash their hands. In turn, staff coming in contact with them (and we will limit number of staff) will wear complete Personal Protective Equipment (gowns, masks, gloves).

Explain the hospital policy around people in the delivery rooms.
Dr. Smith: We’re still trying to sort out how to safely allow support persons into the delivery room when their partner in labour is COVID-19 positive or is symptomatic. Currently just one support person is allowed. Support people who are COVID-19 positive or are symptomatic shouldn’t be allowed into the hospital otherwise but for labouring patients this should probably be a provincial decision rather than at the individual hospital level. If the support person has COVID-19, we are expecting the province will soon clarify what to do.

What happens if mom is COVID-19 positive – are you still advocating skin to skin and breastfeeding?
Dr. Smith: If mom is COVID-19 positive or has symptoms, she would wear a mask (and wash her hands) in labour or at any time when she would be in direct contact with the baby. The baby should be in a bassinette six feet from mother’s bed. Breastfeeding is still encouraged.

How are moms and babies being protected after birth?
Dr. Smith: Again, physical distancing. Mothers are encouraged to regularly wash their hands, especially if leaving their rooms. COVID-19 positive patients and/or symptomatic patients (and their support person) will be in private rooms and will be required to remain in their rooms until discharge.

Where can expectant mothers get more information?
Dr. Smith: My website www.themothersprogram.ca is designed to help women who are contemplating pregnancy, are pregnant or are now new mothers, keep up-to-date on the latest medical information, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19: Developing nations face different risks

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Dr. Bartels with research colleagues in the DRC
Susan Bartels, Associate Professor in the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Public Health at Queen’s University, with her colleagues in the Democratic Republic of Congo during her earlier visit. (Supplied Photo)

As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to impact countries worldwide, we’ve seen how nations around the world are working to mobilize populations, resources, and government assistance to mitigate spread of the virus and help those who have been affected. But how are developing nations impacted differently than developed nations in this crisis?

Susan Bartels, Associate Professor in the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Public Health at Queen’s University, is an expert in global public health research that focuses on how people are affected by humanitarian crises, including armed conflict and natural disasters. The Gazette spoke to Dr. Bartels, who recently returned from field research* in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), about how developing nations, such as DRC, are confronting unique challenges when it comes to COVID-19.

Gazette: COVID-19 is being called a “global crisis.” In what ways do you think it impacts developing nations differently than developed nations?

Susan Bartels: Lower- and middle-income countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are at an enormous disadvantage, due to lack of public health infrastructure, profoundly underfunded health care systems, and poor access to care. For example, although supplies and essential medical equipment are lacking in Canada, the Panzi Hospital in South Kivu province of the DRC has only 20 ventilators for its catchment population of more than 5.7 million people.

These countries are also significantly disadvantaged because government assistance programs will not be nearly as robust as they are in Canada (income support, tax deferrals, support for small business, etc.). Compounding that, in DRC, like in many other lower-income countries, chronic underlying illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and tuberculosis (TB), as well as high rates of malnutrition among children, have the potential to dramatically increase COVID-related morbidity and mortality.

Gazette: How are developing countries reacting to the pandemic?

SB: Eastern DRC has been responding to an Ebola epidemic since August 2018, so when it comes to screening, they were far more prepared than we were in Canada. For instance, when arriving to the Congo by air or by car, visitors were already subject to temperature screening in addition to a health questionnaire that had to be completed.

Additionally, social greetings had already been modified in the DRC.  In response to the Ebola epidemic, hand shaking, hugging, and other forms of physical social greeting were no longer considered acceptable, and handwashing stations could be found outside all hospitals, clinics, shops, restaurants, hotels, and other public spaces. These screening and precautionary measures, which have already been in place for almost a year and a half, will now doubly serve to prevent transmission of COVID-19.

Gazette: Are they helped or hindered by their government structure when it comes to a medical crisis?

SB: As I mentioned in my response to the first question, these nations will be very much hindered because of inability for governments to mobilize assistance in the same way as developed nations.

For lower-income countries, the fact that COVID-19 is a global pandemic will likely distinguish its response from other humanitarian responses, like that of the 2014-15 Ebola epidemic in West Africa and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Because those crises were more limited in scale, other nations not directly affected were able to contribute supplies, personnel, and support, which will probably be lacking for the COVID-19 response. Additionally, the capacity and resources of international organizations, such as the World Health Organization, are spread very thin in the current pandemic, meaning they will be less able to support individual country responses.

Gazette: What are some of the other unique concerns/challenges developing nations face?

SB: With regards to challenges, in addition to existing epidemics, Eastern DRC continues to face sporadic armed conflict and insecurity and, as a result, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people are internally displaced. This adds a monumental challenge to the COVID-19 response as these individuals and families will be particularly vulnerable, but also difficult to reach because of their displacement.

Gazette: Who are the most vulnerable populations in these nations?

SB: To some extent, I think the most vulnerable populations will be similar in many settings, including those with underlying medical illnesses, the vulnerably housed, those facing poverty, persons with disabilities, individuals who are geographically isolated, and those with limited access to medical care. One of the key differences that will likely make the COVID-19 epidemic harder hitting in lower- and middle-income countries, however, is the higher burden of untreated or under-treated chronic illness, such as HIV/AIDS, TB, hepatitis, and malnutrition.

Gazette: How is the COVID-19 crisis similar to the other humanitarian crises you have researched/worked on?

SB: In several respects, the COVID-19 response is similar to other humanitarian crises I have experience with. For example, both COVID-19 and humanitarian responses have a shared focus on the health of an entire population, as opposed to individuals (ex. implementation of public health measures, such as quarantine to protect the greater good). It also comes down to the essentials that are needed to meet people’s basic needs and to keep people alive (ex. cancellation of all non-essential medical appointments and procedures). Furthermore, outcomes for the population at risk are largely dependent on the policies, programs, and supports implemented by various levels of government. And finally, something that many people can probably relate to – the feeling of uncertainty that comes with a crisis of this magnitude and when things are evolving so rapidly.

* Dr. Bartels was visiting Democratic Republic  of Congo for SSHRC-funded research investigating sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers as well as Universities Canada-funded research examining parenting in settings of adversity.

Getting active at home

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Queen’s Athletics and Recreation is creating daily videos to encourage exercise.

The Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Centre (ARC) usually serves as a hub of physical activity for members of the Queen’s community, helping over 3,000 people a day meet their health and wellness goals. As the university embraces physical distancing measures in response to COVID-19, the ARC has temporarily closed. To help keep the community active in the meantime, Athletics and Recreation staff are creating daily videos and social media posts to provide tips and encouragement for exercising and keeping healthy while adjusting to studying and working from home.

“Queen’s Athletics and Recreation plays a big part in promoting health and well-being on campus, and we take that role seriously. These videos and posts help us to continue promoting healthy behaviours to the community, even as we all practice physical distancing. Our hope is to provide some inspiration to take some time to focus on well-being and get active” says Gareth Cunningham, Associate Director, Recreation and Active Living at Queen’s University Athletics and Recreation.

Keep up with their daily videos and tips by following Athletics and Recreation on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Students stepping up

Most of the videos are being led by Queen’s students who work as personal trainers and fitness instructors at the ARC. Since many of these students have returned home, they are producing their videos from across Canada. “The dedication of our students has been really inspiring. They are doing everything they can to bring their talents and expertise to help people stay well and feel connected to the Queen’s community while they’re away from campus,” says Cunningham.

The video series covers many different aspects of fitness people can work on without special equipment. Some of the topics covered so far include daily activity challenges, dynamic cardio warmups, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and full-body workouts. As the series progresses, Athletics and Recreation plans to evolve their approach to meet their viewers’ needs.

Live remote exercise classes

Athletics and Recreation is also hosting remote exercise classes each Friday at noon on Facebook Live. They are hoping these virtual workouts will create a sense of community while promoting fitness. During all workouts, instructors make a point to note modifications people can make to the exercises, so people of all levels of fitness and skill are able to take part.

To learn more about these remote fitness services, visit the Athletics and Recreation website, where they also provide some basic tips about how to exercise at home. 

Supporting children’s mental health during a pandemic

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Dr. Tess Clifford’s tips for helping kids cope with the anxieties of an outbreak and changes to routine.

Child holding red paper shaped as a heart (Photo by Anna Kolosyuk, Unsplash)
On Thursday, April 2 at 8 pm ET, join Dr. Tess Clifford on the Psychology Clinic at Queen’s University Facebook page for a Facebook Live session on parenting and supporting children’s mental health during a pandemic.

Knowing how to talk to your children about risks is difficult at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic. Now, as most of us social distance to give health care workers the best chance to confront the COVID-19 outbreak, it's important that we help children understand why it’s important for us, our friends, and our neighbours, to stay home.

“Children notice disruptions in daily routines and they pick up on parents’ anxieties, which are both unavoidable during a stressful situation like this one,” says Tess Clifford, Director of the Queen’s Psychology Clinic. “There are, however, ways we can communicate and educate that can help our children cope with the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and our response to it.”

Dr. Clifford suggests providing age-appropriate information to your children, putting it in terms that express the need to keep one another safe while sparing the more alarming details. Remind them that grown-ups are working hard to help others stay healthy, by washing hands regularly and keeping space from others. Should they ask about risks the outbreak poses to them, it’s okay to talk about how most children affected by COVID-19 only experience mild symptoms.

Explanations can help, but they don’t eliminate all uncertainty. Dr. Clifford says that parents can still expect difficult behaviours from their kids.

“Tantrums, disrupted sleep, increased clinginess, acting younger or more emotional; these are all signs that your child is experiencing stress, but there are things you can do,” says Dr. Clifford. “Talking to them about how you’re feeling and about what you’re doing about your emotions encourages children to talk about theirs.”

Most importantly, Dr. Clifford recommends doing what you can to keep yourself calm, as children often take emotional cues from their parents.

“Make sure to keep your own mental health in mind as well. Deep breathing, guided relaxation, and meditation can be very beneficial, and keeping in touch with others, whether its online video chat or on the phone, is so important,” says Dr. Clifford. “Develop new routines with your kids. Make time for fun and connection.”

When parenting meets working from home

With many people now working remotely, more parents are having to juggle productivity and all-day childcare on their own.

“For parents working from home, it’s all about setting reasonable expectations,” says Dr. Clifford. “It won’t be possible to focus as much on work as you’re used to, so zero in on the essentials. Prioritize connecting and showing love to your children, and make plans to have fun with your kids before and after your working periods.”

Dr. Clifford suggests asking your kids about the activities they most enjoy at school, and try some of them when designing your family’s new routine. She also advises parents to be flexible.

“Our daily schedules are atypical lately, so it’s okay to bend your own rules about screen time, food, and behaviours,” says Dr. Clifford. “Stay focused on your family’s health and wellbeing first and foremost and, where and when you can, build in opportunities for learning and fun.”

Learn more about the Psychology Clinic at Queen's University.

Internal funding for coronavirus research

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Vice-Principal (Research) launches funding competition for medical and social coronavirus-related solutions.

Queen's research

In response to the international COVID-19 pandemic, the Vice-Principal (Research) has launched an internal initiative to fund and support research projects that will contribute to the development, testing, and implementation of medical or social countermeasures to mitigate the rapid spread of the virus and its negative consequences on global communities.

Open to Queen’s faculty, the competition will invest $200,000 ($10,000-$50,000 per project) in research across the health sciences, natural sciences and engineering, and social sciences and humanities that align with medical and social/policy countermeasures inspired by World Health Organization recommendations.

“In this time of global crisis, our research community is driven to work together to find creative and innovative solutions to address SARS CoV-2/COVID-19,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research). “This rapid response competition will provide the funding and support our researchers need to mobilize teams and resources quickly and efficiently.”

 The competition will fund two waves of applications, with the first deadline on April 17 (decisions released April 27) and the second on May 15 (decisions released May 25). 

For information on eligibility, how to apply, and the list of medical and social/policy countermeasures with which projects must align, please visit the Vice-Principal (Research) website.

Principal’s message on health and well-being

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Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane shares his thoughts with faculty and staff on the challenges we share working from home.

Across the country, universities are doing their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 within their communities. At Queen’s this has meant a month like no other, with faculties and schools transitioning their classes to remote learning and the majority of staff moving to working from home.

In a special message to all faculty and staff, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane shared his thoughts on the size and pace of the change the university has been adapting to over the past several weeks.

“Every morning, the senior leadership team and I convene to speak with public health and find out what, if anything, has changed with the status of the virus,” says Principal Deane. “These are extraordinary times. Only a few weeks ago, it would never have occurred to me that this topic would be guiding my day, nor that every meeting I attend would be through the camera on my computer. Things have changed dramatically for us all and it feels as if it happened overnight.”

After pausing for a week to give faculties a chance to develop effective remote learning plans, faculty members and students were busy last week connecting through online lectures, video conferencing, instruction videos, and a host of other innovative ways.

At the same time, staff in Student Affairs were busy finding new ways to keep students connected to the many supports offered at Queen’s, including Student Wellness Services, Student Academic Success Services, Career Services, Faith and Spiritual Life, Four Directions Indigenous Centre, and the Office of the University Registrar to name a few.

In his message, Principal Deane also focused on the significant challenges many people are facing delivering on our academic mission while also worrying about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on their personal lives.

“People are struggling not just with a remote workplace but with all the complications and adjustments this brings. For some, there is the additional challenge of childcare, sharing space with a partner or other housemates, and worries about eldercare.  For those that live alone, there is a stark contrast to our usual work life with the social interaction significantly curtailed,” says Principal Deane. “We are social beings and we need each other. Our community has been incredibly creative in its ability to adapt education and work to a new remote format. We must be equally innovative in our support for one another.”

Along with the informal things teams of people can do to stay connected, such as daily check-ins and online lunches, the Principal pointed people to the Human Resources Department website which is preparing to post new materials and resources for staff working remotely to complement its list of FAQs and supports offered through the Employee and Family Assistance Program

Principal Deane also highlighted the Gazette’s work to create a series of stories that feature tips and tricks from Queen’s experts on how to stay safe and healthy during this crisis, as well as important examples of how the Queen’s community is coming together during these difficult times.

“I want to reiterate what I have written in other messages: nothing is more important than the health, well-being and safety of the Queen’s community. Please take care of yourself, your family and loved ones during this stressful time. Find ways to help one another,” says Principal Deane. “I strongly encourage you to connect using the many technology options available – whether it’s Microsoft Teams to connect with your colleagues, or Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp or other video sharing platforms to connect with friends and family. This is a time unlike any other in recent history, and that connectivity is critical. With it, we bring a little humanity back into our daily lives.”

To learn more about Queen’s ongoing response to this crisis, visit the Coronavirus COVID-19 Information website. It is updated daily with links to helpful new resources including the latest updates from the region’s health authority, KFL&A Public Health.

And keep an eye on the Gazette for more on how our work is changing, including a feature story recognizing the dedicated staff working on campus to deliver services that are essential to the mission of the university.

Queen’s community takes on the Code Life Ventilator Challenge

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Faculty and students at the Human Mobility Research Centre and Ingenuity Labs have joined forces with Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC) health professionals to take on the Code Life Ventilator Challenge, a global call to design a low-cost and easy-to-manufacture ventilator that can be created and deployed anywhere around the world.

The Code Life Ventilator Challenge is a two-week sprint created by the Montreal General Hospital Foundation in collaboration with the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre. The challenge calls on teams to design a simple, low-cost, easy-to-manufacture, and easy-to maintain ventilator to help ease massive shortages during the coronavirus crisis.

The Queen’s/KHSC team of 18 includes faculty members and students, as well as health professionals.

“There’s a global shortage of ventilators, and with the outbreak still rapidly progressing, this has become a life and death issue,” says Tim Bryant, Professor Emeritus, Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “Now is the time to come together to respond to this crisis with real solutions. This challenge will save lives.” 

The team is working on a design that uses Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) technology in its design. These machines, which help healthy people with sleep apnea breathe more easily, have the potential to be modified to support or replace breathing for a coronavirus patient.

The team has been able to work on the creation of a prototype thanks to very generous donations of CPAP machines from individuals who responded to a social media request for help. A panel of experts will be judging all designs and posting the top three online for free downloading to anyone who is able to manufacture them.

“Today, more than ever, engineers need to be engaged global citizens,” says Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Kevin Deluzio. “I’m proud of our team and their commitment to finding solutions during these challenging times. It is multidisciplinary teams like this that are required to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.”

In the coming weeks, as the design-build phase of the challenge is completed, the faculty will provide further updates on the team’s progress. Anyone interested in following along is encouraged to “Like” the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science’s Facebook age for further updates.

Don’t turn that dial

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Campus radio station CFRC offers unique community program designed to inform and support people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kingston’s only campus and community radio station CFRC 101.9 is using its airwaves to connect the community while providing critical COVID-19 information and updates.

Radio Pandemic is a new call-in show that discusses news and events related to the pandemic and helps answer difficult questions including what this world may be like when this is over.

The show airs Mondays from 1-2 pm, Wednesdays from 1-3 pm and Fridays from 8-9 pm. Listeners can call during those times at 613-533-CFRC to get on the air or request a song. Archives of the program can be found at  https://www.cfrc.ca/program_archive.

“When the instructions for people to start practicing social/physical distancing in the Kingston area were first publicized, my friends and I had a conversation about what we should do about the situation,” says volunteer Rachel Mendl. “We were concerned about the toll these prevention practices will take on people's emotional and mental well-being and on our sense of community. Someone floated the idea of a call-in radio show and we proposed it to the radio station the next day.”

CFRC station manager Dinah Jansen says the show is an important part of CFRC’s mandate.

“We want to ensure we are serving the whole community with our programming. It’s important to bring critical information to our listeners.”

The programming for the show is still being developed. Lynda Colgan (Education) was the first academic guest on the show. She called in and talked about how to keep children educationally engaged while staying at home.

“We are focusing on hearing from members of the Queen's and Kingston community at large right now and promoting the show so that anybody can call in, but we're definitely hoping to hear more expert or academic opinions too,” says Rachel. “We hope that anybody who has an idea they'd like to share or some information that might help others get through this crisis will reach out to us.”

CFRC has also launched three more lighthearted programs to help keep the Queen’s community connected, including live interactive Grad Club Trivia at 9 pm Thursdays and Tales and Stories for Young Listeners with former Queen’s Principal Daniel Woolf Sundays at 10 am. Dr. Woolf is reading children’s stories and is hoping other families will join in the reading.

Another program entitled Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah features simple recipes submitted by community members that help stretch food resources for people and families in isolation and airs on Wednesdays at 5 PM.

Grad Club Trivia Part Two is a virtual version of the highly popular Grad Club Trivia where teams compete in random categories to earn trivia greatness. Jansen says last week there were 86 teams from around the world using various social media app to play. For more information about the event visit the Facebook page.

“I’m delighted with the community engagement from Queen’s, Kingston and beyond with CFRC’s special programming initiatives during the COVID crisis,” says Jansen. “We’re here to help by providing critical information over the airwaves in addition to fun interactive broadcasts that the whole community can participate in from their homes.”

Jansen invites community members to participate in the CFRC programming directly by submitting recipes and even recordings of children’s stories to station@cfrc.ca.

Food for the community

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Queen’s is increasing its food donation efforts to help the community during COVID-19.

photo of food set aside for donation
Queen's Hospitality Services has donated over $11,000 of food to Kingston area partners since March 20. (Supplied photo.) 

Queen’s regularly donates unused food items to Kingston area partners that feed people in need. As the effects of COVID-19 are being felt in the region, the university has started to give even more than usual. Since March 20, Queen’s has donated over $11,000 of food to local shelters and food banks.

“Giving back to our community is a priority right now and in this time when many people are facing uncertainty we want to do what we can to help. Since a lot of students have now left campus, we have been able to direct unused food to non-profit organizations that can put it to good use,” says Jennifer Pete, Associate Director, Housing and Ancillary Services.

The donations since March 20 have consisted primarily of perishable food items, such as fresh produce and dairy. But Hospitality Services is reviewing all items in their inventory and working with their partners, such as vending machine suppliers, to divert food to local non-profits.

Several hundred students remain in residences, as they are unable to leave at this time. These students continue to receive necessary supports, include food service.  Students with optional meal plans who need access to food can also continue to use their plans. Housing & Ancillary Services is working closely with KFL&A Public Health and our other community partners to determine the best use of our residence buildings.

Community partners

Many different organizations in Kingston have received donations or are scheduled to receive them. Currently, the full list of these partners is:

  • Partners in Mission Food Bank 
  • Salvation Army
  • Martha's Table
  • Kingston Youth Shelter
  • Kingston Community Housing Partnership
  • In from the cold
  • Interval house
  • Lunch by George

Throughout the academic year, Queen’s Hospitality Services partners with Queen’s Soul Food, Food Rescue, and Loving Spoonful to deliver unused food from campus cafeterias to local food banks every night. Learn more about this work on the Hospitality Services website.

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