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Confronting COVID-19

Reflecting on COVID-19 one year in

A panel of experts reassembled to discuss the pandemic so far and the policies needed going forward.

Shortly after Canada identified its first case of COVID-19 in January 2020, the Queen’s School of Policy Studies assembled a panel of four experts to discuss the novel coronavirus and the role of public policy in the fight against it. One year later, this same panel got back together to reflect on the pandemic one year in and to talk about how their understanding of the virus has changed since January 2020 and the challenges it presents for policy today.

“We thought it might be useful to look again through our policy lenses at what we’ve learned during the past twelve months and how those lessons can inform policy going forward,” said Dr. David Walker, Special Advisor to the Principal on COVID-19 and Professor of Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, and Policy Studies at Queen’s, as he opened the discussion.

In addition to Dr. Walker, the panel brought together three other experts: Dr. Samantha Buttemer, Resident Physician in Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Queen’s and a family physician; Dr. Gerald Evans, Chair of Infectious Diseases in the Queen’s Department of Medicine and Director of Infection, Prevention, and Control at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre; and Dr. Kieran Moore, Medical Officer of Health (Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, and Addington Health Unit) and Professor, Family and Emergency Medicine, at Queen’s.

The panelists addressed a wide variety of topics during the hour-long discussion, touching on policy as well as scientific and social aspects of the pandemic. Dr. Evans discussed how scientific understanding of the virus has evolved, and what he got wrong about COVID-19 during the first panel last year. Dr. Moore spoke about the role of public health during the pandemic. And Dr. Buttemer looked at the connection between the pandemic and inequities in Canadian society.

“COVID-19 has exacerbated the inequities in our society, and I think we need to spend some time reflecting on that and what we can do societally from a policy level to make changes so that this not the way we move forward,” said Dr. Buttemer.

At the end of the event, the panelists said they hoped to be able to reconvene in January 2022, but this time to discuss the end of the pandemic.

“Events like this one are an important way in which Queen’s can use its experts to share their knowledge about the pandemic with the community and bring attention to what we are learning as the pandemic progresses. I thank all four panelists for their involvement and the community members who attended for their enthusiastic engagement,” says Warren Mabee, Director, School of Policy Studies.

Watch the recent panel on the SPS YouTube channel. A recording of the January 2020 panel can be found on their YouTube channel as well.

SPS also co-hosts a weekly lecture series called Contagion Cultures that draws on experts from the Faculty of Arts and Science to provide context for understanding the cultural ramifications of pandemics. Learn more about Contagion Cultures on the SPS website.

Longer, stricter lockdowns most effective, according to Queen’s economist

Queen’s researcher Christopher Cotton is one of the authors of “Building the Canadian Shield,” an approach that says a longer lockdown will save more lives and cost less economically.

As we settle into the first week of the declared State of Emergency, many Ontarians are wondering what impact the restrictions will have on COVID-19 cases and our local, regional, and national economies.

STUDIO model

Though the STUDIO model, Queen’s University economists Cotton, Huw Lloyd-Ellis, Bahman Kashi, Frederic Tremblay (PhD candidate), and alumnus Brett Crowley (BSc ’18; BA’ 19), in partnership with industry partner Limestone Analytics, are helping national and international policymakers build a roadmap for economic recovery efforts. The model produces an array of projections to show what will happen to the economy in different situations, depending on how the disease spreads, and how governments, consumers and firms respond to it. Understanding how economic outcomes respond to policy choices under alternative scenarios will help governments plan their response to COVID-19 over the coming months. In addition to the model being applied in Ontario and across Canada, the team is also working with governments in Rwanda and Malawi.

Queen’s researcher Christopher Cotton (Economics) is the senior economist on the COVID Strategic Choices Group, an interdisciplinary taskforce that includes doctors, epidemiologists, public policy and industry experts, and economists. The group has modelled the epidemiological and economic consequences of various lockdown scenarios. In their recently released strategy paper, “Building the Canadian Shield,” they say their alternative — a pan-Canadian, longer lockdown, followed by a gradual results-based relaxing of restrictions — will save more lives and cost less economically than the COVID-mitigation strategies most of the country has adopted.

For the economic analysis, the group adapted the STUDIO (Short-Term Under-capacity Dynamic Input-Output) model, developed by Cotton with Queen’s economics faculty in partnership with Limestone Analytics, a Kingston-based research and analytics firm, to map economic losses from COVID-19.

The Canadian Shield approach caught the attention of decision makers and media across Canada when it was released last week. The Gazette caught up with Dr. Cotton, the Jarislowsky-Deutsch Chair in Economic and Financial Policy, to understand more about the modelling and the recommendations.

COVID-19 and Economic Modelling

You have been mapping COVID economic losses and economic recovery efforts since the spring. How did the combination of the economic modelling with epidemiological predictions cause you to look differently at the types of lockdowns?

[Photo of Chris Cotton]
Dr. Christopher Cotton, Jarislowsky-Deutsch Chair in Economic and Financial Policy

Christopher Cotton: The STUDIO model was originally developed to help quantify the economic costs of alternative lockdown and reopening scenarios, in terms of jobs and GDP loss, at the national, provincial, and local levels. Lockdown policies are very costly for the economy and our analysis helped local policymakers understand how their communities were affected, and weigh the tradeoffs between health and economic projections. Since the beginning of the lockdowns last year, the tension between health and the economy has been front and centre in the policy discussion and our model added some hard evidence to this discussion. 

At the end of 2020, our team started working with epidemiologists who were providing longer-term projections of how the different lockdown strategies are likely to affect future waves of COVID-19 and lockdown policies that are likely to occur between now and when the vaccine is widely disseminated. We compared economic outcomes under several alternative mitigation and recovery scenarios, matching them to the long-term epidemiological and policy projections being considered by Global Canada's COVID Strategic Choices initiative.

Lockdown and Recovery

Was there anything surprising from the results of your modelling for the COVID Strategic Choices Group?

Christopher Cotton: Since the beginning of COVID, our team has been providing local economic estimates of the job and GDP loss associated with stricter lockdown policies. In many ways, our model provides policymakers evidence about the benefits of relaxing lockdown restrictions more quickly, at least in locations or sectors where it can be done safely. 

When we started looking beyond the short-term relaxations of lockdown restrictions to also consider how today’s policies affected the probability of additional waves of lockdown later in the year, the results were remarkable. It showed us just how important it is to consider the tradeoffs between economics and health over the longer term, and not just during the current wave of the disease.   

Our model allowed us to ask whether the economy is better off under an on-again, off-again cycle of less-strict lockdowns, or a stricter lockdown in the beginning of 2021, which allowed for a more-full recovery more quickly. The analysis is clear: The on-again, off-again lockdown cycle is worse for the economy than a stricter up-front lockdown that avoids future waves later in the spring.

Economic Impact

The argument for the mitigation approach (on and off-again lockdowns) has generally been that, following a lockdown, restrictions must be quickly eased to kick-start economies. Can you tell us why this is not the case?

Christopher Cotton: A quicker reopening might be good for the economy in the short run, but it makes it more likely that we will need another wave of lockdowns later in the year, perhaps multiple waves, before vaccines are available widely enough to allow for full reopening. The epidemiological projections are showing that if we rush into reopening too soon, or we don't take the current lockdown measures seriously enough, then we will have to go through additional waves of lockdowns before the vaccine is distributed widely enough to prevent shutdown. If we prioritize reopening as quickly as possible or don't take the current measures seriously, we will enter a cycle of on-again, off-again restrictions for the next eight months.  

Our economic model allows us to compare the overall costs to the Canadian economy of such an on-again, off-again cycle of lockdown restrictions, with the overall economic costs associated with a stricter, longer lockdown in the beginning, which lets us avoid additional waves of lockdowns later in the spring. We see that a stricter lockdown in the beginning is less costly in terms of lost jobs and GDP if it means no additional waves of lockdowns later. 

This is because the economic downturn associated with a lockdown doesn't disappear as soon as lockdown restrictions are lifted. Rather, it takes several months for the economy to recover after a lockdown, even a relatively short one. So, the on-again, off-again lockdown cycle is particularly costly for the economy because we start to recover, and then, even before we are fully recovered, we end up having to lockdown again and start the long recovery process over.

Pan-Canadian Approach

The “Building the Canadian Shield” strategy calls for a pan-Canadian approach to a longer, stricter lockdown. How is this defined?

Christopher Cotton: The paper outlines three major steps — the Canadian Shield approach — that the epidemiological research indicates could be taken to get COVID-19 cases under control as quickly as possible and avoid additional waves of the lockdown:

  1. Sustain an effective lockdown until COVID-19 cases are low enough that testing, tracing and isolation can work effectively;
  2. Relax restrictions only to the extent that new COVID-19 cases continue a steady decline of 17 per cent to 25 per cent per week; and
  3. Proactively assist the individuals, businesses and communities most affected by these policies.

It is important to note, however, that although the Canadian Shield approach involves strict lockdown measures today, it also recognizes that such restrictions are very costly and emphasizes the need to relax them in places where this can be done without seeing another uptick in transmission rates. The recommendations are mainly about avoiding a third wave later in the spring; which means a more cautious reopening strategy over the coming weeks and months.

Implementation and Change

What has the response been to the strategy? Has it caught the attention of decision-makers?

Christopher Cotton: Over the past several weeks, our research team’s economic analysis and the Canadian Shield proposal more broadly have been central in discussions of COVID-19 strategy at both a federal and provincial level. Not only has our analysis received a lot of media attention, but we have also engaged in discussions with or provided additional projections and analysis for policymakers. Newly announced measures in Ontario and Quebec are broadly consistent with the Canadian Shield strategy.

Our analysis is showing how the economic and health recommendations are not really at odds. Elimination of the disease and returning to normal sooner than later is better for both public health and the economy, even if the short run economic costs are high. 

Planning for post-pandemic recovery

The Queen’s School of Policy Studies is laying out strategies for building a better society in the wake of COVID-19 in a series of white papers.

Photograph of Parliament building in Ottawa
The COVID-19 Working Groups have already published three white papers on ageing well, the future of work, and the future of governance after the pandemic. (Shutterstock.)

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have rippled across every aspect of society. To confront all this change and uncertainty, the Queen’s School of Policy Studies (SPS) brought together researchers from across the university to create several interdisciplinary COVID-19 working groups to explore the impact of the pandemic and ask how we might use it as an opportunity to reshape some parts of our world for the better. Each of the eight working groups focuses on a specific topic, including arts and culture, economics, and healthcare.

After beginning their work last spring, the working groups have begun sharing their findings through a series of white papers. Three white papers have already been published on the topics of “Ageing Well,” “The Future of Work Post-Pandemic,” and “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Future of Governance in Canada.” Significant media attention has already amplified findings from these papers, and additional publications are expected to follow from the other working groups.

“The COVID-19 Working Groups in the School of Policy Studies have given Queen’s the chance to contribute to the national dialogue on a range of pressing topics. We want to use our expertise to help Canada emerge from the pandemic with a plan for building a strong and sustainable future,” says Warren Mabee, Associate Dean and Director, SPS.

Ageing well and the future of work

Long-term care homes have been struck especially hard by the pandemic, which prompted the COVID-19 Health Policy Working Group to focus on Canada’s approach to ageing in its first white paper. “Ageing Well” broadens the perspective of the current crisis in long-term care to the forthcoming tsunami of older seniors and the critical issue of quality of life and what seniors wish.  Studies show that few want to go to long-term care, and they prefer to “age in place.” The working group suggests that Canada needs to make greater efforts to provide supports so seniors can remain in their home longer and to create a variety of other living arrangements based in the community. To accommodate the desire to live independently the white paper argues more needs to be done to prevent or at least alleviate chronic conditions such as dementia and frailty.

The pandemic has also created new urgency for planning for changes to work and the economy. Looking at issues such as labour trends, economic recovery, and income support, the COVID-19 Economic Policy Working Group explores potential long-term effects in “The Future of Work Post-Pandemic.” While some sectors of the economy may be able to return to a pre-pandemic normal, the working group shows that Canada must be prepared to address a changed economic landscape in the wake of COVID-19.

“Ageing and the economy are two of Canada’s most pressing issues. Canada will need to support the needs of 4.2 million additional seniors over the next 22 years and 82 per cent will be 75 or older.  It’s pertinent we think about the long-term implications of Canada’s next steps for seniors, and the associated costs,” says Don Drummond, Stauffer-Dunning Fellow in SPS and co-author of both white papers. “As for the economy, many worthy national initiatives under consideration would require further, massive government spending when government debts and deficits have already ballooned. These needs and desires will need to be balanced against the importance of avoiding the next crisis being fiscal.”

The future of governance

The third white paper focuses on the role of government in managing a national crisis such as this pandemic. In “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Future of Governance in Canada,” the COVID-19 Governance Working Group explores how the Canadian government can best lead the country out of the current situation. The white paper argues that government institutions function well for Canadians but will also need to be adapted for a successful recovery when the pandemic dies down. Some of the initial ideas of the working group appeared in a series of op-eds in The Ottawa Citizen and were featured in podcasts by the Institute on Governance; these ideas are refined in the final white paper

“At the heart of the paper is a recognition that governance – especially how we collectively make decisions and who is at the table – is central to the successful recovery of the country. This is an opportunity that we should not miss,” says Kathy Brock, Professor and Senior Fellow, SPS, and co-author of the white paper.

Read the white papers from the COVID-19 working groups on the SPS website. Additional publications from the working groups will be published on that website as they become available.

Modelling the new coronavirus variant

Queen’s expert Troy Day discusses the new models he developed to predict the future of the pandemic in Ontario.

Graph modeling the potential spread of COVID-19 in Ontario
A model created by Professor Troy Day of how the new coronavirus variant could spread in Ontario. (Ontario Science Advisory and Modelling Consensus Tables.)

It’s been nine months since Professor of Mathematics Troy Day joined Ontario’s COVID-19 Modelling Consensus Table, and his work is now more pressing than ever. He has turned his attention to the new variant of the virus first found in the UK, and his most recent models indicate this more infectious strand of the virus could become dominant in Ontario by February.

The Gazette interviewed Dr. Day when he first joined provincial table in April, and we’ve connected with him again to discuss his latest findings.

When did the new variant of the coronavirus become a focus of your work?

Day: I started shifting my attention to the UK variant in early December, shortly before the first cases were identified in Canada.

How did you determine that the new variant could become dominant in Ontario by February?

Day: There is a great deal of uncertainty with that projection, but we took estimates from its rate of spread in the UK and applied them to the outbreak in Ontario, under different assumptions about when the first cases arrived in Canada. If the first cases entered Canada in October (which is plausible given the extent of circulation in the UK at that time) and circulated undetected until recently, then we might expect it to become dominant in February or March. On the other hand, if it first arrived in Canada in December (as another example) this date would be pushed forward by about another two months.

According to your models, what might the ramifications be if the new variant does become dominant?

Day: The most troubling projection to me is that, if everything about the spread of the variant works the same in Canada as it has in the UK, then the doubling time of the outbreak might be reduced from around 40 days to less than two weeks.

Now that you’ve been serving in this role for nine months, can you describe the value of the table and how it affects decision making in Ontario?

Day: Good question. No doubt making decisions at the governmental level is very difficult since they need to integrate all of the information they receive about the epidemiological projections with everything else (health care capacity, economic considerations, people’s willingness to adopt different behaviours, and so on). I think our table has been important in guiding the government’s response by providing the best possible information about how the outbreak is likely to unfold under different circumstances. And, despite the pandemic, it’s been really enjoyable working with such a multidisciplinary team of people from so many different institutions and agencies.

What’s next for your modelling work and for the COVID-19 Consensus Table more generally?

Day: At the moment we are engaged both in further monitoring of the spread of the UK variant and updating the projections. We have also been modeling how best to deploy sequencing capacity for tracking the variant as well as trying to develop methodology for quickly identifying any other new variants of potential concern that might arise.

What motivates changing behaviours during COVID-19

 

A woman shopper wearing a surgical mask stocks up on toilet paper at a supermarket
In the early days of the pandemic, people panic bought toilet paper. (Shutterstock)

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to make some pretty interesting decisions like buying in bulk, wearing face masks and physically distancing from other people.

The Conversation logoHow do we make decisions and choices? Motivation is the reason why we do what we do. Motivation theory analyzes the why of human behaviour as a means of understanding people’s decision-making processes. But people’s motivations are more complicated than we might think, because decisions are usually based on several factors that may or may not be context-specific.

My research looks at how people can be motivated to innovate: I study learning environments, leadership strategies and how to develop innovation potential. Understanding motivation in innovation can help us understand how we make decisions in unusual times.

Motivation depends on what’s going on

Motivation as a field of study can be found in the writings of the Greek philosopher Plutarch and the Bhagavad Gita — among many other ancient texts — although focused psychological studies or motivation dynamics are rather recent. In the past century, motivation theory has looked at whether motivation is extrinsic or intrinsic to a task.

Those of us who study motivation have many theories to choose from, each with strengths and weaknesses. You would, however, be hard-pressed to find a framework more easily transferable than expectancy-value-cost theory (EVC), which understands motivation as uniquely contextual for each situation.

One way to think of it is as a dynamic interaction of the expectancies (confidence in the outcome) and values (what makes it valuable) going up against the perceived costs related to a given task to a given person in a given context. If your held expectancies and values outweigh your perceived costs, you are likely motivated to complete the task, and vice versa.

What drove people to buy up toilet paper?

For most of March and April 2020, it was pretty hard to come by toilet paper because it was literally rolling off the shelves. People were panic-buying toilet paper in bulk, and supply couldn’t keep up with demand.

Applying EVC theory suggests that people were increasingly motivated to buy toilet paper because of a perceived need to be prepared. The increase in perceived value went unchecked, and plenty of people’s motivation to buy toilet paper went through the roof as fast as their probably sound reasoning went down the drain.

Increasing, explaining or revealing the values of any task (good or bad) makes it more likely that someone will do it. When you effectively communicating why people should behave in a certain way by explaining the value of a decision or choice, they are more likely to behave in that way.

How did people adjust to working from home?

A public health mandate may have necessitated many people to work from home, but until many people actually had settled into working from home, few would have believed that they could passably perform their role from home. Folks might have been nervous or unconfident in their ability to accomplish their role early on, but over time, people grew into working from home or in whatever changed circumstance they found themselves working in.

In other words, we adapted to the reality in front of us. Lots of people would now be more likely to think it’s possible to capably manage working from home.

Our expectations of success are built by our lived experiences, especially the unplanned ones, and we are more comfortable doing what we have done in the past. These experiences change what we believe ourselves to be capable of doing.

Motivating a desired outcome

EVC theory can be applied to increase the chances of a specific outcome. As a first step, EVC theory splits the factors into two groups, those that promote the task outcome and those that hinder the task outcome. Naturally, we would want to make the promoting factors as big as possible and the hindering factors as small as possible as for instance innovating or changing thinking .

This makes for a two-pronged approach to motivate people to make the desired choice: maximizing expectancies and values and mitigating costs, such as time investment, isolation, loss of stability, sense of safety and additional effort.

In the case of people adapting to physical distancing (or pretty much anything), providing easily understood information from a trusted source will likely increase the chances of the behaviour. Explaining in clear terms what someone will get from doing something builds one or more types of value, such as fulfilling a communal or shared duty.

This can be applied anywhere, for example, fitness during the pandemic, healthy diets, physical distancing. The key is helping someone see and believe they can do something, explain what the whole point of the exercise is and what they get from doing it (fun, fulfilment, importance or reward) and then work to address their perceived barriers to actually doing it. This turns into the blueprint for driving desired behaviours.The Conversation

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Eleftherios Soleas, Adjunct assistant professor, Education, Queen's University.

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

Queen’s announces changes to support province-wide shutdown

The university is urging students to avoid returning to Kingston until after Jan. 23.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise rapidly across the province, the Ontario government has announced a province-wide shutdown that will go into effect as of Dec. 26 and last for 28 days. During this shutdown period, Premier Doug Ford is advising all Ontarians to stay at home to the fullest extent possible, noting that travel outside your region should be limited to only essential purposes.

In accordance with the provincial announcement, the university is strongly urging all students to avoid returning to Kingston until after the shutdown ends on Jan. 23, unless absolutely necessary. This includes students living both on and off campus and international students who were scheduled to travel to Kingston for the start of the winter academic term. 

  • This means that the start of in-person classes will be delayed, with the exception of a limited number of classes that require in-person teaching as permitted by the government, such as clinical training that supports health-related programs (e.g. Medicine, Nursing, Rehabilitation Sciences)
  • Students in other programs who were expecting to begin on-campus activity in the winter term will receive further communications from their faculty or program office.
  • Students who are scheduled to return or move into a Residence building are strongly encouraged to remain in their home communities, unless absolutely necessary. These students will receive additional information from Residence Life Services shortly.
  • International students travelling to Kingston for the start of the winter term are strongly encouraged to delay their arrival, unless absolutely necessary. These students will receive additional information from the Queen’s University International Centre shortly.
  • For already approved on-site research activity, if researchers can work remotely (from home) they should do so, only coming on campus as necessary. New requests for on-site activity are suspended. Important information on research continuity planning, including on-site access, human participant research, and field research, is available on the Vice-Principal (Research) website.
  • All athletic and recreation facilities are closed for in-person access.
  • On-campus access for employees will be limited. Only essential staff and faculty or those who must be on campus to do their work should be on campus. All other faculty, staff, senior administration, and student leadership will work remotely except for required ad hoc access (for example, to record a lecture, print documents, or retrieve files) or those with accommodation requirements.
  • All university-sponsored travel outside of Canada remains suspended indefinitely. This affects students, staff, and faculty and includes all future exchange, study abroad, letters of permission, faculty-led programs, internships, research placements, community-engaged learning, practicums, and conferences.

More information on the impact of the province-wide shutdown and its impact on Queen’s will be available in the new year. Units, department, and faculties across the university will be providing updates on their services on their websites and through other communications channels.

Queen’s wishes to thank everyone for their efforts to date and to encourage everyone to continue to do their part to keep their family, friends, and community safe from the spread of COVID-19.

Lights, camera, livestream!

Work presented by Queen’s University’s Festival of Live and Digital Art recognized as one of top 10 moments in Canadian Theatre for 2020.

During a time when theatres went dark and the performing arts community had to introduce new ways to showcase their talents, a program at Queen’s University pushed forward by moving its unique Festival of Live and Digital Art (FOLDA) online.  

As a result, the Globe and Mail has named a production at FOLDA as a top-10 moment in 2020 Canadian Theatre. Included on that list were the National Ballet of Canada and the Toronto production of Hamilton. 

In its third year, FOLDA is an annual festival held in Kingston in June that exists with the support of The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, The Dan School of Drama and Music, and The Department of Film and Media. Due to the pandemic, it was presented this year in an entirely digital format.  

This year, Miwa Matreyek, a designer, director and performer from Los Angeles, presented three livestreamed works, including Infinitely Yours where her silhouette interacts with animations. It was included in the Globe and Mail’s top 10. 

“Iterative development has been at the core of the curatorial approach to FOLDA,” says Michael Wheeler, assistant professor, Dan School of Drama and Music. “Around a third of the pieces at FOLDA are finished works like Infinitely Yours. Many other works are works in progress as creators experiment with concepts and gain feedback from audiences. It was for this reason we were also excited to see The Chop Theatre's Pathetic Fallacy on the same Globe and Mail list. This show was developed in an iterative creation process at festivals around the world, including two years at FOLDA, before finding a completely digital presentation form working with Rumble Theatre in 2020." 

SpiderWebShow established FOLDA at The Isabel in 2018 with a goal of creating an annual festival for audiences and artists to examine how digital technologies are transforming life performance. Wheeler is also the co-creator and director of artistic research of SpiderWebShowthe first and only nationally-driven performing arts website of its kind in Canada. 

“The inclusion of Miwa Matrayek's work at FOLDA on this list of notable theatre productions emphasizes the shifting nature of the medium that SpiderWebShow has been dedicated to considering,” says Wheeler. “We are thrilled for Miwa and hope it will encourage new audiences to join us each June in an exploration of what live performance can be." 

Read more about FOLDA in the Globe and Mail. 

7 ways meaningful activities can help us get through the coronavirus pandemic

Keeping busy during the pandemic by taking on a new hobby or tackling a home renovation project can help us get through challenging times. (Shutterstock)
Keeping busy during the pandemic by taking on a new hobby or tackling a home renovation project can help us get through challenging times. (Shutterstock)

We hear over and over that it is important to remain occupied during pandemic restrictions. People are gardening, baking bread and taking on DIY projects in record numbers. But what exactly does all this “occupation” do for us in stressful times?

Meaningful activities can be a source of healing and relief in stressful times. In the fall of 2011, in response to the events of September 11, I contributed a position paper to an expert panel of the American Occupational Therapy Foundation that sought to offer guidance on meaningful activities. Although the current circumstances are dramatically different, the argument is much the same. Being occupied is good for us, and its benefits are even greater when we are beset with uncertainty, distress or upheaval.

As long as human history has been recorded, we have known that it is important for human beings to be occupied in meaningful ways. Based on an exhaustive review of the international literature, there is solid evidence for seven ways that meaningful activities can support our well-being in difficult times.

1. Identity: What we do reminds us of who we are. How we occupy ourselves contributes to the formation and maintenance of the self. Difficult times threaten the integrity of the self. Occupation provides the mechanism through which the past, present and future of the self are integrated. In the face of difficult circumstances, occupation offers the potential for a fuller, more integrated self once the crisis resolves.

2. Mastery: Occupation reminds us of our capacity for exercising control over our circumstances. It validates our sense of being able to master a situation, turn it to our advantage and come out of it intact. Occupation makes people agents of their situation rather than victims of it. Occupation is both intrinsically motivated and intrinsically rewarding because of its validation of our sense of mastery and adaptation.

A woman on a red mat doing yoga in a white bedroom
Developing and maintaining habits help regain a sense of control. (Shutterstock)

3. Habit: Being occupied in usual ways in the midst of a crisis reinforces in us our normal daily habits. It reassures us that the world continues to turn and that it is possible to have a normal life again. Habits have been understood for many years to have restorative properties when chaos appears to otherwise reign. Habits have been shown to increase skill, decrease fatigue, free attention and protect individuals against the stressful effects of difficult situations.

4. Diversion: Doing something provides a diversion from the negative aspects of stressful situations. Diversional activity allows individuals to transcend the obstacles and difficulties of their daily lives, and in some circumstances, to even achieve an optimal experience beyond the fixed realities of time and space — a state we call “flow.” Occupation has the power to divert people away from the difficulties in their lives, toward satisfaction and healthy engagement.

5. Support: Being occupied often involves interacting with others — providing support to their coping efforts, and receiving support in return. The sense of belonging is widely understood to be one of the factors that helps people to achieve positive outcomes and to weather stress without undue negative consequences for their health. Shared occupations can thus have a two-fold positive effect. Besides the obvious beneficial effects for the recipient of support, occupations contributing to the welfare of another have been shown to have numerous benefits for the provider as well.

6. Survival: Many occupations actually have survival value. Evidence from anthropology and prehistory show that humans created and differentiated occupations that promoted co-operation and favoured the survival of both the individual and the group. Occupations meet safety and sustenance needs, and as such are essential tools for survival.

Hands baking bread
Baking bread is both a way to stay occupied and a useful life skill. (Shutterstock)

7. Spiritual Connection: Finally, when difficult times arise, occupations can be the means through which meaning in life is restored. Whereas in earlier times, people might have turned to religion to restore meaning, in the contemporary world of secular pluralism, occupation may be the most effective medium available through which individuals can affirm their connection with the self, with others, with the cosmos and with the divine. In stressful times, being occupied may provide the sense that one is not alone, both literally and in the most profound sense.

So keep on learning to knit, doing yoga online and sorting photographs. There are seven good reasons to do so, all of which will help to see you through this pandemic with your sense of self and community intact.The Conversation

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Mary Ann McColl, Professor, School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Queen's University.

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

Library doubles bookable study spaces

In response to student feedback and the upcoming exam period, while also considering the success of earlier phases of re-opening library spaces, Queen’s University Library is doubling the number of bookable seats available in Stauffer Library.

Students will also be able to continue to book seats at the Education Library in Duncan MacArthur Hall, and additional spaces in Mackintosh-Corry Hall. Additionally, the limit per month has been increased from 40 to 60 hours across campus per student.

Please see the Bookable Seats page for more information. With more students being welcomed back to the library, be sure to check out the Queen’s University Library’s instructional video and the Use of Bookable Seats page, in order to have a sense of what you can expect as you visit the available spaces.

Leveraging creative potential during a pandemic

Queen’s University researchers respond to a critical need with unique music program Rise, ShineSing!

The Accessible and Inclusive Music Theatre project, led by Queen’s researchers Julia Brook and Colleen Renihan, is embarking on its second year of investigating how participation in an accessible online music and movement program can improve well-being and foster creativity, particularly among older adults.  

The first year of the program Rise, ShineSing! included three weeks of in-person sessions at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts which saw sessions of 50 people in the rehearsal hall, singing and moving together, followed by 12 weeks of online sessions over Zoom. 

We came together as a team to consider what a collaborative approach to these wicked problems of ageism in music theatre, loneliness, and a lack of understanding about the creative potential of people throughout the lifespan could yield,” says Dr. Renihan, whose research investigates issues of voice, cultural memory, and empathy in opera and music theatre. 

After moving online due to the pandemic, Drs. Brook and Renihan decided to continue the program, based on its early success. 

We determined this program filled a significant need in the community,” says Dr. BrookWe are both community-minded musicians and scholars, wanting to work and make beautiful change in our local community here in Kingston. We believe in the flexibility that music theatre offers with its combination of music, story, and movement. We believe that one can thrive and be creative across the lifespan. 

Dr. Renihan adds for the second year of the program they are aiming to share their findings through publication, public presentations, and through the formation of a national network of researchers and creators with similar goalsThey are also interested in the effects of participation in this kind of creative work on well-being. Finally, with the pandemic, they are investigating the surprising gains of engaging in performance and creation over Zoom. 

The second year of the program includes participants from outside of Kingston, including some people from long-term care homes, recognizing the need in this community for interaction, connection, and artistic stimulation, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

During each weekly session, participants engage in a series of vocal and movement warm-ups, and sing and dance to a repertoire of folk, musical theatre, and popular hits. 

“Our project aims to find ways to help people of all ages and abilities to leverage their creative and artistic potentials in a digital space,” says Dr. Brook, whose research area focused on music education. 

This research project is currently recruiting participants of all ages and abilities: No previous singing or dancing experience is required, and no digital savvy beyond clicking the Zoom link is needed. 

To find out more, sign up for a weekly newsletter and get the Zoom link to participate by visiting the project’s website at www.riseshinesing.ca. 

The Accessible and Inclusive Music Theatre Project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, and the Dan School of Drama and Music at Queen’s University. 

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