Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Learn how Queen's is planning for our safe return to campus.

Confronting COVID-19

Tackling COVID-19 spread by monitoring wastewater

Interdisciplinary research team at Queen’s University joins national network.

An interdisciplinary research team at Queen’s University is taking the first step in establishing a local group in the  National Sewage Sentinel Surveillance  in Canada. The pilot project is developing capacity to detect SARS-CoV-2 (the infectious agent that causes COVID-19) in sewage and septic samples. 

This work, being conducted at the Beaty Water Research Centre (BWRC), will help with early detection of community-borne COVID-19 and can also be applied to future viral outbreaks. 

“The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has been detected in stool of some infected individuals, including asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic,” says Stephen Brown, professor in the Department of Chemistry and an affiliate of BWRC. “Feces of COVID-19 infected patients may serve as a mechanism for community surveillance with the possibility of earlier detection of outbreaks.” 

The focus of the initial study will be to work with samples from potential hotspots as a way to monitor campus health. The team will also be receiving samples from the Peel region, which has continuously been a hotspot in Ontario for COVID-19 cases. 

This pilot study will use the results as a sentinel for community COVID-19 infection levels and for surveillance for early emergence or reemergence (future waves, seasonal reoccurrence), thereby informing public health mitigation. 

The team will then start with sampling wastewater from Kingston and surrounding areas by working with local utilities and, down the line, the researchers would also like to expand to testing sewage from rural communities who rely on their own private drinking wells and septic systems. 

“Although SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to be effectively removed through a variety of standard water treatment processes, in the absence of a treatment system, households that rely on private supplies may be vulnerable to fecal-oral transmission through the drinking of well water contaminated by a nearby septic tank,” says Dr. Brown. “Another natural extension is to sample recreational waters. For example, the possibility of storm water overflows releasing untreated or partially treated sewage into a receiving recreational water body.” 

For more information please contact the BWRC at BWRC.info@queensu.ca. 

What’s new in securing Queen’s digital environment

With the advent of remote work due to COVID-19, and the increased use of and reliance on information technologies, the University has placed a heightened importance on mitigating cyber threats. Significant investments have been made to ensure there is a secure foundation for Queen’s digital environment  and numerous actions are being taken to protect you and Queen’s data.

Several high priority cybersecurity capabilities are being implemented over the coming months. A comprehensive communications and change management program is also being undertaken to  promote wide adoption and to support you in the steps you will to take to do your part in securing our online environment. Closer to the launch of each, you will receive details from IT Services about the specific actions required. These projects include:

  • The Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) initiative, launched this summer. This initiative helps validate the online identities of users accessing Queen’s resources. MFA was rolled out to staff and student-staff over the summer; faculty and students will be notified to enrol throughout the remainder of the year.
  • In October, a new solution will be introduced to ensure the health of user devices (laptops, desktops, smartphones and tablets) accessing Queen’s resources. The Endpoint Protection project will provide instruction on how to enroll our devices in Microsoft Intune.
  • Also in October, IT Services is launching a new platform for cybersecurity Education and Awareness that focuses on leading practices to identify cybersecurity risks and what we should be doing to respond to them.

For more information about each project, as well as information about other planned initiatives, please visit the Cybersecurity Action Plan 2019-20 page on the IT Services website.

Researchers should note the following newly-released cybersecurity guidance and resources (September 2020). The initiatives in Cybersecurity Action Plan 2019-21 are directly aligned with the recommendations in these publications. Don’t hesitate to contact IT Services if you would like support to secure your environment.

Teaching and learning online

Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) John Pierce on Queen’s efforts to create a successful remote educational environment.

Photograph of John Pierce, Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning)
Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) John Pierce says that the university undertook its largest single-time investment in teaching technology to prepare for remote instruction this fall.

As Queen’s announced that most classes in the fall semester would be delivered remotely to protect community health and safety during COVID-19, faculty, staff, and administration across the university set out to develop strategies for making the term as successful as possible.

Now that the semester is underway, the Queen’s Gazette connected with Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) John Pierce to find out how Queen’s prepared for the challenges of moving to a new learning environment. Touching on topics such as technology, assessment, and accommodations, Pierce explains some of the resources that are in place and some things that students and instructors can expect throughout the fall.

The large-scale move to remote teaching and learning is likely the most comprehensive and sudden shift in course delivery in Queen’s history. Has the university made any specific investments in tools or programs to help facilitate this move to online instruction?

Since March, Queen’s has undertaken its largest single-time investment in teaching technology in the last decade. The investments have been made on two fronts. The first is to supply instructors with the technology required to transfer their teaching materials into an online form and make up for the inability to use physical classrooms. This includes video production software, captioning software, assessment software, and software that enables peer group work in an online environment.

There was also investment in support teams to help instructors figure out how to use this new technology. Queen’s IT Services reinforced its support teams and added longer hours into their support systems. The faculties and schools also did more to build up support for instructors. And the offices of the principal and the provost invested money in the Centre for Teaching and Learning to create teams of students who could help instructors with the technological aspects of their courses. And this support can range from instruction on how to upload videos for courses to more complicated uses of peer-related software tools.

While the university has invested in these new tools to address COVID-19, they will also be useful in the future when we return to on-campus instruction. So we believe this is a significant long-term investment in teaching and learning.

Beyond technology, what other preparations have been made for remote teaching and learning in the fall?

As in-person classes were cancelled in March, meetings began to discuss what a remote teaching and learning environment would look like for a full semester. Throughout the summer, we established a full new set of guidelines to help instructors and students move to remote instruction. In the new guidelines, we’ve tried to reconsider a number of aspects of instruction, from how to present material, how to engage with students, and even how to assess and examine students. The guidelines represent a kind of re-envisioning of what the teaching and learning environment at Queen’s is like.

At Queen’s, there is usually a decentralized approach to teaching and learning, where the faculties and schools develop their programs on their own. But we came to an understanding across the university that we need to coordinate more because we all shared the challenges of the pandemic. The Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) website underwent a significant overhaul to centralize a number of guidelines and resources.

There were also a number of training modules and sessions set up both by the faculties themselves and centrally by the Centre for Teaching and Learning. And these were primarily for instructors to adapt to a new environment. Those sessions went on all through the summer and were well attended by both experienced instructors and new instructors.

We also had to think about accommodations. Because we realized that this new environment would present special challenges to students. Both for those who need formal accommodations but even students who do not normally need accommodations are under new stresses, such as creating their own workspaces and supplying their own Internet connection.

With students taking classes from across Canada and around the world this semester, finding a balance between synchronous and asynchronous teaching seems very important. Can you say more about how Queen’s is approaching this issue?

We have a new challenge in the timing of synchronous activities during remote instruction. Since we have students from all over the world and from different time zones, new challenges arise with synchronous instructional activities. Students in different time zones might have to get up in the middle of the night to take part in a synchronous event, and those late night periods are not conducive to the best learning experience. Many instructors are moving largely or exclusively to remote instruction to avoid this problem; some are holding several of the same synchronous activities to ensure that no student has to engage with the course at unreasonable hours. Finally, we are advising all instructors to ensure that whatever material is presented synchronously is recorded or conveyed to all students in an alternative form so no student is disadvantaged. Our guidelines to synchronous vs. asynchronous teaching are available on the Teaching and Learning website.

With all these changes, what do you think students can expect from their remote classes in general?

Students will see a variety of approaches to remote teaching and learning. There will be a variety of uses of technology and a variety of types of pedagogy. This is a fact of moving rapidly to a largely new model of course delivery. Some instructors will use technology in intensive ways. And for others it will be less intensive. While there are many different methods used in in-class instruction, the varieties of approaches used in remote instruction may be even more wide ranging.

There’s no getting around the fact that this new environment is challenging for instructors and students alike. But there is a high level of commitment on all sides to make this work.

With the change in learning environment there will probably also be changes in how students are evaluated as well. How will test and exam proctoring – and assessment more generally – work for the fall semester?

Extensive thinking has gone into how we assess students in this new learning environment. A lot of instructors have looked into alternative forms of assessment to the standard exam. However, for many instructors and disciplines, exams are still the best way to assess student learning. So there are courses where remote proctoring will be used for the fall semester, both for term tests and finals.

Queen’s has carefully examined two tools, Examity and Proctor Track, and approved their use after determining that they meet the privacy and security requirements of the university. Both of these tools have been used in the past, and they will be used going forward. These tools ensure the integrity of exams.

Queen’s has also put together a guideline on academic considerations technical failures or in-the-moment interruptions that might occur while a student is taking a test or exam. It says that if a student has a technical failure or interruption in their workspace that was unpredictable or random, there should be consideration and allowance to accept that as a bona fide problem. And the instructor should work with the student to address that.

This does not apply to chronic failures. For instance, if a student has a persistently unstable Internet connection and makes no attempt to address the issue, this situation does not warrant an academic consideration. The same goes for workspaces. Students are responsible for finding a workspace that generally enables them to complete their work. But it’s understood that there may be momentary noises or interruptions that prevent students from completing their work.

To help ensure that their remote test or exam goes smoothly, all students should take a practice test on the exam platform to identify any technical challenges that might arise.

No matter the form of any test or exam, Queen’s will ensure that all formal accommodation needs of a student are met. There is more information on remote proctoring on the Registrar’s website.

Are there any resources available for faculty or students who want assistance as they go through a full semester of remote courses?

The Centre for Teaching and Learning has many resources available on its website, including guidelines and training materials for remote instruction.

Queen’s IT Services provides tutorials on their website about using remote teaching and learning technologies.

Students can find resources through the Division of Student Affairs. For example, Student Academic Success Services offers academic skills resources. And Queen’s Student Accessibility Services can offer assistance with academic accommodations.

The faculties and schools also have their own resources and supports in place, and you can find more information about them on their websites.

Do you have any words of advice for students or instructors for the fall term?

This is a challenging new environment for everyone. And there are obviously stresses associated with this new learning environment. I hope that students who are feeling large amounts of stress will seek support through resources like Student Wellness Services and Empower Me, and that they keep a line of communication open with their instructors. I also hope that everyone will stay in close touch with their peers and colleagues throughout this time. Because we all have a common goal to make this semester as successful as possible, and we’ll need to support each other to do so.

Holding limited in-person classes

Extensive health and safety guidelines for classrooms are allowing students and faculty to take part in a small number of courses on campus.

Photograph of a lecture hall with markers on seats to promote physical distancing.
Yellow markers in this lecture hall in Chernoff show which seats students can sit in and keep two metres of distance from others.

When Queen’s decided to move courses online for the fall due to COVID-19, it also took up the challenge of finding ways to safely hold a few small classes in person for select programs. Now with extensive health and safety guidelines in place, the university is welcoming a small number of students and instructors back to campus.

“Promoting health and safety during the pandemic is the top priority of the university at this time, which is why the vast majority of classes in the fall will be delivered remotely. But where possible we also wanted to preserve in-person education for some courses and programs,” says John Pierce, Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning). “Our guidelines for classroom use are making it possible for students and instructors to follow public health protocols while meeting in person on campus.”

Approximately 80 small classes have been approved to meet on campus. These courses come primarily from the Faculty of Health Sciences, the School of Graduate Studies, and some professional programs.

The university has put many precautions in place to ensure that all class participants can keep two metres of physical distance. Most of these small classes are being held in large lecture halls that are operating at a significantly reduced capacity. Markers on seats show students which seats are available for use, and all available seats are at least two metres apart from each other.

Students are required to wear a mask at all times while they are inside a campus building. If students are unable to wear masks under the KFL&A Public Health pandemic order exemptions, they should advise their instructors and instructors must offer them the ability to complete the class remotely. Instructors should not send these students to Queen's Student Accessibility Services to request a formal accommodation, but should accept a student's request in good faith and respond appropriately.

Lecturing instructors do not need to wear masks, but they are able to maintain physical distance by standing behind the plexiglass shield at the front of the podium. Instructors are also asked to start and end classes at designated times, so students can maintain physical distance while entering and exiting.

All classrooms will be cleaned thoroughly once a day, and hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes will be available in all classrooms. Students and instructors should sanitize their hands and wipe down chairs and tables at the start of each class.

When students approach a classroom, they will see guidelines for using the room posted on the door. And there will also be floor decals spaced two metres apart to help them maintain physical distance if they need to wait to enter a class.

Most campus buildings will remain locked throughout the fall. Buildings that hold courses will be unlocked only for the class. The doors will unlock 30 minutes before the start of the class, and they will lock again 30 minutes after the class begins. Classrooms are to be used for approved classes only.

These classroom guidelines are a part of the university’s overall return-to-campus strategy, which seeks the safe, responsible, and gradual return to normal operations, as Public Health guidelines permit. As part of this effort, the university is continuing with remote delivery of classes this fall for most students, limiting the capacity of campus residences to under 50 per cent, making face masks mandatory, and ensuring physical distancing. As recently announced, such plans will continue into the winter term. Queen’s has begun a phased reopening of the Athletics and Recreation Centre with new health and safety protocols in place, and has added a COVID-19 assessment tool to its on-campus mobile safety app, SeQure.

Everyone is also encouraged to follow hand hygiene, mask wearing, physical distancing, and other public health guidance to limit COVID-19 spread.

For more information on the university’s COVID-19 planning and resources, visit the COVID-19 Information website.

Library update for fall term

The Queen’s University Library is committed to continuing to support faculty, students, and staff with learning, teaching, research, and accessibility requests, while keeping everyone safe and adhering to provincial and university guidelines throughout the COVID-19 period.

The following is an update as to what the Queen’s community can expect in terms of access to spaces, materials, as well as library consultation and instruction.


Starting on Sept. 8, 150 seats in Stauffer Library were opened to all students, using a system similar to the library’s current group study room booking system. This unmediated, first-come first-serve service for Queen’s students has a limit of 32 hours per month per student in September. Safety protocols and other information is sent via email to students upon booking. All students must complete a wellness check through the SeQure app, or fill out a provided checklist if a smartphone is not available, before entering the library and library staff are available to answer questions about use of the space. Students who are registered with Queen’s Student Accessibility Services (QSAS) are now able to access the Adaptive Technology Centre. Alternate format services and access to adaptive technology are currently being provided remotely by Adaptive Technology staff. 

In the next phase, the library hopes to expand access, including plans to open additional seats in Stauffer Library and other library locations. The library is also exploring access to equipment such as computers and scanners. The date and location(s) of the next phase will be announced on the library website as soon as it is confirmed. The library will continue to expand access throughout the fall term, making adjustments as needed to prioritize everyone’s safety.


Online resources (e-journals, e-books, databases, etc.) continue to be available to support the university's academic and research mission. The library websitesubject guides and off-campus access instructions provide access to millions of information resources. Open access to the stacks will not be available during the fall term, but the library has been working on innovative ways to expand Queen’s student, faculty, and staff access to materials in the print collections including curbside pickup, scanning services, HathiTrust, a reserve reading room, and limited access to archival and special collections materials via in-person consultation.

The library’s Omni search tool can be used to request a curbside pickup of physical materials at Stauffer Library, or make a “Request for Scan” for a single book chapter, journal article, or similar fair dealing amount, subject to copyright, using the new scanning service. The library has activated the HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access Service, which offers access to approximately 36 per cent of the print collection. Faculty are also invited to view the eReserves page for faculty and OnQ eReserves page for instructions on how to request electronic course readings for courses that will be delivered remotely this fall. 

The library is working on plans to open a reserve reading room on the main floor of Douglas Library to provide access to print course reserves for approved on-campus courses only.

Reference Consultations

Faculty, staff, and students are invited to contact liaison librarians, archivists, and special collections staff, and the Ask Us service remotely. Online consultations continue to be offered in archives and special collections from Monday to Friday and as of Sept. 21, 2020 Queen’s University Archives and W.D. Jordan Rare Books and Special Collections are welcoming researchers back into their reading rooms to consult their collections by appointment on Mondays and Tuesdays, between 9 am and 12 pm, and 1 pm and 4 pm.


The library will be offering instruction remotely this fall. Please contact your liaison librarian, archivists, or special collections staff to make arrangements.

Library plans will continue to evolve as library staff and users continue to identify priorities, within the context of the pandemic.

The library is working through a phased plan that is guiding how we will expand services and continue to support your teaching, learning, and research this fall term in a safe and supportive way. Our plans and services are being adjusted as new information is available, and we will continue to release details on the COVID-19 updates section of our website. If you have a need that is not currently addressed, ask us! We’re here to help.” says Michael Vandenburg, Interim Vice-Provost and University Librarian.

Remote learning to continue for 2021 Winter Term

The following letter by Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Green was sent to all students at Queen’s University confirming that the majority of Winter Term courses will be delivered remotely. A similar letter has also been sent to faculty and staff.

To Queen’s University Students:

I hope you are settling into your classes and adjusting to learning in these extraordinary circumstances. I would like to update you on the status of plans for the 2021 Winter Term.

With some exceptions, most courses will continue to be delivered remotely in the 2021 Winter Term. A small number of on-campus academic activities will be held based on the need for some students to access specialized facilities, such as labs or clinical settings, and to ensure all students can meet the academic requirements of their programs.

Your faculty or school will be in touch with you to confirm course delivery details for your program once plans are finalized. Information on the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) operations will be shared as soon as possible.

To adjust the current Winter Term timetable and provide classrooms for the small number of academic activities that will occur on-campus, access to your Winter Term course enrolments will be suspended during the period of Sept. 23 through Nov. 8, 2020.  Access to SOLUS will reopen on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020, to allow you to view time and room changes to Winter Term classes and make academic adjustments to your Winter Term class schedule.]

I realize the decision not to expand our on-campus academic activities in the Winter term will be disappointing to some students. Keeping students, instructors, and staff safe is always our first priority, and regardless of the class delivery format, the university remains committed to ensuring all students receive an equitable and robust learning experience.  

Programs and services to support your academic progression and personal well-being continue to be available, including academic advising, library services, and wellness support. Please reach out to your instructors or to one of the many support resources available to you if you need assistance.

Residences will be communicating in the coming weeks to all first-year students who have indicated an interest in a ‘winter term only’ residence space. Spaces will be prioritized for students with new or increasing on-campus academic activities.

Updated information will continue to be posted on the Queen’s COVID-19 website.

- Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Green

Positive test for COVID-19 confirmed at Queen’s University

Queen’s has been advised by Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health (KFL&A Public Health) of a confirmed positive COVID-19 case in the Queen’s community.

Queen’s is working closely with KFL&A Public Health and has detailed processes and protocols in place to respond quickly. Contact tracing is being conducted by KFL&A Public Health and all close contacts will be contacted directly by Public Health. The individual has followed appropriate protocols and is self-isolating.  

Our priority is the health and safety of everyone, including students, staff, faculty and the Kingston community. It is good ongoing practice to self-monitor for COVID19 symptoms including but not limited to fever, difficulty breathing, and new or worsening cough and to follow precautionary public health measures, including the use of a face covering, physical distancing, frequent hand washing, and staying home when sick. Members of the Queen’s community are encouraged to download the Queen’s SeQure App and/or the COVID Alert app to aid in contact tracing.

As a reminder, any member of the Queen's community that reports feeling ill should self-isolate and do a self-assessment. Students who screen as requiring a test should call Student Wellness Services at
(613) 533-2506 to make an appointment to visit the Campus COVID-19 Assessment Centre.  Staff and faculty who need a test should go to the Community Testing Centre (currently at the Leon’s Centre). More information on appropriate protocols is available on Queen’s COVID-19 Information website at www.queensu.ca/covidinfo.


Contacts for students and families

COVID-19 testing options on campus:

  • Campus COVID-19 Assessment Centre (Mitchell Hall, Rose Event Commons Room across from Student Wellness Centre): For students experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, who have travelled outside of Canada in the last 14 days, or who need testing due to contact tracing. Open Monday to Friday, 5pm-8pm, by appointment. Contact Student Wellness Services at 613-533-2506 to book.

Health related inquiries:

Non-health related inquires: 

  • Students in need of support should access Student Wellness Services, or the 24/7 crisis and counselling services available through Empower Me at 1-844-741-6389 (learn more about Empower Me), and Good2Talk, a provincial 24/7 post-secondary student helpline, at 1-866-925-5454.

  • The Division of Student Affairs provides information for Queen's parents, families, and supporters.

Additional COVID-19 resources:

COVID-19 preparedness an essential part of Queen’s planning

Over the last month, Queen’s has been educating students arriving in Kingston about the role they need to play in helping keep the community safe from the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, Principal Patrick Deane has directed the university to create a new Incident Command Structure to help manage possible or confirmed cases of the virus within the university community to further support efforts to protect the health and safety of all faculty, staff, and students – and the Kingston community at large.

“As this fall term gets underway, ensuring we are prepared to manage any cases of COVID-19 within our community is critical,” says Principal Deane. “I have asked Provost Mark Green to lead this effort at Queen’s. We know we must remain vigilant and have the right structure in place to help us act quickly.”

Under the Incident Command Structure, members of the Incident Command Team Executive now meet three times a week to review information on the status of any possible or known cases of COVID-19, and address any required changes to campus operations and communications. Along with the Provost, the meeting includes Dr. David Walker, Special Advisor to the Principal on COVID-19, as well as the Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration), Vice-Principal (Research), Vice-Principal (University Relations), and others.  

In the event of an outbreak, the Provost will take on the role of University Incident Commander and will activate the larger Incident Command Team, which will operate in accordance with the university’s Emergency Management Plan. If there is an impacted area or unit on campus, the relevant Dean or portfolio lead will be included in the Incident Command Team.

“The Incident Command Team has completed several scenario planning exercises with local public health officials to ensure we are prepared to make the decisions required to protect the health and safety of our community,” says Provost Green. “Gaps identified during these scenario exercises are being addressed. Of significance is the need for clear and fast communications.”

Public health support  

In the event of a confirmed case within the Queen’s community, public health will alert the university when warranted. If a student or staff member in residence tests positive, public health will immediately contact the university, as there are special protocols in place. For all other members of the Queen’s community, public health will only notify the university if they have the permission of the faculty, staff, or student involved, or if it is essential that the university be contacted for purposes of contract tracing. All guidelines make it clear that anyone who becomes aware of a confirmed case on campus should immediately inform Dan Langham (613-533-6000 x74980; dan.langham@queensu.ca) or call the Queen’s Emergency Report Centre (613-533-6111). Langham will then contact public health for confirmation and will also alert the Incident Command Team.

It is important to note there are legal restrictions to sharing personal health information under the Personal Health Information Privacy Act (PHIPA). If a member of the Queen’s community is notified of a confirmed or potential positive case, including a notice from someone who is self-reporting, any identifying personal information must be removed in emails – including the email address, name, signature block, and any other identifying information about the original sender. 


When Queen’s receives detailed information about a confirmed case of COVID-19, the Incident Command Team will determine the appropriate communications in consultation with public health and all communications must ultimately be approved by the University Incident Commander.

To limit the spread of unconfirmed or incomplete information, and to protect personal health information, units across campus should refrain from sending communications about cases of COVID-19.

More details about the university’s pandemic planning are available on the COVID-19 website which is updated daily.

Promoting active transportation during the pandemic

A Queen’s student and professor are helping Kingston imagine new possibilities for its streets.

Photograph of signs for Kingston Quiet Streets Initiative
The Kingston Quiet Streets Initiative diverts through traffic from residential streets to make room for walking, cycling, and other forms of active transportation.

Queen’s students and faculty often look for ways to make an impact on the Kingston community that they learn, teach, and research in. Recently, a professor and graduate student have been involved in Kingston Quiet Streets, a project led by the Kingston Coalition for Active Transportation (KCAT) that is making active transportation easier on several residential streets near campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Kingston Quiet Streets Initiative has been a great way to make a positive contribution to Kingston. It has taken months of intensive planning, but now we can see local residents taking advantage of the reduced number of cars on the quiet streets by getting out and walking, cycling, or rolling at an appropriate physical distance,” says Stephan Kukkonen, the second-year master's student in the School of Urban and Regional Planning who has been assisting with the project. “As I hope to pursue city planning after my time at Queen’s, Quiet Streets has also been a great way to get practical experience.”

The aim of Quiet Streets is to enable people using active transportation to make use of the entire roadway, not just sidewalks or the side of the street. With strategically placed signs and barriers at 44 intersections, Quiet Streets diverts motorized through traffic from select streets, asking drivers to reserve these roads for walking, cycling, and other forms of active transportation. The increased amount of available space on the streets makes it easier for people to get active outside while maintaining physical distance. All streets involved in the project remain open to the local traffic.

Kukkonen got involved in Quiet Streets through his position as a project assistant for Patricia Collins, associate professor in the School of Urban and Regional Planning. Dr. Collins and Kukkonen have worked with KCAT on all stages of the project, from identifying locations, to securing approval from the City of Kingston and setting up the signs and barriers.

“Without the help of Stephan and Dr. Collins, Quiet Streets would not have come about as quickly as it has. We hope that this pilot initiative shows the value of having streets more accessible to active transportation, and that we can continue, expand, and improve the program in the future,” says Bruce Bursey, a volunteer for KCAT. “During the pandemic, it’s more important than ever for people to have safe ways to be active outdoors.”

Early in the planning process, Kukkonen and Dr. Collins measured traffic patterns on potential streets to determine suitability. Once the pilot has been in place for several weeks, they will observe patterns again to measure the effectiveness of the program. They are also surveying both users of the Quiet Streets and residents who live on them to gauge the community’s attitudes on the pilot.

The signs and barriers went up on several Kingston streets in late August, and the pilot will run until mid-November.

Learn more about the Kingston Quiet Streets Pilot Initiative on the KCAT website.

While most university operations will still be conducted remotely throughout the fall semester, Queen’s has programs in place to promote active transportation to campus for all students, faculty, and staff. Learn more on the Sustainable Queen’s website.

Making sense of COVID-19 tests and terminology

Drawing of a medical professional administering a COVID-19 test

During the COVID-19 pandemic, words and phrases that have typically been limited to epidemiologists and public health professionals have entered the public sphere. Although we’ve rapidly accepted epidemiology-based news, the public hasn’t been given the chance to fully absorb what all these terms really mean.

As with all disease tests, a false positive result on a COVID-19 test can cause undue stress on individuals as they try to navigate their diagnosis, take days off work and isolate from family. One high-profile example was Ohio Governor Mike DeWine whose false positive result led him to cancel a meeting with President Donald Trump.

False negative test results are even more dangerous, as people may think it is safe and appropriate for them to engage in social activities. Of course, factors such as the type of test, whether the individual had symptoms before being tested and the timing of the test can also impact how well the test predicts whether someone is infected.

Sensitivity and specificity are two extremely important scientific concepts for understanding the results of COVID-19 tests.

In the epidemiological context, sensitivity is the proportion of true positives that are correctly identified. If 100 people have a disease, and the test identifies 90 of these people as having the disease, the sensitivity of the test is 90 per cent.

A lab technician handles a specimen that has tested positive for COVID-19
A lab technician handles a specimen that has tested positive for COVID-19. (Unsplash/Prasesh Shiwakoti)

Specificity is the ability of a test to correctly identify those without the disease. If 100 people don’t have the disease, and the test correctly identifies 90 people as disease-free, the test has a specificity of 90 per cent.

This simple table helps outline how sensitivity and specificity are calculated when the prevalence — the percentage of the population that actually has the disease — is 25 per cent (totals in bold):

Table showing number of positive and negative tests in rows, and number or disease cases (total 25,000) and disease-free cases (total 75,000) in columns, along with the sensitivity of 80 per cent and the specificity of 90 per cent.
Sensitivity and specificity at 25 per cent disease prevalence. (Priyanka Gogna), Author provided


A test sensitivity of 80 per cent can seem great for a newly released test (like for the made-up case numbers I reported above).

Predictive value

But these numbers don’t convey the whole message. The usefulness of a test in a population is not determined by its sensitivity and specificity. When we use sensitivity and specificity, we are figuring out how well a test works when we already know which people do, and don’t, have the disease.

But the true value of a test in a real-world setting comes from its ability to correctly predict who is infected and who is not. This makes sense because in a real-world setting, we don’t know who truly has the disease — we rely on the test itself to tell us. We use the positive predictive value and negative predictive value of a test to summarize that test’s predictive ability.

A health-care worker prepares a swab at a walk-in COVID-19 test clinic. (Unsplash/Mufid Majnun)

To drive the point home, think about this: in a population in which no one has the disease, even a test that is terrible at detecting anyone with the disease will appear to work great. It will “correctly” identify most people as not having the disease. This has more to do with how many people have the disease in a population (prevalence) rather than how well the test works.

Using the same numbers as above, we can estimate the positive predictive value (PPV) and negative predictive value (NPV), but this time we focus on the row totals (in bold).

The PPV is calculated as the number of true positives divided by the total number of people identified as positive by the test.

Table showing number of positive and negative tests in rows, and columns with numbers of disease cases, disease-free cases, totals and PPV of 73 per cent and NPV of 93 per cent.
Positive and negative predictive value at 25 per cent disease prevalence. (Priyanka Gogna), Author provided


The PPV is interpreted as the probability that someone that has tested positive actually has the disease. The NPV is the probability that someone that tested negative does not have the disease. Although sensitivity and specificity do not change as the proportion of diseased individuals changes in a population, the PPV and NPV are heavily dependent on the prevalence.

Let’s see what happens when we redraw our disease table when the population prevalence sits at one per cent instead of 25 per cent (much closer to the true prevalence of COVID-19 in Canada).

Table showing numbers of positive and negative test results in rows, and disease cases, disease-free cases and totals in columns, along with values for sensitivity (80 per cent), specificity (90 per cent), PPV (seven per cent) and NPV (99.8 per cent)
Sensitivity, specificity, PPV and NPV at one per cent disease prevalence. (Priyanka Gogna), Author provided


So, when the disease has low prevalence, the PPV of the test can be very low. This means that the probability that someone that tested positive actually has COVID-19 is low. Of course, depending on the sensitivity, specificity and the prevalence in the population, the reverse can be true as well: someone that tested negative might not truly be disease-free.

False positive and false negative tests in real life

What does this mean as mass testing begins for COVID-19? At the very least it means the public should have clear information about the implications of false positives. All individuals should be aware of the possibility of a false positive or false negative test, especially as we move to a heavier reliance on testing this fall to inform our actions and decisions. As we can see using some simple tables and math above, the PPV and NPV can be limiting even in the face of a “good” test with high sensitivity and specificity.

Without adequate understanding of the science behind testing and why false positives and false negatives happen, we might drive the public to further mistrust — and even question the usefulness — of public health and testing. Knowledge is power in this pandemic.The Conversation


Priyanka Gogna, PhD Candidate, Epidemiology, Queen's University.

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


Subscribe to RSS - Confronting COVID-19