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Confronting COVID-19

Return to Campus Priorities outline released

The new outline will assist Queen’s units with planning for any required on-campus presence in fall 2020.

Queen's University has prepared a new Return to Campus Priorities outline to assist faculties, schools, and shared services units with their planning for any required faculty and staff presence on campus in fall 2020.

The majority of academic activities will be held remotely in the fall to keep campus density low. Detailed mapping of building capacities has been completed to ensure limited on-campus operations align with physical distancing guidelines and enhanced cleaning protocols.

“In all university planning, the health and safety of the Queen’s community is our top priority,” says Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Green in an email to faculty and staff. “Where possible, employees are asked to continue to work remotely to decrease density on campus and mitigate the exposure of those whose work requires them to be on campus.”

Queen’s typically has more than 24,000 students on campus each year. However, in compliance with the stringent health and safety requirements in the current environment for the 2020 fall term, only 6,600 students are expected to regularly be on campus. About 4,400 students will be participating in on-campus academic activities, such as labs and limited in-person lectures, and Queen’s residences are planning to house approximately 2,300 students (about 100 of whom are counted in the 4,400 above).

As previously announced, programs that have been identified as priorities for on-campus delivery in fall 2020 are limited to those that require on-site access to specialized facilities for students to continue their studies:

  • The professional programs in Medicine, Nursing, and Rehabilitation Therapy in the Faculty of Health Sciences. These programs require on-campus delivery because of the need for on-site access for clinical skills training.
  • Research graduate master's, PhD, and some professional graduate and second entry programs. These programs will follow a combination of on-campus and remote delivery models to accommodate on-site access needs regarding labs and other critical teaching and research resources that cannot be accessed remotely.

In consultation with local public health officials, it was determined that Queen’s residences will run at 50 per cent capacity in the fall term to protect the health and safety of students and staff. It was decided that some spaces in residence should be made available, predominately for students admitted under the Indigenous and first-generation admissions pathways, first-year students with programs on campus, and students with learning needs or extenuating personal circumstances that create barriers to learning off campus.  

The Return to Campus Priorities outline provides guidance on positions with priority for returning to campus, such as staff and faculty required to deliver and support the limited amount of in-person academic and non-academic activities. It also underlines the importance of supporting staff and faculty with on-campus duties if they need to work from home due to, for example, their own health situation or caregiver duties.

Programs that have been identified as priorities for on-campus delivery in fall 2020, are limited to those that require on-site access to specialized facilities for students to continue their studies, such as professional programs in medicine, nursing, and rehabilitation therapy.

Each faculty and shared service unit is asked to submit a Request to Resume On-Campus Activities Form, with a sample plan for departments/units in departmentalized faculties. After that, similar plans for other departments/units can be approved at the faculty level with notification to the Campus Operations Group (COG) on numbers of people returning to specific buildings in August and September.

“As a limited number of staff and faculty return to campus, members of the Queen’s community are reminded to be vigilant about adhering to the protocols outlined in the Return to Campus Guidelines, including maintaining physical distancing, hand hygiene, wearing face coverings in public spaces, and staying home if you exhibit symptoms,” said Green.

To read the Return to Campus Priorities outline and find additional information on the phased return to campus, see the Campus Operations Group website and the central COVID-19 Information & Planning website.

Further information will be added to these websites in the coming weeks.

Process adjustments support smoother start to the year

Queen’s is helping students by extending deadlines for tuition payments and enrolment decisions. 

Photo of flowers with Grant Hall in the background
Payment deadlines and fall course drop dates have been extended among other adjustments to help students during the fall 2020 term.

As COVID-19 has made many aspects of life uncertain, Queen’s is helping students by making tuition and fee payments, award disbursements, and course registration processes more flexible. These changes include extended payment deadlines and fall course drop dates.

“We know the ongoing pandemic has caused a lot of anxiety for our students; we hope these steps will make their transition a bit easier as they settle into their studies, which will include remote learning for most of our students,” says Stuart Pinchin, University Registrar (Interim).

Several policies on tuition and fee payments have been adjusted for the fall semester. The tuition and fee payment date has been extended a month, from Sept. 1 to Sept. 30. The university is also currently withholding monthly interest fees on unpaid balances, as well as waiving late fees on overdue accounts.

Adjustments to enrolment processes

Students will also have more time to drop courses without penalty. Queen’s has extended the drop date for fall courses to week eight to give students additional time to settle into the term and to adjust to the remote delivery of most courses.

Withdrawal and readmission processes for graduate students are also being temporarily revised. These changes will help those who were unable to work on degree requirements over the summer term due to the pandemic. More information can be found on the School of Graduate Studies website.

Student awards and bursaries

Queen’s will be maintaining all entrance bursaries and in-program awards that take living expenses into account. Students will be able to receive these funds even if they are living at home. The university will also distribute all financial awards per term, instead of annually, which aims to smooth the flow of funding support to student accounts each semester.

Students with demonstrated financial need are encouraged to apply now for OSAP and other government student financial assistance. More information can be found on the Student Awards website.

Students with demonstrated need of financial assistance are also encouraged to apply to the Queen’s General Bursary, which provides a non-repayable grant.

For more information on all the process changes and adjustments, see the Office of the University Registrar’s website.

Contagion Cultures Lectures

A weekly virtual lecture series, Queen's Contagion Cultures, helps make sense of the COVID-19 pandemic through the expertise and insights of Arts and Science faculty members. This public-facing series asks important questions and explores complex responses to help society grapple with turbulent times.

A Faculty of Arts and Science collaboration between the School of Policy Studies, and the Departments of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, Gender Studies, Film and Media Studies, and Cultural Studies, the lectures are livestreamed on Zoom every Tuesday at 4 pm EDT/EST with events scheduled until December 2020.

The lectures are open to the public and participants are asked to register in advance.

For more information on the series, including links to recordings and speaker bios, please visit the School of Policy Studies website.

Provost's update on 2021 winter term

Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Green shares an update about academic planning for first-year undergraduate students.

As some of Queen’s incoming students are making decisions about their residence offers, several faculties and schools have worked to finalize their plans for first-year undergraduate programs in the 2021 winter term.

In developing their plans, the faculties and schools followed the following principles:

  • Supporting academic excellence and academic integrity in all courses, programs, and degrees
  • Promoting and protecting equity, diversity, inclusivity, and Indigeneity in all aspects of the educational experience
  • Providing equitable access to educational materials for all students
  • Ensuring that the individual academic accommodation needs of students are met
  • Seeking cooperation between different units and faculties, and being mindful that a decision made in one part of the institution will have consequences elsewhere
  • Supporting the progression and retention of students through academic program requirements

The faculty and school proposals were reviewed by the Academic Operations Group and the Senior Leadership Team. All plans are in alignment with current Public Health guidelines; however, these plans may change as requirements evolve between now and January.

With some exceptions, most first-year lectures will be delivered remotely. Other on-campus academic activities will vary somewhat across programs. The decision to hold some academic activities on-campus was determined based on the need for students to access specialized facilities, such as labs, and to ensure all students can progress in their studies and meet the academic requirements of their programs.

Regardless of the course delivery format, the university is committed to ensuring all students receive an equitable and robust learning experience. Programs and services to support academic success continue to be available to all students, including academic advising, library services, and wellness support.

Information on residence operations for the 2021 winter term will be available in early fall, and plans for upper-year students are in development. We appreciate your patience as we take the time to ensure our planning aligns with Public Health guidelines.

Detailed information on winter term academic programming for first-year students will be shared with students directly by their faculty, once their plans are finalized. 

- Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Mark Green

Aging, long-term care, and COVID-19

Dean Jane Philpott and members of the Queen’s community discuss the lessons learned about senior care during the pandemic with the second installment of the Conversations Confronting COVID-19 series

Watch the discussion

Lessons learned during COVID-19

Queen’s had a record turnout as more than 800 viewers tuned in to last week’s Conversations Confronting COVID-19 virtual event on the topic of aging. Moderated by Dr. Jane Philpott, Dean of Health Sciences, the event brought together experts in healthcare, research, and policy-making to discuss lessons learned about Canada’s elderly population and long-term care during the coronavirus pandemic. The panel included Laura Tamblyn Watts, ArtSci’94, CEO of CanAge, Dr. John Puxty (Medicine), Dr. Catherine Donnelly (Rehabilitation Therapy), and Dr. Kevin Woo (Nursing and Rehabilitation Therapy).

While the event focused on the response to COVID-19, the participants brought unique research and policy perspectives to senior care issues and the challenges Ontario and Canada may face moving forward post-pandemic. The panelists, including Dr. Philpott, spoke from their experiences and specific expertise, having pivoted their research and attention to focus on COVID-19 related issues or joined the frontlines to deliver senior care during the crisis.

Major discussion topics included what the response to the pandemic has taught us about our emergency preparedness, our success rate in safeguarding vulnerable members of our society, and how COVID-19 will influence Canada’s long-term strategy for healthy aging. The panelists looked at diverse senior care models in Canada ranging from long-term care to retirement homes and aging at home or alternative non-institutional settings and their responses to COVID-19, along with guidance for those navigating these systems. In particular, they described the mental and physical effects of social isolation for both seniors and their family members and their current research to address this crucial issue.

In response to some of the 100+ questions posed by audience members, the experts reflected on the impact of COVID-19 within BIPOC communities and where policy and collaborative research are needed to support fair overall healthy aging for all Canadians. Throughout the conversation, the panelists also examined opportunities for a pan-Canadian approach to long-term care, integrating care and care teams where possible, investing in education and the workforce, and applying best practices from other provinces and countries for sector innovation.

Guidance and resources for senior care

Many viewers also asked insightful questions around policies, as well as shared personal experiences for guidance on matters such as supporting family caregivers. While the panelists could not respond to each question within the hour, they have provided a list of resources ranging from information about senior care programs and policy actions to ways for the community to get involved through the Queen’s Community Connections Project.

Additional Information

Conversations Confronting COVID-19

Queen’s University Relations and Advancement offices are currently planning additional events in the Conversations Confronting COVID-19 series for the fall. To learn more about upcoming alumni events, visit the Queen’s Alumni website, and for more information about how Queen’s researchers are combatting COVID-19 explore the Research@Queen’s website.

Tracking the pandemic in Ontario's ERs

Queen’s University researcher Steven Brooks receives $1.2 million in funding to build a provincial database to track COVID-19 patients.

Emergency departments are on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there is a lack of high-quality clinical data to guide best practices and optimize outcomes. 

Queen’s University researcher Steven Brooks has been awarded $1.2 million through the Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund for his project that will develop a provincial registry of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients in emergency departments across Ontario. 

“There is an urgent need for high-quality data from suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients managed in Ontario emergency departments to support better decisions, improve care, flatten the COVID-19 curve and support better preparedness for future pandemics,” says Dr. Brooks (Emergency Medicine, clinician-scientist Kingston Health Sciences Centre). 

Data to be collected includes details about each patient’s demographic information, health status, COVID-19 testing resultssymptoms and signs that prompted their emergency visit, testing and treatment in the emergency department, in-hospital treatment and course (e.g. whether they required life support and intensive care), as well as outcomes during their hospital visit (e.g. survival).  

The registry will support the development of clinical decision rules for patient screening, diagnostic studies (e.g. swabs and imaging), therapeutics (e.g. intubation) and disposition (e.g. admission to ICU, discharge home). 

The research team will also be following up with patients captured in the database by telephone at 30 days, 90 days, six months, and one year to measure survival and quality of life. 

In addition, the registry can potentially serve as the foundation for several other studies. For instance, Dr. Brooks is in preliminary talks with partners at Kingston Health Sciences Centre to plan a study that involves testing the blood of patients in the registry to understand how COVID-19 antibodies affect disease presentation and severity. He is also working with several provincial and national administrative data repositories (e.g. Canadian Institute for Health Information, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences) to ensure that de-identified data captured in the registry can later be linked with administrative health data to understand how COVID-19 might impact health services use. 

The Ontario study is a component of a larger national network – The Canadian COVID-19 Emergency Department Research Network – led by Corinne Hohl out of the University of British Columbia.  There are 50 emergency departments across Canada participating and the team is also reaching out to international emergency department networks to establish the possibility of collaboration. 

One of the objectives of our registry is to contribute to the global knowledge base on the problem,” says Dr. Brooks. 

For more about the funding, visit the website. 

Is DNA key to whether you get COVID-19?

Queen’s researcher leads Canadian arm of international project aiming to sequence the genomes of 100,000 COVID-19 patients to better understand their genes and the disease.

Artist's concept of DNA strands
New evidence may suggest more men get coronavirus than women has motivated an international hunt for which genes make people especially vulnerable or resistant to COVID-19. (Shutterstock)

The strength and health of one’s immune system is one key indicator of susceptibility to contracting pathogens, including the novel coronavirus. However, new evidence that may suggest more men get coronavirus than women has motivated an international hunt for which genes make people especially vulnerable or resistant to COVID-19.

Canada, in partnership with teams in the United Kingdom and the United States, hopes to contribute the fully decoded genomes of 10,000 COVID-19 patients to better understand the genes behind the disease – part of a global mission that’s aiming for 100,000 genomes. With support from the SEAMO (Southeastern Ontario Academic Medical Organization), the Canadian arm of the project is being coordinated by David Maslove, Clinician Scientist with the Department of Medicine and Critical Care Program at Queen’s and intensive care doctor at Kingston Health Sciences Centre.

Dr. Maslove spoke to the Queen's Gazette about the potential links between DNA and coronavirus as well as the international project underway.

What is the suspected connection between DNA and coronavirus susceptibility?                                              

Previous studies have shown that susceptibility to infection may be, at least in part, genetically determined. For instance, large-scale, epidemiological studies show that likelihood of dying from an infection is at least five times more heritable than the likelihood of dying from cancer, even though we typically think of the latter, rather than the former, as a genetically determined condition.

The genes that control the immune system are some of the most diverse among humans, and lab studies have shown how different molecular characteristics influence the way in which people respond to infection. With respect to coronavirus in particular, early studies have identified some risk factors, such as age, hypertension, and diabetes, but these don’t appear to tell the whole story. Additional variability is seen in who gets a mild case, and who develops critical illness, with reason to suspect that some of that variability is determined by our genetics. 

Are there specific genes that make people more likely to be infected by coronavirus?

Early studies are beginning to shed some light on this, though the results remain preliminary. A European research group found associations between genes involved in determining blood type and the need for breathing support in COVID-19. Other groups have proposed that differences in the genetic regulation of ACE2 – a protein that the virus uses to gain entry into cells – may be associated with different outcomes for coronavirus patients. Others are looking to see if genetic differences in sex chromosomes (X and Y) may in part explain why early reports showed worse outcomes among males as compared to females. 

Drs. David Maslove and Michael Rauh
Drs. David Maslove and Michael Rauh have received funding from SEAMO to coordinate the Canadian arm of the GenOMICC study.

Are the reports that COVID-19 is more dangerous for men true?

Reports from some areas that have been hardest hit do suggest a higher mortality rate among men. Others are a little more equivocal. The reasons for these differences remain unclear. Genetics may play a role, since biological sex is genetically determined, though other factors may be important as well. 

If you can pinpoint the genes, will it lead to more treatment options?

This is our hope. Identifying specific genes means identifying the molecular pathways they influence. The hope is that these will yield important insights into how the coronavirus infects our cells, and how the body responds. This could lead to treatments that make susceptible people react more like those who are resistant to severe infection.

Can you tell me about the objectives of the GenOMICC study, the international initiative to fully decode the genomes of 100,000 COVID-19 patients? What is Canada’s contribution to this project?

Pinpointing the genetic determinants of COVID-19 will require sequencing the genomes of a great many patients – likely tens of thousands. There are large-scale coordinated efforts going on internationally to try to harmonize studies and get to these large sample sizes as quickly as possible. We at Queen’s are collaborating with researchers in the UK who have already sequenced genomes from about 2,500 patients there, through a research program called GenOMICC. Here at Queen’s, Dr. Michael Rauh and I have received funding from SEAMO to coordinate the Canadian arm of the GenOMICC study. We are also coordinating our efforts with a Canadian consortium that has benefited from federal funding to be used for this purpose. Canada has a key role to play because of our expertise in genomics, as well as a longstanding and internationally renowned track record of collaborative critical care research. 

Principal’s online town hall available online

A video recording of the online town hall with Principal Patrick Deane on Wednesday, July 22, is now available online, so that Queen’s community members have another chance to watch the event.

Principal Deane answered questions from the community with the support of other senior leadership team members including Provost Mark Green, Vice-Principal (Research) Kimberly Woodhouse, Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration) Donna Janiec and Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences Jane Philpott, while Stephanie Simpson, Associate Vice-Principal (Human Rights, Equity & Inclusion), was the host/moderator, and Kanonhsyonne Janice Hill, Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation), Office of Indigenous Initiatives, provided a welcome and closing.

Queen’s makes face masks mandatory in all public areas of campus

To help reduce the potential spread of COVID-19, all individuals in indoor public or common spaces at Queen’s will be required to wear a face covering starting July 24. This includes lobbies, hallways, stairwells, restrooms, elevators, and other areas that are shared with others.

Examples of where face coverings are not required include:

  • while working alone in one’s own (non-public/non-student) work area/office/lab/research space
  • while working behind plexiglass servicing people and where a physical distancing of at least 2m can be maintained
  • when eating or drinking (with 2m physical distancing being maintained)

Exemptions are provided for people with underlying medical conditions that inhibit their ability to wear masks as noted by KFL&A Public Health. It should also be noted that face coverings do not replace required job-specific Personal Protective Equipment, such as medical/procedure masks, face shields or respirators. Also, the use of reusable cloth face masks may not be suitable in certain environments (i.e. chemical, radiological, biological labs). In these instances, disposable masks, appropriate to the hazard, need to be considered if physical distancing cannot be maintained.

In addition to wearing a face mask, it’s important everyone continues to carry out a range of health and safety actions, including physical distancing where possible, frequent hand-washing, using hand sanitizer, avoiding touching your face, disinfecting high-touch surfaces, and self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms. More information on measures in place at Queen’s is also available on the university’s COVID-19 website.

Please refer to guidelines for current information on who is currently allowed to be attending the Queen’s campus.

Information on face mask distribution

To support this important safety measure, Queen’s has purchased two cloth face masks for each employee. These masks will be distributed to employees as they are permitted to return to campus as part of a phased return to regular operations.

Cloth masks can be picked up by Queen’s employees at the Queen’s Postal & Print Services (QPPS) office in Fleming Hall, Jemmett Wing, Room 001. Employees are reminded to practice physical distancing when entering the building. As this wing is not considered accessible, if you need assistance please contact QPPS at (613) 533-6305 and your items will be delivered curbside to your vehicle.

We ask that only those authorized to be on campus pick up their cloth masks. Strategic Procurement Services will work with Faculties and departments on a broader distribution plan as campus operations are approved to resume.

Cloth masks will be made available to students who are required to be on campus and a process for distribution is currently being determined.

Individuals can also use their own masks or face covering.

Life-saving labels

New software developed at Queen’s University helps reduce human error in data collection and management, including for COVID-19 testing.

How many times have you struggled to interpret messy handwriting or a label on a meal deep in your freezer? It can be a frustrating occurrence.

However, when labeling challenges occur in a laboratory, the consequences can be much more severe. The concern has never been greater with the onset of COVID-19, where misidentified labels could have life-changing outcomes.

A team of researchers within the Department of Biology at Queen’s, including Drs. Robert Colautti, Virginia Walker, Stephen Lougheed and Master’s student Yihan Wu have developed a new, flexible research software program that aims to make sample management more reproducible and less prone to human error.

The program is called baRcodeR. This is how it works: Scientists who work with biological samples might record additional information including date, location, measurements, test results, and other observations. Large collaborative projects, like those tracking COVID-19, can require samples and data to be coordinated among hundreds or even thousands of scientists and students working collaboratively from around the world.

“There are a lot of computational tools in the field of ‘data science’ that allow for reproducible workflows, but these focus on data after it is collected,” says Dr. Colautti, Canada Research Chair in Rapid Evolution. “Our program applies these principles to sample labeling and management. Accurate data collection and sample management are crucial to reliable analysis.”

The development of the software came as the result of three large international research projects by the collaborators.

“All three of us (Drs. Walker, Lougheed and Colautti) were each involved in different, large international collaborative research projects, where data collection and data management were becoming a big issue," says Dr. Colautti. These projects included the Global Garlic Mustard Field SurveyTSFN, a project on sustainable fisheries in Canada’s North, and Bearwatch, a polar bear project. “When discussing these very different projects, we realized there was a common set of problems with sample collection and labeling that we couldn’t address with off-the-shelf software.”

Any error with labeling or data management can have serious consequences. For example, according to Dr. Colautti, a mere one per cent labeling error in the more than 80 million COVID-19 tests conducted worldwide could yield hundreds of thousands of misdiagnoses, including tens of thousands of infected patients erroneously cleared to return to work and regular activity. Human errors at this scale are inevitable, particularly for frontline workers who face the mental challenges that come with working long hours under difficult conditions.

The researchers hope that baRcodeR can help remedy some of these issues and, so far, the free, open-access software has been downloaded over 13,000 times and is already being used south of the border.

“baRcodeR is very much in daily use in our ongoing efforts to conduct COVID-19 research in populations of first responders, frontline health care workers, frontline city workers like bus drivers, and a population of local school children and their families” says Chris Barnes, Director of Clinical and Translational Science Informatics and Technology at the University of Florida.

The article “baRcodeR: An open-source R package for sample labeling” appeared in the June 23 issue of Methods in Ecology and Evolution. The software is available through the Comprehensive R Archine Network (CRAN) and the Colautti Lab website.

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