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A quick economic recovery is unlikely

As countries get ready to re-open their economies, history and current economic models suggest those looking for a quick rebound will be disappointed.

A man floolws the stock market with a phone and computer.
Economists are using models to try to determine what short- and long-term impacts the coronavirus pandemic will have on the global economy. (Unsplash / Jason Briscoe)

Predictions about the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the world’s economy arrive almost daily. How can we make sense of them in the midst of this economic storm? After all, research shows that economic forecasts made during events such as SARS are often wildly inaccurate.

To calibrate current forecasts — such as the International Monetary Fund’s prediction of a 6.2 per cent decline in Gross Domestic Product for Canada — I’ve looked at the history of similar worldwide economic shocks, studied macroeconomics models and reviewed nearly 75 studies to better understand what might happen in a post-pandemic world.

The economic effects of 1918-20 flu

The influenza outbreak of 1918-20 killed at least 40 million people, or approximately two per cent of the world’s population. In Canada alone, at least 50,000 deaths were attributed to the flu, approaching the number of Canadian deaths in the First World War. Solid data about GDP did not exist for that era, so economic historians have to recreate economic measurements based on the data that was collected.

The most thorough study focuses on how the influenza pandemic 100 years ago affected Sweden. The Swedish study took advantage of the fact that the country kept very detailed data on causes of death, as well as having a history of accurate economic record-keeping dating back to the 1800s.

Sweden was a neutral country in the First World War, so unlike other Western nations, the war had limited impact on the country’s economy. The fatality rate from the flu in Sweden was comparable to most Western nations and its economy was similar to other developed countries.

The study of Sweden’s flu experience a century ago suggests there could be permanent negative long-term economic effects from the current pandemic. There was a decline in income from capital sources such as interest, dividends and rents of five per cent that lasted at least until 1929. This was a permanent decline not recovered once the flu pandemic passed.

Swedish poor never recovered

There was also an increase in absolute poverty for those Swedes at the bottom of the economic pyramid: enrolment in government-run “poorhouses” in higher flu-incidence regions jumped 11 per cent and did not decline over the next decade. There was some good news: while employment income was reduced during the crisis, it quickly rebounded to predicted normal levels.

A recent study attempts to measure the effects of the influenza on 1918-21 GDP. Harvard economist Robert Barro and his colleagues painstakingly put together a set of economic data that attempts to recreate what GDP in 42 countries would have been.

They have found that the flu was responsible for an additional six per cent decline in global GDP. The study concludes that the effects were reversed by 1921. This estimate of the flu’s historical GDP effects is strikingly similar to the IMF’s current prediction of six per cent reduction in GDP for Western economies as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Modelling economic effects of a pandemic

Beyond economic history, we can look at macroeconomic models of the global, regional or national economies that run scenarios about pandemic economic shocks.

One scenario by British economists and health science academics is particularly apt in light of COVID-19.

Their scenario models virus incidence and fatality rates close to the current best estimates and includes strong and early social distancing measures such as school closures and work-from-home arrangements that we see today in many countries fighting the pandemic.

Their model estimates a 21 per cent decline in U.K. GDP in the first full quarter of the pandemic, with a 4.45 per cent decline in GDP for first year. The model also suggests the time frame to economic recovery is about two years. The current IMF projection for the U.K. is a 6.5 per cent decline in annual GDP.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 is a major shock to the global economy. Across all the studies I reviewed, the conclusion of a significant decline in GDP in the order of 4.5 to six per cent with full recovery within two years seems to be well justified.

The economic history of the influenza pandemic 100 years ago suggests early easing of social distancing measures and the inability to develop an effective vaccine contributed to second and third flu waves. These waves might have greater effects on the modern service-based economy of Western nations than they did on the more agrarian economy of 100 years ago.

Economic history serves as a potential warning that the economy could get much worse if these measures are ignored.

It’s important to remember that GDP is a marker of a nation’s overall economic health. On an individual level, the effects may be more far-reaching and painful. There are financial and professional losses that may never be recovered.

The 1918-20 flu offers an important history lesson for the world’s current economic outlook: there may be significant declines in the returns to capital in the next decade, as well as relative increases in poverty for the neediest in our society.The Conversation

_______________________________________________________________

Steven E. Salterio, Stephen JR Smith Chair of Accounting and Auditng, Professor of Business, Smith School of Business, Queen's University

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

Philanthropists back ventilator project led by Queen's Nobel Laureate

Canadian donors are supporting Professor Emeritus Art McDonald as he leads the development of a ventilator that could help people affected by COVID-19.

The team's ventilator design.
The team's ventilator unit design. (Photo by Mechanical Ventilator Milano)

Philanthropists from across the country are rallying to support a team of Canadian physicists and engineers who are part of an international initiative to create an easy-to-build ventilator that can help treat COVID-19 patients.

These efforts, led in Canada by Arthur B. McDonald, an emeritus professor at Queen’s University and the co-recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics, are harnessing the talents of physicists who would normally be spending their time trying to solve the mysteries of dark matter. Since both tasks depend on the precise regulation of gas flow, Dr. McDonald and the project founder, Dr. Cristiano Galbiati in Italy, felt their fellow astroparticle physicists were perfectly positioned to help build up the world’s ventilator supply. In Canada, Dr. McDonald got instant and continuing participation from the lab directors and teams at TRIUMF Laboratory, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories at Chalk River, SNOLAB, and the McDonald Institute.

The collaboration, now called the MVM Ventilator project, has gained national attention — including a strong statement of support from Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and from federal innovation, supply, and regulatory agencies.

This work at such a difficult time for the world has captured the imagination of a dozen Canadian philanthropists who have stepped forward to support the project financially with donations through Queen’s University to the Dr. Art McDonald Ventilator Research Fund.

Pictou, Nova Scotia-based Donald Sobey, a Queen’s alumnus and the chair emeritus of Empire Company Limited, was one of the first philanthropists to support the initiative, making his donation less than 24 hours after receiving an early Easter morning call from fellow Nova Scotian Dr. McDonald.

“Dr. McDonald’s leadership and brilliance in developing a Canadian solution to the global ventilator shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic is inspiring,” says Sobey. “He is one of the leading scientific minds in the world, and a source of pride for all Canadians. But when we spoke on Easter morning about the urgent issues facing his project, I was compelled by the voice of a true humanitarian.”

Other Canadian philanthropists share Sobey’s enthusiasm for the project. Supporters of now include the Lazaridis Family Foundation, The Garrett Family Foundation, Josh Felker, Dan Robichaud, Patricia Saputo, Peter Nicholson, Salvatore Guerrera, and Nicola Tedeschi, as well as four anonymous donors.

Dr. McDonald extends his thanks for this valuable support.

“The very generous donations by Donald Sobey and the other philanthropists have been crucial for us to maintain our research at a very critical time in the project," he says. "I have been amazed and extremely grateful for their very timely support, as it has enabled our team to push past obstacles towards our goal of producing large numbers of cost-effective ventilators with strong capability for saving lives.”

The MVM Ventilator project is proceeding well toward its goal through successful testing of the ventilator in Italy, Canada, and the US for certification, guided by medical experts. The collaboration team is working with manufacturers who are capable of production at rates up to 1000 per week in the near future. In Canada, the production companies will be Vexos in Markham, Ontario and JMP Solutions in London, Ontario. The development work is published openly and is being carried out with an open source licensing concept, enabling companies around the world to manufacture this design to help with shortages in other countries.

“We are thrilled that so many Canadian philanthropists have been inspired to contribute to the ventilator project,” says Karen Bertrand, Queen’s Vice-Principal (Advancement). “Their generosity is ensuring that more ventilators get in the hands of health-care professionals, and more people receive the treatment they need. This is a graphic illustration of the impact that both research and philanthropy can have on our world.”

For more information, visit the Queen’s research website.

Will coronavirus help or hinder women’s candidacies?

The Conversation: COVID-19 has the potential to shock the system, upending or reinforcing existing gender imbalances in political power.

Parliament Hill with a blue sky
Only 29 per cent of Canada's Members of Parliament are women. (Unsplash / Erik McLean)

Women’s leadership has drawn a lot of praise during the COVID-19 crisis, including for politicians like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and chief medical officers Theresa Tam and Bonnie Henry.

The Conversation logoThere has also been quick acceptance that women’s perspectives must shape the crisis response. Attention to issues like domestic violence, which is increasing during the pandemic, is a good example. Longer term, however, what effect will the crisis have on women’s political power? Will the pool of women candidates and leaders swell or contract in coming years?

Women make up only 25 per cent of legislators worldwide, and only 29 per cent in Canada’s House of Commons. The chief obstacle for women attaining political office is recruitment and nomination, not general election. Women are less likely than men to seek candidacy, and parties are less likely to recruit and nominate women than men, including to winnable districts.

Political recruitment requires time, money and professional networks. Economic status and social hierarchy affect the decision to run for office.

Women have fewer resources

Women run less often because they have fewer of these resources, and early data on COVID-19’s effects suggest those inequities will widen. Statistics Canada’s March jobs report, for example, shows that Canadian women suffered greater job losses than men since the pandemic started, and not only in the service industry, but also in the hard-hit insurance, real estate and finance sectors.

Among core workers aged 25 to 54 years, women account for 70 per cent of job losses. Government income supports will help compensate, but concern about women’s economic well-being and future career trajectories is warranted.

For women who have retained employment, they too face pandemic pressures. With schools and day-care centres closed, many parents now find themselves engaged heavily in child care and home-schooling, and also care responsibilities for relatives, friends and neighbours. Women shoulder a disproportionate share of all these tasks.

In Canada, the 2015 General Social Survey (GSS) shows that women spent 47 per cent more time per day on housework than men did (2.8 hours versus men’s 1.9 hours), 64 per cent more time on routine child-care tasks (2.3 versus 1.4 hours), and 70 per cent more time per day on caring for other adults (1.7 versus 1 hour).

A women holds several cleaning products in her arms
Women still spend a lot more time on housework than men. (Unsplash / Kelly Sikkema)

Detailed time-use data was not collected in the 2018 General Social Survey, but it is unlikely that these patterns changed dramatically in three years, and certainly not enough to close care gaps.

As the care demands increase during COVID-19, therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that women are the essential front line in many households.

Career paths interrupted

Care for home and children can be a rewarding part of life for many men and women. But the danger now is that inequitable care patterns established long before the crisis are likely to have dramatic consequences. These include substantial interruptions in women’s career achievement and diminished time and energy for political engagement. This consequently will contribute to even greater gaps in the supply of qualified and eager women candidates post-pandemic.

On the other hand, maybe things will be better for women candidates after the pandemic. Perhaps flexible work arrangements will persist, allowing more women to combine care-taking and career ambitions, including political careers.

Legislatures could become more flexible workplaces, allowing remote sittings and voting, for example, as recommended by the Good Parliament Report, a blueprint for a more representative British parliament by gender and politics professor Sarah Childs.

While complex, such reforms might make politics more attractive to women, especially in large countries like Canada, where many MPs must travel thousands of kilometres between their constituencies and Parliament Hill. Greater workplace flexibility would also allow women MPs to breastfeed longer if they choose, and recover more fully post-birth, while still serving their constituents and fulfilling parliamentary duties.

In the home, the COVID-19 crisis may have put some men into primary caretaker roles if they’ve been laid off and their partners have not, which may accelerate the erosion of gendered norms about the household division of labour.

More involved fathers post-pandemic?

Studies of the effects of paternity/parental leave on fathers suggest that caretaking norms and behaviours can shift rapidly. Men who take parental leave are more likely to be involved with the care of their children further down the road.

The effect is found in countries around the world, and is not simply a product of pre-birth childcaring commitment, socioeconomic status and other drivers of involvement — it appears to be an independent effect of men taking parental leave.

Households where men have experienced primary or equitably shared care for a child end up being more equitable environments with greater continued sharing of care later too. The same outcome may prevail as a result of COVID-19 child care and home schooling.

Whatever the eventual impact on women’s candidacies post-pandemic, COVID-19 has the potential to shock the system, upending or reinforcing existing gender imbalances in political power.The Conversation

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Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, Associate Professor, Political Studies; Director, Canadian Opinion Research Archive, Queen's University.

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

Mobility in the time of COVID-19

Queen’s researcher Jennifer Ruth Hosek examines how paradigms of mobility and immobility are being upended as a result of the pandemic

A streetcar climbs a street in heavy traffic
The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting how we view mobility. 

For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to drastic changes in how we move about in our daily lives. Adhering to social distancing rules, millions of people are now working and socializing from home — only venturing out for essential trips. This shift marks a stark contrast to a mere few months ago when many were able to freely move about, not only of necessity but for desire and fun.

Queen’s researcher Jennifer Ruth Hosek (Language, Literatures and Cultures; Gender Studies; Film and Media) is working on urban mobility studies and petrocultures (social and cultural study of energy sources). She has found that the COVID-19 situation is impacting how we view mobility.

“Typically, mobility expresses privilege,” says Dr. Hosek. “In these times of the virus, however, immobility expresses privilege, with self-isolation understood to demonstrate exemplary citizenship to boot. This is clear a reversal of the mobility paradigm.”

A complicating factor is the harsh reality that much of humanity cannot participate in such immobility. This includes medical personnel, such as doctors, nurses and other frontline hospital workers needed to attend to the sick and to monitor and test populations. They are hailed around the world for their heroism during this crisis. This recognition also extends to other professionals such firefighters and police who are working to keep our communities safe and protected.

According to Hosek, the definition of “frontline” is finally starting to broaden. It is extending to service workers such as warehouse laborers, paid drivers, and grocery store employees who may not have the choice to stay home. Their mobility ensures essential services like garbage pickup and much less essential services like home delivery of consumer goods. These workers are seldom mobile based upon particular expertise, but because they need employment, whether or not they may be more vulnerable to illness.

“Once those of us who have the privilege to be able to stay at home acknowledge this latter group as frontline, our immobility becomes less noble,” says Hosek. “In today's world in which so many of us are choosing immobility, there are millions of others for whom both immobility and mobility present impossible options and even deadly peril.”

However, in virus times, even the privileged feel the detriments of immobility. It can spell work disruptions, meaning-of -life crises, loneliness, and boredom. Such challenges belie the idea of immobility as fundamentally privileged.

And this reality: that our current immobility is both profoundly unjust and profoundly unsatisfying, is driving us towards what needs to be done recalibrate our mobility assets.

It may not seem immediately obvious, but Hosek points out that the long-time, hypermobility of the privileged few has promoted this hypermobile pandemic. Fuel emissions further climate change, which fosters disease spread, just to name a few issues. High speed hypermobility is untenable, while equitable distribution of mobility furthers environmental and human health.

Now, this pandemic has revealed that inequitable mobility – and its associate inequitable immobility – is unfair, unfun, and unsustainable. Hosek says it has also simultaneously shown that we must fundamentally revamp societal infrastructures. All of which points to a solution.

Working together, governments must deploy fiscal policies – such as debt buyback, quantitative easing, and job guarantees – and largescale projects – such as renewables and public transit – to resuscitate the economy while overcoming this disease and mitigating recurrences, in part through flattening the mobility differential globally.

According to Hosek, "The painful realities of the new mobile order in the time of COVID-19 demonstrate that more equitably distributed, moderate mobility is both more sustainable and more worth sustaining."

Coronavirus in Canadian prisons

Prison lawyers in Canada are scrambling to fill the gap left by federal inaction on inmate populations who are vulnerable to COVID-19.

Empty prison range, with a few doors open
Prisons around the worlds have started to reduce their population in response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Unsplash / Matthew Ansley)

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare several unsettling truths about Canada’s prison system. Our institutions of state punishment are filled with medically vulnerable people, affected by lifelong difficulties accessing care along with unhealthy prison conditions.

While life expectancy for most Canadians is 79 for males and 83 for females, two-thirds of the people who die of natural deaths while in federal custody are under the age of 65.

Another truth rarely acknowledged is that the collective interests of staff and inmates are often intertwined. Highly infectious disease makes no distinctions as it spreads through a congregate living facility.

The COVID-19 crisis has mobilized jurisdictions across the world to release entire categories of inmates to protect everyone living and working inside. As UCLA law professor Sharon Dolovich has put it, even jurisdictions in the United States with longstanding imprisonment addiction have seen “conscientious officials rediscovering decarceral powers they had forgotten they had.” Still, outbreaks at places like Rikers Island in New York and Chicago’s Cook County jail are devastating in scope.

Reduction in jail population

Ontario moved quickly to reduce its jail population: from March 16 to April 9, numbers fell from 8,344 to 6,025. About 70 per cent of Ontario inmates were awaiting trial, so large reductions could be achieved simply by processing bail applications. Prosecutors, defence lawyers and judges have largely co-operated in establishing procedures and making decisions in response to the pandemic.

On April 8, the Ontario Court of Appeal granted bail in an application brought by a defendant convicted of multiple charges in a sophisticated fraud scheme who was awaiting an appeal. The court cited public health authorities to make the point that social distancing “is not only a question of protecting a given individual but also the community at large.” An outbreak may turn into wider community spread as prison staff return home. The wider the spread, “the greater the pressure will be for scarce medical resources.” The court noted that the applicant was 64 years old with underlying health issues, and concluded that his detention was not necessary in the public interest.

It is always the case that the interests of incarcerated people are closely tied to those of us living free in the community. The pandemic has altered much about normal life, including the ability to deny those ties.

Still, the federal prison system in Canada has been slow to act. On March 31, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he directed the Parole Board and the Correctional Service to consider measures to facilitate early releases. By mid-April, little had happened — even though 170 federal inmates had tested positive, along with several staff.

The Queen’s Prison Law Clinic quickly pivoted its work to press for a more robust federal response. One of only two dedicated prison clinics in Canada, the small staff at this legal aid office in Kingston, delivers hands-on education to Queen’s University law students while providing front-line legal services to federal prisoners in eastern Ontario.

Barbed wire tops a fence at Kingston Penitentiary.
A 53-year-old prisoner at Bath Institution was granted an unescorted temporary absence on medical grounds. (Unsplash / Larry Farr)

Families of inmates are worried

By late March, the clinic was receiving desperate calls from inmates and their families, all worried about the pre-existing conditions that suggested contracting this illness would be a death sentence. The case of Derrick Snow, a 53-year-old man with a long but non-violent criminal record, moved quickly to the top of the pile.

Snow’s record revolved around drug use, and he has cancer, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He also had a fast-approaching statutory release date of July 2020 for his most recent theft-related offence. Snow’s sister was willing to help him self-isolate in her basement apartment.

Through early April, Paul Quick, a lawyer at the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic, engaged in near-daily correspondence with Bath Institution, working to identify viable legal avenues to facilitate a potentially life-saving adjustment to Snow’s July release date.

The few official responses focused on technical issues that failed to take into account the radically altered pandemic landscape. The warden declined to make a decision by the requested date of April 10.

Lawyers who work in legal aid settings don’t rush to court on a whim. Resources are scarce and the risk of losing — and setting a bad precedent with lasting impact on others — must be carefully weighed. These lawyers also rarely work alone. Prison lawyers across the country offered ideas and resources, and the clinic partnered with outside counsel Paul Champ, a leading human rights lawyer with a longstanding commitment to civil liberties.

Prisoner released on eve of hearing

An emergency hearing was scheduled for April 17. Champ sought a mandatory injunction ordering the warden to grant Snow an unescorted temporary absence on medical grounds. Though he had only days to act — and was working from home like the rest of us — Champ filed a record that exceeded 400 pages. It included detailed expert medical evidence, pandemic policy responses in other jurisdictions and extensive correspondence showing Quick’s attempts to convince the institution to act without a lawsuit.

The strongest cases often don’t get to hearing. Filing persuasive written materials often convinces the other side of the struggles they will face in front of a judge. Sure enough, the night before the hearing was scheduled to be held, the warden of Bath Institution granted Snow a medical release.

[Paul Quick of Queen's Law Clinics works from home]
Paul Quick is a lawyer at the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic. (Supplied photo)

The warden’s decision acknowledges that, in normal circumstances, medical unescorted temporary absences are used to authorize moving a prisoner to a medical treatment facility. With prisoners who have serious medical conditions, unescorted temporary absences can now be granted when they have an “increased ability to self-isolate as per the public state of emergency related to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Maximizing impact

The Queen’s clinic is now working to capitalize on this precedent. Quick has shared materials with counsel across Canada. The clinic is reaching out to assist other vulnerable prisoners.

But this should not be a story of individual lawyers pushing individual cases. The federal government must establish an expert task force to identify prisoners for release. It should follow the World Health Organization and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which issued a joint document on March 27 calling on public authorities to prioritize the release of prisoners with underlying health conditions, low-risk profiles or those with imminent release dates.

Inmates should also have a safe place to go where they will be able to self-isolate. For many, these conditions will be sadly difficult to meet — all the more reason for systematic and quick action in the cases where release makes sense, to ease the burden on all who must remain inside a prison during a pandemic.

______________________________________________The Conversation

Lisa Kerr, Assistant Professor, Queen's University, Faculty of Law, Queen's University.

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

The 5-minute workout

Queen’s researcher Brendon Gurd has developed an exercise protocol that requires no equipment, can be completed anywhere, and helps improve muscle endurance in under five minutes a day.

[Woman performing a crunch exercise]
Brendon Gurd’s research has identified a set of whole-body interval training with wide application that can help solve the problems for people with limited time, space, and no access to equipment. (Image courtesy of Unsplash/Jonathan Borba)

With gyms closed and fitness classes cancelled, many of us are experiencing the challenge of exercising within cramped spaces. In fact, for some, it is not unlike the situation for someone stationed on a submarine for weeks at a time.

Queen’s researcher Brendon Gurd (School of Kinesiology and Health Studies), an expert in how exercise improves mitochondrial functions related to health and disease, was originally inspired to discover an exercise protocol that could be performed successfully even in the most confined of spaces, like on a submarine. As Principal Investigator of the Queen's Muscle Physiology Lab (QMPL), Dr. Gurd’s research has come to identify a set of whole-body interval training with wide application that can help solve the problems facing many, particularly now, of limited time, space, and no access to equipment.  

Whole-body interval training incorporates exercises such as jumping jacks and burpees to engage major muscle groups for short periods at high-energy bursts. Most commonly affiliated with routines such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), Tabata, or short-duration interval training, the appeal of this form of exercise is that it can be accomplished in as little as five minutes, requires no equipment, and can be completed in an average-sized room.

“Among the most commonly cited barriers to being physically active in most populations are time and access to equipment,” says Dr. Gurd. “Our research studies demonstrate that whole-body interval training improves aerobic fitness similar to traditional endurance training (such as running on a treadmill for 30 minutes), but provides the additional benefit of improving some strength and muscle endurance outcomes.”

Several of these exercises may be familiar and can be an activity for the entire family. In fact, Dr. Gurd has also been using this training protocol with his family, including his children, to stay physically active and cope with stress during this time.

“Physical fitness is an important determinant of health and disease risk,” explains Dr. Gurd. “Remaining active and fit are two things that we can control. Maintaining some control in our lives through regular exercise, in addition to the direct benefits of exercise on our mental and physical health, may help us to cope with the stress associated with the current environment.”

For those interested in incorporating Dr. Gurd’s whole-body interval training into their health routine for their individual fitness levels, please see the following sample exercises or follow along with Dr. Gurd and his children in the video above.

A complete set includes eight exercise intervals, a combination of burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, or squat thrusts, for 20 seconds each followed by a rest period of 10 seconds. A total workout can be completed in under five minutes. When completed four days a week for four weeks, the added benefit of improved muscle endurance has been found.

For more articles on maintaining health and wellness, see the Queen’s GazetteConfronting COVID-19” series.

Helping local organizations navigate economic hardship

Smith School of Business partners with City of Kingston to support area businesses impacted by COVID-19.

Downtown Kingston
The Kingston Region Business Support Network is set to provide local organizations with assistance to navigate economic challenges posed by COVID-19.

Smith School of Business at Queen’s University is joining forces with the City of Kingston and Kingston Economic Development to provide student and faculty resources to help local businesses, not-for-profits, and social enterprises navigate and survive the impact of COVID-19.

“Our local businesses and not-for-profits are integral to the character of Kingston and the truth is they are struggling right now,” says Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson. “They need every resource we can muster as a community, and so I’m very proud to see this program come together and so quickly. I believe this will serve as an incredible resource for our community.”

Under the banner of the Kingston Region Business Support Network, the effort offers free services, including student time and skills, and community classroom learning sessions with faculty on topics designed for local business needs.

“We are grateful to be a part of the Kingston community and are ready to help local organizations as they cope with the extraordinary impact of COVID-19,” says Brenda Brouwer, Dean, Smith School of Business. “These are our neighbours, friends, employers of our students, and the businesses, stores, and services we rely on day-to-day. We want to contribute what we can to help them through this difficult time.”

Tapping into Student Resources

Through a matching platform, interested businesses can tap into the time, expertise, and skills of Smith students, which can range from research, strategic planning, and digital development, to sales, marketing, design thinking, and applying for grants. Once registered, businesses are contacted by a student consultant to confirm specific needs and to match with appropriate resources.

Participating students come from across Smith’s programs, from undergraduate to professional masters and graduate level research programs, and bring a diverse range of skills and experience suited to assisting businesses small and large. Each student consultant is supported by a Smith faculty member.

Confronting COVID-19 Read more articles in this series

“Kingston is tremendously blessed to have the wealth of talent and expertise within our post-secondary institutions at Queen’s and St. Lawrence College,” says Donna Gillespie, Chief Executive Officer, Kingston Economic Development. “During these incredibly challenging business times, leveraging these assets and supporting our business community together is paramount to address immediate needs and how we, as a community can support and prepare businesses for the path to recovery.”

Community classrooms with experts

As part of Kingston Region Business Support Effort, Smith School of Business faculty and instructors will also host free webinars designed specifically for regional businesses to help tackle their day-to-day challenges.

The initial online Community Classroom Learning Sessions will take place on April 22 and April 29. Peter Gallant, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Strategy, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship will lead the first webinar entitled Cashflow During Coronavirus: Strategy and Tactics for Business Survival and Recovery in the Age of COVID-19. The second, entitled Anticipating the New Normal: Critical Changes to Plan Today will be led by Ken Wong, Associate Professor and Distinguished Professor of Marketing.

Registration for these sessions and information about future sessions can be found on the website. Planned topics will include negotiation with banks and creditors, and innovating and pivoting.

“The efforts being made by people and organizations across the Kingston region to respond to the challenges brought on by COVID-19 are inspiring,” says Patrick Deane, Queen’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor. “I am especially proud of our faculty, staff, and students who have been engaged on healthcare’s front lines, assisting local businesses, and contributing crucial research and development expertise to help our community through this difficult period.” 

Lending a helping hand

An interdisciplinary team of Queen’s researchers and industry partners have mobilized to formulate hand sanitizer for Kingston hospitals

Graduate student tests a sample of hand sanitizer
Department of Chemistry graduate student Hailey Poole takes samples from a prototype batch of sanitizer.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to worldwide shortages of personal protective equipment and, very early on, products like hand sanitizer. This has a great impact on hospitals where these products are critical to limiting the spread of the virus, especially for frontline health care workers and patients.

A team of Queen’s researchers from the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering along with GreenCentre Canada have partnered with Kingston Health Sciences Centre and Tri-Art Manufacturing (Kingston) to develop hand sanitizer. Having just received Health Canada approval, the team will use three sites (two at the university and one at GreenCentre Canada) to make 300 litres of product per week to help meet the needs of Kingston hospitals.

“Our health care professionals have enough to worry about at the moment and should not have to be concerned about rationing hand sanitizer as we try to ‘flatten the curve,’” says Richard Oleschuk, Head, Department of Chemistry. “We know that we are not going to be in the long-term business of supplying hand sanitizer, as eventually supply will be brought online to meet demand. However, we felt that our interdisciplinary team had the skill set and infrastructure to make a difference in the short term.”

The World Health Organization has approved two formulation recipes (ethanol and isopropanol) for sanitizer. To create the isopropanol recipe the team is producing, large amounts of isopropanol (commonly known as rubbing alcohol) needs to be mixed with smaller amounts of water, hydrogen peroxide, and glycerin, in exactly the right proportions. The mix then needs to sit for 72 hours so that it can sterilize its own container.

While production of hand sanitizer is not a complicated process, it involves the use of chemicals that can be hazardous if not handled correctly. To make the isopropanol sanitizer, the team at Queen’s needed to develop a process that ensured quality control of the product, but still maintained social distancing rules at each of the three sites. They developed a “buddy system,” in which a second individual acts to monitor each and every chemical addition/volume added to the mix, so that the integrity of each batch is maintained.

“At this unprecedented time, it is important that the university and Kingston community work together to ensure our citizens remain healthy and safe,” says Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor. “I am proud of our researchers and our community partners for both their resourcefulness and initiative undertaking this project.”

Confronting COVID-19 Read more articles in this series

The team’s protocol was developed in collaboration with Queen’s Environmental Health and Safety, who are also essential in transporting the raw materials and finished sanitizer to and from the formulation sites. A training video was also created, so that the students, faculty and staff involved in formulations could learn the same formulation process.

“I applaud the innovation and creativity of our researchers and industry partners in addressing these critical shortages,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research).  “This project shows the strength of the Queen’s research community in mobilizing their expertise and resources to deal with pressing global challenges.”

While the team hopes not to be in the hand sanitizer business for long, they are thankful for the opportunity to be able to support the needs of Kingston hospitals and for the contributions of the Queen’s faculties and Physical Plant Services in this effort.

Racing for air

More Confronting COVID-19 Stories

Multi-disciplinary team designs and builds life-sustaining ventilator in only 14 days.

The team's device is comprised of more common or easily-sourced components.
The team's device is comprised of more common or easily-sourced components.

Any other time, having two weeks to design and prototype a respiratory ventilator that can outmatch those created by hundreds of international teams would be a daunting task. These days, however, the stakes are much, much higher than bragging rights.

A multi-disciplinary team comprised of Queen’s University faculty and students, as well as health professionals from Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), entered the Code Life Ventilator Challenge earlier this month. Together, they are hoping to be among the top three groups whose designs could go into production and soon start saving lives threatened by COVID-19. With the challenge about to close, the Kingston-based team worked steadily through the weekend to finalize their functioning ventilator model.

“In people infected with COVID-19, parts of the lungs fill with fluid, which prevents oxygen from passing into the blood, and causes the lungs to fatigue and stiffen,” says Ramiro Arellano, Head of Queen’s Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, and team member responsible for ensuring the device will provide the life-sustaining respiratory support patients require. “As an analogy, imagine how your legs would feel walking on pavement compared to walking in knee-deep mud; eventually your muscles tire and fail. For the lungs, a ventilator takes over the work so muscles can rest, and the body can better fight infection.”

Dr. Arellano says the brilliance of their team’s design is its use of items readily available in the community in combination with items that are easily sourced or 3-D printed.

In pairing two continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines, commonly used to treat conditions like sleep apnea, the team was able to harness the air pressure required to provide a patient with the correct amount of oxygen. Since CPAP machines provide constant airflow to users, they next had to innovate a way for the device to provide a steady, on-and-off supply of air more akin to the natural tempo of breathing. Combining a small computing device, a series of tubes linked to the CPAP devices, and mechanical arms that compress the tubes intermittently, the team was able to simulate the proper timing to provide regular spurts of oxygen.

The Queen's/KHSC team's ventilator design.
The team's ventilator design combines machines typically used to treat sleep apnea with a computerized control centre that governs airflow.

“Our ventilator design goal was to make the production of the device as simple and versatile as possible,” says Reza Najjari, a postdoctoral fellow in mechanical and materials engineering whose expertise in fluid dynamics has him overseeing that the device will deliver the precise volume of air to a patient. “I think the simplicity and modular features of our device give it the potential to help a lot of people, as it provides the production flexibility that local producers need to manufacture them rapidly with the materials they have on hand.”

Drs. Najjari and Arellano feel that the team’s cross-disciplinary approach makes their Code Life Ventilator Challenge submission highly competitive, while recognizing there may be strong competition from across the globe. They are focused on creating an effective, life-saving device with an open-source design that can be used by anyone around the world.

“Our ventilator design would not have been achievable without the wide-ranging expertise and collaboration of our team of researchers at Queen’s,” says Dr. Najjari. “We had specialists in fluid and solid mechanics, biomechanics, electrical engineering, computer science, and health sciences; all who showed the utmost dedication to creating this important device.”

Dr. Arellano took it further, comparing the team’s complement of experts to an ensemble of musicians.

“In many ways, the team is built like an orchestra,” he says. “Each person plays a unique instrument and the amalgamation and organization of each unique sound produces music that would be impossible otherwise.”

Contest finalists will be announced soon. Watch the Code Life Ventilator Challenge website for the list of winners to appear. In the meantime, read about another ventilator design project being led by Queen's Nobel Laureate Art McDonald.

Allergy season concerns during the pandemic

More Confronting COVID-19 Stories

Queen's University allergy researcher Anne Ellis explains the best way to deal with springtime allergies.

A man wipes his nose with a tissue
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, allergy sufferers have some new concerns to deal with. (Unsplash / Brittany Collette)

It’s spring and that means allergy season is on the way. But this year it will be arriving in the midst of a global pandemic and with this comes a host of new concerns to contemplate. The Queen’s Gazette spoke with Dr. Anne Ellis (Medicine), a Canadian-leading expert in allergies.

 

How is COVID-19 making this year more challenging for allergy suffers?
A: Reduced access to primary care will be an issue for patients who suffer from seasonal allergies. Fortunately, most if not all allergy practices have converted to telemedicine and/or virtual care so people can still get in touch with their treating allergist at this time, and pharmacies remain open.

How are seasonal allergy symptoms similar and different to COVID-19?

A: Seasonal allergies (also known as hay fever) present with symptoms of sneezing, runny nose, nasal itch, and nasal congestion, along with associated eye symptoms like itchy/watery or red/burning eyes.  Occasionally people will develop cough, especially if they also have asthma, due to post-nasal drip.

COVID-19, while it can present with cough and other respiratory symptoms, is also characterized by fever, sore throat, and, as new studies show in 40 to 50 per cent of cases, gastrointestinal symptoms (GI) like diarrhea. Seasonal allergies will not cause a fever and while itchy throat may be present, it will not be accompanied by a sore throat. GI symptoms would be extremely atypical.

Q: Are there any allergy medications that people should avoid taking that may lower their immune system?
A: It is important for all patients to continue to take all of their prescribed medications. While medication does have the word “steroid” in the name, the doses used to treat asthma or allergic rhinitis are not immunosuppressive, and stopping them (especially asthma inhalers) can lead to a worsening of underlying conditions, and may lead to an asthma attack that necessitates a trip to the hospital.

If you have been prescribed an inhaled corticosteroid or are receiving chronic low dose prednisone for asthma, the risk of stopping these drugs far outweighs any potential benefits.

Q: Will allergy season be worse or better because there are few people out and about? Could people with allergies actually benefit by staying at home?
A: We anticipate no changes to the pollen season itself so some people may experience more allergy symptoms this year if they are enjoying the sunshine while physical distancing more than they would normally at this time of year (e.g. office workers who are typically indoors much of the time). Continue to do things like keep windows closed and, when it gets warm enough, turn on air conditioning to minimize the pollen burden in your home.

Q: Any other thoughts or comments?
A: Practicing social/physical distancing, strict adherence to hand hygiene procedures, and staying home as much as possible are still your best defense against COVID-19, regardless of whether you have allergies, asthma, or both. Symptoms of allergies may make it hard to not touch your face, so your rigorous attention to hand washing is essential at this time.

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