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Leaning on our furry friends

Queen's University researcher Lisa Carver discusses the benefits of pets during the pandemic.

A couple carry a puppy
The human and animal bond can be helpful during times of stress, however, as Queen's researcher Lisa Carver points out, pets are only beneficial to us if we have the time and energy for them and the knowledge/ability to care for them. (Courtesy Andrew McLaughlin Photography)

They say you can never underestimate the warmth of the cold, wet nose of a furry friend. In a Q&A with the Gazette, Queen’s University researcher Lisa Carver (Faculty of Health Science, Faculty of Arts and Science) discusses the benefits of animal companionship as we face isolation, stress, and fear. 

Q: How important is the human and animal bond during this stressful time? 

A: First, we need to start with the caveat that pets are only beneficial to us if we have the time and energy for them and the knowledge/ability to care for them. Getting a pet when you are already stretched too thin financially or emotionally will not be helpful to the human or the animal. However, when there is a caring relationship between a human and a dog or cat, interacting with it can decrease psychological arousal and stress. So the presence of a family pet actually creates physiological changes that make us feel better. In fact,  having a pet may be a powerful influencer in maintaining health protective behaviours , such as eating well or going out for a walk. The basic activities involved in caring for cats, dogs, and other companion animals, such as “bending, reaching, ambulating, and using both arms in a functional manner to provide food, water, and grooming” actually provide exercise, which is very important for people who spend the day in a stationary position. 

Q: What can animals provide that we might be lacking? 

A: During the COVID-19 pandemic I have been running an online study on relationships between humans and non-human companions, like dogs and cats. Preliminary results, from 100 respondents in their 30s to 90s, living in Canada, the USA, England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, revealed that animals provide comfort, and help to alleviate depression and isolation. Several people reported that they would be lost without their pet and another said “It is the only thing that is keeping me sane.” The presence of a dog or a cat in the home may be the barrier between an isolated person and despair. 

Q: We see videos of pets visiting seniors at the windows of nursing homes. Is this beneficial if the seniors can’t physically touch the animals? 

A: In my opinion this is definitely helpful for two main reasons. First of all, when people bring animals to visit, even outside the window, it is a reminder to those on the inside that they are not forgotten and someone cares about them. Just knowing that you are important enough to someone that they took time out of their day to see you can help manage situational depression, caused by being away from your loved ones. The other reason it is helpful is the visit breaks up the monotony of days spent alone. Even if there is no physical interaction, having a visitor with a loveable animal outside the window can be uplifting. 

Q: What about so-called robot pets for seniors – can they substitute for pets, especially during a time when real animals can’t visit?

A: Whether robot pets can be used to replace live animals is an important question, especially since robot pets were being provided to some older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. In my survey during the COVID-19 pandemic, respondents were asked whether, given the choice, they would choose a robot pet or a live animal. Out of 102 people who answered this question, not one of them said they would choose a robot pet. When asked why, they said things like “it is not about the companionship alone. It is about the emotional connection. To get that from a robotic creation is not love. We need the love that comes with these pets.” It was very clear that robots are not the same as a living breathing animal. Providing a robot pet is like giving a stuffed animal. It might be nice to cuddle, but it does not provide the reciprocal relationship that most animal lovers seek from a companion animal. 

Queen’s launches AI-enhanced tools for those affected by pandemic layoffs

MyOpenCourt, a project of the Conflict Analytics Lab at the Faculty of Law and Smith School of Business, helps out-of-work Canadians to understand their legal rights and options.

MyOpenCourt, a project of the Conflict Analytics Lab at the Faculty of Law and Smith School of Business,
MyOpenCourt currently features two free and simple-to-use web-based tools that harness artificial intelligence and data science technologies. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, millions of Canadians are out of work and facing uncertainty about returning. These circumstances can put workers, particularly those in ‘gig economy’ jobs, in situations where their legal rights are unclear. 

MyOpenCourt, a project of the Conflict Analytics Lab at Queen’s University’s Faculty of Law and Smith School of Business, will now help these workers understand their rights – and options. 

“Most Canadian workers cannot afford an employment lawyer, or live in areas with few skilled employment law experts,” says Samuel Dahan, Director of the Conflict Analytics Lab and a professor in the Faculty of Law with a cross-appointment to Smith. “Since COVID-19’s arrival in Canada, we have seen nearly 2 million jobs lost with terminations and layoffs across many different sectors, and decided to launch our tools to help Canadians who have lost work.”

MyOpenCourt currently features two free and simple-to-use web-based tools that harness artificial intelligence and data science technologies. Both are available at the project site at myopencourt.org

The “Am I an employee or contractor?” application can determine the likelihood that a work arrangement is an employment relationship or that of a contractor through a fast, anonymous questionnaire.

Workers who believe they have been wrongfully dismissed can use the “How much severance am I entitled to?” tool to calculate reasonable notice for dismissal.

“These tools are as valuable for employers as they are for workers,” Professor Dahan says. “Navigating employer-contractor relationships is challenging, and severance is difficult to calculate. We hope to provide both workers and employers with ways to avoid pitfalls and find equitable solutions to the challenges created by the pandemic.” 

Powerful AI technology lies behind both tools. Working from thousands of Canadian employment law cases, MyOpenCourt can make predictions that can offer guidance to workers in these uncertain situations. While these applications cannot take the place of a lawyer, they can help users understand if they have a case before contacting one.

Should a user discover they have a case, MyOpenCourt will automatically connect the user to a partner law firm at no cost. 

The MyOpenCourt tools have been developed by students and researchers at Queen’s Law, the Smith Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence, Queen’s Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and partners like McGill University and institutions based in the U.S. and Europe. Professor Maxime Cohen of McGill and Professor Jonathan Touboul of Brandeis University provided data science expertise, helping to translate the case data into predictions.

“We are thrilled that the Conflict Analytics Lab has been able to launch this platform, at a time when these tools will be able to help many Canadians,” says Yuri Levin, Executive Director of the Analytics and AI ecosystem at Smith and an instrumental player in the creation of the Conflict Analytics Lab.

 MyOpenCourt reasonable notice calculator cannot currently be used to generate case outcomes for Québec-based users.

To learn more about the work of the Conflict Analytics Lab, visit conflictanalytics.queenslaw.ca

About Conflict Analytics Lab

The Conflict Analytics Lab (CAL) strives to build a fairer future by improving access to justice.

We are experts in applying artificial intelligence to help resolve conflicts in a transparent, consistent, and innovative manner all over the world.

Housed at Queen’s University, the CAL combines academics, technology experts, and the legal industry to revolutionize the way we approach conflicts and better serve those who cannot afford traditional justice. 

Using self-regulation to help children deal with stress

Research shows that approximately 40 per cent of children struggle with attention, motivation, and impulsive behaviours at school.

Kristy Timmons, professor, Faculty of Education
Kristy Timmons, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education, discusses self-regulation in kindergarten contexts during a recent presentation. (Supplied photo)

Children today face a vastly different educational experience than what most of us typically remember from our own childhood. Children as young as four and five years of age are experiencing extraordinarily high levels of stress, resulting in challenges at home and at school. Canadian research shows that approximately 40 per cent of children struggle with attention, motivation, and impulsive behaviours at school.

Kristy Timmons, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education, is well aware of the current climate.

“The number of children experiencing these challenges is growing and behaviours are becoming more severe and presenting at a younger age,” she says.

As a result, teachers are spending an inordinate amount of time and resources on managing behavior which leaves less time to focus on classroom learning. In order to address this, educators and parents need to help children develop the skills to deal with both difficult and day-to-day situations.

“Without addressing the underlying factor of stress, efforts to work solely at the level of behaviour will be at best ineffective and at worst will exacerbate the child's challenges in regulating their emotions and behaviours,” Dr. Timmons says.

In the past, educators and parents addressed challenging behaviours of children reactively. Dr. Timmons’ research focuses instead on the ways educators and parents can support self-regulation proactively to combat what might appear to be behavior challenges but what is actually a stress reaction. These proactive strategies include working with young children to develop learning goals, coming up with strategies with children in advance so that the children have a strategy to pull from when needed. This also includes the use of contemplative practices (e.g., mindfulness and mediational based practices) as a tool to facilitate self-regulation skills in the early childhood classroom.

Important role of shared- and co-regulation

Her research emphasizes the important role of shared- and co-regulation. After all, “children learn self-regulation skills best through the modeling of regulation strategies by educators, parents and peers.” Through her research, Dr. Timmons continues to lead work in understanding processes that influence young children's' learning, engagement, and self-regulation, as well as educators’ and parents’ ability to support this.

She became aware of the misconceptions within the field of self-regulation including the limited understanding of how best to support self-regulation skills. This has become a driving force behind her research, prompting her to partner with numerous organizations to help improve understanding of self-regulation and self-regulated learning practices.

Listen to Dr. Timmons discuss self-regulation in the early years in her invited talk on the VoiceEd podcast.

One key partnership is with the Self-Regulation Institute (SRI), a charitable organization founded by Stuart Shanker, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Psychology at York University. A partnership with the SRI will leverage cutting edge research on stress and the brain to better support young children’s self-regulation.

Dr. Timmons has also worked with researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education to develop the Child Observation Framework, a tool to help researchers make meaningful observations about self-regulation behaviours.

She is currently working to adapt this framework so that it can be used by teachers and early childhood educators to assess self-regulation in play-based context.

Additional barriers

Dr. Timmons’ research also assists children who face additional barriers and those who work with them. She is currently working with The Kid’s Brain Health Network to conduct an objectives-based program evaluation of the Provincial Outreach Program for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (POPFASD). POPFASD is funded by the British Columbia Ministry of Education with the mandate of increasing educators' capacity to meet the educational needs of students with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

This research will provide important insight into how POPFASD is preparing educators to support students with FASD, and more broadly helping teachers across Canada to support these students.

Across her research, Dr. Timmons’ commitment to children’s health and learning is central. What also stands out is her ability to collaborate with academics, government, communities, and organizations to improve the experiences of Canadian children and to build the capacity of those who work with them.

Helping leaders make public health decisions during COVID-19

Queen’s researcher Dongmei Chen and collaborators receive federal funding to explore how the social dynamics of coronavirus transmission impact decision making.

[Photo of Toronto skyline featuring the CN Tower]
Queen's researcher Dongmei Chen and her collaborators are examining the social dynamics of COVID-19 transmission. They are collaborating with community partners in Toronto to examine the epidemic's impact on the Chinese community in the Greater Toronto Area. (Image: Unsplash/ Richard Kidger)

As governments and public health agencies move to rapidly address the COVID-19 pandemic, they face the challenge of making decisions under considerable time constraints and with uncertainty. Developing evidence-based responses will be a key tool, now and for the future, for leaders to make confident decisions on assessing preventive measures, allocating resources and equipment, identifying high-risk groups, and establishing policies on emergency response.

Social dynamics of virus transmission

[Photo of Dr. Dongmei Chen]
Dr. Dongmei Chen (Geography and Planning)

Queen’s researcher Dongmei Chen (Geography and Planning) is working on a project that will help decision-makers access vital information they need for their public health response to COVID-19 and future infectious disease pandemics. Dr. Chen, along with researchers Lu Wang (nominated PI) and Lixia Yang from Ryerson University, have received support from the Government of Canada’s rapid research funding competition to address COVID-19. The Canadian Institutes for Health Research has awarded their project more than $180,000 to study the social dynamics of virus transmission in a large urban hub to help us better understand the impact of our public health response. 

How the social dynamics of coronavirus transmission impact a community are largely shaped by the relationship between community prevention behaviour and individual activity space.

“The effectiveness of preventive measures depends fundamentally on the public’s willingness to cooperate, which is highly associated with the level of risk a person perceives,” explains Dr. Chen. “Because COVID-19 typically spreads via close contact, it is of critical importance to understand, at an individual level, the characteristics of activity space for individuals during an outbreak or a potential outbreak.”

Collaborating with community partners in Toronto

Their project will also explore the importance of how risk perceptions and the specific measures taken in a community can be tailored to the unique circumstances of a transnational community. Specifically, Dr. Chen and her collaborators will examine the epidemic’s impact on the Chinese community in Toronto.

At the time of the proposal in February, the majority of cases in Canada could be traced to travel from China. As the Greater Toronto Area is home to the largest Chinese diaspora outside of China, Dr. Chen and her collaborators believed that the impact of the outbreak would be large for this community because of their many connections to mainland China and Hong Kong. The team, whose research expertise range from transnational healthcare to health among immigrant populations and spatial modelling, will work with three Chinese community organizations and health centres in Toronto to provide new insights on the cultural dimensions of the epidemic and the implications of pandemics within large global cities.

Future emergency responses

Dr. Chen’s expertise in understanding and modelling the interactions between human activities and their physical environment will be key to analyzing the data collected from the team’s community partnerships. Under Dr. Chen’s leadership, Queen’s LaGISA (Laboratory of Geographic Information and Spatial Analysis) will conduct the project’s spatial analysis, geovisualization and modelling of individual activity spaces before and during the pandemic, and help to interpret their implication in COVID-19 prevention and transmission.

Their project will not only be crucial to the current public health response to COVID-19, it will have long-lasting implications. “Such evidence-based findings can be utilized by public health, locally and internationally, in assessing community preventive measures and enhancing the collective capacity for emergency responses to COVID-19, along with other future infectious diseases,” explains Dr. Chen.

Principal announces 2020 Distinguished University Professors

Six faculty members receive Queen’s University’s top research-related honour.

 

Six faculty members receive Queen’s University’s top research-related honour
The 2020 Distinguished University Professors are, clockwise from top left: David Bakhurst (Philosophy); Audrey Kobayashi (Geography), Julian Barling (Smith School of Business); Glenville Jones (Biomedical and Molecular Sciences); Kathleen Lahey (Law);John Smol (Biology).

Queen’s University has announced the latest recipients of the Distinguished University Professor designation, the university’s highest research-related honour.

Now in its second year, the Distinguished University Professor Program recognizes professors for exhibiting an outstanding and sustained research record, teaching excellence, and significant and lasting contributions to Queen’s, Canada, and the world.

“There is world-class research and teaching being conducted every day at Queen’s and this seems all the more imperative with the challenges we currently face with COVID-19,” says Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s. “Each recipient exemplifies excellence in their field and it is my great pleasure to designate these six accomplished faculty members as Distinguished University Professors.”

The 2020 Distinguished University Professors are:

  • David Bakhurst, Department of Philosophy
  • Julian Barling, Smith School of Business
  • Glenville Jones, Department of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences
  • Audrey Kobayashi, Department of Geography
  • Kathleen Lahey, Faculty of Law
  • John Smol, Department of Biology

The Distinguished University Professor Program was made official by the university’s Senate in 2017-18. Each year, the program’s advisory committee invites nominations from the campus community, reviews the submissions, and makes recommendations to the principal, who then determines the recipients.

“Assessing the submissions for this program provides an invaluable opportunity to see just how our faculty members are having an impact in the classroom and through their research,” adds Principal Deane.

Each recipient will soon add an honorific name to their title, to be selected from a list of Senate approved names.

Visit the Principal’s website to learn more about the Distinguished University Professors Program, its advisory committee, and selection of honorific names.

The inaugural list of recipients, announced last year, included nine faculty members.

Queen’s-KHSC team develop in-house COVID-19 test

Researchers from Queen’s and Kingston Health Sciences Centres have developed a test that provides results in just 24 hours.

A researcher analyzes a COVID-19 test
Queen’s University and Kingston Health Sciences Centres (KHSC) partnered with Public Health Ontario Laboratories and Hamilton Health Sciences Center to develop an in-house test for COVID-19 that can be completed in large volumes and provide results in 24 hours. (Photo by Matthew Manor / Kingston Health Sciences Centre)

Testing is key to containment and management of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Yet, the costs, availability, and current timelines for testing have challenged health-care systems worldwide.

Anticipating these complications, in the early days of the pandemic, a team of researchers from Queen’s University and Kingston Health Sciences Centres (KHSC) partnered with Public Health Ontario Laboratories and Hamilton Health Sciences Center to develop an in-house test that could be completed in large volumes by redeployed and retrained technologists and provide results in 24 hours. The test has since been licensed by the Ontario Ministry of Health.

“We wanted to be up and running with a test for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) as soon as possible because we knew other labs were having supply issues with commercial tests,” says Prameet Sheth, Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, and Director of Microbiology in the Division of Microbiology at KHSC. “We decided to create our own test so that shortages of reagent (a substance or mixture for use in chemical analysis) would not be a major hurdle in our testing capacity. The second consideration was that the cost of a lab-developed test is about a tenth of the commercial platforms.”

Testing for detection

While all tests for coronavirus have the same principle of detection, each targets a different part of the virus. For example, the test the team developed does not actually detect the virus itself, but it identifies genetic information of the virus.

How is this done? Nasal swab samples from tested individuals are analyzed for any presence of the coronavirus’s genetic material, using a technique known as a “polymerase chain reaction.”

The team explains that PCR is a method used in molecular biology that allows for a particular piece of DNA to be targeted and copied many, many times. Eventually, the genetic sequence is amplified so much that it can be detected by specialized laboratory equipment at KHSC. But if the COVID-19 sequence is not present in the sample, nothing would get duplicated, so the test would be negative.

Once samples are ready, it takes three to four hours to complete the process and results are reported out as soon as they are available. This has allowed not only more tests to be completed from a few per day to a capacity of 400 per day  in the Kingston region, but also for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health to inform tested patients of outcomes within two days.

The result is more tests and faster results at a fraction of the cost. The team’s testing technique has been shared with other laboratories across Ontario through a provincial diagnostic network, which has been set up so that Ontario could see a coordinated approach to COVID-19 testing across the province.

A networked approach

Established by Ontario Health, the network includes all Ontario laboratories undertaking COVID-19 testing to ensure all labs can meet capacity and testing requirements and work together to manage needs. The group meets seven days a week as a means of sharing laboratory data, problem solving, and idea generation. 

“Laboratories have never seen the volume of testing that has been pouring in as a result of the pandemic,” says Lewis Tomalty, Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine and Service Chief, Clinical Microbiology at KHSC.  “Early on, a number of the large labs that would normally be the primary providers of such testing became overwhelmed and turnaround times started to suffer. The goal of the network is to ensure the ability to offload from labs that were at overcapacity to other labs that had the ability to take on more volume.”

This partnership means that all laboratories are able to provide COVID 19 results in reasonable timeframes, and immediately react and re-direct specimens if a laboratory goes down (e.g. equipment malfunction or supply limitations). 

The Queen’s and KHSC team will continue to monitor the virus and will be sure to adapt the test if the virus changes over time, which is something they do each year for influenza.

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

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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."

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