L-R: Vasily Giannakeas and Dr. Nathan Stall; Dr. Paula Rochon; Mina Tadrous; Robin Mason and Janet Du Mont


L-R: Vasily Giannakeas and Dr. Nathan Stall; Dr. Paula Rochon; Mina Tadrous; Robin Mason and Janet Du Mont

The Science Behind a Pandemic

Leveraging decades of research expertise in the fight against COVID-19

In response to COVID-19, many research activities at Women’s College Hospital (WCH) were paused as attention turned to addressing the pandemic. Scientists at Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI) quickly pivoted to answer the urgent need for COVID-19 research and find innovative ways to tailor their research expertise towards these efforts. Below are some of the new research initiatives designed to address the widespread impacts of the pandemic on diverse populations and helping to uncover innovative solutions to support our health system and the people it serves.

Preparing for the surge

Early in the pandemic, one of the most pressing issues facing the health system was determining how hospitals and other healthcare providers were going to manage a surge of COVID-19 cases without becoming overwhelmed. In order to support hospitals in tailoring their response to the fast-moving pandemic, Vasily Giannakeas, epidemiologist at WCRI, and Dr. Nathan Stall, geriatrician and research fellow at WCRI, created an online interactive tool that determines the maximum daily number of new COVID-19 cases that a hospital could manage. By taking into account the number of acute and critical care resources available, data on the age distribution and severity of COVID-19 cases and expected duration of patient stays, the online tool plays a key role in equipping health systems to plan for surges in acutely ill people.

Increased intimate partner violence

As the severity of COVID-19 became evident, lockdowns and orders to isolate at home were widely adopted to prevent the spread of the virus. For Janice Du Mont, EdD, senior scientist at WCRI, and Robin Mason, PhD, scientist at WCRI, these factors raised concern about the potential for rising rates of intimate partner violence among people who are suddenly unable to leave the home or living environment.

To bring attention to this issue, Du Mont and Mason have been highlighting other global pandemics and rates of intimate partner violence, to create a science policy piece to demonstrate escalating rates of intimate partner violence during COVID-19 around the world.

Working as co-investigators with Unity Health Toronto, Du Mont and Robin are helping develop an online tool to aid those experiencing intimate partner violence that is adapted for ‘stay at home’ conditions as a result of COVID-19. This unique research opportunity will provide much-needed evidence for healthcare providers, as most of the current information on rates of violence during pandemics is anecdotal or hypothetical.

Loneliness in a lockdown

Older adults are not only more vulnerable to negative physical outcomes due to COVID-19 but also to emotional ones from the restrictions put into place in order to protect them. Dr. Paula Rochon, vice-president of research at WCH and senior scientist at WCRI, and her aging research team have launched multiple research projects to identify how and to what extent the pandemic has impacted older adults’ health and well-being.

The team has partnered with RTOERO (Registered Teachers of Ontario/Les enseignantes and enseignants retraités de l’Ontario) to survey more than 4,500 older adults on their experiences with loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many participants reported feeling lonely during COVID-19 (43 per cent) and several characteristics – such as being female and living alone – increased the odds of loneliness. These results and ideas, generated from older adults themselves, will be used to create a list of solutions and strategies to address the impact of social isolation and loneliness, as well as the most pressing needs and desired supports for older adults during this pandemic.

In collaboration with the University of Michigan, the team is also conducting an online survey among older adults to investigate how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and associated policies are affecting their mental health and well-being. The survey will compare scores for physical health, mental health and memory with socio-economic factors to evaluate the effect of various COVID-19 stressors, such as level of isolation, loss of employment, discrimination, and coping strategies.

Will we run out of medications?

Supply chain disruptions in combination with the stockpiling of drugs due to the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened an already strained global drug supply. The frequency, persistence and duration of medication shortages has increased dramatically over the last decade, but we don’t yet know the impact of these shortages during a global emergency. Partnering with the University of Pittsburgh, Mina Tadrous, PhD, scientist at WCRI and the Women’s College Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care, is leading an international collaboration to investigate the effect of COVID-19 on drug supply chains and shortages across 70 countries, as well as the effectiveness of nation-level drug shortage strategies and policies. The team’s comprehensive and collaborative approach using global insights and comparisons will inform policy, formulary development, procurement, and drug pricing even after the pandemic. 

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