PWIAS: Responding to COVID-19

September 21, 2021

In April 2020, PWIAS quickly adapted our programs to focus on the many challenging issues related to COVID-19. 

We supported the development of new technologies for COVID-19 detection and diagnosis, as well as improved safety enclosures to protect health care workers. Our researchers explored the social impacts on health communications, global housing policy and other important issues.

Here are just a few examples of the COVID-19 research projects we supported in 2020-21.

Mathematical Modelling to Understand COVID-19

Daniel Coombs, Sally Otto and the BC COVID-19 Modelling Group use mathematical modelling to analyze and predict the course of the COVID-19 epidemic. This group of experts in mathematics, epidemiology and data analysis, operating independently of government, provides rapid response modelling based on data from the BC Centre for Disease Control, international agencies and other sources. BC COVID-19 model projections are issued on a regular basis to public health officials.


Keeping Health Care Workers Safe

Zac Hudson and his team designed a portable enclosure that can be deployed over patients during aerosol-generating medical procedures (AGMPs).  Procedures like endotracheal intubation and high-flow oxygen delivery for treating patients with severe COVID-19, cause healthcare workers to be exposed to harmful aerosols. The device is currently being tested by hospitals in Canada, USA, Mexico and Poland. 

Simple and Rapid Diagnosis Tool

Peter Tilley and researchers at BC Centre for Disease Control and the BC Children’s Hospital developed a faster and simpler diagnostic method for detecting COVID-19 infection. The cost-effective assay uses a self-collected gargle sample and can be readily adopted by laboratories. This method can also be applied in large scale testing, such as pooling of samples, which is a crucial tool for control of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Global Housing Policy

Penny Gurstein analyzed the housing policy response to COVID-19 from 14 countries around the world.  The Global Housing Policy report showed how quickly governments can mount rapid responses to improve housing during the pandemic.  Researchers urge governments to turn these rapid responses to long-lasting improvements in the housing supply.

“The pandemic is not only a health or economic crisis, it is also a housing crisis that revealed the gaping cracks in our housing supply…in Canada and elsewhere, deaths from COVID have been clustered in places where people cannot physically distance because of overcrowding, inadequate access to clean water, toilet facilities and medical services.”

Penny Gurstein, Housing Research Collaborative UBC

How Communications Tools Affect Public Health

Heidi Tworek and a team of international experts produced the first international comparison of communications as a medical intervention, and analyzed how democratic COVID communications can increase compliance with public health measures. The report generated significant interest among the media and policy-makers around the world.

Personal Privacy and Public Health

Vicki Lemieux brought together experts on ethical, legal, and social implications of public health technologies to explore the challenges of deploying new technologies in the response to COVID-19.  Researchers developed public policy recommendations and a framework for public policy decision-making and technology design.

Resilient Campus Communities

Michelle Stack and her research team analyzed how co-operative models for housing and food security make for more equitable and accessible campus communities. She argues that universities emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic should “promote and encourage co-operative ventures as one way to contribute to a more resilient society in the face of multiple global crises.”

Students on UBC campus

Increasing Positive Health Outcomes

Peter Berman and his team analyzed the influence of “upstream” factors, that is, institutional, political, organizational, and governance (IPOG) factors, on the pandemic response and health outcomes in the response to COVID-19. The diverse experience of many countries in responding to the pandemic suggests that these critical factors need to be better understood to increase the likelihood of more positive health outcomes in future public health crises.

A Time for Hope

Janis Sarra and her collaborators proposed innovative strategies to decarbonize the post-pandemic economy, and to ensure that government and private investments support society’s ability to address climate change. Policy recommendations are currently being reviewed by provincial and federal government leaders. Researchers also created an original musical performance, “Time for Hope”, and a report on the importance of protecting biodiversity highlighted examples of Indigenous partnership in conservation finance

Learning Outdoors

Mariana Brussoni led roundtables aimed at creating social, physical and policy recommendations to facilitate children spending as much time outdoors as possible. These well-attended sessions addressed how outdoor education strategies reduce COVID-19 transmission and support children’s well being.  International examples of sustainable outdoor education models helped researchers identify future policy and research directions for early childhood educators in BC.

COVID-19 Vulnerabilities

Danielle Wong’s roundtable addressed the racialized and racist narratives emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. Vancouver’s geopolitical relationship to Asia and the Pacific makes the city a unique site through which to examine transpacific networks of capital, labour and biological contagion. Participants discussed anti-racist policies for universities, cultural institutions and governments, and the structural vulnerabilities produced by the pandemic.

Immigration detention during COVID-19

Efrat Arbel and Molly Joeck are examining Canada’s immigration detention response in light of COVID-19. As the pandemic began to spread through correctional facilities and Immigration Holding Centers, the Immigration Division began to entertain arguments about COVID-19 and the risks it posed to detainees as a basis for ordering release of detainees.

“COVID-19 has created unfathomable risk and devastating loss for migrants across the globe. But in this small corner of the world, in this small set of cases, we saw the law develop to extend a small measure of legal protection to detainees. In an unexpected way, COVID-19 may have inadvertently opened up progressive possibilities for the law governing immigration detention in Canada.”

Efrat Arbel, Allard School Of Law