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U of T joins City of Toronto project to research impacts of COVID-19

University contributing to studies on air quality, internet access for low-income communities
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Professors at UTM will do research COVID-19 research along with other universities. HAYDEN MAK/THE VARSITY
Professors at UTM will do research COVID-19 research along with other universities. HAYDEN MAK/THE VARSITY

The City of Toronto has partnered with various local higher education institutions, including the University of Toronto, to lead eight COVID-19 research projects, so far, in response to the pandemic and to put Toronto on a path of recovery. Two research projects, COVID Impacts on Toronto Air Quality and Toronto’s Digital Divide, are collaborations between U of T and other universities and colleges. 

City of Toronto connects GTA universities

The city chose the projects and drafted research proposals related to the priorities of the Office of Recovery and Rebuild, which studies Toronto’s recovery from the impacts COVID-19. Then, all postsecondary institutions were allowed to indicate whether or not they were interested in any specific proposal given their expertise. 

In an email to The Varsity, a City of Toronto spokesperson summarized that the City of Toronto “reviewed the proposals, selected partners and formed project teams to best meet the City’s research needs.”

With this COVID-19 initiative beginning to move forward, the City of Toronto and Mitacsv — a nonprofit national organization that fosters growth and innovation — have funded research projects where necessary. In the case of some projects, the city has directly funded universities and colleges to aid in research costs. 

Considerable funding is allocated for hiring students to conduct the research. The spokesperson concluded that the eight research projects would provide the city “with valuable insight to support COVID-19 response and recovery.”

In a statement to U of T News, U of T President Meric Gertler said, “We welcome the City of Toronto’s collaborative approach to these pressing issues.” 

Research into Toronto’s air quality

Matthew Adams, a UTM assistant professor in the Department of Geography & Planning, along with Greg Evans, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, will be researching the impact of COVID-19 on Toronto’s air quality. U of T and Ryerson University have partnered together to conduct studies on this project.

In an email to The Varsity, Adams described the goals of this project. One is to contribute to the City of Toronto’s Climate Change Action Plan by creating further “understanding of air pollutant sources and human-related activities.” Another goal is to identify a potential connection between air pollution exposure and higher rates of catching COVID-19.

He wrote that this project will take a look at the concentration of air pollutants at different levels of movement restrictions put in place to combat COVID-19.

When asked about the motivations that caused him to take on the project, Adams explained that “COVID-19 has produced so many unknowns, I believed [the research group and I] could contribute to understanding some of the effects as we progress through the pandemic.”

Students have the chance to research the projects through graduate student training. Adams wrote that graduate students will have the opportunity to “conduct state-of-the-art research in identification of sources of air pollution and experience how the City of Toronto might use this information in the development and evaluation of policy scenarios.”

Digital access research 

Toronto’s Digital Divide is a study on digital access and how low-income communities lack access to the internet. Behind the project are Paolo Granata, an assistant professor and coordinator for the book and media studies program, and Leslie Chan, an associate professor at UTSC’s Centre for Critical Development Studies. 

Four other postsecondary institutions — Humber College, Ryerson University, Seneca College, and York University — are also working on the study.

Granata wrote in an email to The Varsity that the City of Toronto partnered with the Media Ethics Lab primarily to collect data in Toronto, mapping out “who is underserved by digital infrastructure, especially in vulnerable populations and communities.” He added that this study would also help to understand intersecting factors that limit digital access and affect the ability to access supports. 

With the project underway, Granata and the Media Ethics Lab team expressed that they are striving to work toward a more equitable and healthy digital planet by examining barriers that block “digital inclusion and participation.” They are hoping to create a sustainable framework in which everyone has “optimal digital resources.”