Here’s how to stay healthy during your COVID-19 self-quarantine

Tips for maintaining your workout routine and eating well during the crisis

Here’s how to stay healthy during your COVID-19 self-quarantine

It might be hard to maintain fitness and health during the COVID-19 pandemic. U of T has closed all gyms, and minimizing grocery shopping does not bode well for fruits and vegetables, which tend to go bad after about a week. However, there are still many ways to maintain your health without needing to leave the house often.

Fitness

Although it is recommended that everyone stay inside during the pandemic, it is perfectly safe for you and others around you to go for a run. As long as you are complying with social distancing guidelines, there is no harm in engaging in most outdoor physical activities.

If you are used to running on busy streets, it may be best to find residential areas in order to maintain the recommended six feet of distance between yourself and others. Remember to also avoid drinking from any water fountains.

In terms of strength and conditioning, burpees are one of the best exercises to do at home. They are accessible to anyone at any fitness level and are incredibly efficient. However, you should also be conscious of varying your exercises as well, and should include pushups and squats into your routine. These three exercises alone make for an effective workout.

Nutrition

Grocery shopping can be difficult during this pandemic, given that many things are already off the shelves, and that canned and other non-perishable foods last much longer than other food.

When buying milk, it is best to look for shelf-stable milk, such as soy, almond, or hemp milk. These have a much longer shelf-life than regular milk, and can be a substitute for almost anything you normally use milk for.

In terms of food, beans are one of the most nutritious and cost-efficient items to buy. Dry beans are cheap and can be bought in large quantities, but canned beans work well too and are much more convenient.

Although many fresh vegetables spoil quickly, there are many that you can buy frozen, such as corn, peas, and broccoli. The freezer is also a great way to keep many of your meals fresh for a long time.

One last trick is to smear your pasta sauces, lentil and bean soups, chilli, or other stew-like meals into an ice tray, freeze them overnight, and put the cubes into a plastic bag the next morning. This saves a lot of time in having to thaw meals, and can be reheated in the microwave very quickly.

Mental health

Eating healthy can positively affect one’s mental health. This is important during a time of crisis that causes a dramatic change to routine — especially one that requires self-isolation.

Dark leafy greens, asparagus, legumes, nuts, and whole grains help keep your blood sugar stable, which helps reduce anxiety. Anxiety can also be curbed by antioxidants, such as blueberries, acai, and foods with Omega-3 fats, such as salmon.

For a treat, chocolate can be a stress minimizer as well. Try to avoid foods that trigger anxiety, such as simple sugars, fried foods, alcohol, and excessive caffeine.

Dashed dreams: Varsity Blues veterans talk nationals cancellations amid COVID-19 pandemic

Graduating athletes cherish accomplished university careers, despite disappointing end

Dashed dreams: Varsity Blues veterans talk nationals cancellations amid COVID-19 pandemic

We are all living in a new ‘normal’: as U of T students, we have watched our lectures and tutorials move online with varying degrees of success. We have witnessed our graduations and end-of-year showcases get put in potential jeopardy. We stood by as our beloved clubs, intramurals, and extracurricular activities slowly dwindled away. Most jarringly, we are living in a time of deep uncertainty surrounding what the future holds, and how we will navigate it.

For some Varsity teams, however, part of their future is grimly set in stone: players watched their championships vanish before their eyes, robbing them of the chance for a moment of glory at the national level. Their most ambitious goal of the year, one they fought tooth and nail and beat the masses for, disappeared.

For men’s volleyball, it was their first chance at a national title. For women’s hockey, it was a chance at an equally elusive U SPORTS title. Similarly, the women’s volleyball team had to watch their national championship disappear. The Varsity reached out to some graduating players from these teams to discuss how they are responding to a tumultuous and disappointing cap to their careers.

“The team has had an amazing year, finishing first in the league and winning the McCaw Cup. We definitely had a chance… to be National Champions,” wrote hockey veteran Cristine Chao. Chao is title-holder of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Defender of the Year, Most Sportsmanlike Player, and First Team All-Star awards.

“To have it end abruptly just like that… just shocked me. I didn’t know that the game on Thursday was going to be my last hockey game ever as a part of the University of Toronto Women’s Hockey program.”

Andrew Kos of the men’s volleyball team, a veteran who has competed on the national and international stages for beach volleyball, shared Chao’s sentiment: “It is obviously quite disappointing. Having it be my last year, it was an unorthodox way to end my varsity career, but nevertheless quite memorable.”

Decorated volleyball veteran Alina Dormann is similarly disheartened. She had to anticlimactically cap off a Varsity Blues career that boasted national and provincial team experiences as well as multiple titles of OUA East First Team All-Star and U SPORTS First Team All-Canadian.

“It was definitely a challenging end to the season, to have it end so suddenly and not have the opportunity to compete for the national championship, which is what we had been working towards all year,” Dormann admitted. The team had even travelled to Calgary, where the nationals would have been hosted. After training for two days, they were “feeling very confident and ready for the weekend.” Then, before the games could begin, they were on a flight home and the season was over.

Despite these dashed dreams, there is a common understanding that these cancellations are necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some graduating athletes chose to cherish the memories of being a Blue that they do have, rather than focus on the ones that could have been. “At least we were able to win OUAs this year,” Chao reminisced. “The feeling that I had at Varsity Area that night is a memory that I will never forget.”

Dormann has chosen to adopt a similarly positive outlook: “As a team, we have been focusing on enjoying the journey that led up to that point, as nationals doesn’t define our team or take away from all the other amazing things we have accomplished this year.”

She added that as she leaves her years as a Blue behind, she will “keep the focus on all the incredible experiences and times I have had as a Varsity Blue throughout the last five years, rather than the disappointment of not being able to compete with my teammates one last time.”

First positive case of COVID-19 in the U of T community

University denies knowledge of case

First positive case of COVID-19 in the U of T community

In an email obtained by The Varsity, the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies told its graduate students and staff on March 15 that one of its students had tested positive for COVID-19.

Multiple sources confirmed to The Varsity that they had received the email from the Director of the Centre for Criminology & Sociolegal Studies Audrey Macklin shortly before 10:00 am on Sunday.

However, the university told The Varsity that it is not aware of a confirmed positive case of COVID-19 affecting a U of T community member. Toronto Public Health deferred The Varsity’s request for comment to protect the privacy of the individual.

The email from Macklin noted that the centre had not received official notice from Toronto Public Health nor from the university, and that university guidance suggested that Toronto Public Health would contact individuals that were in contact with the student; however, people should self-monitor for symptoms.

A university member familiar with the situation told The Varsity that public health officials had contacted five other members of the centre, three of whom were apparently showing symptoms.

Macklin later sent out a follow up discouraging centre members from speaking with The Varsity and that she herself would not be replying for “appropriateness of discretion and of showing respect for members of our community.”

The university has not notified undergraduate criminology students at this time.

Two sources told The Varsity that they were disappointed with how the centre and the university had handled communication, though one other source added that they believed the centre had done an adequate job in letting graduate students and staff know about the situation, especially given its limited resources. However, the source agreed that the central university administration should provide wider notice.

A University of Toronto spokesperson wrote to The Varsity that, “If we were to be informed by a Public Health authority of a positive case of COVID-19 affecting a U of T community member, we would follow a very prescribed process as per public health directives to protect the health and safety of our community and to ensure medical confidentiality for those affected.”

Background on COVID-19

The Public Health Agency of Canada maintains that the public health risk of COVID-19 in Canada is low to the general population. The university recommends that those who have travelled anywhere outside of Canada self-isolate for 14 days and to call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 or their primary care provider’s office if they’re experience symptoms.

On March 11, the World Health Organization designated this outbreak as a global pandemic. As of today, there are 172 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario. Five cases have been resolved and another 1,537 are under investigation. The first presumptive case of COVID-19 in Ontario was identified on January 25.

COVID-19 is a newly identified strain of coronavirus, which encompasses a large family of viruses. Coronaviruses typically cause illnesses that range from the common cold to respiratory infections and are mainly spread through close person to person contact.

Symptoms of COVID-19 may take up to two weeks to appear and include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, and pneumonia. If you believe you might be sick, the Government of Canada recommends that you self-monitor your symptoms, stay home, limit contact with others, and contact local health officials.

Proper hygiene is the primary way to reduce the risk of infection. Public health officials recommend that you wash your hands with soap and water and clean high-touch surfaces often, cough and sneeze into a tissue or your arm, and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.

Those who are over 65, have existing medical conditions, or are otherwise immuno-compromised may have an increased risk “of more severe outcomes,” according to the Canadian government.

    What’s the carbon footprint of a medical test?

    How Canadian physicians can prepare for the impact of the climate crisis on health care

    What’s the carbon footprint of a medical test?

    The greatest threat to health across the globe is the climate crisis.

    This is the position taken by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Canada is, of course, not spared of this fact. The effects of the crisis include damage to the physical and mental health of millions of Canadian patients. This can stem from the spread of Lyme disease, uptick in heat-related deaths after prolonged heat waves, extended pollen season triggering asthma complications, lung damage from wildfires, and psychological harm from flooding and increasing climate anxiety, among other things.

    How the climate crisis disproportionately impacts patients in marginalized communities

    The health impacts of the climate crisis are also disproportionately felt by marginalized communities.

    The Varsity spoke to Dr. Samantha Green, a board member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), an assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, and a family physician who works with marginalized communities downtown.

    People living in poverty, racialized individuals, and Indigenous peoples are most affected, noted Green. Their vulnerability is a product of historical social conditions, such as economic inequality, racism, colonialism, and systematic oppression.

    She explained, “It’s all about whether you have access to resources to, for example, repair your home when it gets flooded or to access foods when there is increasing food insecurity.”

    One example from her own practice is that “with heat waves, especially with people living in poverty, it can be hard to cope. You can’t afford an air conditioner… and if you’re socially isolated, or if there’s mobility issues and you can’t make it to an air conditioned environment, then it’s really hard.”

    The impact of the climate crisis on the health care system

    The climate crisis, however, not only impacts people, but also impacts health care institutions by damaging systems and limiting access to critical resources.

    The Varsity spoke to George Kitching, a medical student at Western University, who explained it further.

    “After the hurricane in Puerto Rico, there was a shortage in normal saline because that was the major production site… for Canada,” he said. Kitching explained that it’s difficult to ensure that the health care system is robust against impacts due to the climate crisis, both in Canada and around the world.

    The intersection of the climate crisis and medical education

    Despite the climate crisis being clearly relevant for medical education, “medical schools have not adequately addressed the urgent need for training,” according to a University of Toronto-affiliated article in The Lancet, co-authored by Kitching.

    The Canadian Federation of Medical Students created a task force called HEART — standing for the Health and Environment Adaptive Response Task Force — in 2016 in order to help medical students to raise awareness around the issue of environmental impacts on health.

    In response to the crisis, as reporting by Kitching and his co-authors, HEART has developed a set of core curricular competencies to be included in curriculum of medical schools across Canada to integrate planetary health education in the undergraduate medical programs.

    The task force also conducted a national survey of medical schools, identifying strengths and areas for improvement for planetary health teaching in undergraduate medical programs. It’s the first evaluation of its kind in Canada, and a report of its findings and recommendations was recently published.

    Kitching, who is also a member of HEART, explained that the task force “sent it out to deans at most schools. The ask was to meet with students at each school to chart a path forward to address some of the critiques and some of the suggestions that we had in the report… The next step for HEART as a task force is to support local students at each to use the report to push their faculty and deans to incorporate further training.”

    However, one of the biggest pushbacks they face is that the medical curriculum is already packed, and to add one thing, another thing must be taken out in return, according to the co-authors.

    To tackle this, the report recommends integrating planetary health teaching into existing lectures, for example, by including air pollution with respiratory health teaching. The report also recommends case studies to help focus on the disproportionate impact to marginalized communities.

    Thinking about health care and the climate crisis

    The health care industry both affects, and is affected by, the climate crisis.

    A 2018 study concluded that the health care sector in Canada was responsible for 4.6 per cent of the nation’s carbon dioxide equivalents, which is a measure of environmental impact, and estimated that it resulted in 23,000 years of life lost due to illness, disability, or premature death.

    The study advocated for health care professionals to adopt more sustainable practices. For example, the National Health Service Centre in the United Kingdom calculates carbon footprints of various health care activities like staff transport and waste disposal.

    Health care professionals should also be trained to think more sustainably without compromising patient care, according to the report.

    “We need to be learning not only about the efficacy of medications we prescribe [and] also their cost, [but] also their climate costs and environmental costs,” said Green.

    Opinion: Students reflect on the impact of COVID-19

    Necessity of self-isolation, graduation concerns, and criticisms of administration

    Opinion: Students reflect on the impact of COVID-19

    Self-isolation is a necessary sacrifice for students with weakened immune systems

    When I was younger, I always enjoyed sick days. Sitting on the couch while one of my parents catered to my every need, I felt like royalty. I didn’t have to think about schoolwork, and the work I missed would often be forgiven. It was truly my favourite experience. I thought self-isolation would feel the same, but I realize now that I was very wrong.

    Thinking back to my sick days as a kid, what I loved wasn’t being home alone; it was not having anything to stress about. I knew that whatever was making me ill would disappear after a day or two, and being stuck at home didn’t hinder my ability to have fun. But all that changes when you’re stuck in a small dorm room with nothing but a laptop, a phone, and a bed. Now I still have schoolwork to stress over, and I don’t have a whole house to myself.

    My immune system has never been the strongest and my asthma has worsened over the years. These two factors put me in the high-risk category for COVID-19, and with that in mind, I am now in self-isolation. The consequences of being potentially infected outweigh the consequences of being by myself.

    Isolation is lonely; that’s the best way to put it. You might say that I can still call or FaceTime people, but it really isn’t the same. Even before I isolated myself, I refused physical contact for weeks. I haven’t been hugged by anyone in what feels like an eternity. I have yet to have a mental breakdown, and I’m not keeping track of how many days I’ve been imprisoned.

    With that in mind, my mental health is not doing great. I never realized how much I would miss contact with the outside world. Food is delivered to my room, but I don’t get to see anyone. No pleasantries, no conversation, just a knock at the door. And yet, I am excited every time because I get to feel like I have a connection to the world.

    The worst part about this is that I don’t know when I can go back outside. I’m not waiting for 14 days to see if I have symptoms; rather I am trying to avoid the possibility of getting the virus in the first place. With the spread of COVID-19 accelerating around the world, this self-isolation feels more and more like a life-sentence. No parole, no leaving early for good behaviour.

    Only time will tell what will happen, but for now I’ve accepted my sentence.

    Jack Rendall is a first-year Social Sciences student at Victoria College.

    International students are caught in a hard place without adequate warning ahead of U of T’s cancellation of in-person classes

    Today, I’ve been overwhelmed with many unanswered questions: if activities are only being suspended until April 3, is there a chance that final exams will be held in-person? If classes will be delivered online, should I go back to Brazil? What are the risks of travelling internationally now, considering the COVID-19 situation?

    Out of my five courses, only one has sent out an email regarding a possible contingency plan, and it has provided no information on how online classes and the final exam will be held.

    It seems that professors are still trying to figure out how to wrap up courses, and as of now, we’re only getting a definitive decision that has few to no answers. To international students, this might feel a bit like the end of the world, as we have to start making plans that will potentially be very costly, whether these are costs of rescheduling international flights or the emotional costs of staying away from family at a time of isolation.

    The longer the university takes to provide a clear action plan on how the remainder of the semester will be carried out, the higher the costs for students, especially for those who are thousands of kilometres away from home.

    Ana Pereira is a second-year Business Management and English student at St. Michael’s College.

    “Are you graduating?” I don’t know, am I?

    I went to a high school that followed the British system, which entailed 13 years of schooling, not 12 like some other systems. However, as I had my eyes set on U of T, I left after grade 12 — meaning that I never experienced a high school graduation. Now, it seems that the possibility of hundreds of students, faculty, and parents sitting in Convocation Hall as I walk across the stage to accept my diplomas is becoming less and less likely. 

    Will I really never get to experience a graduation, be it from high school or university? 

    Don’t get me wrong, social distancing is absolutely the preventative measure we should all be implementing in an effort to contain the virus. The university’s recent decision to cancel in-class lectures for undergraduates and research-stream graduate students is the correct one, not because Ontario and Canada are spiraling out of control due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but because it’s preventative measures like this that will hopefully stop the country from being in that position. 

    As much as I support social distancing and see the benefits that it has to offer in terms of preventing the spread of COVID-19, I can’t help but admit that I hope the situation will be a much more positive one come June — this girl needs to experience a graduation.

    I am the first one to admit that this is a small concern compared to the many real problems that others are facing during this time. I’m fortunate as a humanities student in my final year of undergraduate studies — I’ve already faced most of my pre-graduation hurdles. I simply have to endure one final exam season before tasting the sweet satisfaction that comes with graduating.

    But there are definitely final-year students out there in more intense programs who have even more issues to deal with now that U of T has cancelled most in-class lectures in favour of online classes.

    I just hope that online participation does not take on a whole new meaning in June when we will be sitting at home with our laptops attending a virtual graduation.

    Tasmiyah Randeree is a fourth-year student studying English and History at New College.

    The university’s lack of planning and communication leaves students with more questions than answers

    The sudden shock of the movement of classes online is concerning. Just this past week, my political science professors told us that classes were ongoing but that they have been told by the department to prepare in the case that the university closed. It was a bleak, unwelcome repeat of the feelings of syllabus week, except with a sprinkle of existential dread.

    When I mentioned this moment to friends who weren’t in my program, there were some major differences. They said that some professors had already called off in-person classes, while others hadn’t mentioned anything about COVID-19. Some professors were testing out a week of online classes, while others were clearly not keen on having to navigate another technological platform.

    There was no guiding point. We were left in the dark.

    Are the rules of the syllabus still binding at times like these? Are we still expected to go to our exams? Wouldn’t that undermine the point of not having class?

    The university has advised students to return to their homes before exams if they can. Libraries and residences will remain open for those who can’t. It has become clear — exams are likely still happening, even if they might be online.

    With the deadline to drop courses just passing, I had to make decisions without knowing exactly what was happening. Would my courses have changed? Should I have remained enrolled or dropped them instead? Will there be special exemptions in terms of the drop dates or CR/NCR options? Cancelling classes is one thing, but it’s not the only thing on people’s minds right now.

    The pandemic has been a looming possibility since late 2019 — enough time to have made better preparations than this.

    Joy Zhixin Fan is a third-year International Relations, Public Policy, and Political Science student at St. Michael’s College.

    Editorial: The university must commit to equity as it responds to COVID-19

    Measures that protect student housing, financial, and accessibility needs must follow cancellation of in-person classes

    Editorial: The university must commit to equity as it responds to COVID-19

    Universities across North America have cancelled in-person classes and shifted course instruction to online platforms in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. U of T has followed this trend for undergraduate and research-stream graduate  courses across all three campuses, along with some professional programs.

    We support U of T’s ongoing efforts to take the financial, social, and personal ramifications of COVID-19 into consideration. Recent emails from the university to students have acknowledged the importance of keeping residences open and providing students with safe spaces on campus. The Faculty of Arts & Sciences has also delayed the deadline to credit/no credit and drop courses, and parts of U of T have announced that students do not need to return to campus for the examination period in April.

    The Varsity is appreciative of these efforts, and encourages the administration to further these to accommodate students whose financial and housing situations have been made more vulnerable by COVID-19.

    Emergency planning must remain cognizant of equity concerns

    As U of T continues to implement its pandemic policy amidst growing concerns from students, faculty, and staff over COVID-19’s potential impact, The Varsity is imploring the university to further implement accommodations for international, out-of-province, and low-income students whose employment, and access to on-campus food and housing remain dependent on the university. To eliminate this access is harmful to students whose financial and familial situations prevent them from easily relocating. Furthermore, international students, who may face travel restrictions, are disproportionately affected and potentially face high financial and emotional challenges.

    Additionally, students who earn income from university-based jobs are at a high risk for unemployment or lost wages in the face of a university shutdown. Thus far, the university has committed to compensating faculty and student staff for missed wages due to operational closures in the next three weeks. Employees await further information in the coming week, and The Varsity encourages the university to follow through on financially supporting employees for all lost wages, including shift work.

    Students experiencing homelessness who rely on the university for access to basic provisions and access to safe spaces will also likely be without resources, as gyms close and libraries enact limited hours. Furthermore, technology, including wi-fi, will not be easily accessible to all students as classes move toward an online platform. This is another aspect of contingency planning that must be understood and mediated by the administration.

    Students with disabilities must also be considered in pandemic planning, particularly in regards to ways in which accessibility may become limited in the coming weeks. The onus is on Accessibility Services and the university community in general to ensure that students who require accommodation receive it, and are not left behind in the panic of this pandemic.

    Indigenous students are additionally vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19. Self-isolating and relocation may be difficult for all those who reside in Indigenous communities, many of whom are subject to precarious living conditions that stem from ongoing colonialism, in which U of T also plays a role. As Karl Nerenberg wrote in Rabble, Indigenous groups must be considered in government and institutional pandemic planning. Indigenous students who would need to return home as a result of any potential campus closures must be additionally supported by U of T. The Varsity asks U of T to remain cognizant of the specific needs of Indigenous students in this time of crisis.

    While the university has not closed any of its campuses, the possibility remains as more and more facilities are shut down each day. The Varsity hopes to highlight some of the potential concerns surrounding campus closure.

    Concerns surrounding campus closure

    As of the fall of 2017, the university employs 21,788 faculty and staff, not accounting for research fellows and teaching assistants. University planning must continue to consider these employees’ reliance on U of T for income, health and dental benefits, and, in some cases, food and housing.

    In the case of campus closure, reimbursement of academic and residential fees are necessary, and financial aid must be robust in its support of students and staff.

    U of T’s cancellation of in-person classes is neither extreme nor unexpected. A reduction of large gatherings of people is a basic measure for quelling the spread of COVID-19. However, the continued operations of all three campuses means that staff will necessarily be on campus and required to work.

    The Varsity understands how maintaining campus operations will allow vulnerable persons to continue to access necessary campus spaces.

    The university’s decision to close gyms and child care centres, and limit library hours will potentially hinder the most vulnerable of our community from accessing these spaces and services. Residences remain operational, but it is unclear how methods of self-isolation will be put in effect in these spaces where students and staff are in such close physical proximity.

    Non-contract operational staff, some of whom are paid by the university through hours worked will still need to choose between potentially losing their source of income or exposing themselves to contaminated spaces.

    Students abroad, some of whom are left in confusion after being abruptly pulled from their placements, face unique challenges regarding housing, travel, and academic penalties. The university must do all that it can to ensure that students receive adequate support during this time. Students who have completed the majority of their academic exchanges should not lose academic credit. These students are already caught in the chaos of last-minute housing and travel arrangements, and The Varsity encourages the university to recognize these credits as legitimate

    Furthermore, the university must provide instructional staff with the appropriate training to ensure that academic instruction does not suffer in an online format. Instructors may not be prepared for online or alternative instruction, and clear coordination between faculties and administration will allow instructors to access administrative support regarding any issues that may arise.

    While some instructors have prepared online instructional methods, the rapid transition will surely pose problems. In this moment, The Varsity encourages compassion and understanding for both students and faculty as we all adjust to this new online platform.

    Moving forward

    These measures have shown that accommodation is not only possible, but that the university is willing to do so in the case of emergency. While response in a time of crisis is crucial, we question why so many of these accommodations were not accessible in the first place.

    Students who require accommodation in lectures have thus far not all been given the option to access their lecture materials through digital platforms. Online teaching is a skill that, if professors had developed it over time, would have proven to make this transition much smoother in times of crisis. This crisis has shown that these accommodations can and should be made — permanently.

    Furthermore, the university’s response shows that accommodating for students with medical issues is possible, and that verification of medical illness or injury notes are an expendable cost — the university is able to do without this measure. The Varsity encourages U of T to consider permanently suspending its doctor’s note requirements in favour of self-reported illness forms, even after COVID-19 preventative measures cease.

    Students and community members should practice standard hygiene measures, limit travel, and refrain from unnecessary panic. If you do show symptoms, please follow the advice of medical professionals to keep both yourself and others safe in this time of crisis.

    The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

    U of T keeps students abroad as U of Calgary, US schools pull students over COVID-19 fears

    “No plans at this time” to recall students, university says

    U of T keeps students abroad as U of Calgary, US schools pull students over COVID-19 fears

    As US institutions began pulling students from countries with the highest number of reported cases of COVID-19, a coronavirus strain which the World Health Organization classified as a “very high” global risk, U of T wrote to The Varsity that it is keeping its students abroad and is in contact with students in affected areas.

    “The University will offer as much flexibility as possible to minimize any impact on students. We are in regular contact with partner organizations who host our students,” wrote a U of T spokesperson in response to news that US universities and the University of Calgary have begun to implement travel advisories for students, faculty, and staff abroad.

    On the possibility of its own recall of students, the university wrote: “There are no plans at this time to recall students from areas outside of China, which has emerged as the epicentre of the outbreak.” The university also declined to provide the number and location of students abroad due to the “range of activities and individual travel plans.”

    Since the first case of COVID-19 in December, originating from Wuhan, China, the worldwide number of cases has reached more than 88,300 and 2,993 deaths, with South Korea, Italy, Iran, and Japan reporting the highest number of cases outside of China.

    On February 26, The Washington Post reported that both Stanford University and New York University have recalled students abroad in Florence; Florida International University has pulled students from South Korea, Italy, Japan, and Singapore; while others like Syracuse University and the University of California have issued travel advisories for affected countries.

    In Canada, on February 28, the University of Calgary announced that it would be suspending university-related travel for students and non-academic staff to China, Hong Kong, Japan, Iran, Italy, South Korea, and Singapore until September. This includes the recall of students, faculty, and staff in these countries with “the university’s support and assistance.”

    Academic staff are encouraged to avoid travel to these countries, the University of Calgary wrote on its website, adding: “This decision was made following careful consideration of the risks to the campus community from travel to countries experiencing community transmission of COVID-19.”

    Japan shut down all primary and secondary schools to halt the spread of the virus and Italy implemented lockdown quarantines in the affected regions.

    Three of the 15 confirmed cases of the virus in Ontario have been resolved, and Ontario health officials maintain that the risk of infection is still low. However, they are prepared for the number of cases to escalate. “It is important for all Ontarians to know we are prepared. Our hospitals are prepared,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott during the announcement of the eighth case of COVID-19.

    Runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever, and a malaise are all symptoms of coronavirus infections, according to Health Canada, which also recommends that anyone showing symptoms stay home and consult a health care provider, particularly after travel to regions where severe cases of COVID-19 have occurred.

    Hidden costs, discrimination, judgement: Indigenous mothers’ experiences in health care in Hamilton

    U of T-affiliated study examines how the group faces barriers in accessing services

    Hidden costs, discrimination, judgement: Indigenous mothers’ experiences in health care in Hamilton

    Indigenous mothers expressed their frustration with the hidden costs and discrimination of the health care system of Hamilton, Ontario in a recent interview-based U of T-affiliated study. In this pioneering study, researchers learned about how some Indigenous mothers, despite their sobriety, are judged for past substance use disorders, or how their spiritual beliefs caused difficulties in accessing health care.

    “For many women, [substance use disorder] offers a means of coping with trauma, such as childhood abuse, partner violence, and, for Aboriginal women, the intergenerational effects of colonization,” explains a 2010 Canadian Institutes of Health Research paper.

    The co-authors of the U of T-affiliated study partnered with the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, where they conducted 90-minute interviews with 19 Indigenous women.

    Though small in scale, the co-authors noted that it was the “first qualitative study in an urban centre in Canada to ask Indigenous mothers how they select and use primary care” to address the health needs of their infants.

    The study’s inspiration

    In an interview with The Varsity, co-author Dr. Amy Wright, an assistant professor at U of T’s Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, said that her previous work in Saskatchewan as a neonatal nurse practitioner, which is a specialist in newborn infant care, informed her research. Her job exposed her to many pregnant Indigenous women who had to travel from northern communities to urban areas in order to access hospitals where they could safely deliver their infants. Upon her review of the literature, she found that Indigenous infants continued to have higher mortality rates than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

    “It was very apparent [that] the inequities around health care access [vary] depending on where you live,” she said.

    Racial discrimination and unmet spiritual needs

    The discrimination and racism that mothers often encounter hindered the building of trust with their health care team and their ability to receive reassurance and validation of their concerns. According to the co-authors, some caregivers saw previous substance use disorder or involvement with child protection services as “directly linked to being Indigenous,” despite the mothers’ efforts to improve their and their children’s lives.

    Indigenous children are disproportionately represented in Canada’s child welfare system. When many Indigenous mothers are pregnant, they are flagged as “high risk,” which remains on their charts regardless of the efforts they make to better themselves and to improve their children’s quality of life. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) report details the unfair targeting of Indigenous mothers and its contribution to the phenomenon of MMIW.

    Building trust was further impeded when caregivers were thought to be condescending or dismissive of the spiritual needs of mothers and their infants. Many Indigenous mothers sought holistic care and desired that their care providers be able to meet not only physical needs, but also the mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of their infants. Recognizing the importance of spiritual health needs, having an Indigenous elder available to speak to the mothers, or directing mothers to rooms that could accommodate ceremonies would have improved the care provided to the Indigenous mothers interviewed.

    Geographic inequality in access to pediatric care

    Wright noted that the mothers she interviewed did not live in areas with easy access to pediatric emergency services, since many of them experience poverty as well as food and housing insecurity. She attributed this to the inherently discriminatory and racist system, which was a theme that was highlighted in her findings.

    The qualitative study revealed that pediatric care — from specialized emergency departments or primary care givers — was preferable to walk-in clinics. Specialized equipment and treatments, as well as child-friendly waiting areas, were among the reasons mothers specifically sought pediatric care for their infants and children. However, these services are not equitably accessible.

    “In Hamilton, McMaster Children’s Hospital is in a more affluent area of Hamilton — by the university,” Wright said. “Even just that inherent inequity that they experience… meant that they were at a disadvantage to accessing that care because they were so far from it.”

    Many mothers described that the cost of travel from one region to another to seek acute health services was a burden. And while walk-in clinics were the most accessible, some mothers reported that their primary care providers required them to pay a fee ranging from $40–$50 for using walk-in clinics due to provincial penalties based on the providers’ funding models.

    The need for further study

    The Indigenous community is understudied, underserviced, and has been historically neglected in terms of health care. Wright said that representatives at the Indigenous Friendship Centre in Hamilton were surprised that a researcher was interested in studying Indigenous mothers and their infants.

    Vicky Miller, the Six Nations social worker at the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre whose clients were interviewed by Wright’s team, also noted in an interview with The Varsity that the only previously conducted studies were surveys by students interested in statistical data. No previous qualitative research has extensively explored infant health and maternal experiences.

    Despite this, Miller remains optimistic. “In the last four years that I’ve worked, there has been improvement [for] families,” she said. She noted a rise in case files closed with child welfare services due to families working closely with that centre’s staff, which lets children come home to their families.