By Nikayla Goddard, March 28 2020 —
On Mar. 27 at noon, UCalgary hosted a digital forum, COVID-19: Anatomy of a pandemic | Tracing the fight against the coronavirus from inception to today. Dr. Nishan Sharma and Dr. Tyler Williamson are O’Brien Institute members and members of the COVID-19 UCalgary Task Force and COVID-19 Centre for Health Informatics (CHI) Analytics working group ( as a part of the Cumming School of Medicine — part of a team of researchers investigating the effects and interventions on COVID-19 on a global scale in order to provide suggestions for action to the City of Calgary.
Christine Friedenreich, also a member of the COVID-19 UCalgary Task Force, was the forum moderator, and welcomed Dr. Sharma and Dr. Williamson to the online Zoom and Facebook Live session.
“We are trying to look to see what interventions match trending curves,” Dr. Sharma said. The researchers looked at three different levels of interventions based on economic impact — low, medium, and high economic impact — in other countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Denmark as priority places and Hong Kong, Qatar, Norway and Estonia as places with relatively positive curves.
One of the things the team explored is the ways that other countries are handling COVID-19, such as multi-ministry task forces, crisis management, testing at airports and instigating quarantine zones and isolation laws. Dr. Sharma noted some interesting measures made by other countries, such as how Italy pushed medical students into service early, and Singapore’s distribution of four face masks per household.
Dr. Sharma answered a question online about how the researchers selected the key interventions to advise the city, and he said, “We didn’t actually try to filter — we presented all manner of interventions we found, and are letting the City decide on implementation. Our recommendations are getting stronger with timelines developing, and evidence from literature, but that is what we are working on right now.”
The COVID-19 UCalgary Task Force and COVID-19 CHI Analytics working group were then able to submit information and suggestions to the City of Calgary. A total of 64 interventions were suggested, with some already confirmed to have been done. The make-up of the suggestions included:
- 19 isolation/quarantine interventions such as contact tracing through cell phones, adapted from measures in Taiwan and South Korea.
- 11 governance/law suggestions such as fining people who flout quarantine offers, adapted from measures in Singapore, and enforcing that stores must have disinfectants at entry points, adapted from measures in Estonia.
- Nine structure, equipment, infrastructure suggestions, such as constructing a 1000 bed COVID-19 hospital, adapted from measures in Germany.
- Eight information distribution-based suggestions, such as creation and maintenance of a publicly available website to show locations of confirmed cases, such as the coronamap.site made by South Korea.
- Five financial suggestions, such as malls and landlords issuing rental rebates, adapted from measures in Singapore.
“The theory of epidemics is quite clear. Once the infectivity rate […] drops to less than one, eventually the disease will just die off. In reality, what we’re seeing with COVID-19 thus far is that it’s much bigger than one, and estimating what it is in the province is a challenge for sure, and of course the policy interventions that we’ve made are adjusting that,” Williamson said.
The Cumming School of Medicine’s Centre for Health Informatics has crafted the COVID TRACKER dashboard with the help of data scientists, academics, clinicians, statisticians, epidemiologists and visualization specialists. Using data from the COVID-19 Canada Open Data Working Group and John Hopkins University, the site is updated every evening. Check out their website at www.chi-csm.ca/.
Dr. Sharma is the Education Lead at the Ward of the 21st Century (W21C) research institute, and an assistant professor at UCalgary’s Department of Community Health Sciences, and Dr. Williamson is associate director for the Centre of Health Informatics at the Cumming School of Medicine and an associate professor with the Department of Community Health Sciences.