O'Brien Institute COVID-19 research projects

The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest health emergency of our time. O'Brien Institute members are undertaking essential research and innovation during this crisis that will be crucial in containing and mitigating the effects of the rapidly evolving pandemic.

Read about ongoing projects below, and please submit relevant projects to iph@ucalgary.ca

More COVID-19 resources for UCalgary researchers here

Population health research projects

Dr. Jeanna Parsons Leigh


Socio-Cultural Implications of COVID-19: Educating, Engaging & Empowering the Public

A project led by Dr. Jeanna Parsons Leigh includes 13 UCalgary faculty and staff members. This study will develop a national campaign to educate the Canadian public on coronavirus and COVID-19, and empower them to make informed health-care decisions.

Funding: Operating Grant: COVID-19 - Public health response and its impact

More info

Dr. Reed Beall, Dr. Aidan Hollis

Towards Better Governance of Zoonotic Disease Risk: One Health Principles in the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Response

Dr. Reed Beal is part of a team (along with Dr. Aidan Hollis at the University of Calgary and led by Ron Labonte at the University of Ottawa) that received rapid response funding from CIHR for CoVid19 to study the drug innovation pipeline. At the moment, the team is studying the global response in terms of clinical trial uptake for CoVid19 versus H1N1.

Funding: CIHR Operating Grant: COVID-19 - Coordination, governance and logistics

More info

Dr. Ranjani Somayaji and Dr. Caley Shukalek

We are currently experiencing a global pneumonia pandemic lacking any recent precedent, caused by SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). To date, it has infected over 1,000,000 persons worldwide. Drastic measures have been taken by governments and public health officials in an attempt to decrease the spread of this infection. These measures have included restrictions on border crossing, airline travel, work, and gathering of people for any reason. The impact of both the infection and the responses taken may be affecting individuals in many different ways.  As the impact of the local and global measures may be far reaching, we aim to explore these measures on individual’s lives.

TAKE THE SURVEY: Individuals can take part in a one-time online survey about the effect the COVID-19 response has had on their lives here. The survey will take 15-20 minutes to complete. 

Contacts: Ranjani SomayajiCaley Shukalek

Dr. Edwin Wang

Big data, networks and artificial intelligence (AI). We will manually curate the patient-level data of more than 10,000 Covid-19 cases including >600 child cases from the case reports on official websites of 28 China's provincial public health agencies. These cases contain contact-tracing information which allows us to piece together chains/networks of transmission. We will obtain another Covid-19 cohort in Alberta to compare it with the Chinese cohort. We also access machine-readable datasets in the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19) supported by the US government. Objectives: To identify and examine the impact of key-spreading social contact patterns on Covid-19 transmission networks, and develop intervention strategies to prevent the virus spread for kids and adults, respectively.

Contact: Edwin Wang

Three University of Calgary-led research teams have received over $1.6 million in federal funding to accelerate the development, testing and implementation of countermeasures to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19, and its consequences on people and communities.

W21C is partnering with the School of Public Policy on this rapid research assessing Alberta’s preparedness and response. Dr. Myles Leslie, PhD, Dr. John Conly, MD, with project co-leads Dr. Jan Davies, MD, Dr. Raad Fadaak, PhD, and Johanna Blaak, are evaluating how COVID-19 preparedness and response policies are being transmitted to, and implemented in, hospitals and family doctors’ offices in Alberta.

More info

Lead: Dr. Kelly Schwartz

Research team includes members of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, the Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education and the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). They include Dr. Carly McMorris, PhD, an assistant professor in school and applied dhild psychology at Werklund; Dr. Erica Makarenko, PsyD, director of integrated services in education at Werklund; Dr. Paul Arnold, PhD, director of the Mathison Centre and professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the CSM; and Dr. Deinera Exner-Cortens, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology in the Faculty of Arts.

A team of researchers from the University of Calgary has launched a year-long study to try to answer this question. It will ask 3,000 students ages 12 to 18 in Calgary and Edmonton how they’re coping with the ongoing crisis, investigating everything from their resiliency to their mental health.

Read more

Drs Kirsten Fiest, Jeanna Parsons Leigh

The vast majority of Canadians — 91 per cent — believe they're doing a good job mitigating the spread of COVID-19, according to a new study that surveyed people across the country on their beliefs, concerns and behaviours when it comes to the pandemic.

The study, published Oct. 23 and funded by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research COVID-19 rapid response grant, surveyed 2,000 Canadian adults between April 26 and May 1, 2020. Researchers say the findings from the first survey of its kind in Canada offer important lessons for public health response as the country prepares for a second wave. 

Read more

Katrina Milaney

"Understanding Behaviours During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Examining Who is Wearing Masks, Who is Not and Why"

Since Aug. 1, 2020, Calgarians have been required to wear face masks in indoor public spaces. When announcing the face coverings bylaw, Mayor Naheed Nenshi stated that the decision wasn’t made on “a whim” — council put the bylaw in place “on the basis of very good medical and scientific advice.”

It’s been six months since the bylaw went into place, and in a recent survey, 93 per cent of Calgarians said they are wearing face masks as required. On the other hand, Calgary has seen a rise in anti-mask rallies over the last few months, some including upward of 250 people. 

What explains this difference of opinion? A team of researchers led by Dr. Katrina Milaney, PhD, is working with The City of Calgary to find out. 

Read more.

Participate in the survey

Funding: SSHRC: Partnership Engage Grant COVID-19

Dr. Ranjani Somayagi

As the impact of the local and global measures to try and control the COVID-19 pandemic may be far reaching, we aim to explore these measures on individual’s lives.

PI: Dr. Ranjani Somayagi, MD - CSM

Contact: rsomayaj@ucalgary.ca 

Other Collaborators:

  • Dr. Caley Shukalek, MD 


Assessing how the COVID-19 outbreak impacts health-care delivery for pediatric patients and their families. Those being treated for illness or health/mental health challenge are at risk for a wide range of concerns including: isolation, heightened anxiety around infection, fear, financial hardship for their families, reduced access to services, and challenges related to stigma, and social acceptance. This study will offer recommendations for practice, policy development and health emergency contingency planning.

PI: Dr. David Nicholas, PhD - Faculty of Social Work

Contact: nicholas@ucalgary.ca

The way information about government programs is communicated, how programs are designed and delivered can influence outcomes. Involving stakeholders like community organizations in the policy-making process ensures that individuals with disabilities are integrated into community life on their terms and that their priorities, goals and aspirations are prioritized. The core objective is to understand the approaches through which the Government of Alberta could best engage community organizations to co-design policies and programs for persons and families of children with disabilities. This research also seeks to understand the critical expectations of decision-makers from the community organizations during a pandemic.

PI: Dr. Jennifer Zwicker, PhD - School of Public Policy

Contact: katrina.milaney@ucalgary.ca

Other Collaborators: 

  • Dr. Katrina Milaney, PhD
  • Dr. Meaghan Edwards, PhD
  • Ash Seth

A Multi-Disciplinary, Patient-Partnered, Pan-Canadian, Comparative Effectiveness Evaluation of an Innovative Acute Pediatric Mental Health and Addiction Care Bundle

Principal Study Investigators: Dr. Stephen Freedman and Dr. Amanda Newton

More info

McCormack GR, Doyle-Baker PK, Petersen JA, Ghoneim D.

The public health emergency response to COVID-19 has required Canadians to take steps to reduce the spread of the virus including practicing physical distancing, restrictions on non-essential domestic and international travel and self-isolating/quarantine requirements (1). These steps have coincided with a number of additional measures including intermittent mandatory closures of educational and daycare facilities, non-essential businesses, and private and public recreations facilities such as playgrounds and sports fields. The public health measures have created changes to daily routines and physical activity patterns (2). In Canada, children in particular have experienced reduced physical activity and increased sedentary behaviour as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (3). Parents also may experience increased stress and anxiety due to managing changes to their work, family life, school and financial pressures (4) that could influence their children’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour (5,6). A recent study sought to describe the physical activity and sedentary behaviour among children during the COVID-19 pandemic and to explore the association between parent anxiety towards COVID-19 and the physical activity and sedentary behaviour of their children. More info

Read Parent anxiety and perceptions of their child’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada here

Gavin R. McCormack, Patricia K. Doyle-Baker, Jason L. Cabaj, Dalia Ghoneim, Calli Naish, Jennie A. Petersen

Public health measures introduced to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted the physical activity, health, and well-being of millions of people. This grounded theory study explored how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected physical activity and perceptions of health among adults in a Canadian city (Calgary). Twelve adults (50% females; 20–70 years) were interviewed between June and October (2020) via telephone or videoconferencing. Using a maximum variation strategy, participants with a range of sociodemographic characteristics, physical activity levels, and perceptions of seriousness and anxiety related to COVID-19 were selected. Semi-structured interviews captured participant perceptions of how their physical activity and perceptions of health changed during the pandemic. Using thematic analysis, four themes were identified: (1) Disruption to Daily Routines, (2) Changes in Physical Activity, (3) Balancing Health, and (4) Family Life. Participants experienced different degrees of disruption in their daily routines and physical activity based on their individual circumstances (e.g., pre-pandemic physical activity, family life, and access to resources). Although participants faced challenges in modifying their daily routines and physical activity, many adapted. Some participants reported enhanced feelings of well-being. Public health strategies that encourage physical activity and promote health should be supported as they are needed during pandemics, such as COVID-19.

Read more

Dr. Eddy Lang, Dr. Kerri Johannson

A new Alberta study that shows a drop in hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses during the early part of the pandemic is sparking questions about the future role that public health measures such as masking could play in keeping viruses at bay.

The research came about after ER doctors started noticing an unusual trend: fewer people coming to the emergency room who required admission for respiratory problems.

Researchers compared Alberta hospital data from March to September of 2020 with the previous year and documented a reduction in the proportion of overall admissions for illnesses caused by viruses or chronic conditions exacerbated by them.

They found that roughly 2,500 fewer Albertans hospitalized for COPD during first months of pandemic.

Read more

Vulnerable populations research projects

Projects by Dr. Katrina Milaney 

  1. Engaging community organizations into research and policy priorities that need action behind them. Intended outcome: Help inform the role Calgary’s Social Action HUB could play in this space.
  2. Engaging government, decision makers and policy makers into discussions of how decisions are made and how priorities are identified during a pandemic - how this impacts service delivery and how this impacts vulnerable populations. Help inform the role Calgary’s Social Action HUB could play in this space

    Contact: Katrina Milaney 

Dr. Katrina Milaney

Implementing and evaluating a managed alcohol program for Indigenous adults experiencing homelessness 

A harm reduction housing intervention and evaluation that targets Indigenous people who chronically experience homelessness and live in shelter. The first 6 months of this project will reflect implementation of harm reduction housing programs in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Funding: Canadian Institute of Health research (CIHR) three –year grant.

Contact: Katrina Milaney 

Dr. Katrina Milaney 

Perceived need for health services for chronically homeless adults who use drugs and alcohol 

Assessing childhood trauma and health and substance use patterns of chronically homeless individuals. Researchers will survey 300 people, and can include questions that reflect the pandemic. This study is a follow up to one that was done three years ago.

Contact: Katrina Milaney 

Dr. Katrina Milaney 

Heal the healer: Assessing strategies to reduce burnout for front-line staff working in domestic violence 

A project with the Calgary Domestic Violence Collective assessing strategies to reduce burnout and enhance self-care for frontline workers in ‘high stress' positions. This project is being adapted to include implications of COVID-19. 

Contact: Katrina Milaney 

Dr. Katrina Milaney 

Employment supports for youth with barriers to employment (mental health and/or substance abuse)

Under review: A knowledge synthesis project to identify 'best practices' for supporting youth with mental health barriers into stability and employment - we are engaging a youth with former lived experience of homelessness and mental health as a research consultant to help engage youth. This project is being adapted to include implications of COVID-19. 

Contact: Katrina Milaney 

Dr. Sarah Kenny

Dr. Sarah Kenny is leading a study on a dance program for older adults in University Heights, examining participants’ experiences with dance-based group physical activity programming, and implications for well-being, physical literacy, and social relationships. The project includes talking to participants about their experiences of not being able to attend the group classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is exploring whether options for online delivery work for older adults.

Dr. Ilyan Ferrer

A study by Dr. Ilyan Ferrer examines the early and ongoing responses of non-profit service sector agencies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through online interviews and focus groups, the study examines the structural and individual challenges and creative strategies in working with older adults living within various communities (long-term care housing, remote communities, etc).

Dr. Pamela Roach

Understanding the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the well-being and care provision for patients at University of Calgary Brain and Mental Health Clinics

The aim of this proposal is to develop an in-depth understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the well-being and changing health services needs of people living with neurological or psychiatric conditions and their family members or care partners. Through developing this understanding we can inform our development of how best to provide virtual care in times of decreased social/physical contact and develop policy and service recommendations. These recommendations may be used in times of future pandemics; extreme weather phenomenon; outbreaks of other disease or isolation in supportive living or long term care facilities; or other emergencies where social distancing/isolation/virtual care may be required. 

Funding: Cumming School of Medicine Rapid Response Covid-19 Clinical Research Fund

Dr. Rita Henderson

Mitigating COVID-19 transmission among at-risk patients with opioid use disorder via improved tracking of impacts from illicit source disruption and facilitated access to buprenorphine-naloxone  

University of Calgary Team: 

Rita Isabel henderson (NPI) – Models of Care Scientist, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Family Medicine 

Steven Persaud (Co-PI) – Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Family Medicine 

Lynden (Lindsay) Crowshoe (Co-PI) – Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine 

Pamela Roach (Co-I) – Program Manager/Adjunct Professor, Brain & Mental Health Clinics, HBI 

Myles Leslie (Co-I) – Health Services Researcher, Associate Director of Research, School of Public Policy 

Community Research Partners: 

Bonnie Healy (Co-I) – Health Director, Blackfoot Confederacy 

William Wadsworth (Co-I) – Policy and Data Analyst, Treaty 7 Corporation 

The COVID-19 outbreak has prompted Opioid Agonist Therapy (OAT) clinics to rethink their practices to balance risks of one public health emergency against another: the overdose crisis against a global pandemic. Currently, clinicians report that conventional OAT guidelines could be modified in favour of facilitating physical distancing measures for vulnerable patients. Additionally, front-line providers express concern that individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) currently not connected to OAT are at even more risk than usual, as their illicit sources dry up due to border closings and increased prices in their street supply. First Nations research partners report growing desperation among those affected, a situation that poses to undermine both individual and population health. Risk behaviour driven by desperation among socially-vulnerable groups will have little regard for COVID-19 safety measures, especially in inner-city and rural/remote communities affected by disproportionate presence of OUD, resource disparities, and minimal infrastructure to endure an outbreak. The research will profile emergent risks related to OUD and COVID-19 among socially-vulnerable groups, which due to structural inequities tend to be medically underserved. Researchers will evaluate models of care adapted by OAT-providing clinicians to navigate dual public health emergencies, balancing harm reduction during an overdose crisis with physical distancing during the pandemic. 

Funding: $10K: Clinical Research Fund, matching from a Health Canada fund for enhancing opioid agonist therapy access in Indigenous contexts in Alberta

Contact: Dr. Rita Henderson 


O’Brien Institute for Public Health, University of Calgary, Alberta, Calgary, Alberta

Applied Research and Innovation Services Department (ARIS), Centre for Innovation and Research in Unmanned Systems (CIRUS), School of Construction, SAIT, Alberta, Calgary, Alberta

ProvLab Alberta, Calgary, Alberta  

Stoney Nation Health Centre, Stoney Nation, Morley Alberta  

Delivery of Medical Supplies and Transport of Specimens from Remote First Nation Communities to Testing Sites Utilizing Beyond Line of Sight (BVLOS) Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS) During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), commonly referred to as drones, may prove to be a valuable tool in the battle against pandemics like COVID-19. Researchers at the University of Calgary, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), Alberta Health Services (AHS), and Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL) are partnering with the Stoney Nakoda Nations (SNN) to deliver medical equipment and test kits for COVID-19 to remote areas, and to connect these communities to laboratories more quickly using these remotely piloted aircraft.

“We know that testing for COVID-19 is one of our most effective tools against its spread. Many remote communities in Canada do not have easy access to testing centres and medical supplies to support rapid testing and containment. Drones can help us respond to that need,” says Dr. John Conly, MD, medical director of the W21C Research and Innovation Centre at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and co-principal investigator on the project.

More details

Dr. David Hogan

The Canadian Geriatrics Society (CGS) fosters the health and well-being of older Canadians and older adults worldwide. Although severe COVID-19 illness and significant mortality occur across the lifespan, the fatality rate increases with age, especially for people over 65 years of age. The dichotomization of COVID-19 patients by age has been proposed as a way to decide who will receive intensive care admission when critical care unit beds or ventilators are limited. This research project provides perspectives and evidence why alternative approaches should be used.

Dr. Deirdre McCaughey & Dr. Gwen McGhan

Canadians over the age of 60 account for 36% of the COVID-19 cases but 95% of the deaths, with 82% of the total deaths being linked to long-term care and seniors’ homes. The increasing challenges in care provision brought on by pandemic restrictions and guidelines, including the “no visitor policy” in long-term care facilities, has contributed to unintended consequences and negative experiences for older adults and their families.

In partnership with local Calgary dementia support organizations, we are currently conducting a pilot study to measure the impact of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on Family Care Givers (FCGs) for persons living with dementia (PLWD) in the community and in care facilities.

The objectives of this study are:

#1: Implement a provincial survey of FCG for PLWD COVID-19 experiences.

#2: Asses provincial data to identify information and resources needed for FCGs during the COVID-19 pandemic and how pandemic restrictions have impacted PLWD.

#3: Develop provincial health system recommendations to optimize information, resources, and access for FCGs of PLWD during the current COVID-19 pandemic and for future public health emergency planning.

This study is supported in part by the Alzheimer Society of Calgary and in-kind by the Dementia Network Calgary.

Principal Investigator: 

Dr. Stephanie Montesanti - University of Alberta

Co-Investigators include: 

Dr. Gail MacKean - University of Calgary

The purpose of this project is to increase our understanding of the impacts of COVID-19 visiting and family presence policies and practices - that have been put in place in hospitals across Canada - on patients, families, caregivers, and healthcare providers. Researchers are conducting in-depth interviews (by phone or Zoom). These conversations take approximately an hour.

If you have experience either being in hospital yourself, or supporting someone you love in hospital during COVID-19, or if you are a healthcare provider who has experience working in hospital during COVID, researchers would love to speak with you. Please contact:


Kayla Fitzpatrick - Study Coordinator


Email: kfitzpat@ualberta.ca


Gail MacKean 


403-830-2580 (mobile)

*By ‘in-hospital’ we mean both inpatient and outpatient experiences include having to go the emergency department, or having to go for some day treatment or appointments.

Dr. Turin Tanvir Chowdhury

Working to identify the mental wellness needs for Canadian newcomers working in factory settings during COVID-19, with the aim to support the mental well-being for these communities.

Funding: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Engage Grant

Read more about this project: 

Preventing the Transmission of COVID-19 in Older Adults Aged 60 Years and Above Living in Long-Term Care

Rapid Review Update prepared for the World Health Organization

The Health Technology Assessment Unit, University of Calgary

As compared to other segments of the population, older adults living in long-term care facilities have a higher risk of infection and death as a result of coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19).1 The overall objective of this rapid review was to examine the control and management of COVID-19, SARS, or MERS in adults 60 years or above living in long-term care facilities. This is an update of a previous work done by Rios et al.2 The specific research questions were:

  1. What are the infection prevention and control practices for preventing or reducing the transmission of COVID-19, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in older adults aged 60 years and above living in long-term care facilities?
  2. Do the infection prevention and control practices for adults aged 60 years and above living in long-term care with severe comorbidities or frailty differ as compared to those without such severe comorbidities/frailty?
  3. What are the employment and remuneration policies of care providers that may have contributed to the COVID-19 outbreaks in adults aged 60 years and above living in long-term care facilities?

Read the report

The Anatomy, Determinants, and Impacts of the Meat Processing Plants' COVID-19 Outbreak Among Newcomers and their Families in Canada

Alberta's Beef Processing Facilities have faced two of Canada's largest and most rapid COVID-19 outbreaks. 

With nearly 2000 employees each, the meat processing plants in High River and Brooks, Alberta are among Canada’s largest meat processing facilities, supplying approximately 70% of Canada’s beef. Most employees are immigrants, refugees or temporary foreign workers, together representing newcomer communities.

This study will investigate:

1)   How the outbreak spread? 

  • its epidemiology and outcomes. 

 2)   Why it spread?

  • its determinants and perceived causes.

 3)   What was the response?

  • What worked? What did not? What could not be helped?

Learn more

Participate in the study: Were you affected by a Covid-19 outbreak in a meat processing facility? Researchers need your help. Learn more

Dr. Zahra Goodarzi

Implementation of Pathway for Goals of Care and End of Life Management in Long Term Care

Dr. Zahra Goodarzi, MD, is working with a diverse team of researchers, health-care providers and other stakeholders to develop a protocol for older adults in long-term care living in a state of frailty (an underdiagnosed aging-related syndrome of physiological decline), which will help staff recognize the syndrome and initiate early palliative care when necessary.

This work is in collaboration with long-term care facilities operated by the Brenda Strafford Foundation and AgeCare, and is supported by the Brenda Strafford Centre on Aging. It builds on earlier research funded by the UCalgary Brenda Strafford Foundation Chair in Geriatric Medicine and the Canadian Frailty Network.

“There is a dire need to improve palliative care for frail older adults in long-term care across Canada, since almost 40 per cent of Canadians die in long-term care,” says Goodarzi.

The aim is for residents experiencing frailty to receive high-quality, end-of-life care within their long-term care facility, which is their home, and avoid unnecessary transfer to hospital.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to the many barriers to providing palliative care to frail residents of long-term care, Goodarzi says.

Frailty is under-diagnosed in long-term care due to the often-unpredictable ways in which it presents and progresses. Limited palliative care knowledge and skills among staff, excessive workloads, and barriers within the continuing care environment are also a challenge.

“The pandemic has pushed to the ongoing issues in senior care into the public eye,” says Goodarzi. “This is an important opportunity for meaningful change.”

Funding: CIHR/Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement, Operating Grant: Strengthening Pandemic Preparedness in Long-Term Care (COVID-19)

Dr. Bonnie Lashewicz

Supporting mental health and preventing moral injury among long term care+ workers: A mixed methods tool kit development and implementation study

A study led by Dr. Bonnie Lashewicz, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the CSM, aims to understand and support the unique mental health needs long-term care workers are facing due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Workers in these facilities — including hairdressers, janitors, food service workers — are doing their jobs with the knowledge that frail people are isolated in their rooms unable to even come out for a meal,” she says.

“They are having to police end-of-life visits where family members are only able to touch their loved one through gloved hands — the toll this takes on mental health and well-being cannot be overstated.”

Lashewicz is working with five homes in Calgary, Edmonton and Okotoks to create and disseminate a mental health support toolkit tailored to long-term care workers in pandemic conditions.

“Everyone I’ve ever met that works in these facilities is dedicated to high-quality care and these extenuating times are an opportunity to deepen understandings of this critically important care work and provide greater support and new tools,” she says.

Funding: CIHR/Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement, Operating Grant: Strengthening Pandemic Preparedness in Long-Term Care (COVID-19)

Dr. Meghan McDonough (Faculty of Kinesiology)

Understanding Challenges to Supporting Older Adults' Participation in Physical Activities in the Wake of COVID-19

Read more

Funding: SSHRC Partnership Engage COVID-19 special grant

Dr. David Nicholas, PhD (Faculty of Social Work)

Older Adults and Frailty: Exploring the Psychosocial and Health Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Read more

Funding: SSHRC Partnership Engage COVID-19 special grant

Dr. Tanvir Chowdhury

COVID-19. Identifying Mental Wellness Needs for Racial/Ethnic Minority Factory workers During and Post- Public Health Emergencies: To Inform COVID-19 Response.

Read more

Older Chinese Immigrants in Calgary: Psychological and Social Well-being during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

PI: Dr. Christine Ann Walsh, PhD - Social Work

Contact: cwalsh@ucalgary.ca

Other Collaborators: 

  • Jackie Liu
  • Qianyun Wang

Dr. Meghan McDonough

Kinesiology researcher partners with City of Calgary to learn how to better support older adults during COVID-19. 

Learn more.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on racial/ethnic inequities in diet quality and health in Alberta and Canada: A mixed methods, solution-focused investigation

Principal applicants: Dr. Dana Lee Olstad, Dr. Rosanne Blanchet

There is evidence that individuals from racial/ethnic minority groups in Alberta, and across Canada, experience discrimination and differential access to social and economic resources, and are more likely to experience food insecurity. These social and structural vulnerabilities and resulting health consequences have caused racial/ethnic minority groups to be more affected by the adverse social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This project will address these issues by quantifying trends in racial/ethnic inequities in diet quality, BMI, and self-rated mental and overall health from pre-pandemic to mid- to late-pandemic among adults living in Canada, and the role food insecurity plays. Researchers will explore experiences of food insecurity and inequities in diet quality and health during the pandemic, and the perceived effectiveness of existing and newly introduced programs and policies in alleviating these experiences, and create policy suggestions to reduce racial/ethnic inequities in diet quality and health in future.

Dr. Christine Gibson 

The Healing Centred Cooperative (THCC) is a group of healthcare professionals, therapists, psychologists, counsellors, and researchers focused on creating wellness and resilience through accessible, holistic, integrated mental-health solutions for community systems. 

As of July 1, 2021, THCC has been granted $96,000 in funding from the City of Calgary’s Change Can’t Wait initiative for a music-based intervention targeting  newcomer communities suffering from mental health challenges or chronic residual effects of the COVID pandemic. Building on the success of the ENO’s Breathe program, they will pilot a version that focuses on the strengths of Calgary’s Ethnocultural communities.

The pilot program will provide culturally-competent and trauma-informed virtual music and breathwork-based mental health care from professionals trained in working with ethnocultural communities, while addressing isolation (exacerbated by COVID-through accessible and flexible online meeting spaces that are socially innovative and user-experience informed. The impact evaluation framework and data collected will be used to iterate upon further programming for similar populations, as well as test hypotheses that will build the foundation of future AI-based holistic programming and products. 

Dr. Whitney Hindmarch, PhD, Dr. Gwen McGhan, PhDKristin Flemons, and Dr. Deirdre McCaughey, PhD

Those most at risk from severe COVID-19 infection are older adults; therefore, long-term care (LTC) facilities closed their doors to visitors and family caregivers (FCGs) during the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The most common chronic health condition among LTC residents is dementia, and persons living with dementia (PLWD) rely on FCGs to maintain their care provision. This study aims to evaluate the impact of visitor restrictions and resulting loss of FCGs providing in-person care to PLWD in LTC during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Funding for this study was received from Alzheimer Society of Calgary.

More info

Health systems research projects

Dr. Stephen Freedman

Clinical characteristics and outcomes of children potentially infected by SARS-CoV-2 presenting to pediatric emergency departments

The manifestations of COVID-19 in children are not yet well understood, and may be atypical when compared to adults. Researchers will carry out a two-year global prospective study that will enroll and follow-up children with suspected COVID-19 from 50 participating emergency departments (ED) across 19 countries.

Funding: Operating Grant: Canadian 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Rapid Research Funding Opportunity - Clinical management

More info

Dr. David Nicholas

Exploring the Psychosocial and Health Service Consequences of Coronavirus on Children and their Families: Lessons Learned for Pediatric Health Care Practice and Policy

Dr. David Nicholas, PhD, and his team will assess how the COVID-19 outbreak impacts health-care delivery for pediatric patients and their families. Children with pre-existing health conditions, especially those undergoing treatment, are a highly vulnerable population during an outbreak. This study will offer recommendations for practice, policy development and health emergency contingency planning.

Funding: Operating Grant: COVID-19 - Public health response and its impact

More info

Dr. Myles Leslie

Policy Implementation and Communication Lessons from Alberta's Acute and Primary Care Environments During the COVID-19 Response

A team led by Dr. Myles Leslie, PhD, will evaluate how COVID-19 preparedness and response policies are being transmitted to, and implemented in, hospitals and family doctors’ offices in Alberta. This research will create a detailed description of how policies are formed, transmitted, and put into action as the outbreak develops in Alberta. Working alongside public health professionals and clinicians, the team will help identify opportunities for improving response efforts in real time, and for future public health emergencies.

Funding: Operating Grant: COVID-19 - Public health response and its impact

More info

Dr. John Conly

This Canadian multi-centre randomized controlled trial will focus on understanding whether medical masks are a safe and effective alternative to N95 respirators for healthcare workers, specifically when providing care involving certain procedures for treating COVID-19. This trial, led by Dr. Mark Loeb, MD, Infectious Disease Director at McMaster University, will take place in 16 locations across Canada. The W21C research site is being led by infectious disease specialist Dr. John Conly, MD.

Dr. Kirsten Fiest 

A Canadian study focused on COVID-19 restricted visitation policies and their impact on critically ill patients, families and healthcare providers

Funding: CIHR

This study is currently recruiting patients - more details here


Description of a Multi-faceted COVID-19 Pandemic Physician Workforce Plan at a Multi-site Academic Health System

The evolving COVID-19 pandemic has and continues to present a threat to health system capacity. Rapidly expanding an existing acute care physician workforce is critical to pandemic response planning in large urban academic health systems.

The Medical Emergency-Pandemic Operations Command (MEOC)—a multi-specialty team of physicians, operational leaders, and support staff within an academic Department of Medicine in Calgary, Canada—partnered with its provincial health system to rapidly develop a comprehensive, scalable pandemic physician workforce plan for non-ventilated inpatients with COVID-19 across multiple hospitals. The MEOC Pandemic Plan comprised seven components, each with unique structure and processes.

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Dr. Ranjani Somayaji

Investigation into SARS-COV-2 Spread via Healthcare Encounters in the Calgary Region of Alberta Health Services.

PI: Dr. Ranjani Somayaji, MD - Community Health Sciences, CSM

Co-PI: Dr. John Conly, MD - W21C

Contact: rsomayaj@ucalgary.ca

  1. Risk factors, exposures, and development of COVID-19 in healthcare workers

    This study is a survey of healthcare workers examining their individual and workplace risk factors and development of symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19. There will be three surveys: one pre-peak of cases, one after the peak of cases, and another in one year to ask about exposures, risk factors, and symptoms.

    PI: Dr. Nicola Cherry, PhD - University of Alberta, Dr. Shannon Ruzyki, MD - CSM

    Contact: shannon.ruzycki@ucalgary.ca

A multicenter study investigating SARS-CoV-2 in tertiary-care hospital wastewater. viral burden correlates with increasing hospitalized cases as well as hospital-associated transmissions and outbreaks

Dr. John Conly, MD

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Jaana Woiceshyn, Jo-Louise Huq, Sunand Kannappan, Gabriel Fabreau, MDSachin Pendharkar, MDDr. Aleem Bharwani, MD, and co-authors

We need to work differently in a crisis: peer-professional leadership to redesign physicians’ work

Understanding physician leadership is critical during pandemics and other health crises when formal organisational leaders may be unable to respond expeditiously. This study examined how physician leaders managed to quickly design a new model for acute-care physicians’ work, adopted across four large hospitals in a public health authority in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Funding This research was supported by grant 10028968 from Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership in Business at Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary.

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Michael A. Campitelli, Susan E. Bronskill, Laura C. Maclagan, David Hogan et al

Comparison of Medication Prescribing Before and After the COVID-19 Pandemic Among Nursing Home Residents in Ontario, Canada

In this population-based cohort study with an interrupted time-series analysis of all nursing home residents from the 630 facilities in Ontario, Canada, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with significant increases in the use of antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and opioids and no meaningful changes in the use of antibiotics or selected cardiovascular medications.

Funding/Support: This research was funded by the CIHR through operating grant MOP-136854 (Exploring frailty and its role in the assessment of high-risk medications and risk of poor health outcomes in vulnerable populations), by ICES through an annual grant from the Ontario MOH and the MLTC; and by the OHDP, a Province of Ontario initiative to support Ontario’s ongoing response to COVID-19 and its related effects.

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Clinical research projects

Dr. Edwin Wang

The current test: with collaborations with a Chinese team, who has many years of experience in developing technologies in virus detection, we have developed a test kit that could detect COVID-19 virus as low as 100 RNA copies in 40 min at 85% of accuracy with the following advantages: reaction products are visible to naked eyes (i.e., via colors), while no elaborate equipment and well-trained specialists are required. It is portable and a point-of-care test for front-line practitioners at community-level.

Contact: Edwin Wang

Dr. Michael Hill  

With support from Alberta Health Services Strategic Clinical Networks, and the Government of Alberta, the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial Alberta HOPE COVID-19 will recruit over 1,600 Albertans who have recently tested positive for COVID-19 to determine whether a prescribed five-day treatment of the drug hydroxychloroquine can prevent hospitalization for those at highest risk of developing a severe illness.

Contact: craig.doram@ucalgary.cameboesen@ucalgary.cagcerchia@ucalgary.cakjryckbo@ucalgary.ca

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Dr. Nauzer Forbes

Detailed registry aiming to capture detailed data on the first consecutive 1000-1500 inpatients with COVID across 25-30 North American centres. 

Funding: none

Contact: Nauzer Forbes

Dr. Alain Tremblay, Dr. John Conly

International Clinical Trial Investigating Potential Therapeutic Treatments for COVID-19 in Hospitalized Patients

Led by Dr. Alain Tremblay, MD, as Principal Investigator and Dr. John Conly, MD, as Co-Investigator, W21C team members will support the World Health Organization’s Canadian arm of the Solidarity trial (CATCO). This clinical trial looks to assess four possible treatment options and their relative effectiveness against COVID-19. Participants will be assessed daily, with additional follow-ups after being discharged. 


Dr. Gilaad Kaplan, Dr. Stephanie Coward

A large international registry was created to track the outcomes of individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Using this repository, created at the University of North Carolina,  an interactive map was created which allows individuals to visually track the cases and their outcomes around the globe.

Funding details: International Organization for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IOIBD).

Contact: Stephanie Coward PhD 
Kaplan Research Coordinator | IBD-Unit Epidemiologist
Department of Medicine

Dr. Pamela Roach

The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) as a novel coronavirus resulted in a global pandemic that necessitated the implementation of social distancing measures. These public health measures may have affected the provision of care for patients with epilepsy. Social isolation may have also adversely affected well-being and quality of life due to informal and formal support networks becoming less accessible. The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the lived experiences of patients with epilepsy and to see how their quality of life and healthcare has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Dr. Andrew McRae

This study evaluates changes in illness severity and risk of adverse outcomes in emergency department patients with non-COVID medical problems during the pandemic.

PI: Dr. Andrew McRae, MD, PhD - Emergency Medicine, CSM

Contact: amcrae@ucalgary.ca

Dr. Nauzer Forbes

A North American registry of the digestive manifestations of COVID-19.

PI: Dr. Nauzer Forbes, MD - Community Health Sciences, CSM

Contact: nauzer.forbes@ucalgary.ca

Dr. Jason Weatherald

Prone positioning improves survival for critically ill patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) who require invasive mechanical ventilation in the intensive care unit. Prone positioning may also improve oxygen saturations in hypoxemic, non-intubated patients with ARDS but there are few studies to support this practice. The CORONA Trial is a multi-centre randomized trial that will investigate whether regular prone positioning improves clinical outcomes for hypoxemic patients who have do-not-intubate goals of care compared to usual care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

PI: Dr. Jason Weatherald, MD - Community Health Sciences, CSM

Contact: jean.marks@ahs.ca

Addressing personal protective equipment (PPE) decontamination: Methylene blue and light inactivates severe acute respiratory coronavirus virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) on N95 respirators and medical masks with maintenance of integrity and fit

Dr. Sarah SimmonsPhDDr. Rebecca Malott, PhDDr. Jan Davies, MDDr. John Conly, MD

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted in shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), underscoring the urgent need for simple, efficient, and inexpensive methods to decontaminate masks and respirators exposed to severe acute respiratory coronavirus virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Researchers hypothesized that methylene blue (MB) photochemical treatment, which has various clinical applications, could decontaminate PPE contaminated with coronavirus.

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Dr. John Conly, MD

Researchers performed a quality assurance/quality improvement project using COVID-19 PCR Ct values as a surrogate to assess the risk of infectious virus shedding in COVID-19−positive ESKD patients, with the objective of informing a discontinuation of isolation protocol for patients in our dialysis units. 

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Medical education research projects

Study Team: Allison Brown, Rahim Kachra, Aliya Kassam, Mike Paget 

Overview: The COVID-19 pandemic has already had a large impact on the training of doctors - teaching has entirely moved online, clinical clerks have been removed from their rotations, and residents are being prepared to provide care on other services. This cross-sectional survey aims to broadly explore the impact of the pandemic on medical students and residents around the world. This anonymous, voluntary survey takes 5-10 minutes is available in multiple languages.

Funding: None.

To learn more about this study and participate, click here

Data science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) research projects

Dr. Tyler Williamson, Dr. Nishan Sharma 

To fight the spread, and flatten the curve, O’Brien Institute members Dr. Tyler Williamson and Dr. Nishan Sharma are exploring a provincial breakdown of when and where the virus is spreading, and comparing Alberta’s data to what is happening elsewhere in the world, all through the lens of different public health interventions in various jurisdictions. This information is being used to inform Calgary’s response to the pandemic.

See the data here.

Read more about this work here


The current COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a wide variety of drastic policy interventions. These include the implementation of quarantine controls, social distancing, travel restrictions, service closures and contact tracing programs (interventions that we collectively refer to herein as population-based control measures – PBCMs). In response to this crisis, the University of Calgary has created a COVID-19 Analytics Group (UC-COVID-AG) that is currently working with decision-makers at the municipal, national and international level, providing advice on policy measures required to control the pandemic.

PI: Dr. Bill Ghali, MD - Medicine, CSM

Contact: tyler.williamson@ucalgary.ca

Other Collaborators: 

  • Dr. Tyler Williamson, PhD
  • Dr. Bev Dahlby, PhD
  • Nishan Sharma
  • Dr. Katrina Milaney, PhD
  • Dr. Christine Friedenreich, PhD
  • Dr. PG Forest, PhD
  • Dr. Marcello Tonelli, MD
  • Dr. Jon Meddings, MD
  • Dr. John Conly, MD
  • Dr. Jim Kellner, MD
  • Kate Hamilton
  • Dr. Ronald Kneebone, PhD
  • Danielle Southern

One health research projects

Dr. Rebecca Archer, Dr. Herman Barkema 

There’s lots of uncertainty and misinformation about people contracting and spreading COVID-19. That’s also true when it comes to the risk involved with our pets.

To help address these concerns, animal and human infectious disease experts at the University of Calgary struck a task force to review what is currently known – and not known – about the coronavirus and the risk of its transmission between people and their pets. The task force reviewed the limited research to date on COVID-19 and domestic animals, along with past and current research on other coronaviruses, and opinions from experts in the field of infectious diseases that spread between people and animals.

The review of available research from around the world shows that while pets may contract COVID-19 there is very little risk of them passing it on to their people.

Dogs, cats, hamsters and ferrets all appear able to contract the virus, but evidence suggests they are not good spreaders - and symptoms remain mild.

Other COVID-19 projects

Dr. Reed Beall, Dr. Aiden Hollis 

One of the response concerns with COVID-19 involves development of new therapies and vaccines. This is likely to follow the same approach used in recent ID outbreaks, where a combination of industrial and government resources were applied to bring new and existing drugs or vaccines to market. The institutional framework supporting the development of these products, however, remains unclear and has not generally led to optimal outcomes. Following the emergence of HIV/AIDS, the development of antiretroviral therapies was funded by governments and industry but because the rights to the final products were controlled by industry, prices remained at levels that excluded millions of people from treatment (7). As in other diseases like Hepatitis C, failure to treat led to more infections, which increased the market opportunities for the drugs being sold, a perverse result. The development of an Ebola vaccine prior to, and during, the recent Ebola outbreaks has also been problematic, again due in part due to transfer of government-funded interventions to industry (8). We presently still lack a clear understanding of the relationship between science funding and the ownership of scientific results through patents and data exclusivity for infectious diseases that have pandemic potential, like COVID-19.

    1. We will undertake a rapid environmental scan of funding/ownership in these situations.

2. To improve this understanding, we will select two to three infections with presumed zoonotic origin. For each we will first document the evolution of the outbreaks. We will then examine related scientific papers over time, the geographic location of researchers, funding, and backward and forward citation.

3. Turning next to patents, we will repeat these steps by documenting the geographic location of inventors, ownership (funding), and backward and forward citation.

4. We finally will do the same for clinical trials. For each of the IDs examined, we expect that a substantial share of relevant research occurs immediately after an outbreak, giving rise to commercial opportunities. This study will provide information that will enable us to better understand how government-sponsored research is interacting with commercial exploitation for this special class of zoonotic IDs, and may also inform licensing conditions for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. While focusing on one aspect of the social response to COVID-19, this study also bridges with the medical countermeasure of developing new drugs and vaccines.

Funding: CIHR rapid responce Operating Grant

Contact: Reed Beall 

COVID-19: Obstacles and nudges to ameliorate contract tracing with ABTraceTogether App (CONTACT-APP Study)

Dr. Jia Hu is apart of a diverse team (along with Dr. Deborah Marshall, Dr. Braden Manns, Dr. Robert Oxoby, and Dr. Hasan Sheikh) that received funding through Alberta Innovates to evaluate Albertan’s attitudes and beliefs towards COVID-19 public health measures and uptake of the ABTraceTogether App. This mixed methods study will determine the demographics of individuals who adopt the ABTraceTogether App compared to those who do not, identify barriers to uptake, and evaluate the effectiveness of various nudges to encourage voluntary participation in contact tracing that will help mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall Project Objectives:

  1. To identify the demographics of those that have downloaded and not downloaded the app before and after various nudges.
  2. To identify barriers to uptake of this app; identify sources of information on installing the app; and evaluate user satisfaction with the app.

Funding Agency: CIHR, COVID-19 Rapid Research Competition (Funded by Alberta Innovates)