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Dal and NSHA researchers receive $1.1M from Government of Canada to study COVID‑19 – Dal News



Researchers from Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Health Authority are leading projects which received a $1.1 million investment from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Research Nova Scotia as part of a May 2020 Rapid Research Funding Opportunity.

The funding opportunity is a partnership between the CIHR, the International Development Research Centre (IRDC), the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, Alberta Innovates, the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, Research Manitoba, the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation, and Research Nova Scotia (RNS). It is supporting clinical trials, observational studies, implementation science and other relevant study designs to scale-up promising existing projects, reorient current research, and initiate new rapid response research to address COVID-19 in the identified research areas that include understanding the safety, efficacy, effectiveness, ethics and implementation of:

  • Vaccines, diagnostics, or therapeutics;
  • Clinical management and health system interventions; and
  • Social, policy, and public health responses and related indirect consequences

The announcement was made Thursday, June 25, 2020 by the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health. A total of $109 million was invested in 139 research teams.

“We are very proud to have researchers from Dalhousie University continue to play a key role in the global response to the COVID-19 outbreak,” says Alice Aiken, vice-president research and innovation at Dalhousie. “The evidence they are building through their innovative work will aid in the design of economic and social policies and interventions that will help mitigate the significant impact of this pandemic.”

Highlights of successfully funded projects:

Dr. Emily Marshall

PUPPY Study – Problems Coordinating and Accessing Primary Care for Attached and Unattached Patients Exacerbated During the COVID-19 Pandemic Year: A Longitudinal Mixed Methods Study with Rapid Reporting and Planning for the Road Ahead

COVID-19 has caused significant changes in primary care. In Canada, many walk-in clinics and family practices have closed. Pharmacies remain open but with restrictions on patient interactions. Other major changes in care (e.g., virtual care, reduced referrals) have been made to respect public health and emergency orders. During these times with significant restrictions, patients can be unclear or unaware of how to get the right care, at the right time, from the right provider.

Understanding the rapid changes in primary care and how to navigate these is challenging for everyone, but more so for people without a regular primary care provider to help guide them. The proposed study builds on existing research with an experienced team. The team will work to understand critical gaps in primary care access and coordination by comparing data from before, during, and after the pandemic. Multiple sources of data will be used such as policy makers, primary care providers, patients, waitlist data, healthcare billings, and prescribing data. The results are critical for strengthening primary care during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Rudolf Uher

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadians living with mental illness, and their children

Deterioration of mental health may be the most serious consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social isolation, reduced activity, lack of opportunities, unemployment and financial uncertainty are known triggers of depressive episodes and suicides. Those living with pre-existing mental illness, and their children, may be among the most vulnerable to the indirect consequences of the pandemic.

The healthy development of children depends on the health of their parents and children of parents with serious forms of mental illness are at increased risk of adverse outcomes. Now, with closed schools and reduced access to external resources, the wellbeing of children may be linked to the mental health of their parents even more tightly than before. This project will examine the exposure, coping and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in over 1000 adults and children from 300 families, including 200 families where one or both parents are living with mental illness. Their findings will be used to inform public health strategies and mental health service provision and make them sensitive to the needs of families, including those where parents are living with mental illness.

“This funding announcement speaks to the excellence of our Nova Scotian researchers who have worked tirelessly to improve health care in the face of unprecedented challenges,” says Dr. Gail Tomblin Murphy, Vice President, Research, Innovation & Discovery and CNE at NSHA. “I am confident the work of Drs. Marshall and Uher will shape our understanding of COVID-19 as we continue to take a leading role in our national response.”

Dr. Catherine Mah

Dietary change during COVID-19: A population-based study in Atlantic Canada to build evidence for government economic and social policy responses

The CELLAR (COVID-related Eating Limitations and Latent dietary effects in the Atlantic Region) study, led by Dr. Catherine L. Mah, Canada Research Chair in Healthy Populations, will investigate the nutritional consequences of how we eat during the pandemic in Atlantic Canada.

COVID-19 is a looming nutrition problem and policy problem for the Atlantic provinces, where diet-related health risks are among the highest in Canada. The consumer food environment has been transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many families and food system sectors are facing economic precarity of unexpected scale and duration.  

Through CELLAR, the research team will carry out an in-depth analysis of how COVID-19 is affecting Atlantic residents’ diets and nutrition. The results of CELLAR will produce much-needed regional evidence for social and economic policies that support healthy eating for all–during and after the pandemic.  

Dr. Christopher Richardson

Expression and Purification of COVID19 Virus Spike (S) Protein for Diagnostics and Vaccines

Dr. Richardson’s work focuses on the spike protein (S) of the coronavirus which mediates attachment and entry into the host cell and is the major target of neutralizing antibodies that block infections.  The first goal of this research is to generate large quantities of the S protein is a mammalian expression system that can be easily scaled up for large scale production. The protein generated in this procedure can be used to produce immune diagnostic kits as well as serve as a component of subunit vaccines or booster shots directed against COVID-19.

The second aim describes the generation of recombinant vesicular stomatitis (VSV) viruses that express the Spike (S) protein derived from COVID-19 virus. In the first experiments, VSV genome vector is modified to contain coronavirus S protein in place of its G glycoprotein which normally mediates attachment and entry of the host cell. The S protein changes the tropism of the recombinant virus and provides a new antigen target for the immune system.  VSV is highly attenuated in human cells and is tightly controlled by the host antiviral interferon system. It is also the vaccine vector for the highly effective Ebola virus vaccine. The diagnostic and vaccine reagents developed in this proposal will be distributed and tested by colleagues at the Canadian Center of Vaccinology (Halifax) and VIDO-InterVac Vaccine Cenre in Saskatoon.

The final aim is to use the reagents generated in the proposal to study cell receptors for COVID19 coronavirus and study infections in susceptible cells using model viruses of lower risk and pathogenicity.

Research Nova Scotia is providing support to other regional researchers who are working on a project led by the University of Alberta. Dr. Roy Duncan, Dr. Scott Halperin and Dr. Alyson Kelvin from Dalhousie University will rapidly develop, validate and clinically evaluate a novel DNA vaccine against COVID-19. Clinical trials will be initiated at the Canadian center for Vaccinology in Halifax within 8 weeks of project initiation, with the goal of a commercial release within one year.

“Research Nova Scotia was excited to partner with CIHR, IDRC, and other provincial funders to support regional COVID researchers working across the country,” says Stefan Leslie, CEO of Research Nova Scotia. “It is important that we support our researchers on these large-scale, national projects.”

For more information, visit the CIHR website.


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Interior Health identifies more potential COVID-19 exposure locations in Kelowna –



Interior Health, after further testing of individuals, has identified additional Kelowna locations where people may have been exposed to COVID-19 between June 25 and July 6.

Individuals who visited the following locations on the dates noted are asked to self-monitor themselves closely for symptoms of COVID-19 and get tested if they have those symptoms:

* Cactus Club, #1-1370 Water St., from July 3-6.
* Pace Spin Studio, #5-1717 Harvey Ave, Kelowna from July 2, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9.

Interior Health is also reminding individuals who attended gatherings at the following locations on the dates noted to self-isolate and monitor themselves closely for symptoms:

* Discovery Bay Resort (1088 Sunset Dr., Kelowna) from July 1 to 5.
* Boyce Gyro Beach Lodge (3519 Lakeshore Rd., Kelowna) on July 1.

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IH says public health contact tracing is under way, and where possible, health officials are reaching out directly to exposed individuals.

Anyone who participated in events in the Kelowna downtown and waterfront area between June 25 and July 6 is asked to monitor closely for symptoms of COVID-19 and get tested if they develop symptoms.

Individuals seeking a test should call their primary care provider, family physician, nurse practitioner or the closest Interior Health community testing and assessment centre.

Testing is recommended for anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or loss of sense of taste or smell.

Other milder symptoms may include runny nose, fatigue, body aches (muscles and joints aching), diarrhea, headache, sore throat, vomiting and red eyes.

IH reminds everyone of the importance of following COVID-19 precautions:

* Stay home and avoid travel if you have symptoms, even mild ones.
* Maintain physical distancing (two metres apart) and use masks when distancing is not possible.
* Wash your hands regularly and do not touch your face.
* Do not plan or attend gatherings of more than 50 people. Limit gatherings to out of doors whenever possible.

For answers to frequently asked questions, you can go to the Interior Health public website

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Interior Health provides two more COVID-19 exposure locations – Kelowna News –



Interior Health (IH) has provided another two specific Kelowna locations where individuals may have been exposed to COVID-19 between June 25 and July 6, following the recent increase in local cases.  

Individuals who visited the following locations on the dates below may have been exposed to the virus: 

  • Cactus Club, 1370 Water St., from July 3-6
  • PACE Spin Studio, 1717 Harvey Ave., on July 2, 4-5 and 7-9 

IH is requesting those individuals closely self-monitor for virus symptoms and get tested if any symptoms show.

On Saturday, IH announced residents who visited Discovery Bay Resort from July 1-5 or Boyce Gyro Beach Lodge on July 1 may have come in contact with COVID-19. IH directed individuals who attended gatherings at Discovery Bay Resort or Boyce Gyro Beach Lodge on those dates to self-isolate and monitor themselves closely for symptoms. 

Castanet understands the individual/s who visited Discovery Bay Resort were not staying at the resort, but visiting a specific unit thought to have been on the second floor of the South building. 

In response, the resort has closed the pools until further guidance is obtained by IH and increased cleaning and sanitization practices.

IH confirmed public health contact tracing is underway, and individuals who may have been exposed are being contacted directly where possible. 

Testing is recommended for anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, including:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Loss of sense of taste or smell
  • Other milder symptoms may include: runny nose, fatigue, body aches (muscles and joints aching), diarrhea, headache, sore throat, vomiting and red eyes.

IH reminds everyone of the importance of following COVID-19 precautions:

  • Stay home and avoid travel if you have symptoms, even mild ones.
  • Maintain physical distancing (two metres apart) and use masks when distancing is not possible.
  • Wash your hands regularly and do not touch your face.
  • Do not plan or attend gatherings of more than 50 people. Limit gatherings to out of doors whenever possible.

For more information, visit the website

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'Plate-shaming' is happening in Atlantic Canada as locals fear those from outside the 'bubble' – CTV News



Atlantic Canada’s reputation for being warm and welcoming has long been a source of pride.

But instead of hospitality, the pandemic is exposing a glimpse of hostility aimed at those who are assumed to be outsiders.

“Being from Halifax, growing up here all but eight years of my life, I really didn’t expect this,” resident Tony Mountenay told CTV News.

Tony and Debbie Mountenay chose to return to Nova Scotia during the pandemic because they were looking for a laid back retirement.

As required, they isolated after they arrived. But then they decided to go out and run errands.

“And we had three different incidents where people came up beside us, yelling at us, through the window, and when it first happened, we had to try to think, well what was that about?” Debbie said.

The answer was the licence plate on their truck — showing that they came from Ontario.

Visitors from beyond the “Atlantic bubble” have been vilified by locals fearing the virus could be imported.

Though relatively rare, there have been incidents of “plate-shaming.”

A woman from Quebec was told to go home while walking on a New Brunswick beach.

More than 15,000 Newfoundlanders signed a petition demanding their province not open the border to anyone.

Debbie said one woman who had harassed the couple had done so in front of her own children.

“She really shouldn’t have been doing that in my opinion,” she said. “Another man, you could tell he was out of control.”

The Atlantic bubble, which encompasses the provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador, is a concept that was introduced recently to allow easier travel between the Eastern provinces as the region reopens.

People from all across Canada are allowed to travel to any Atlantic province, but those outside of the Atlantic bubble must isolate for 14 days — as leaders in the region are quick to remind people.

“The Atlantic bubble is open today, [but] that does not apply to those who are from Ontario, Quebec or Western Canada,” Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said. “If you’re coming into our province, you’re required to self isolate as well.”

The Atlantic provinces have largely fared well during the pandemic compared to provinces such as Ontario or Quebec. Of the Atlantic provinces, Nova Scotia has had the most cases in total, at just over 1,000 — a far cry from Quebec’s 56,521 cumulative cases.

The stress for locals in the Atlantic provinces is that out-of-bubble visitors could lead to a second wave of the virus.

Only last week, a string of new cases in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were proven to be related to travel from outside of the bubble. One individual flew from the United States to Toronto, and then to Halifax. This case was then connected to cases in Prince Edward Island.

McNeil said on July 6 that he is frustrated with travellers who do not isolate for the 14 days after they arrive.

“We have worked hard together and sacrificed so much in this province to help flatten the curve only to have some people come into our province who think they’re above it all, who think that the rules don’t apply to them,” he said. “Guess what? They do.”

But the Mountenay’s experience in Nova Scotia suggests that the uncertainty over who has isolated and who has not has led to some rather un-neighbourly behaviour.

In response, the couple has come with a way to alert people they’re not a threat. A piece of paper that clearly states a person has completed isolation.

“I don’t want to get [COVID-19],” Debbie said. “And I don’t want to give it to anybody.”

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