By Kassandra Sharma
Continuing with everyday life, while taking new precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic is our ‘new normal’. Social distancing, facemasks and working from home are all terms we need to grow accustomed to and while the daily cases have decreased and protocols eased, it’s not over yet.
Dionne Aleman’s research has never been more relevant.
Dionne Aleman – Professor, Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering (University of Toronto), is also appointed to the Institute for Health Policy, Management & Evaluation.
Her work focuses on the application of operations to medical and healthcare decision-making, in an effort to allow them to yield more beneficial and effective results. She states: “One of my primary areas of research has been building large agent-based simulation models of pandemic disease spread in urban environments. These simulation models can be used to assess the impact of public policies and individuals’ behaviour (e.g., practicing physical distancing, staying home when sick, etc.) on the spread of disease.”
While looking to the future and anticipating the inevitable second wave, Prof. Aleman notes that it may be difficult to predict exactly what may occur, but based on the history of past pandemics second waves are more severe than the first.
This is due to the fact that after the initial crisis, people tend to resume their normal lives and relax safety procedures, but one should remember that during this time there are more people infected than the initial outbreak. This means that the virus can now spread in a faster and easier manner.
That being said, it is of the utmost importance that we keep this in mind safety procedures. Prof. Aleman says: “Since pandemic disease spreads because we let it through our behaviours, hopefully with everyone knowing that they still need to be careful, and how to be careful, will dramatically reduce the size and duration of any subsequent waves. A complicating factor is that schools will be back in session in one form or another in September, which might be around the time we would expect a second wave or be in the second wave, which means that the wave might be larger than we would otherwise experience. How much larger is hard to say.”
Understandably, we all need to do our part - from larger scale operations like hospitals to the smaller scale ones like our own households. It will take each individual to help slowly and hopefully, ultimately end the spread of COVID-19.
According to Prof. Aleman: “Hospitals need to continue maintaining PPE inventory and screening patients and staff for COVID-19 as they enter the facilities, especially as elective surgeries resume. We can all help hospitals by doing our part to not transmit or contract the novel coronavirus. On the household scale, everyone in the house should have some type of mask, even if it is made from an old t-shirt, and commit to wearing it when in public or when unable to maintain 2m physical distance from others.”
In addition, there are many common misconceptions about the coronavirus. Canadians can learn more about the virus from the Government of Canada’s page as well as the World Health Organization’s ‘Myth busters’ page on the virus.
Prof. Aleman notes: “As for misconceptions, the biggest ones I have heard are that warm weather will stop/slow COVID-19 (no evidence to support that claim—see Florida and Texas) and that ‘it is just the flu’. COVID-19 is not the flu. Even ignoring death rates, the hospitalization rate is much higher, and many COVID-19 patients take several weeks and even months to recover. It is possible that there may be lifelong health consequences from having COVID-19 too, as we are learning exist for SARS, which is in the same family of viruses as the novel coronavirus.”
For more information, check out Ontario.ca to see how the province is responding and coping with the virus. The City of Toronto’s COVID-19 page provides up to date briefings, procedures and other resources, and How’s My Flattening for Ontario stats.
Stay safe, everyone.