W21C 's Research Response to COVID-19


On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel human coronavirus, also known as COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2), a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. On March 11, it was labelled as a pandemic—a worldwide phenomenon that is rapidly affecting the health of our communities. As of February 22, 2021, there are over 111 million confirmed cases and more than 2.4 million deaths worldwide.

The O’Brien Institute for Public Health’s W21C Research and Innovation Centre is responding to this crisis through several rapid research initiatives in infection prevention and control for COVID-19. Our goal is to identify actionable strategies to immediately improve the health and well-being of our communities locally, nationally, and internationally.

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Updated: May 28, 2021

Understanding the Mask Wearing Behaviors of Calgarians during a Pandemic

Researchers at the University of Calgary, in collaboration with City of Calgary staff are looking to understand when, where, and why people wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic within the City of Calgary. We are currently recruiting participants to take part in interviews (about 30 minutes) and/or an online questionnaire (about 20 minutes).

If interested in participating or learning more about this project, please click here.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Family Caregivers for Persons Living with Dementia

The goal of this project is to evaluate the gap between the needs of Family Caregivers (FCGs) for People Living with Dementia (PLWD), and the resources and supports available during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using an online survey and digital focus groups, the research also captures the impact of the pandemic-related public health measures on FCGs and the PLWD for whom they provide care.

InvestigatorsDr. Gwen McGhan, RN, PhD, GNC(c)Dr. Deirdre McCaughey, PhD, MBA

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Case-control study to assess risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection among healthcare workers

Healthcare workers who are working at the front lines of the current COVID-19 outbreak response are constantly exposed to hazards that increase their risk of infection. Not only does it pose a risk for healthcare workers, but it also increases the chances of spreading the infection to their family members and communities. Studies around the world have suggested that overall incidence of COVID-19 infections affecting healthcare workers is higher than that of the general population. Through the completion of this research study, we would expect to obtain valuable information that could potentially be used to develop adequate evidence-based policies and future medical practice protocols to protect healthcare workers during infectious disease outbreaks, as well as to reduce the incidence of infection within our communities.

This study is part of a World Health Organization (WHO) global multi-site case-control study, with the Calgary study site being overseen by infectious disease specialist Dr. John Conly, MD.

Additional W21C Team Members supporting this project include: Zoha Khawaja.

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Researchers investigate drone delivery of medical supplies to remote communities during 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.

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In the News

Development of Methods for Mask and N95 Respirator Decontamination (DeMaND) for Reuse by Healthcare Workers

Personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare workers, such as medical masks and N95 respirators, is critical for preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, the pandemic has created a high demand for PPE globally, and there is a need to ensure a sustainable supply of this equipment–to keep healthcare providers, their patients, and others safe during this outbreak.

A potential solution to this problem is the ability to decontaminate and re-use PPE. This multi-centre study will focus on the delivery of a simple, easy-to-perform decontamination method for medical masks and N95 respirators, while also maintaining the performance integrity of the PPE. Results from this study could allow medical masks and N95 respirators to be re-used by providers in a number of different locations around the world, from remote villages to large metropolitan areas.

Dr. May C. Chu, PhD, at the Colorado School of Public Health, is coordinating this study on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO), Advisory Committee on COVID-19 Infection Prevention Control-Personal Protective Equipment research group.  The Calgary study site is operated through the W21C Research and Innovation Centre and is being overseen by infectious disease specialist Dr. John Conly, MD.

Click to learn more.


Additional Resources

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

Medical Masks versus N95 respirators to prevent COVID-19 in Healthcare Workers: A Randomized Trial

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.

Additional Resources:
McMaster University researcher can’t even buy N95 masks to get critical study off the ground

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 supported 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.

Additional W21C Team Members that supported this project include: Michelle Wright

Assessment of Alberta’s COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Policies

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 partnered 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, and Dr. Raad Fadaak, PhD, are evaluating how COVID-19 preparedness and response policies are being transmitted to, and implemented in, hospitals and family doctors’ offices in Alberta.

Click to learn more.

Analytics and Strategy Planning for COVID-19

To fight the spread, and flatten the curve, O’Brien Institute members Dr. Tyler Williamson, PhD and Dr. Nishan Sharma, EdD 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.

Additional W21C Team Members supporting this project include: Zoha Khawaja. 

Additional Resources:

  • Centre for Health Informatics Covid-19 Tracker
  • Anatomy of a Pandemic March 27 Webinar recording: Tracing the fight against the coronavirus from inception to today
  • Anatomy of a Pandemic April 20 Webinar Recording: Current status of the COVID-19 emergency

Published Article

In the News

Related Projects


Interactive Hand Hygiene Monitoring

A Novel Open-Source Innovation For Hand-Hygiene Monitoring And Compliance Using Interaction Design
Click to learn more.


Human Factors Evaluation of Simulated Ebola Virus Disease Patient Scenarios

Evaluating Alberta Health Services’ Ebola Preparedness
Click to learn more.