Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a global pandemic. Its suspected origin at the human–environment–animal interface and its rapid explosion as a result human interconnectivity, mobility, and global trade are unprecedented. 

One Health recognizes the interconnectedness of humans, animals, and their shared environment is key to ensuring the future of our planet. What we need now is “research anchored in the recognition that the health of our planet hinges on symbiotic relationships between humans, animals, and the environment that we share and in the understanding that we are interconnected by default.*”

The University of Guelph is answering this call through its Catalyst grant program, which provides support for small-scale, time-sensitive research projects focused on contributing to the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The One Health Institute is proud to celebrate the diversity of research projects and approaches as well as the multiplicity of perspectives and disciplines supported by U of G grants to tackle COVID-19.

Continue reading to learn about research being conducted by One Health affiliates at U of G who received the Catalyst grant.

*J.H. Amuasi, C. Walzer, D. Heymann, H. Carabin, L.T. Huong, A. Haines, A.S. Winkler, Calling for a COVID-19 One Health Research Coalition. The Lancet, V395 i10236, 2020 p1543-1544, ISSN 0140-6736.

College of Arts

Headshot of Joshua August Skorburg.

Joshua August Skorburg

Assistant Professor | Department of Philosophy

Faculty Affiliate, Centre for Advancing Responsible and Ethical Artificial Intelligence (CARE-AI)

Faculty Affiliate, One Health Institute (OHI)

The epidemic within the pandemic: Ethical and legal issues in digital mental health responses to COVID-19

My training is in philosophy and ethics, and for me, one of the most attractive features of the One Health framework is the recognition of the importance of interdependence. Too often, health (and especially mental health) is conceived in overly individualistic terms. Among many other things, the pandemic has revealed the inadequacies of such individualistic ways of thinking, and One Health frameworks offer useful correctives. My current research takes an approach like this to the mental health issues surrounding COVID-19:

Social distancing is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19. But the knock-on effects of social distancing (economic recession, less community support, more stress) are risk factors for mental illness. My project addresses what some psychologists have begun to call “the mental health epidemic within the coronavirus pandemic.” 

Before COVID-19, demand for mental health services outstripped the supply of clinicians. In the pandemic’s wake, we will face difficult questions about how to provide mental health services to everyone who needs them. A natural solution is “digital psychiatry”, which advocates for tele-medicine, smartphone therapy, automated analysis of social media posts, or symptom monitoring via smartwatches. Many services have rapidly migrated to these online platforms over the last few weeks. My project will add to the growing body of knowledge about the efficacy of these digital approaches to mental health.

Headshot of Tara Abraham.

Tara Abraham

Associate Professor | Department of History

Faculty Affiliate, One Health Institute (OHI)

Headshot of Catharine Carstairs.

Catherine Carstairs

Professor | Department of History

Faculty Affiliate, One Health Institute (OHI)

COVID-19 and Health Inequality

While many have called COVID-19 the “great equalizer”, we know that the social, medical, and economic burdens of the disease have been distributed unequally. Tara Abraham and Catherine Carstairs, both historians of medicine and health in the Department of History at the University of Guelph, are working to understand the social inequalities of COVID-19, the history of the pandemic as it emerges in Ontario, and the historical roots of the inequities that it reveals. By focusing on media debates, government documents, and public health directives, the project traces the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on vulnerable groups. Working with Guelph History graduate students Brenna Clark and Philip Rich, we address the effects of COVID-19 on two major areas of where social inequality emerges: the social effects of quarantine on women and families, and the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on particular groups of workers, including meatpackers, migrant farm labourers, transit workers and personal care workers.

College of Social & Applied Human Sciences

Headshot of Leah Levac.

Leah Levac

Associate Professor | Department of Political Science

Faculty Affiliate, One Health Institute (OHI)

Mobilizing Marginalized Knowledges and Practices for Structural Transformation

The impact of COVID-19 is still unfolding, but apparent already is the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on marginalized communities. Mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on structurally marginalized communities requires appropriate and targeted policy responses. Yet often the voices of people with lived experience of poverty are excluded from opportunities to inform policy (Ravensbergen & VanderPlaat, 2009; Levac, forthcoming).

Through deliberate, ongoing community engagement with people living with poverty in rural, remote and small urban communities and input from our community partners (A Way Home Canada, Guelph-Wellington Taskforce for Poverty Elimination, and Services and Housing in the Province), our project, guided by an interdisciplinary team including Drs. Laura Pin, Deborah Stienstra, Belinda Leach, Kate Parizeau, and Tobin Haley (Cape Breton University), will identify gaps in current social policy responses to COVID-19, as well as strategies communities are using to respond to these gaps.

Headshot of Kieran O'Doherty.

Kieran O’Doherty

Associate Professor | Department of Psychology

Faculty Affiliate, One Health Institute (OHI)

Headshot of Vivian Nelson.

Vivian Nelson

MA Candidate | Department of Psychology

Perspectives on COVID-19: Understanding Vaccine Hesitancy amongst Canadians

Soon after the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, global efforts began to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. While ongoing social distancing and self-isolation efforts seem to have been effective in containing the spread of the virus, we know that these measures cannot be implemented indefinitely.

Now that COVID-19 has affected nearly every community in Canada, many hope that the successful introduction of a vaccine will, in the long-term, allow societies to return to pre-COVID functioning.

While research efforts look promising so far, even if a safe and highly effective vaccine could be developed and quickly disseminated, there are social and cultural factors that could prevent uptake of the vaccine. To be sufficiently prepared for the successful introduction and uptake of a COVID-19 vaccine, researchers in the University of Guelph’s Department of Psychology are conducting research on perceptions of and hesitancy toward a COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Kieran O’Doherty and MA student Vivian Nelson are working to better understand common Canadian perceptions of – and perhaps concern towards – a COVID-19 vaccine.

Findings from this research will inform Canadian policy makers and public health officials of the hopes and concerns that Canadians have regarding a COVID-19 vaccine, which will be used to guide future policy, messaging, and marketing of the vaccine when it becomes available. Findings are also anticipated to be relevant for preparation in the event of a “second-wave” COVID outbreak, as well as guiding protocol development for potential future global pandemics.

Ontario Veterinary College

Headshot of Andrew Papadopoulos.

Andrew Papadopoulos

Associate Professor | Department of Population Medicine

Coordinator, Master of Public Health Program

Faculty Affiliate, One Health Institute (OHI)

Analysis of Public Trust During COVID-19 Pandemic Health Communication in Canada

Health communication plays a critical role during pandemics to ensure the public follows government recommendations to minimize illness, disability, and death. Effective health communication ensures information is in the right format, delivered at the right time, to the right people. This helps to maintain public trust and ensure the public follows government directives during pandemics. Social media is an increasingly important avenue for communication; allowing for the targeted and tailored information to be shared with the public.

My research project aims to understand the relationship between trust and the perception of risk during pandemics. It will also identify key success factors in maintaining public trust during a pandemic. This research will increase the effectiveness of public health communications surrounding pandemics, including the second wave of COVID-19. The results will inform recommendations for public health officials for communicating effectively during a pandemic to maintain public trust.

Employing a Health in All Policies to Enhance Public Health Capacity

Ontario has adopted a physical distancing policy to combat the current COVID-19 pandemic. This policy is proving to be effective in minimizing the spread of COVID-19; however, it may have caused other public health concerns, primarily affecting those already experiencing health inequities.

A health in all policies approach identifies poor public health outcomes that may result from a public health policy. A health impact assessment is used to assess these public health outcomes. In this research, my team will conduct a health impact assessment on all proximal and distal public health outcomes in relation to the physical distancing policy, in order to help inform public health agencies about these potentially negative public health outcomes.

Headshot of Dorothee Bienzle.

Dorothee Bienzle

Professor | Department of Pathobiology

Faculty Affiliate, One Health Institute (OHI)

SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Companion Animals

The role of animals in the global pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 is crucial but ill-defined.

There is strong evidence that SARS-CoV-2 originated in horseshoe bats. Transmission to humans likely occurred via an intermediary mammalian host in the context of wet markets with stressed wild and domestic animals in Wuhan. The intersection of environmental degradation and reduced wildlife habitat in central China, unusually dry and cold conditions in November/December 2019, more than half a million travellers per day into and out of Wuhan, increased travel associated with Lunar Year celebrations, and close contact between multiple animal species and humans, likely facilitated cross-species transfer.

My research focuses on understanding SARS-CoV-2 infection in domestic companion animals, including cats, ferrets and dogs. We know that these animals can be infected with the virus, and may become ill. My team is investigating how frequently infection and illness occur among pets in households of people with recent confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

Ontario Agricultural College

Headshot of Lawrence Goodridge.

Lawrence Goodridge

Director | Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety (CRIFS)

Graduate Coordinator | Food Safety & Quality Assurance Program

Faculty Affiliate, One Health Institute (OHI)

The objective of my research project is to develop a toolkit for community level surveillance of COVID-19 infection. To do this, my lab will test sewage from wastewater treatment plants to rapidly determine the infectivity status of a given community. We will also surveil and analyze social media posts for symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19; this will provide us with additional information regarding the current disease status of a given geographical region.

The simultaneous combination of monitoring sewage and social media will provide near real time information regarding the number of community members infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Our data will be used by public health officials to enhance surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 and investigate local community outbreaks of COVID-19.