The rapid transmission of the novel coronavirus has forced us all to get used to making decisions with limited information. As I write this message in late March, it’s impossible to know how our situation will have evolved by the time you read this, almost a month later.
This burden weighs heaviest on our public health officials and government leaders, as they respond to the global COVID-19 pandemic. They have been working flat out for weeks, often lacking accurate data on key measures such as rates of infection and mortality. We owe them all huge gratitude and respect for their efforts in this incredibly difficult time. This includes many U of T graduates, such as Toronto’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa (MHSc 1994, MD 1998).
Our front-line health-care workers are also bearing an enormous load on behalf of the rest of us. Here too, our U of T alumni in public health, medicine, nursing, social work, pharmacy and other crucial fields are demonstrating their high professionalism and deep commitment. Working alongside their colleagues across the country and around the world, they are truly the heroes of our time.
These health-care heroes are also inspiring a new generation of caring, creative leaders. Among many examples, four U of T medical students – Jordynn Klein, Daniel Lee, Tingting Yan and Orly Bogler – organized their peers to provide relief on the home front to health-care workers and hospital support staff by babysitting, delivering groceries and doing household tasks. Within days, more than 200 students in the Faculty of Medicine and the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing had signed up. Over in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, first-year student Shrey Jain mobilized dozens of his classmates to create an online tracking platform, Flatten.ca, to provide neighbourhood-level data on the outbreak in Canada.
Of course, our U of T researchers and innovators have also risen to the challenge of this historic crisis. Among so many examples I could cite, professors David Fisman and Ashleigh Tuite, epidemiologists at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, along with Dr. Isaac Bogoch at the Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, have developed mathematical models to predict the spread of the infection. Professor Keith Pardee, in the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, is working to provide faster and cheaper testing for COVID-19 to enable widespread use in remote parts of the world.
The pandemic may still be far from over by the time you read this. But I know you will be proud, as I am, to see how members of the University of Toronto community are contributing to our society’s collective response.
A U of T lab is working with actors, writers and directors on how they could harness AI and other emerging technologies to generate new ideas and – just maybe – reinvent theatre