The B.C. government opened applications April 6 for its first round of research funding to help find answers to the spread and control of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health Minister Adrian Dix established a dedicated research fund at the request of Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer tasked with managing the novel coronavirus spread in the population. Priorities include impacts on rural populations and “rapid evaluation of public health countermeasures” that have reduced economic activity to essential services and emptied 40 per cent of B.C.’s acute care beds to make room for potential serious illness cases.
Henry said the fund of “at least $2 million” is administered by the Micheal Smith Foundation for Health Research, which has been working with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on the outbreak since early January. Projects already underway include tracking infection spread to add to B.C.’s COVID-19 modelling and developing a test to see who has been exposed and who may be immune in the B.C. population.
Measuring the effectiveness of business controls and travel restrictions is a high priority.
“How well are we doing with the things that we have put in place like travel restrictions, like the cancelling of in-classroom teaching in schools, like the distancing measures that we have been puting in place across society and understanding which of these measures works in which scenarios, and how well they work,” Henry said.
Henry’s predecessor as provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, has also returned from retirement to join an advisory committee to guide the new research. The advisory group is led by Dr. David Patrick, a physician epidemiologist who works at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and at UBC.
The four projects already funded by the Michael Smith Foundation also include developing a vaccine for COVID-19 in conjunction with federal and international researchers, and understanding the impact of what the World Health Organization has described as an “infodemic” of disinformation about the origin and nature of the virus that emerged from Wuhan, China late in 2019.