Op-Ed: Student Preparedness

SARAH RICHTER

We’ve all been there… we’re university students who are expected to be the “experts” at the dinner table. Over the past few months, I’ve sat down with my parents or roommates for a meal and been asked, “So what do you know about the Coronavirus? Have any of your professors talked about it? How concerned should I be?” There are so many daily updates on cases, deaths, and control measures, that there is barely time to educate ourselves, let alone those around you. Peers and strangers have reached out to me in places besides the dinner table, whether it’s an Instagram direct message in response to a story I’ve shared, or an out-of-place text from a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while, someone always has a question. The University of Toronto has so many renowned researchers and incredible clinical programs that I must know something about this novel disease… right?

 

Take it from me: a public health student. As you can imagine, staff and faculty within the Dalla Lana School of Public Health have been on the front line dealing with COVID-19. It’s become a balancing act as they address it in the Toronto community & globally, teaching, and making media appearances. As for us students, COVID-19 has been mentioned in nearly every class, but it has allowed us to apply our in-class knowledge. Despite all of this, I don’t even have all of the answers, and it’s exhausting to answer so many repetitive questions. My experience has begun to resemble that of compassion fatigue, as my answers progressively lessen with sympathy. As if social media weren’t already loaded with content, my mental break on my phone or laptop has become somewhat of a mental ache. Some of the questions I’ve been tasked with include, “should I cancel my summer travel plans?” or “when is the right time for me to return to work?” If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

 

It is our responsibility, as students, to collaborate, while critically judging articles and news updates. Therefore, I want to provide you all with some resources that are drawn directly from our university, as well as those that faculty rely on for their own updates. BioRxiv, medRxiv, Nextstrain and Virological.org are all reliable sources. Some of these are preprints and have not yet gone through a formal peer review. Although you can access them before formal publication in a journal, keep in mind that they will be revised. With the high demand for quick production of  publications, many use lay terminology, and can therefore be understood by individuals outside of our academic community. In contrast, for anything you come across on social media, including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or Reddit, look into their sources! At face value, they might share convincing stories, but once you’ve further analyzed them, you might find some flaws. What could this look like? Country-specific events and policy might be generalized to other places; readers are only reporting the lower or upper limits of statistics; attached photos might be used out-of-context; lastly, definitive statements are made, and the fact is, we don’t have all of the answers, yet!

 

If you’re wanting to see the spread and timeline of events in Canada, some of our own DLSPH PhD students & candidates have created a user-friendly dashboard. Using publicly available government resources, you can avoid the sometimes overwhelming and confusing websites from which this data comes. Interested? I invite you to check it out here: t.co/NetvfLW90V?amp=1

 

Various Canadian and American organizations also have repositories of frequently asked questions. The World Health Organization and other global organizations have done the same. However, answers will differ based on environmental, cultural and healthcare landscapes. Even once COVID-19 has simmered out of our lives and off of social media, it is still important to understand Canada’s public health emergency preparedness, and how we can best respond in the future. Amongst these emergency scenarios, don’t forget to prioritize your own health and take time away from work and academics. We have always been forced to make adaptations on a daily basis. Now more than ever, we now have the opportunity to observe the great impact that our adaptations can have on our local and global communities.

 

The COVID-19 working group can be found on Instagram and Twitter.

Instagram: @infectious_info

Twitter: @infectious_info