CanCOVID cross-sector initiative includes CSA science advisor

Canada’s Chief Science Officer mandated the creation of CanCOVID to optimize Canada’s research response to the COVID-19 public health crisis. Credit: CanCOVID.

The Canadian Space Agency science advisor to the President is among the research experts participating in the new CanCOVID initiative, which brings together researchers, clinical collaborators and healthcare stakeholders to address the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Advisor Sarah Gallagher, who is also a Western University extragalactic astronomer and associate professor, told SpaceQ the initiative has been an “enriching experience” for all involved because the collaboration is involving experts from so many different domains.

While it is early yet to speak of what results CanCOVID could achieve – the coronavirus response is evolving rapidly – Gallagher said some products could include government policy directions or scientific papers. CanCOVID launched Wednesday (April 2) and is encouraging participants in Canadian research and health networks to join through a Slack registration form.

Gallagher is one of four departmental science advisors co-leading the implementation of CanCOVID, which is working with numerous sectors to facilitate a response to coronavirus. The range of stakeholders is diverse, including sectors such as government, funding agencies, industry, academia, hospitals, clinics and indigenous communities.

The CSA as a whole (and president Sylvain Laporte) have expressed their support for Gallagher’s work, and the agency is weighing in the future how its supports will proceed, the CSA told SpaceQ. In the meantime, Gallagher is leveraging her research experience as best as possible to help the initiative.

“As a scientist and an astronomer, I’m used to working on large teams, which has been quite helpful,” Gallagher explained, saying that coronavirus response requires a big team with diverse fields of expertise. Gallagher also pointed to her connections as a university professor and science advisor. “I’ve had different experiences that plug into different networks,” she said, saying that allows her to figure out tasking depending on the sector with which she is speaking.

The genesis for CanCOVID arose after a conversation in mid-March between Gallagher and Cara Tannenbaum, Health Canada’s science advisor. Within short order, they involved the government’s chief science advisor (Mona Nemer), other government science advisors, and outside expertise including representatives from Compute Ontario (through Mark Daley, the chair of the board of directors) and the University of Toronto (through Alex Mihailidis, vice-president of international partnerships.)

The experts gathered help through their networks, working on everything from research direction to providing a translated (French) version of the CanCOVID website. Several companies also pitched in with sponsorships, including Slack (which provided a collaboration platform), Avenear (which made the logo) and Launchbox (which developed the website in less than 48 hours, Gallagher said.)

From idea to launch, the initiative was ready to go in about two weeks. “It’s been really, really fast,” Gallagher said.

The initiative is uniting its work under three goals – collaboration (focusing on problem-solving, troubleshooting, sharing and vetting results), coordination among national and international researchers, and communication among the various stakeholders.

Several hundred people have already signed up to help, and you can follow the initiative’s work on Twitter at @cancovid.

About Elizabeth Howell

Is SpaceQ's Associate Editor as well as a business and science reporter, researcher and consultant. She recently received her Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota and is communications Instructor instructor at Algonquin College.

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