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Navigating COVID-19’s challenges

The COVID-19 pandemic stopped us in our tracks. But inaction wasn’t an option.

We have to find ways forward and “new normals”—to stop doing some things, change how we do others but ultimately to do our best to address the myriad challenges we face. Every sphere of human activity has been affected. At Dal, our new normal has pushed us to innovate in teaching, lab work and connecting as a community. It’s meant refocusing research efforts to solve pandemic-related problems. And it’s meant drawing on the best of ourselves as leaders, community members and thinkers. In the stories that follow, we explore the many ways that the Dalhousie community is navigating covid’s ongoing challenges.

A message from President Saini

The 2020-21 academic year will be unlike any in Dalhousie’s history. A majority of our courses will be online. Most faculty and staff continue to work remotely, while those who have returned to campus are following new guidelines to ensure the health and safety of our entire community. As we gradually re-open campus spaces and labs, many front-line services and supports will look a bit different, such as our libraries and fitness facilities.

What has not changed through all of this is Dalhousie’s commitment to our mission—to supporting student success, to advancing world-leading research, and to improving the way of life in our communities. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated just how successful our university can be when it comes together in new ways to tackle great challenges.

The stories ahead are just a small glimpse into how our Dal community has met extraordinary circumstances with extraordinary efforts over the past several months. Even at a safe social distance, we remain united as One Dal—bringing our diverse talents together to make a real difference when it matters most.

Deep Saini
President and Vice-Chancellor

Solving Problems

Lessons in safety: Keeping patients’ airways open became an immediate concern in the pandemic, as intubation—the routine procedure for keeping patients oxygenated and threading breathing tubes into their airways—became fraught with danger for clinicians who could be contaminated by the COVID-19 virus during the procedure. Dal experts quickly developed provincial airway management guidelines and began supporting hospital emergency departments in training for and adapting to the new standards. Dalhousie’s Human Body Donation Program was able to assist as teams began training on the new procedures by working with cadavers. Said Dr. George Kovacs, a professor in the departments of Emergency Medicine and Medical Neuroscience and a national leader in airway management training, “guidelines were being generated and practice changed in a matter of weeks. We ramped this up fast. It was amazing. The silos went down and people adopted a can-do collaborative attitude; we worked every waking hour.”

Retired horticultural professor and Raging Crow Distillery co-owner Kris Pruski shifted his business’s focus to produce hand sanitizer.

Distilling a solution: Retired horticultural professor and Raging Crow Distillery co-owner Kris Pruski in Truro shifted his business’s focus this spring to produce in excess of 2,000 litres of hand sanitizer, some of which was donated to fire departments, Truro Police Services and the VON.

Making it easier to share health-care wishes: Canada’s first personal directive app, developed by Dalhousie Schulich School of Law Professor Jocelyn Downie and the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia (LISNS), garnered increased attention in the pandemic for its ability to help Nova Scotians more easily create and share a personal directive document that sets out key decisions around health care. The website-based app can be accessed at

Fast face shields: In just a week, an interdisciplinary team from the Faculty of Engineering, working with colleagues at the Nova Scotia Health Authority, was able to design and prototype a 3D-printed face shield that was simple and easily scalable from 3D manufacturing to injection molding capable of producing thousands of units. “We’ve been able to go from just an idea to something that actually we could produce hundreds of thousands of if we needed to,” said Clifton Johnston, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering who is leading the project.

Ocean School, a free bilingual platform founded by Dal, the National Film Board of Canada and Ingenium, offers immersive film, virtual reality, 360 video, interactive games and augmented reality content related to ocean research. (Photo: Danny Abriel)

Home school resources: Parents looking for resources to help support their children’s at-home learning were able to get help from some Dal-affiliated groups. SuperNOVA, a not-for-profit that promotes science, engineering, technology and mathematics to young people, launched an at-home learning series and used Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to facilitate quizzes and experiments. Ocean School, a free bilingual platform founded by Dal, the National Film Board of Canada and Ingenium, offered immersive film, virtual reality, 360 video, interactive games and augmented reality content related to ocean research, aimed at students in grades six to nine. Imohotep’s Legacy Academy posted videos and hosted virtual meetups for African Nova Scotian youth, and Dal’s Sciographies science podcast featured interviews with researchers about science careers.

Stepping Forward

Caring for his community: Athanasius “Tanas” Sylliboy, RN and graduating Master of Nursing – nurse practitioner student, worked hard in his community of Eskasoni to minimize the impact of COVID-19, including creating community education materials and care packages for people self-isolating, doing wellness checks and check-ins. “I wanted to minimize the impact of COVID-19 through education and resources. It’s not even doing work or volunteering, it’s my responsibility to do what I can to help.”

Dental emergencies: When dental offices across the province were closed down due to the pandemic, Dal’s emergency dental clinic remained open—and took the lead in developing safe practices and protocols for treating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. These protocols were shared with dental schools and professional dental bodies across the country, and used to train dentists to meet the requirements, allowing five additional emergency dental clinics to open around the province.

Business solutions: For co-op students, the COVID-19 spring lockdown meant an end to many placements. But thanks to outreach from the Government of Nova Scotia, some Dal commerce students had a new opportunity: helping to evaluate the province’s Small Business Impact grant, which offered a up to $5,000 to small businesses impacted by the pandemic. Students had to apply for the positions and approximately 20 were hired, mostly from the Commerce program, but also from the mba program. “I feel really proud of the fact that we were able to get money into the hands of these small businesses in a timely manner,” says Tammy Crowell, a senior instructor in the Rowe School of Business who hired, trained and supervised the students along with senior instructor Laura Cummings and associate professor Louis Beaubien. “I’m sure for some of them it made the difference in continuing to operate.”

(Left) Tanas Sylliboy, RN and graduating Master of Nursing student, created community education materials and care packages for people self-isolating in his community of Eskasoni. (Right) Instructors and students in Dal’s Costume Studies program stitched masks for use at the university’s health services.

Students and alumni step up: From drives to gather personal protective equipment (PPE) and organizing childcare for health-care workers, to developing web apps to match volunteers with those in need, Dalhousie students and alumni stepped up in a big way. PPE has been donated and distributed, almost 100 Dal medical and health students volunteered to provide childcare for health-care professionals, and JeyaBalaji Samuthiravelu (MACS’17) and Srisaichand Singamaneni (MACS’19) created the “care mongering” web app to link people in need with those in the community able to volunteer. Instructors and students in Dal’s Costume Studies program stitched masks for use at the university’s health services, Nursing students Sydney Miller and Sarah Keeping volunteered with Nova Scotia’s 811 service, and many other Dalhousie community members donated time and effort for COVID-related programs.

Connecting and Celebrating

Celebrating graduates: Virtual celebrations, video messages, platforms to share congratulatory messages and more have all become part of 2020’s approach to celebrating graduations. Among Dal’s special events: a music video recording of Heave Away, created and performed by Dalhousie alumni, faculty and staff, and a virtual Barley Party for the Agricultural Campus, where students celebrated receiving their Barley Rings, a symbol of graduation from the Faculty of Agriculture.

Pride & perseverance: When Pride arrived in Nova Scotia in July, COVID-19 precautions required a different approach to a time of celebration, with most Dalhousie Pride activities shifted online. “It’s really important to remember how Pride started,” said Trulee Love, president of the LGBTQ2SIA+ student society DalOUT at the Instagram livestreamed kick-off event on Studley Campus. “It is to commemorate the fight for our rights, the fight that we still have to continue, and the fight for communities that may not be our own.” A flag raising event was also held on the Agricultural Campus.

Food delivery during Ramadan made possible, safely, thanks to the work of Dal Security, Dal Safe Ambassadors and members of Dal’s Residence team. (Photo: Dal Safe Team)

Ramadan Iftar goes virtual: In May, the Dalhousie community and family and friends around the world joined together for a virtual Ramadan Iftar, the fast-breaking meal after sunset at the end of Ramadan. A joint effort between Dal Connects, Residence, the Muslim Students’ Association, Dal Security, Human Rights & Equity Services and the International Centre, the event’s organizing committee took great care to make sure Muslim community members—both on and off campus—felt supported and celebrated this year.

Don’t stop the music: Two recent grads from Dal’s Fountain School of Performing Arts, Andrew Coll (BM’16) and Neven Prostran (MA’17), helped take the Scotia Festival of Music, a two-week chamber music festival, online under the moniker “Scotial Distancing 2020.” Both work for the festival and coordinated the production of the livestreamed performances. When they reviewed archival footage, they quickly realized they could supplement live performances and have enough material for 14 nights of content. The events were so successful that Scotia Festival of Music is working on equipping The Music Room venue with permanent live streaming gear so that they can be a resource in the future for the broader arts community to broadcast performances to the world.