British Columbia

Interior universities receive $150K from province to study COVID challenges unique to their regions

Three B.C. Interior universities have received provincial funding totalling $150,000 for research projects on COVID-19 challenges peculiar to their regions.

Projects include enhanced tele-health services, rural health care and mental health effects of pandemic

The University of British Columbia Okanagan, Thompson Rivers University and the University of Northern British Columbia have received $150,000 from the province to conduct research on solutions to COVID-19 challenges unique to their regions. (Winston Szeto/CBC, Thompson Rivers University, Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Three B.C. Interior universities have received provincial funding totalling $150,000 for research projects on COVID-19 challenges peculiar to their regions.

The Interior University Research Coalition — formed in 2017 by the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George (UNBC), Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops (TRU), and the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus in Kelowna (UBCO) — has received a grant from the B.C. Ministry of Health to conduct multiple research projects.

Among them, a study on the effects of the pandemic on the mental health of people living in remote communities.

"Our weather [in northern B.C.] … makes it difficult for people to get outside to do that very important mental health [enhancing] activities," Kathy Lewis, UNBC's acting vice president of research, told Matt Allen, the guest host of CBC's Daybreak North.

Lewis says experts in these three institutions have a better understanding of the unique difficulties Interior residents are facing.

"Our researchers live amongst everybody else [in the same region]," Lewis said. "They do have a better understanding because they have the experience."

One of the initiatives will see UNBC partner with UBC Okanagan and Interior Health to develop a community outreach tele-health program run by students to support elderly people living outside of urban centres.

The two universities are also teaming up with Thompson Rivers University to study whether new technologies can enhance the capacity of rural health-care practitioners.

Lewis says Canadians have been using more tele-health services during the pandemic through video and mobile technology, but for some rural communities with sketchy Internet services, it's difficult.

"They don't have the same bandwidth [as in the urban areas], and there [are] challenges associated with trying to access both health care and social interactions," she said.

One of the research projects involves the development of a community outreach tele-health program run by students to support elderly persons living outside of urban centres. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

In another project, the UNBC and UBC Okanagan campuses will work together to look at how to make N95 masks last longer.

"They [the researchers] are looking at trying to test different kinds of microbial surfaces … on these masks to see if there's a way that they can be more safely reused … rather than having to constantly bring in new supplies of masks," Lewis said.

Lewis says while some of the provincially-funded projects are new, many projects have been underway for a while and are able to be extended thanks to the funding.

"We're hoping that we will have some good results showing up definitely within the year," she said.

Tap the link below to hear Kathy Lewis's interview on Daybreak North:

UNBC, UBCO and TRU are teaming up for a series of studies on how pandemics impact people in B.C.'s interior and north and how they can be helped. 6:50

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With files from Daybreak North

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