March 23, 2021Print | PDF
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, media outlets such as the Toronto Star regularly seek Todd Coleman’s expertise on population health, epidemiology and health-care access. Prior to joining Laurier as an assistant professor of Health Sciences, Coleman worked as a public health epidemiologist.
We asked Coleman to reflect on how COVID-19 has impacted his research and our public health resources, as well as what parallels can be drawn between this virus and HIV.
On March 5, 2020, the day the first lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced in Waterloo Region, you were quoted in the Waterloo Region Record saying that most epidemiologists “were fully expecting this to happen” and that it was “just a matter of time” until we saw more cases locally. How did it feel to deliver that news during a time of uncertainty?
Todd Coleman: “There was a little bit of hesitancy to make such a forceful and decisive statement considering there were still a lot of unknowns about what was happening with COVID-19, but clearly it was an accurate statement.”
Have you been surprised by how the pandemic has played out thus far?
TC: “I haven't been surprised. I think most people who are familiar with public health surveillance data and have an understanding of how transmission occurs, especially with respiratory viruses such as this one, knew that it was headed in a potentially dangerous direction.”
How does your research influence your understanding of the pandemic?
TC: “A lot of my understanding of transmission and how to curb transmission in public health initiatives is based on my research on HIV, sometimes called the ‘original pandemic.’ It is sort of a blueprint for understanding how transmission can be catalogued and documented, and how to effectively control the spread of certain viruses and infections at different stages.”
Are there parallels to be drawn between HIV and the COVID-19 pandemic?
TC: “I have been asked a lot about how important it is to have an adequate testing program in place, and that has translated into my commentary on COVID-19 testing and its lack of availability. Those of us in HIV research know that HIV testing is the gateway to getting people into treatment. The parallel can be drawn directly to COVID-19. As soon as you identify someone has the virus, all precautions and contact tracing can occur based on that identification.
“A lot of my media commentary was happening two, three, four months into the declaration of the pandemic and our testing capacity was not at the level that it should have been. We also don't know the entire picture of what contact tracing looks like, who it is that we’re missing, and what kinds of social connections are leading to increased transmission.”
How has COVID-19 impacted your research?
TC: “Everything related to public health and health-care access now has to be considered with an added layer of understanding of what it's like to be living in the COVID-19 era. And I'm sure that it will take us years, if not decades, to examine the effects of COVID-19 on the health of certain subgroups and their access to care.”
All things considered, how are you feeling about the coming days of this pandemic?
TC: “I am feeling hopeful. We are in a race right now alongside variants of concern, but I like to remain hopeful that the vaccines will help curb infection numbers, especially getting them rolled out into enough populations of concern. The next few months are going to be quite telling in terms of whether or not the variants end up taking hold in populations and causing community spread.”
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