Study aims to uncover who is most vulnerable to coronavirus

Hopefully, will be broader than just age and gender and include socioeconomic and ethnic origin characteristics:

For infectious disease experts, one of the most intriguing mysteries about COVID-19 is why there is so much variation in the virulence of the disease, particularly among people in different age groups – including children, who rarely experience severe illness.

While it’s been clear since the beginning of the pandemic that the elderly or those who have chronic medical conditions such as hypertension or diabetes are at higher risk of getting a severe case of COVID-19, it is also true, based on worldwide data, that there are some cases of healthy young adults as well as children, who are becoming critically ill.

“The question is why,” said Lisa Strug, associate director of the Centre for Applied Genomics at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. “That’s where we believe we’re going to get some insight from genetics.”

Now Dr. Strug and her colleagues have launched a cross-Canada initiative to sequence the DNA from a large number of individuals who have been infected with COVID-19. The project, which is partly funded through private donation, will make its data widely available with the goal of identifying genetic variations that are relevant to the severity of the disease and that could help inform treatment.

Key to the project is the question of age and its relationship to the progress of a COVID-19 infection.

“We are looking at the entire spectrum – from birth to over 70 – otherwise you might not get the full picture,” said Upton Allen, the hospital’s head of infectious disease, who is co-leading the effort with Dr. Strug.

Disease modellers have been starved for information about the character and prevalence of COVID-19 in the young. Evidence suggests that most children who are exposed to the virus will have only had mild symptoms or none at all. However, they may still be transmitting the virus to others. This means children could be an important factor in the community spread of the disease – a detail that is difficult to capture in forecasts that could help determine when physical distancing measures can be lifted.

While there have been theories about why the disease has the age profile that it does – a profile not seen in influenza, for example – researchers are looking to ground those ideas with hard data.

“It’s humbling,” said Jesse Papenburg, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. “It seems that many of the things we thought we knew about respiratory infectious disease in children don’t seem to be playing out that way with COVID-19.”

Dr. Papenburg is among the collaborators that the Toronto group has already reached out to in order to gather a diverse set of genetic samples for the study.

Because a patient’s genes do not change after the disease has come and gone, Dr. Allen said the project will be able to obtain genetic data from individuals who were ill and in hospital but are now recovered. The study will include a control group of individuals who were infected but who did not experience serious symptoms.

Some of those controls will be drawn from family members who live in the same household as those who became ill but who, for whatever reason, were spared despite a similar level of exposure. In that situation, Dr. Allen said, the strategy will be to find the family member who is most distantly related (such as a spouse) to see what genetic differences turn up.

Dr. Strug said the study will involve reading and comparing the entire DNA sequences of large numbers of individuals, and using statistical tools to see which variations may correlate to different responses to the COVID-19 virus. Researchers will also focus on genes that are linked to specific pathways in the immune system or that relate the way the virus attacks cells.

The project’s original aim was to sample the genomes of at least 1,000 people who have been infected with COVID-19, but that was before it was clear how extensive the outbreak would become across Canada.

“Unfortunately, access to individuals that are symptomatic is not going to be a challenge,” said Dr. Strug, “so I think that we are going to far exceed a study of 1,000.”

She added that initial results could emerge within the next six to 12 months. Parallel projects supported by the British-based Wellcome Sanger Institute and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the United States are also under way.

Stephen Freedman, a clinical scientist with the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute in Calgary who is not involved in the genomic studies, said they would yield important information and potentially answer some of the biggest questions surrounding COVID-19. However, he added, COVID-19 is outpacing research to an extent that some of those answers are more likely to inform the next pandemic.

Dr. Freedman is leading a separate study that will combine Canadian and international data to help health workers spot COVID-19 in children and better predict which cases will likely require hospital care, as well as determine what interventions are most effective.

“Trying to glean out that data is really crucial to coming up with management strategies in real time,” he said. “Even though children do better than adults, there are still a host of children who do poorly and there are children who die,” he said.

Source: Study aims to uncover who is most vulnerable to coronavirus

StatsCan Study: The long-term economic outcomes of refugee private sponsorship

Of note how the economic outcomes of privately and government-sponsored refugees become similar over time after an initially wide gap:

Canada was the first country to introduce private sponsorship for refugee resettlement. The program has played a key role in the country’s responses to international refugee crises over the last four decades. Private sponsors are responsible for providing financial, material and personal support to refugees during their first year in Canada.

A new Statistics Canada study compares the employment rate and earnings between privately sponsored refugees and government-assisted refugees who were admitted to Canada from 1980 to 2009.

This study is based on the Longitudinal Immigration Database and focuses on refugees who arrived between the ages of 20 and 54 under the two programs (privately sponsored refugees and government-assisted refugees). The analysis follows refugees up to 15 years after they first arrived in Canada.

Refugees are a diverse population with varying degrees of human capital and pre-migration circumstances. Privately sponsored refugees and government-assisted refugees differ in some key socio-demographic characteristics. Over the study period, privately sponsored refugees came more predominantly from Eastern Europe, whereas government-assisted refugees came more often from South and Central America and the Caribbean. Privately sponsored refugees had a higher level of education and tended to be more concentrated in Toronto than government-assisted refugees.

This study compares labour market outcomes of these two groups of refugees, while taking these socio-economic characteristics into account and recognizing that other possible unmeasured differences between the two groups of refugees—such as exposure to violence, duration of displacement, physical and mental health, and ethnic and family networks—could impact their economic outcomes.

This study found that privately sponsored refugees had much higher employment rates and earnings than government-assisted refugees in the initial years after arrival, but this difference diminished over time with government-assisted refugees steadily catching up.

In the first full year after arrival, privately sponsored refugees had higher employment rates than government-assisted refugees, by about 17 percentage points among men and 24 percentage points among women. Fifteen years after arrival, these differences decreased to 3 percentage points among men and 2 percentage points among women.

Similarly, privately sponsored refugees earned 28% more than government-assisted refugees among men and 34% more among women in the first full year after arrival. This gap narrowed to about 5% for both men and women 15 years after arrival.

Furthermore, the employment and earnings advantage of privately sponsored refugees over government-assisted refugees was greater among refugees with less than a high school education than among refugees with higher educational levels. Over half of refugees in the study had less than a high school education.

Source: PDF

Josephine Mathias: Racism still exists on campuses, but don’t exaggerate the problem

Clearly, less serious and less nuanced than the CRRF/Environics Institute study or other related surveys such as the GSS or police-reported hate crimes, which provide information regarding the relative seriousness or degree of racist behaviour.

I have no problem with a “believing stance” as long as it provides some clarity as to the type and degree of racist behaviour. The Laurier report, while having considerable narrative and considerable data on respondents and where incidents took place, does not, unless I missed it, have a data table that would indicate the relative frequency of minor (e.g., some microagressions) and major (e.g, violence or threats of violence) racism:

Wilfrid Laurier University is in hot water over a recent race-related study. According to the survey, which polled minority students, upwards of 70 per cent of respondents experienced racism on WLU’s campus.

If 70 per cent sounds hyperbolic, that’s because it has to be. The problem with this study — and many others that include self-reported data — is that it didn’t define what constitutes racism. The study states at the outset: “This study takes a believing stance; therefore, if participants understand their experiences as racism, then we do not question the validity of their lived experiences.”

In other words, anything goes.

There is no doubt that individual acts, as well as systemic instances of racism, continue to exist on some Canadian campuses. But, in today’s day and age and for the purposes of a “supposed” academic study, to leave the definition of the term “racism” open to interpretation is to render it meaningless.

Over the past few decades, academics — particularly in the field of sociology — have tried to redefine the term racism. “Discrimination based on skin colour” became “prejudice plus social/economic power” in academia, and this reinterpretation of the term led many social activists to simply develop their own wishy-washy definitions. Today, many people consider white people having dreadlocks racist; wearing Nigerian — or some other African country-themed attire racist; hell, even not liking a particular country’s food is racist now, too.

So, when we consider the WLU 70 per cent figure, what does it really mean? Does it mean 70 per cent of minority students have been radicalized by a professor or other university official while attending class? Or, is it more likely a fair portion of this 70 per cent overheard a white dude in the cafeteria saying “Indian food is icky?” The solution to the former scenario is a formal reprimand of the official in question. The solution to the latter, is to ignore Brad and move on with your day.

The thing that bugs me most about these studies is that they paint this false picture of what life is like for minority students on campuses. To say that 70 per cent of minority students experience racism, is to say that WLU is closer to Alabama 1950 than it is to Southern Ontario 2019. To leave
the definition of racism so broad, but then to report the study’s headline with the 70 per cent figure. just drums up outrage, distrust and fear among minority students — if you didn’t see racism on campus before, you certainly will be inclined to now.

What good does perpetuating this kind of narrative do? Racism does exist on campus, there’s no doubt about that, and I’m sure many of the self-reported stories would constitute legitimate acts of discrimination or other-ing of students based on their race.

The problem is that we can’t find solutions to racism on campus if racism can be anything. And if we make actual racism impossible to define and categorize, we can’t address the real problem. If everything’s racist, nothing can be singled out.

Today, legitimate instances of discrimination don’t happen nearly as often as this study would have us believe. We can and should identify and reprimand the bad actors — be they other students, professors, or university officials — but we shouldn’t inflate the amount of racism on campus just to get the point across.

Source: Josephine Mathias: Racism still exists on campuses, but don’t exaggerate the problem