SPHERU Stories

We Need a Population Health Lens for COVID-19

A reflection by Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine.

Dr. Muhajarine’s research focuses on population-level intervention research, cities/place and health, maternal and child health.

COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on infectious diseases, epidemiologists, masks and social distancing. Terms that had previously appeared only in epidemiology textbooks and graduate courses—such as ‘the reproductive rate of a virus’, ‘herd immunity’, ‘epidemic curve’—are figuring prominently in news media and public discourse.

How do population and public health figure into COVID-19?

SPHERU researchers have stepped up and are addressing critical questions about equity; behavioural, social, and geographical dimensions of COVID-19; mental health; food security; and generational issues (children and youth, Indigenous elders). Drawing from their deep experiences and commitment to health equity, our researchers are articulating an important voice amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This voices tells us who is impacted most, the moral and ethical dimensions and why we need to do better.

The Social Contours and COVID-19 study in Saskatchewan is one such project. Knowing virus spread is dependent on people’s behaviour and, fundamentally, about perceptions as well, since early May (when Saskatchewan started re-opening), Dr Muhajarine and his team have been tracking how Saskatchewanians are responding to the pandemic—what they do or don’t, where they go, social situations and interactions, and what they think.

Coming out of the lockdown measures, while reopening the economy and resuming social lives are important they knew prioritizing people’s safety had to come first. To do this, more data are needed to guide us—data directly from people who would tell us what they think, how they act, where they go. This is why the Social Contours and COVID-19 study was launched in concert with the first stage of the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan in in early May.

COVID-19 has once again exposed the weak links and cracks in our society. The virus has exploited the injustice and unfairness hitting the most vulnerable members of society the hardest. It has laid bare exploitation, deep chasms between and among people, mistrust, and misinformation in this digital age. SPHERU research on COVID aims to shift the discourse to these important issues, all the while articulating and supporting the notion of ‘Build Back Better.’ If COVID has jolted us into action, it follows that ‘building back better’ is our only option.

Learn more about Dr. Muhajarine’s current SPHERU research project, Social Contours & COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world upside-down in so many ways. Since early May, SPHERU researchers have been collecting data about how we act, think, interact, and move in these times of the pandemic. We continue to analyze and share our data with decision-makers, practitioners, media, and the people of Saskatchewan.

This study is about understanding how we can safely rebuild community relationships and maximize social interactions while keeping the COVID-19 virus in check. The information Saskatchewanians provide via our surveys helps us to better understand how the virus could spread in our communities and to identify lower-risk areas and activities (“social contours”). This allows us to identify protective measures that limit virus spread while disrupting our society as little as possible.