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Tech helping arm Canadian seniors in pandemic fight

Early detection, monitoring credited with protecting elderly from worst of COVID’s first wave
A Patriot One Technologies operator uses security cameras to capture facial images that can be used to identify potential virus carriers |  Patriot One Technologies Inc.

Technology helped Toronto’s Shepherd Village seniors’ care facility escape the devastating impact of COVID-19’s first wave, in which 84% of Canadian deaths related to the coronavirus were in senior nursing homes.

As of this writing, the pandemic has killed more than 9,300 seniors in more than 1,340 other nursing homes across Canada.

In British Columbia, 62 care homes have been affected, with 613 cases detected and 128 deaths, according to National Institute on Ageing data.

Shepherd Village, which has about 900 residents, used early virus scanning on all staff, residents and visitors and mobile phone communication to verbally track staff movement and interaction.

Since January, when farsighted nursing home staff began using that technology as a first line of defence against COVID-19, Canada has harnessed high tech in the fight against the worst global pandemic in 100 years.

In February, the nationally funded Digital Technology Supercluster (DTS) committed to spend $60 million on technologies related to the pandemic, including initiatives to identify COVID-19-induced fevers and predict likely new strains of the virus.

“COVID-19 is a cunning virus; it’s going to evolve,” supercluster CEO Sue Paish told BioWorld. “Using structural biology and quantum computing to anticipate how the virus evolves will help us get ahead of developing testing and therapies for the next evolution of this virus.”

As of August, the DTS had closed out its investments with the approval of 16 final projects.

In January, the Vancouver-based supercluster – which is open to organizations with a presence anywhere in Canada – estimated that its pre-pandemic initiatives would create more than 13,500 jobs and add more than $5 billion to the nation’s economy over the next decade.

The goal is to bolster private industry, non-profit and post-secondary collaborations on digital products that can be commercialized.

Projects must include a minimum of three organizations, at least one of which must be a small or medium-sized business.

The consortia are to invest their own money into the projects, while the DTS matches up to $0.75 per dollar invested.

Among companies chosen for funding is Vancouver-based Patriot One Technologies Inc., which is best known for its threat-detection software.

Under the DTS mandate, Patriot One’s new goal is early warning of COVID-19 through artificial intelligence.

“This project applies existing security cameras and computer vision technology to develop a passive screening system to identify people with elevated temperatures who are at risk of having COVID-19,” the company’s mandate reads.

“We’re also trying to better understand how different body temperature conditions manifest themselves on the thermal image,” said Patriot One CEO Martin Cronin.

“That means understanding the difference between hyperthermia because it’s a hot day and the fact you’ve been running [as compared with] a higher temperature from a fever. We can then see how that manifests itself in heat distribution across the body so we can do a more granular analysis of the heat picture.”

In late May, Patriot One received $4.5 million from DTS to develop and deploy its Patscan multi-sensor platform for detecting elevated body temperatures, facial mask screening and contact tracing.

Patriot One put up a further $2.5 million to develop and deploy the system. The company is working with Vancouver startup EcoMine Technologies Corp. to advance low-cost pathogen screening technology.

“The overall intent,” said Cronin, “is to provide Canadian organizations with a robust solution to the virus while maintaining normal operations.”

It is one thing to identify someone who might be infected with the virus; it is quite another to track potential carriers.

To that end, British Columbia is working with the federal government on a contact-tracing cellphone app to help track the spread of COVID-19.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced June 18 that the nationwide app would be launched in Ontario in July before being deployed in other provinces.

The app was developed in collaboration between the Canadian Digital Service, the Government of Ontario, BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB) and Shopify Inc. (TSX:SHOP).

Trudeau said the B.C. government has also been working with the contact-tracing app’s partners.

If an app user tests positive for COVID-19, a health-care professional will help the patient anonymously upload his or her status. The app will then alert other users who have been in close contact with the COVID-19-positive patient.

Use of the app is voluntary, but Trudeau emphasized that it will be more effective if more Canadians use it. As of press time, there was still no word on when the app will be rolled out in B.C.

Advanced detection and tracking would be helpful for seniors living in care facilities, but new systems have also been developed to keep seniors healthy in their own homes.

An example of this is Telus Health’s Home Health Monitoring (HHM) solution. The premise is simple: every day, seniors use the medical device to check their blood pressure, pulse oxygen levels and other basic vital signs. They enter the information into a tablet, where it is shared with the patient’s care team.

The solution has generated promising results. In a pilot project in B.C.’s Island Health region, seniors using HHM reported a lower number of emergency visits and hospital admissions, as well as a 92% to 99% satisfaction rating, according to Telus Health. •

Technology keeping seniors happiest during COVID-19

Seniors aged 60 and up have fared better emotionally than younger adults amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to University of British Columbia (UBC) research – and technology such as Zoom could be a key reason why.

Based on daily diary data collected between mid-March and mid-April, researchers found that older adults experienced greater emotional well-being and felt less stressed and threatened by the pandemic.

“Our findings provide new evidence that older adults are emotionally resilient despite public discourse often portraying their vulnerability,” said Patrick Klaiber, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in UBC’s department of psychology.

The study also reveals that older adults experienced more daily positive events – including remote positive social interactions such as Zoom meetings via computers – in 75% of their daily surveys, which helped increase positive emotions compared with younger adults.

The researchers hope their findings will help inform the development of programs and strategies to bolster mental health for adults of all age groups. Their findings were recently published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.