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How KITE is coping with COVID-19

For many of us, the events of March 11, 2020 will never be forgotten. That’s the date the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, setting in motion a chain of events that has completely upended our lives. 

On the one hand, working from home has provided us with the gift of time, allowing us to reconnect with loved ones, practice self-care, and maybe learn a new skill. On the other hand, many of us can’t wait to press play again on our “regular” lives and look forward to having the the privilege of going back to the office to help put forward life-changing research.  

Director Milos Popovic recently issued a callout to our community seeking feedback on how everyone’s coping with this new “normal”. The responses were overwhelming. We learned about the importance of maintaining human connections while settling into a new routine. We were also reassured of the resilience, dedication and optimism of our colleagues.

In their own words, here’s how some of Kite’s trainees, staff, scientists and leadership are coping with the dramatic changes brought by COVID. Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.  

How has the pandemic affected your professional life? Have you taken on any new COVID-related projects?

“A lot of what I do depends on engaging with trainees and talking with them about their concerns, so I had to find new ways to stay connected while social distancing. I have shifted most of my focus on curating resources relevant to circumstances arising from COVID-19 such as mental health and financial challenges.”
– Maryam Pandi, Academic Initiatives Lead  

“The pandemic changed our lab routine. We’ve adapted our technology and our schedules to continue to work together. We’ve also prioritized projects and activities. We meet three times a week to check in on each other and keep ourselves in tune with our work. We’re not yet working on COVID-related projects, but discussed the possibilities of doing so with the knowledge in our field.”
– Renata Mancopes, Post-doctoral fellow, Swallowing Rehabilitation Research Lab 

“Managing 300-500 people at a distance is challenging, especially without face-to-face interactions. Being mindful of all kinds of employee needs is difficult, because it’s not always possible to be aware of all the scenarios that people may be facing. Yet being ‘tone-deaf’ to people’s needs and circumstances is the worst thing that can happen to someone who is leading people and managing a crisis. This particular issue is something I am constantly concerned about.”
– Dr. Milos R. Popovic, Institute Director & Senior Scientist 

What strategies are you using to stay productive?

“I set up a home office where there are no distractions, set timelines for my work, write a to-do list and set SMART goals every week. I learn new skills such as using an updated version of Microsoft, stay organized and keep myself up to date with UHN’s COVID-19 forums.”
– Tess Del Mundo, Research Associate with Kite Business Operations & SleepdB 

“I start the day as I did before the pandemic, keep a jug of water on my desk to stay hydrated, follow a routine, attend all scheduled meetings, play my favourite music when working on my own and eat healthy. When I lose focus, I try to get away for a few minutes, then come back.”
– Nagina Parmar, Patient research Liaison, Central Recruitment

How do you cope with stress and anxiety?

“I really try to focus on the positive. I feel so fortunate to be healthy, to be able to continue my work from home, and to be surrounded by such a supportive and hard-working lab group, leadership team, and amazing family. I’m fortunate to be able to get fresh air each day. I avoid the news most of the time and try to attend only to credible information sources. I talk to my family and friends every day. I try to create balance and division between my work time and my family time. I also try not to put too much pressure on myself or on those around me. While there are clearly (many) moments that I feel like I’m failing in one or more of my roles, I try to keep things in perspective. I also let myself embrace those moments when anxiety overwhelms me, give myself permission to feel that way, and then move on.”
– Dr. Jennifer Campos, Associate Director – Academic 

“I’ve been trying different breathing techniques, doing yoga, working out and staying connected with family and friends.”
– Meg Tennant, Research Admin Assistant

“My family lives far away, so I was pretty good at long-distance to begin with. I have tried to connect with them daily and that always gives me energy for the rest of my day. I also try to regularly reach out to my friends and colleagues to talk about some of the challenges we have been facing. I find comfort in talking about shared experiences and giving each other support.”
– Maryam Pandi  

What are you looking forward to most, when we go back to “normal”?

“Getting KITE back on track with the projects we have been pursuing for the last 24+ months as well as the future projects. Making sure KITE remains the most impactful institute in the rehab field in the world.”
– Dr. Milos R. Popovic 

“I would like to have our lab routine back. I want to meet my colleagues. The personal contact is so important… I would like so much to be back to my career plan in Canada and build new possibilities of research. I hope I can help with my focus on respiration and swallowing to research the rehabilitation of COVID-19 patients.
– Renata Mancopes 

“I look forward to interacting with patients and colleagues, getting back into the routine and taking group classes for wellness.”
– Nagina Parmar 

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far from this experience?

“I have learned that people at KITE are thoughtful, kind to each other, and very supportive. I am continually impressed with our staff, students and scientists and how they reacted and managed the COVID situation. KITE people are OUTSTANDING, and I am grateful for everything they have done in the last 48+ days. It has been a privilege to manage the KITE team.”
– Dr. Milos R. Popovic

“I keep learning how important it is to have inclusive and compassionate policy making in our communities that ensures nobody is left behind.”
– Maryam Pandi 

“This situation leads me to conclude that life is not easy and requires finding solutions to problems.”
– Abdolazim Rashidi, Lab Technician 

“It’s really amazing how resilient and adaptable people are. It’s been incredible to see how everyone has adjusted their routines, their approaches and their expectations. It’s been inspiring to see how so many people have risen to the occasion and stepped up to help. And of course, it puts everything squarely into perspective. If you have your health, your family and friends, food and shelter, if you are inspired by your work and your colleagues, the little things really don’t matter.”
– Dr. Jennifer Campos 

“Covid is everywhere, but so is love.”
– Meg Tennant