Montreal teens and children are being sought for a potentially ground-breaking study to determine how widely COVID-19 is spreading among young people and how the pandemic is affecting their mental health.
A research team based at the Université de Montréal is looking for youth between the ages of two and seventeen in the following neighbourhoods to take part: Beaconsfield, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Montréal-Nord and the Plateau.
The researchers are working with daycares and schools in those neighbourhoods to find parents and guardians willing to let their children participate in the study.
In order to collect blood samples from the children, they will distribute a finger-prick test that can be used at home.
The samples will be tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, which indicate whether someone has had COVID-19.
Parents will be informed of the results of the antibody test, but the researchers caution it is still unclear if antibodies confer immunity to the virus.
“We know children are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and can transmit the infection, but much uncertainty remains,” Kate Zinszer, the Université de Montréal epidemiologist leading the study, said in a statement.
“This study will give us a good idea of how many children on the island have previously had COVID-19, which can help inform public health measures.”
Participants will also be given a questionnaire, which will be used to examine how the pandemic has affected their mental health.
The same group of children will be tested again next spring, to see if they still have COVID-19 antibodies and to assess their mental health toward the end of the school year.
Zinszer said one hypothesis she will test is whether younger children have had an easier time adapting to public health restrictions than older children.
“I’m more worried about the adolescent population, to be honest,” she said in an interview on Wednesday.
Backed by public health officials
The study is being funded by a $720,000 grant from the federal government’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, which is researching immunity across the country. This is the first study funded by the task force to focus specifically on youth.
“We need to understand what’s been happening with kids and their experiences in the pandemic, like the physical distancing we’ve been asking them to do,” said Dr. Catherine Hankins, who co-chairs the task force.
The study has the backing of both federal and municipal public health officials.
“The findings … will help us make decisions on interventions such as school closures,” Dr. Mylène Drouin, the head of public health in Montreal, said in statement.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said the results will also help decision-makers better understand how social factors, like economic background, influence who is at risk of catching the disease.
“This study in Montreal will help inform decision-making to prevent COVID-19 infection in children and teenagers,” she said.
The researchers are hoping to recruit 2,700 children into the study and release a first round of results early next year.
A list of participating schools and daycares is available at encorestudy.ca.