Remembering and Rebuilding: Saskatchewan’s COVID 19 Public Archive

Dyck, Erika E. | $101,757

Saskatchewan University of Saskatchewan 2021 SSHRC

We need a rich public archive to collect and preserve the experience of the COVID 19 pandemic in Saskatchewan. Chief Medical Advisor in the United States Anthony Fouci and Senior Scientific Advisor David Morens argue « we have entered a pandemic era. » (Morens and Fauci, 2020). We need to learn from the COVID 19 experience and prepare in Saskatchewan and Canada for a future where global pandemics may occur more frequently. We have a habit of forgetting pandemics in an effort to move past them. The 1918 Flu pandemic is dubbed « the forgotten pandemic » and historians of medicine argue that there is a longer tradition of treating pandemics as episodic disruptions from an otherwise normal trajectory. (Jones, Milligan, Sweeney, 2020; Crosby, 2003). COVID 19 has highlighted existing gaps in our public health infrastructure, exacerbated shortcomings in our social safety net, and revealed the new challenges of misinformation spread through social media platforms.

The overall objective of our PDG is to create a community archive of COVID 19 in Saskatchewan that goes beyond the important work done by the Provincial Archive focused on the government’s response to pandemic. We are capturing perspectives from vaccine scientists, ICU doctors and nurses, front-line workers, employees at the safe injection site and foodbanks, justice-involved individuals and other marginalized residents. Doing so through a public archive enables us to recognize the diversity of the pandemic experience and provides the foundation for future research on the changes we need to implement to build resilience as we prepare for a future with more public health crises.

We are building a partnership between academics (University of Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit) and community organizations to create the archive. Saskatoon Inter-agency Response to COVID-19, Prairie Harm Reduction, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses and the Saskatoon Poverty Reduction Partnership, all joined the partnership during this application stage and we have identified numerous other community organizations to approach during the first phase of the project. We will build capacity within these organizations to archive their experiences which will also highlight the dexterity of community organizations and professionals who pivoted to meet the new demands created by the pandemic. We will accession their document collections with proper metadata and complete interviews with people involved with these organizations.

Saskatchewan is an important focus for this community archive project. The province performed very well during the first wave of the pandemic and later found itself with the unenviable distinction of holding the highest death rate in the fourth wave as its ICUs reached capacity and critically ill patients were transferred to Ontario. Alongside the direct challenges of COVID 19, Saskatchewan is also struggling with an opioid overdose epidemic and a housing crisis. The population is relatively small, but the province holds significant geographical and regional diversity, creating opportunities to compare different approaches to the pandemic at a manageable scale.

We need to learn from this experience. In the months and years ahead, most people will want to put this experience behind them and workers who played a key role during the pandemic will move on to different jobs. We need to create this archive now, while memories remain fresh and people still know where the key documents are stored. In five years, much will be lost on the hard drives of old laptops and in the recesses of our memories.

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