DISTANSE Study: Direct income support to negate COVID-19

In Progress


This study is part of the MAP/St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation COVID-19 Catalyst Fund, launched to advance our most urgent priority projects. Learn more

Physical distancing is the primary containment strategy for COVID-19, but it’s a privilege. For people with low incomes, work must come first in order to afford basic necessities such as food.

Paid sick leave has been shown to reduce the spread of the flu; could providing a small amount of financial support to people with low incomes have the same effect on COVID-19?

About the DISTANSE Study

Through a rapid randomized controlled trial, we will determine whether and how unconditional cash transfers affect the spread of COVID-19, physical-distancing adherence, and health-care utilization.

Each participant will be randomly allocated to one of two groups. People in the intervention group will receive an unconditional cash transfer with a written reminder of the current public-health recommendations regarding social distancing and hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19. People in the control group will receive only the written reminder.

This randomized controlled trial is the only one of its kind. Non-pharmaceutical measures to reduce the spread of pandemics (e.g. ‘lockdowns’ and suspending public transportation) have been based largely on observational studies and modeling studies. In contrast, the DISTANSE study uses a clinical trial model, considered the ‘gold standard’ research method for studying causal relationships.

The Outcome

The DISTANSE study will help hundreds of families meet their basic needs, will provide indirect data to inform decisions about a basic income, and could offer a new public policy option to contain pandemics in Canada and internationally.


Dr. Nav Persaud

Dr. Nav Persaud has dedicated his career to narrowing the health gap between the highest and lowest wealth brackets, and to ensuring that everyone in Canada can afford the medication that they need. Dr. Persaud is a Canada Research Chair in Health Justice.


  • Dr. Bruno da Costa (St. Michael's Hospital)
  • Dr. Peter Jüni (St. Michael's Hospital)
  • Dr. Kevin E. Thorpe (University of Toronto)


  • St. Michael's Hospital Applied Health Research Centre

Contact Info

Dr. Nav Persaud