MONTREAL -- Suzanne Legge and Jeff Orr knew they had to do something when coronavirus progressed into a pandemic.

“As the pandemic and COVID came out, it really exploded onto our dining room tables, if you will,” said Legge.  “We’re all talking about it."

Over the next 8 years, the Montreal couple will donate a total of $1 million.

This year, the funding will go to McGill University’s Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity, often referred to as MI4. Dr. Donald Sheppard is the director of MI4.

“We launched our COVID response back in January 2020, believe it or not,” said Sheppard. “Before it even hit Canada and long before people were convinced it was going to be a pandemic.”

Through dozens of projects, his team of more than 200 researchers and clinicians look into all different aspects of the virus.

One pilot project they are running is in Montreal North where essential workers are tested.

The goal is to find who is asymptomatic.

“With a gargle test so non-invasive, no swab, to identify individuals who have coronavirus, can spread coronavirus, but don’t know it because they have no symptoms,” said Sheppard. “If we can show this works, then we will have convinced the Ministry of Health that this is something that needs to be done on a larger scale.”

Sheppard’s team is looking towards the future and beyond the vaccine.

“The rise of variants and the mutations that underly variants make it entirely unclear whether vaccines are going to just completely wipe out the virus or we’re going to need to have continued strategies,” Sheppard said.

Both Legge and Orr hope their donation will motivate others to give back, no matter the amount.

“Being part of supporting this kind of research is going to first of all have an impact on the community, but it’s going to then become self-fulfilling,” said Orr. “The better the research gets, the more people will want to support it.”