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It’s hard to say what is the more impressive feat — remotely landing a spacecraft on Mars, or a kid from Norfolk County landing a job at NASA. Christopher Heirwegh’s unlikely trajectory took him from a Simcoe Composite School physics class to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where an instrument he helped design is scanning the surface of Mars for signs of ancient life. “It’s been a very exciting past couple of weeks, starting with the anticipation leading up to the landing, followed by the joy of knowing it made it successfully,” said Heirwegh, 39, a few days after watching the Mars rover Perseverance complete its 300 million-mile journey to the Red Planet on Feb. 18. As Perseverance floated down to the surface, Heirwegh was on the edge of his seat at his home in Pasadena, Calif. His wife, Meagan, and their six-year-old daughter, Harper, were by his side, with the rest of Heirwegh’s JPL team sharing in the suspense on a video call. “It hit me right at that moment before landing, around the parachute phase, that things are going to come in fast, and oh boy, if this doesn’t make it, where do we go from here?” Heirwegh said. “There was certainly some tension.” Perseverance’s thrusters soon kicked in to start its powered descent, and a sky crane took over to gently place the rover on Mars. While mission control filled with the cheers of relieved scientists, the Heirweghs tucked into celebratory shawarma and cake. Now that Perseverance is trundling around the Jezero crater, Heirwegh’s work has just begun. The physicist is keeping a close eye on PIXL, a high-tech X-ray machine that has been his sole professional focus since joining NASA in 2016. PIXL — the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry — is one of two instruments mounted on the lander’s robotic arm that will help answer the mission’s central question — has there been life on Mars? About the size of a lunch box, PIXL’s job is to scan Martian rocks for trace elements that could point to the presence of ancient life, while taking what Heirwegh describes as “super close-up pictures of rock and soil textures” that could reveal microbial evidence smaller than a grain of salt. PIXL has an X-ray tube at its heart, similar to what dentists use when photographing teeth. The scanner shoots pinpoint-sized X-ray beams into the rock, a process not unlike how artwork investigators chemically analyze paintings to detect forgeries. “We’re looking at things that tell us what the rock is made of, where the rock might have come from, if it was exposed to water, and also if it might have potentially harboured very primitive forms of life at one time,” Heirwegh explained. PIXL is best at finding evidence of inorganic material — heavier elements like calcium, lead and strontium — while another instrument on the rover, called SHERLOC, looks for “the building blocks of life,” lighter organic molecules like carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Together, they search for “biosignatures” suggestive of fossilized bacteria that may have called a Martian ocean home billions of years ago. “Our two instruments can each produce two-dimensional elemental maps,” Heirwegh said, likening each pinpoint of data collected to the pixels on a television that combine to form a clear picture. “We’re hoping we can eventually overlay the two maps so we can really get a good idea of what the rock is all about.” Reaching for the stars The grandson of tobacco farmers who immigrated to Norfolk County from Belgium, Heirwegh grew up enthralled by the stars in the night sky and the vastness of space. He never missed an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation — “mostly just the Rodenberry years,” he clarified — and pored over images of the solar system captured by the Voyager probes. “I found that pretty fascinating, and that kind of led me to what I do now,” he said. Mike and Laurie Heirwegh have followed their son’s career with pride. “Some of the stuff is way above what we understand. Christopher always keeps it as simple as possible for us,” Mike said with a laugh. Mike, a retired pharmacist and business owner, said his “studious” and “reserved” son excelled in a science-heavy course load at Simcoe Composite School. “Whitney, our daughter, said he had this microscope he got at Christmas and would project images up in his room and explain what was on the slides to her and her sister Danielle,” added Laurie, who owns a gift shop in Simcoe. Four years studying undergraduate science at McMaster University in Hamilton led to a master’s in medical physics at Mac, where Heirwegh first tried his hand at X-ray technology. He further studied X-ray fluorescence and radiation science while doing his PhD and post-doctoral fellowship in applied physics at the University of Guelph, which involved analyzing data collected by the Opportunity and Curiosity Mars rovers. That piqued NASA’s interest, creating a rare opportunity for a Canadian to join the Jet Propulsion Lab. “There were not too many people who were doing that,” Mike Heirwegh said. “To get a job like he’s doing in NASA, you have to be uniquely different than any American.” The family left their house in Guelph to make a new life in America, with Meagan Heirwegh, herself an accomplished academic, putting her career on hold so her husband could follow his dream. “She was extremely supportive of taking this step,” Heirwegh said. “That’s been a really key part of it, and something that helped me to have the courage to make such a drastic move.” While navigating the immigration process, Heirwegh got to work calibrating PIXL years ahead of its launch on Perseverance. Past Mars rovers have used X-ray fluorescence spectrometers, but PIXL is the first with an X-ray tube, a technological milestone Heirwegh finds “quite rewarding.” In the months ahead, Heirwegh and his fellow scientists will analyze the trove of scientific data Perseverance will transmit across space to the Jet Propulsion Lab, while making sure their high-tech scanner stays properly calibrated. To keep himself calibrated in what can be a high-pressure job, Heirwegh exercises every morning, and he and Meagan solve a Mensa puzzle together over breakfast. “It’s a nice way to jump-start the physical and mental gears,” he said. Heirwegh could not have known what the future held when he decided to leave Canada and boldly go to NASA to reach for the stars. But his parents say their son was destined to work on the Mars project. “I think the term ‘perseverance’ is very much like Christopher,” Mike said. “He persevered to get to where he is.” J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
As COVID-19 vaccine supplies ramp up across the country, most provinces and territories have released details of who can expect to receive a shot in the coming weeks. Here's a list of their plans to date: Newfoundland and Labrador The province says it is in Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout. Health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, staff at long-term care homes, people of "advanced age" and adults in remote or isolated Indigenous communities have priority. Chief medical health officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald has said Phase 2 will begin in April if vaccine supply remains steady. The second phase prioritizes adults over 60 years old, beginning with those over 80, as well as Indigenous adults, first responders, rotational workers and adults in marginalized populations, such as those experiencing homelessness. Adults between 16 and 59 years old will be vaccinated in the third phase of the rollout, and Fitzgerald has said she expects that to begin this summer. --- Nova Scotia Health officials in Nova Scotia announced Tuesday that vaccination rollout plans for the month included the province's first pharmacy clinics. Prototype pharmacy clinics will launch in Halifax and Shelburne on March 9, Port Hawkesbury on March 16 and Springhill on March 23. Nova Scotia plans to have vaccine available to at least 75 per cent of the population by the end of September 2021. --- Prince Edward Island Health officials in Prince Edward Island say they will shift their focus to getting a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to all adults by July 1, even if it means delaying the second shot for some. Chief medical officer Heather Morrison has said people over the age of 80 will get a second dose based on their existing appointments. Going forward, she said, other residents will get a longer interval between their first and second doses, but she didn’t specific how long that will be. --- New Brunswick The province is also focusing on vaccinating those living in long-term care homes, health-care workers with direct patient contact, adults in First Nations communities and older New Brunswickers in the first phase, which lasts until at least March. The next phase is scheduled to begin in the spring and includes residents and staff of communal settings, other health-care workers including pharmacists, first responders and critical infrastructure employees. The government website says once the vaccine supply is continuous and in large enough quantities, the entire population will be offered the shots. --- Quebec Quebec started vaccinating older seniors Monday, after a first phase that focused largely on health-care workers, remote communities and long-term care. In Montreal, mass vaccine sites including the Olympic Stadium opened their doors to the public as the province began inoculating seniors who live in the hard-hit city. The government announced last week it would begin booking appointments for those aged 85 and up across the province, but that age limit has since dropped to 70 in some regions, including Montreal. Quebec announced Tuesday it had reached a deal with pharmacies that will allow them to start administering COVID-19 vaccines by mid-March. Health Minister Christian Dube said about 350 pharmacies in the Montreal area will start taking appointments by March 15 for people as young as 70. The program will eventually expand to more than 1,400 pharmacies across the province that will administer about two million doses. The Montreal region is being prioritized in part because of the presence of more contagious variants, such as the one first identified in the United Kingdom, Dube has said. --- Ontario The province began vaccinating people with the highest priority, including those in long-term care, high-risk retirement home residents, certain classes of health-care workers and people who live in congregate care settings. Several regions in Ontario moved ahead Monday with their plans to vaccinate the general public, while others used their own systems to allow residents aged 80 and older to schedule appointments. Toronto also began vaccinating members of its police force Monday after the province identified front-line officers as a priority group. Constables and sergeants who respond to emergency calls where medical assistance may be required are now included in the ongoing first phase of Ontario's vaccine rollout, a spokeswoman for the force said. A day earlier, Toronto said the province expanded the first phase of its vaccination drive to include residents experiencing homelessness. The provincial government has said it aims to begin vaccinating Ontarians aged 80 and older starting the week of March 15, the same day it plans to launch its vaccine booking system, which will offer a service desk and online portal. It has said the vaccine rollout will look different in each of its 34 public health units. When asked about the lack of provincewide cohesion, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that public health units know their regions best and that's why they have been given responsibility to set the pace locally. She also says the province will soon share an updated vaccine plan that factors in expected shipments of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The province will do that after getting guidance from the federal government on potentially extending the time between first and second doses, like B.C. is doing, of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to four months, Elliott says She also says Ontario seniors won't receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine since there's limited data on its effectiveness in older populations. --- Manitoba Manitoba is starting to vaccinate people in the general population. Appointments are now available for most people aged 94 and up, or 74 and up for First Nations people. Until now, vaccines have been directed to certain groups such as health-care workers and people in personal care homes. Health officials plan to reduce the age minimum, bit by bit, over the coming months. Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province's vaccine task force, has said inoculations could be open to all adults in the province by August if supplies are steady. --- Saskatchewan The province is still in the first phase of its vaccination rollout, which reserves doses for long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers at elevated risk of COVID-19 exposure, seniors over the age of 70 and anyone 50 or older living in a remote area. In all, nearly 400,000 doses are required to finish this stage. The next phase will be focused on vaccinating the general population by age. It hopes to begin its mass vaccination campaign by April, but there if there isn’t enough supply that could be pushed back to June. Saskatchewan will begin immunizing the general population in 10-year increments, starting with those 60 to 69. Also included in this age group will be people living in emergency shelters, individuals with intellectual disabilities in care homes and people who are medically vulnerable. Police, corrections staff and teachers are among the front-line workers not prioritized for early access to shots. The government says supply is scarce. The province said this week that it may follow British Columbia's lead in delaying a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine to speed up immunizations. The government says it hopes a national committee that provides guidance on immunizations will support waiting up to four months to give people a second dose. If that happens, the province could speed up how soon residents get their first shot. --- Alberta Alberta is now offering vaccines to anyone born in 1946 or earlier, a group representing some 230,000 people. Appointments are being offered through an online portal and the 811 Health Link phone line. Shots are also being offered to this cohort at more than 100 pharmacies in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton starting in early March and the government has said there are also plans to include doctors’ offices. Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said all eligible seniors should have their first shots by the end of March. But he said Monday that the province will not give Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone over the age of 65 after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization expressed concerned there is limited data on how well it will work in older populations. The first phase of the vaccine rollout also included anyone over 65 who lives in a First Nations or Metis community, various front-line health care workers, paramedics and emergency medical responders. Phase 2 of the rollout, to begin in April, is to start with those 65 and up, Indigenous people older than 50 and staff and residents of licensed supportive living seniors’ facilities not previously included. --- British Columbia British Columbia will extend the time between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines to four months so all adults could get their initial shot by the end of July. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says evidence from the province and around the world shows protection of at least 90 per cent from the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The province launched the second phase of its immunization campaign Monday and health authorities will begin contacting residents and staff of independent living centres, those living in seniors' supportive housing as well as homecare support clients and staff. Seniors aged 90 and up can call to make their appointment starting next Monday, followed a week later by those aged 85 and over, and a week after that by those 80 and up. Henry says the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine means some people will get their first shot sooner than planned. She says B.C. will focus its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine among essential workers, first responders and younger people with more social interactions who would have to wait longer to receive their first doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. It's now possible that all adults could get their first shot by July, Henry says. --- Nunavut The territory says it expects enough vaccines for 75 per cent of its population over the age of 18. After a COVID-19 vaccine is administered, patients will be tracked to ensure they are properly notified to receive their second dose. Nunavut's priority populations are being vaccinated first. They include residents of shelters, people ages 60 years and up, staff and inmates and correctional facilities, first responders and front-line health-care staff. --- Northwest Territories The Northwest Territories its priority groups — such as people over 60, front-line health workers and those living in remote communities — are being vaccinated The territory says it expects to vaccine the rest of its adult population starting this month. --- Yukon Yukon says it will receive enough vaccine to immunize 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March. Priority for vaccinations has been given to residents and staff in long-term care homes, group homes and shelters, as well as health-care workers and personal support workers. People over the age of 80 who are not living in long-term care, and those living in rural and remote communities, including Indigenous Peoples, are also on the priority list for shots. --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2021. The Canadian Press
Voluntary asymptomatic testing at two Hamilton schools on Friday and Saturday found no positive cases of COVID-19 among more than 250 participants. Testing is being offered to asymptomatic students and staff on a voluntary basis as part of a provincial mandate that boards offer tests in five per cent of their schools — and at least two per cent of their students — each week. At the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, 142 people — 90 students and 52 staff — were tested on Friday at a clinic at Saltfleet District High School in Stoney Creek. About 3,600 in-person learners — plus educators and child-care workers — from Saltfleet and its eight elementary feeder schools were eligible. “The weather was better this time than the first one at (Orchard Park),” said spokesperson Shawn McKillop in an email to The Spectator. Fewer than 100 students and staff participated in Feb. 13 pilot clinics at Orchard Park Secondary School in Stoney Creek and Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School in Hannon on a snowy long weekend. Among the 86 participants — 65 students and 21 staff — no positive cases of the virus were detected. McKillop said the Saltfleet clinic was promoted to more HWDSB families and that there may be “more awareness in our community in general related to the testing.” Testing at Saltfleet exceeded the 130-test capacity indicated by the vendor last week. The board said on Monday the vendor likely had “additional supplies” to accommodate walk-ins. “There was no individual turned away,” he said. At the Catholic board, a total of 114 people — 62 students and 52 staff — were tested a St. John Henry Newman Catholic Secondary School in Stoney Creek on Friday and Saturday. Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board chair Pat Daly said the number of staff tested was “more aligned” with what they had anticipated. “With regard to students, I believe we had expected somewhat of a higher turnout,” he said. On Thursday, 29 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests were conducted at St. Ann Catholic Elementary School in central Hamilton, which had been in outbreak until Sunday. The board said Monday the PCR test results have yet to be confirmed. Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
Administrative staff presented Kneehill County council members with a draft policy to reduce council remunerations to aid the county in saving money amid financial hardships, which came as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, during the Tuesday, February 23 regular Kneehill County council meeting. Discussion first began in December 2020 and was brought back to council during the Tuesday, January 26 council meeting where council voted in favour of administration drafting a new remuneration policy. “I like how it’s all brought back into one policy, especially Schedule A showing a decrease of 15 per cent roughly,” said Councillor Debbie Penner. According to council expense reports, each council member receives an annual base pay remuneration of $27,958; the Reeve and Deputy Reeve receive base pay of $36,468 and $31,605 respectively. Attendance at regular council meetings is included in the base salary rates, and council also receive per diem for attendance at other board and committee meetings, mileage allowance for travel--which is already at the minimum mandatory rate set by the Canada Revenue Agency, and a communications allowance--which has been beneficial throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when attendance at regular council and committee meetings may not have been feasible. Council remuneration fell under numerous policies, including overnight and conference attendance. The drafted Council Compensation and Expense Reimbursement Policy will combine the 13 current policies into a singular, overarching policy. The draft policy will reduce council base pay by 15 per cent and includes compensation for attendance at various social functions as representatives of Kneehill County, including various ceremonies, parades, and photo ops. Councillor Kenneth King thanked his fellow council members for the work done to review the policies. He moved for the new Council Compensation and Expense Reimbursement Policy to be brought back for ratification at the Tuesday, March 9 council meeting. Lacie Nairn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Drumheller Mail
For author Eden Robinson, saying goodbye to the "Trickster" trilogy feels like a "mutual breakup." For the past decade, Robinson says the supernatural book series had been occupying her mind from the moment she wakes up, to those last hazy thoughts while drifting off to sleep. As "Return of the Trickster" hit shelves Tuesday, Robinson, who is from the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations, said the culmination of her coming-of-age tale about a young Indigenous man grappling with his magical family history has created a conscious void. "It's left a huge hole where I wake up and go, 'Oh, yeah, that's done.' And go to sleep and go, 'Oh, I don't really have a book yet.'" Normally, Robinson said she'd move on to her next writing project. But for now, the Kitamaat Village, B.C.-based writer feels like she could use a "breather" as she closes the book on "Trickster" amid the fallout from the cancellation of the TV adaptation of her series. "It's like a mutual breakup," said Robinson, 53. "You have to be alone by yourself." In January, CBC pulled the plug on the second season of the "Trickster" series, which premiered to positive buzz last fall, after a CBC News report questioned co-creator Michelle Latimer's claims of Indigenous identity. The public broadcaster said the decision to end "Trickster" was made in consultation with members of the creative team, including Robinson, who in a statement said seeing a young, Indigenous cast "soar'' was "one of the best parts of 2020'' for her. Ahead of the show's debut last October, Robinson told The Canadian Press she kept picturing the actors as their characters while writing "Return of the Trickster." Robinson said releasing the book with the knowledge that those visions won't be realized feels "surreal." She declined to comment further on the cancellation of the CBC series. But Robinson she's had her fill of the film and TV world for a while. "That was enough," she said. "I'm done." Robinson's preferred medium is the page. But in crafting the supernatural final showdown in "Return of the Trickster," the author said she sought to emulate the oral tradition of one-upmanship that shaped the trickster stories she was raised on. "When I'm listening to two storytellers battling back and forth, it's always thrilling," said Robinson. "I was hoping to have that same sense in the last book, that we've gone as far up as we can go." The final installment of the trilogy raises the stakes for protagonist Jared — who like his biological father, is a shape-shifting, dimension-trotting trickster — as he faces off against his ogress aunt and her pack of organ-gobbling coy wolves. Jared is joined in this battle by a motley crew of mythical beings, including a witch, a sasquatch and an octopus monster. Robinson said Jared's strength lies not only in his supernatural abilities, but the connections he's made throughout the series. She feels the same is true of her own success, which she said wouldn't be possible without the support of her community. "With the Haisla and Heiltsuk, you are an individual, but you're also thoroughly enmeshed in your community," said Robinson. "If you're given a big name, you have a lot of status, but you also have a lot of crushing responsibility." This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press
The pandemic has negatively affected female and racialized faculty. Universities need to make sure their career advancement doesn't suffer.
A paramedic in Newfoundland and Labrador has been diagnosed with COVID-19, CBC News has learned, and it's not yet clear whether that person was positive on the job. "They are currently doing well," said Rodney Gaudet, president of the Paramedic Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. Gaudet could not confirm whether the paramedic made contact with members of the public while on the job, citing a continuing investigation by public health. He said it also wasn't clear where the paramedic caught the virus. Eastern Health has not responded to requests for more information. The case is the first among the province's 900 or so paramedics, he confirmed, despite close and prolonged contact with patients. It's an added stress on a system already burdened by the pandemic, Gaudet said. A number of his members are already in isolation due to an outbreak at St. Clare's Mercy Hospital, as well as various other potential exposures. "Those that are not isolating, they're having to pick up extra shifts, pick up the slack," he said. "That's creating an extra strain on them." Paramedics average about 10 calls in every 12-hour shift, said Gaudet. They're often required to enter homes, then sit with possibly contagious patients in the back of an ambulance while waiting for a spot at a hospital emergency department. They're "basically stuck there until a bed becomes available," he said. "We've had people waiting in there for hours." Rodney Gaudet, president of the Paramedic Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, confirmed a positive case among his members on Tuesday.(Katie Breen/CBC) Paramedics wear full protective equipment, which is removed before entering the front of the ambulance. At least one paramedic remains in close proximity to the patient until they're admitted to hospital, wearing gloves, a mask and face shield. Those long off-load delays further tax ambulance services, which have seen an uptick in calls in the last year, said Gaudet. "That creates quite a strain on our system. We are already understaffed … and now with this weighing us down further, it makes it harder on the practitioners," Gaudet said. Close to 100 per cent of paramedics in the St. John's metro area have been immunized, Gaudet said, but a "number" of his members are still waiting for the vaccine. Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador
NEW YORK — When Eddie Murphy made the original “Coming to America,” he was, almost indisputably, the funniest man in America. Murphy was at the very height of his fame, coming off “Beverly Hills Cop II” and the stand-up special “Raw.” They were heady times. Arsenio Hall, Murphy’s longtime friend and co-star in “Coming to America,” remembers them sneaking out during the shoot to a Hollywood nightclub while still dressed as Prince Akeem and his loyal aide Semmi. “We were insane,” says Hall. The ’80s, Murphy says, are “all a blur.” “I was so young, all this stuff was happening. You take everything for granted when you’re young, how successful I was,” Murphy says, speaking by Zoom with a shelf of award statuettes behind him. “Now I take nothing for granted and appreciate everything.” Thirty-three years after “Coming to America,” Murphy and Hall have returned to Zamunda. The sequel, originally planned to hit theatres last year, was sold due of the pandemic by Paramount Pictures to Amazon, where it will begin streaming Friday. It’s an unlikely coda to a blockbuster comedy, one that belongs so completely to the late ’80s that even the sequel tries to keep some of that era’s spirit. (A few notable R&B and hip-hop groups make cameos.) “Coming 2 America,” directed by Craig Brewer, reverses the fish-out-water plot to bring Queens to Zamunda after Akeem learns he fathered a son (Jermaine Fowler) on his first visit to New York. Some elements have been updated. There’s a plot of female empowerment; KiKi Layne plays Akeem’s daughter. At the barbershop, where Murphy and Hall also reprise their characters, the conversation bounces from Teslas to transgender people. “We had a draft where they had on MAGA hats and they were Republicans,” says Murphy. “It was funny but it was like, eh, let’s not even go there.” Instead, Murphy and his collaborators — including writers Barry W. Blaustein, David Sheffield and Kenya Barris — felt the core appeal of “Coming to America” lies in its fairy tale premise. “This is the only movie I’ve ever done that had a cult following,” says Murphy. “We had totally forgot about ‘Coming to America.’ Then this movie took on this life in the culture. It became like a cult movie. Lines from the movie became catchphrases. People do the mic drop now. The very first mic drop is Randy Watson from ‘Coming to America.’” “Coming to America” has indeed played a unique role in culture since 1988. Real-life McDowell's fast-food restaurants — the McDonald's knockoff from the movie — have briefly popped up in Los Angeles and Chicago. Beyoncé and Jay-Z once dressed up as characters from the film for Halloween. But the John Landis-directed movie was also a massive success on release. It was the second-highest grossing film domestically in 1988 with $128.2 million in tickets sold — nearly double what “Die Hard” made that year. Globally, it grossed $288.8 million, or more than $630 million adjusted for inflation. To Murphy, that’s the movie’s legacy. “‘Coming to America’ is the first movie in the history of the movies that had an all-Black cast that travelled all around the world,” says Murphy. “They don’t give a s--- about Selma and Martin Luther King and civil injustice, whatever our story is in America. They don’t give a s--- about that around the world. “It’s not about being Black. It’s about love and family and tradition and doing the right thing,” Murphy adds. “If ‘Black Panther’ was about the hood, people wouldn’t have seen ‘Black Panther’ all around the world.” The connections between “Coming to America” and “Black Panther” — both rare depictions of Black royalty and a mythic Africa — are many. Before making “Black Panther,” Murphy has said Ryan Coogler approached him about a “Coming to America” sequel. During production on “Black Panther,” Lupita Nyong’o (once not a fan of “Coming to America” for its cliched depiction of Africans) and other cast members threw a “Coming to America” birthday party. Ruth E. Carter designed the costumes of both “Black Panther” and “Coming 2 America.” Both were shot in Atlanta. “I’ve had people say, ‘Now Zamunda isn’t a real place, right?’” says Brewer. “And I say, ‘No, it’s definitely a real place. I believe it’s just northeast of Wakanda.’” The script for “Coming 2 America” was worked on for four years but shooting started quickly. Murphy first suggested Brewer direct “Coming 2 America” during a dinner with John Singleton after a test screening of “My Name Is Dolemite,” the Rudy Ray Moore biopic that helped spur a revival for the 59-year-old Murphy. “‘Coming to America’ was one of my favourite movies as a teenager,” says Brewer, speaking from his home in Memphis, Tenn. “I couldn't help but just say ‘Yes!’ immediately. Then it became clear to me that this is going to go, like, now.” “Coming 2 America” also rekindles the great comedic chemistry between Murphy and Hall. Murphy estimates the close friends have seen each other two or three times a week for 40 years. But they went decades before talking about a sequel. “All of a sudden I’m reading this script that I love and I realize this movie that we thought we never were going to do a sequel to, we’re about to head to Atlanta — which is America’s Africa,” says Hall. The shoot took place on the Tyler Perry Studio sound stages, with Rick Ross’ nearby mansion serving as the Zamunda palace. The movie reunites most of the original cast — including James Earl Jones, John Amos and Shari Headley — and brings in many others, too, including Wesley Snipes, Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan. Hall, who had been doing stand-up with Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, sensed everyone wanted in. “One day in the dressing room, Dave is like, ‘I heard ya’ll are doing ‘Coming to America 2.’ I said, ‘Yeah, man.’ He said, ‘I want to be in that,’” recalls Hall. (A scheduling conflict interfered and the versatile Hall, who has four roles in the movie, ended up playing the witch doctor part Chappelle might have.) Some things have changed with time. This “Coming to America" is rated PG-13. Murphy was just 27 when he made “Coming to America.” Now, he has 10 children and a grandchild. His daughter, Bella, has a small role in the film. “He joked about it on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ about him versus Cosby and who’s America’s favourite dad now. But there’s something to that,” says Brewer. “If you’re ever around Eddie and his kids — and now his grandchild — you see that he’s truly a man who loves his family and does not need the public’s constant validation and appreciation to know who he is.” Family life figures prominently in Murphy’s newer stand-up material. A long-awaited return to performing in 2020 had been his intention before the pandemic hit. Those plans haven’t been cancelled; when live performance returns, Murphy says, “then we’ll do stand-up.” Until then, Murphy, a proud homebody, has found himself back where he started. “I had gotten off the couch to go to work. I said, ‘OK, let me get off this couch I’ve been on for eight years. Let me go do some work,’” Murphy says. “And we were rolling. We did everything we set out to do. The big thing was going back to ‘Saturday Night Live.’ We was on a high. ‘Coming 2 America’ was in the can. Then the whole world fell apart.” “I was all ready to go,” Murphy says, grinning, “and then I had to go sit back on the couch.” ___ Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP Jake Coyle, The Associated Press
On Wednesday, the verdict in Toronto’s van attack trial will be revealed. Alek Minassian has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. Erica Vella reports.
EDMONTON — Alberta’s health minister says the province is considering whether to follow British Columbia in extending the time between COVID-19 vaccine doses. Tyler Shandro says a committee of COVID-19 experts is analyzing emerging data and a decision is coming. The B.C. government announced Monday that it will extend the wait between first and second doses to four months to get more people vaccinated overall in a shorter time period. B.C. based its decision on data coming from the United Kingdom, Israel and Quebec that showst the first dose of vaccines is 90 per cent effective. When Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech began distributing their vaccines late last year, it was recommended the first and second shots be completed within about six weeks maximum to be fully effective. The Oxford-AstraZeneca has also been approved for use in Canada, but a national panel of vaccine experts is recommending it only be given to people under 65 – a guideline Shandro says Alberta will follow. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021 The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Naval Academy is developing plans to begin vaccinating midshipmen this month so students can deploy to ships and with Navy teams as part of their training this summer, Vice Adm. Sean Buck told Congress Tuesday. If the vaccines are available, the midshipmen would be the first military academy students to receive the COVID-19 shots. The plans come as the Naval Academy wrestles with a new uptick in positive coronavirus cases, and has locked down the campus in Annapolis, Maryland, for 10 days. Students have been restricted to their rooms for classes and meals, and can go outside for a maximum of two hours a day, with only one roommate. The lockdown was announced on Sunday, and includes the suspension of sports events and practices, other than the men's varsity basketball team, which will participate in post-season play because the athletes have been isolated since last week. Speaking to the House Defence Appropriations subcommittee, Buck said that he's given Navy leaders a timeline for when he'd like to begin giving vaccines to midshipmen who will be deploying out to the fleet. “Our Navy has prioritized the operational forces first. They’re getting vaccinated. They have a very safe and healthy bubble,” Buck told lawmakers. “And for them to be willing to accept our midshipmen from the academy as well as midshipmen from NROTC universities around the country, we need to vaccinate them prior to the summer training.” The Navy has had several small outbreaks on ships, both deployed and at home ports, and leaders have been trying to get crews vaccinated in order to avoid upticks in the virus. The USS Theodore Roosevelt, an aircraft carrier, had a massive outbreak early last year while at sea, and was sidelined in Guam for weeks while the crew went through a methodical quarantine process. To meet the training timelines, Buck said a small initial group of students would have to start getting vaccines by the last week of March, in order to get out to their deployments in mid-May. That would give them time to get both shots, and have two weeks to ensure their immunity was in full effect. Buck and the superintendents for the Army and Air Force academies told lawmakers that they have all started providing vaccines to their faculty and staff, based on the priorities set by the CDC and the Defence Department. But the Air Force and Army academies haven't yet begun preparations to give shots to students. Army Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., said about 4,000 staff and faculty have gotten the vaccine so far, which is about half. He said first responders and vulnerable people are prioritized, as noted in the CDC and Pentagon guidelines. He added that he's confident students will want to get the vaccine once it's available. Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, superintendent of the Air Force Academy in Colorado, noted that the cadets are “the most healthy of our population and they fall into the lower level” of the priorities. Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press
Texas on Tuesday became the biggest state to lift its mask rule, joining a rapidly growing movement by governors and other leaders across the U.S. to loosen COVID-19 restrictions despite pleas from health officials not to let down their guard yet. The state will also do away with limits on the number of diners who can be served indoors, said Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who made the announcement at a restaurant in Lubbock. The governors of Michigan and Louisiana likewise eased up on bars, restaurants and other businesses Tuesday, as did the mayor of San Francisco. “Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” said Abbott, speaking from a crowded dining room where many of those surrounding him were not wearing masks. “It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed." A year into the outbreak, politicians and ordinary Americans alike have grown tired of rules meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed over a half-million people in the United States. Some places are lifting infection control measures; in other places, people are ignoring them. Top health officials, including the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have responded by begging people repeatedly not to risk another deadly wave of contagion just when the nation is making progress in vaccinating people and victory over the pandemic is in sight. U.S. cases have plunged more than 70% over the past two months from an average of nearly 250,000 new infections a day, while average deaths per day have plummeted about 40% since mid-January. But the two curves have levelled off abruptly in the past several days and have even risen slightly, and the numbers are still running at alarmingly high levels, with an average of about 2,000 deaths and 68,000 cases per day. Health officials are increasingly worried about virus mutations. “We stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned on Monday. Even so, many states are allowing restaurants to resume indoor dining, reopening movie theatres and expanding mass gatherings, while Americans are eager to socialize again. An Indianapolis-area bar was filled with maskless patrons over the weekend. In Southern California, people waited in lines that snaked through a parking lot on a recent weekday afternoon for the chance to shop and eat at Downtown Disney, part of the Disneyland. (The theme park's rides remain closed.) And Florida is getting ready to welcome students on spring break. “People want to stay safe, but at the same time, the fatigue has hit,” said Ryan Luke, who is organizing a weekend rally in Eagle, Idaho, to encourage people to patronize businesses that don’t require masks. "We just want to live a quasi-normal life.” Miichael Junge argued against a mask mandate when officials in the Missouri tourist town of Branson passed one and said he hasn’t enforced it in his Lost Boys Barber Company. He said he is sick of it. “I think the whole thing is a joke honestly,” he said. “They originally said that this was going to go for a month and they have pushed it out to indefinitely. ... It should have been done a long time ago.” In San Francisco, and upbeat Mayor London Breed announced that California gave the green light to indoor dining and the reopening of of movie theatres and gyms. Florida is getting ready for spring break travellers to flock to its sunny beaches. The state is considered to be in an “active outbreak,” along with Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and South Carolina, according to the data-tracking website CovidActNow. Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis made it clear during his annual State of the State speech Tuesday that he welcomes more visitors to Florida in his drive to keep the state’s economy thriving. Municipalities can impose their own mask rules and curfews, restrict beach access and place some limits on bars and restaurants, but some have virtually no such measures in place ahead of the season. Miami Beach will require masks both indoors and out and will restrict the number of people allowed on the beach as well as in bars and restaurants. “If you want to party without restrictions, then go somewhere else. Go to Vegas,” Miami Beach City Manager Raul Aguila said during a recent virtual meeting. “We will be taking a zero-tolerance attitude towards that behaviour.” In Michigan, a group called All Business Is Essential has resisted Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s virus policies, and many people are abandoning mask requirements and other measures, said group leader Erik Kiilunen. “At some point you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Do I want a zero-risk life?’” he said. “It’s become a farce, really. People have quit living for a year, at what price?” “I think everybody wants things to get back the way they were,” said Aubrey D. Jenkins, the fire chief in Columbia, South Carolina, whose department issues dozens of $100 citations every weekend to bar-goers who refuse to wear masks or keep their distance. “But we still have to be real cautious.” ___ Webber reported from Fenton, Michigan. Associated Press writers Brendan Farrington in Tallahasee, Florida; Anila Yoganathan in Tucker, Georgia; John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan; Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Paul J. Webber in Austin, Texas; Janie Har in San Francisco; and David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this story. The Associated Press
When archivist Claire Hunter began painstakingly restoring old land grants from the 19th century, she had no idea the writing material wasn't paper. She thought she was dealing with standard paper documents, but a co-worker started caling the parchments "chew toys," and that's when Hunter realized what she was working on. "Back in the day for land grants, they'd actually stretch cattle and sheep and pigskin, it's actually skin from animals," said Hunter, who works at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. "You can see the follicles on the paper depending on if it's really, really dry … I never knew that it was stretched animal skin." Parchment paper, not to be confused with the wax paper–like product used in baking, has been used as writing material for over 2,000 years. Hunter said there are lots of regular paper land grants at the archives, but these specimens are affixed with stamps and seem "fancier" than the rest. "They're very official," said Hunter. "When you find out the material, it definitely seems more important as well, than compared to just using paper." She says there are some special steps archivists have to take when preserving these documents. "The material is kind of sticky," said Hunter. "So when you're mending it and flattening it, you have to be very careful because it can stick to each other because of this type of material. And you don't want to mend it in a way that will be irreversible because it is sticky." And for Hunter, a recent graduate from a fine arts program, the chance to work with the documents is a challenge. "To switch up and have to learn a new material is so exciting, and it is very interesting," she said. Hunter said parchment can be both easier and more difficult to preserve. "The material is definitely going to last longer because paper can easily be eaten away," said Hunter. "But the only thing too, with this being skin, bugs are attracted to it more … So if you don't house it properly, which we do here, it can be destroyed more easily."
LINCOLN, Neb. — The Biden administration's plan to funnel more coronavirus aid into states with greater unemployment has irked governors with lower jobless rates, even though many have economies that weren't hit as hard by the pandemic. The $1.9 trillion relief bill working its way through Congress allocates extra money to larger, mostly Democratic-run states with higher unemployment rates, while rural Midwestern and Southern states that tend to have Republican governors and better jobless numbers would benefit less. “You're penalizing people who have done the right thing," said Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican whose state has reported the nation's lowest unemployment rate over the last several months. “That's not the way you want to approach any sort of government program.” Ricketts was one of 22 governors — 21 Republicans and one Democrat — who have criticized the change in the pandemic relief proposal. Under previous coronavirus packages signed by former President Donald Trump, aid was distributed by population. If the new funding formula is approved, states including California, New York and New Jersey would each see a boost of more than $2 billion, while Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio would all see aid reductions greater than $500 million. Georgia and Florida would see losses of more than $1.2 billion. Many of the Republican-led states have taken a more hands-off approach to the pandemic to try to keep businesses open, while Democratic states argued that tighter mandates were necessary to save lives and help their economies over the long term. The White House defended President Joe Biden's distribution plan, saying it targets money to areas where it will have the biggest impact. “President Biden's rescue plan is focused on quickly getting help to the people and communities that need it most,” said Michael Gwin, director of White House rapid response. Iowa State University economist David Swenson said the White House's approach makes some sense because the states with the highest unemployment rates are generally the ones that relied more on industries battered by the pandemic, such as tourism. “If proportionally more people are unemployed in Las Vegas and California and other places that are entertainment destinations, then it would make sense to send money to those places instead of Iowa and Nebraska,” Swenson said. Critics argued that many of the hardest-hit states had higher jobless rates even before the pandemic began. “Some states just have naturally lower unemployment rates,” said Ernie Goss, an economist at Creighton University in Omaha. “That's one of the problems with doing it that way.” Goss said it might make more sense to distribute aid to states that saw the biggest increases in unemployment during the pandemic. But he cautioned that the unemployment rate is still an incomplete measure of any state's economy, because it doesn't count people who have stopped looking for work. Ohio Republican Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said his state's jobless rate is likely unreliable because of massive unemployment fraud. He said Ohio has made multiple efforts to return people to work safely, but the new funding formula would cost his state about $800 million in federal aid. “Doing things that put people back to work actually are going to cost us relief dollars that the people who aren't back to work actually need,” Husted said Monday. “We don't feel that is a fair way to do this.” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said the funding formula “punishes states that took a measured approach to the pandemic and entered the crisis with healthy state budgets and strong economies.” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who vice chairs the National Governors Association, last month raised concerns about using unemployment when he and other governors met with Biden. “That’s really a disincentive for economic growth and people working,” Hutchinson told The Associated Press after the meeting. ___ Contributing are Associated Press reporters Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio; Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas; Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Josh Boak in Baltimore; and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida. ___ Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte Grant Schulte, The Associated Press
SYDNEY – Danny Paul of Membertou First Nation has been wearing his hair long for 50 years. He remembers that at the Indian Day School he attended in Membertou as a child, he was forced to keep his hair short. Paul points out that for those who were removed from their families and communities to attend residential schools, “the hair would be the first thing to go. They’d cut their hair because they knew it was important to our people.” Residential schools were established by the Canadian government in the late 1800s, with the goal of assimilating Indigenous children by disconnecting them from their culture and traditions. In its 2015 report, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission asserted that forced hair cutting and other practices used by residential schools amounted to "cultural genocide." The attitude of the Canadian government in the early years of Confederation is summarized by this excerpt from a letter written by Duncan Campbell Scott, the deputy superintendent general of Indian Affairs in 1931: “It is the opinion of the writer that … the Government will in time reach the end of its responsibility as the Indians progress into civilization and finally disappear as a separate and distinct people, not by race extinction but by gradual assimilation with their fellow citizens." Stephen Augustine, a hereditary chief of the Mi'kmaq Grand Council and the associate vice-president of Indigenous Affairs at Unama'ki College at Cape Breton University, has had long hair for most of his life. He first grew it in the 1960s, “during Beatlemania and the civil rights movements in the United States with Malcolm X, and then immediately behind that was the red power movement, the Native America movement, the stand-off at Wounded Knee … so for most Native Americans and Canadians it was more a cultural thing than a hippie thing to grow their hair and I’m one of the ones that grew my hair to stand up against colonialism, that kind of ideology.” Augustine says he now wears his long hair proudly, and doesn’t often get negative comments about it but when he was younger it was sometimes an issue. “Every time I would get a job with the federal government they would say, ‘We require people with shorter hair than you have, can you cut it?’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah, I can cut it,’ but, I mean, it hurt. It hurt me but I also wanted to work.” As an elder advisor with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Augustine travelled the country between 2010 and 2015, hearing stories from residential school survivors. “One of the stories that stuck out for me was, when children ran away from residential schools, and they did that often enough, they would bring them back (and) they would literally cut their hair bald as a punishment for running away and it would discourage them from running (away) because they would embarrass them in front of the other kids.” Augustine says when he heard about eight-year-old Linden Lafford from Potlotek First Nation being bullied by a non-Indigenous man and a child for his long hair, it was disappointing but not surprising. “A lot of young kids in First Nations communities across Canada experience this in their lives and it’s become normalized, being taunted and made fun of for having long hair. He’s got every right to grow his hair long just like me and it shouldn’t make him feel any less valued in our society.” Lafford was visiting a public washroom alone at Lanes at Membertou when he was told by another patron to go to the women’s washroom because his hair made him look like a girl. Lafford received thousands of messages of support after his mother, Mary Lafford, made a public Facebook post expressing her anger and distress over the incident. Danny Paul, when discussing Lafford’s experience, says, “I wish that bully were here now. Not so that I could yell at him or berate him but so that we could teach him.” At Membertou Heritage Park, workshops are available to learn about Mi’kmaq culture and history, says general manager Jeff Ward. He also wears his hair long as his ancestors did. He says it is taught that long hair strengthens the spirit and that when the hair is braided the three strands represent the mind, body and soul. “Your hair, we’re taught from our elders and our teachings, your hair is sacred and it’s an extension of your spirit. Only my wife braids it because this is my spirit and not just anybody can touch my hair.” Ward says he’s shocked when visitors to Membertou Heritage Park or even strangers he meets out in the community touch his hair. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, I love your hair and I respect your hair and your culture so much,’ and they touch my hair not realizing what they did by touching my hair without permission. It hurts when someone does that but I forgive them because I know they don’t know the teaching.” Ward says everyone is welcome to visit Membertou Heritage Park and to attend their offering of cultural workshops that teach about Mi’kmaq protocols, perceptions and teachings, legends and stories and how to be an ally. Ward says it’s important to keep in mind that all Canadians have rights and responsibilities under the treaties signed by the federal government and Indigenous peoples. “It’s fine if people don’t believe in what we’re saying, don’t share these beliefs but what we’re asking for is respect necessarily given to people with long hair, especially men.” Ardelle Reynolds, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cape Breton Post
Whether you claim to be an expert at chess or just want to learn the game, there will soon be a spot for you at the Astor Theatre Society Chess Club. John Simmonds, chair of the Astor Theatre Society and lifelong chess player, is leading the charge in the formation of the club. “I’ve always enjoyed the game and gave it up for a number of years,” he said. “As I got back into activities with the Astor and we took over the Town Hall Arts and Culture Centre, we had these rooms available. I had the idea of starting a chess club and using one of the rooms for some time, but COVID-19 happened,” he said. When restrictions started easing up a bit, he believed it was a good time to get something started. Simmonds was hoping to have the club’s first get-together March 11 at 3:30 p.m. to gauge interest in it. He hopes to expand on that by making two time slots available, depending on interest — 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. for youth and 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for adults. Plans are to meet each Thursday and times may be adjusted depending on the interest shown. There is no charge to drop in and play. “My feeling is that if you build it, they will come. I think there are a sufficient number of people in Liverpool who are either interested in learning the game or people that have played and would like a formal venue in which to play, learn and develop,” said Simmonds. Those interested in joining the club can contact the Astor Theatre box office during office hours at 902-354-5250 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin
TORONTO — Ontarians should be encouraged to see friends and relatives outdoors in the coming months, some health experts said Tuesday in stressing the need for realistic pandemic guidance following a winter of isolation. Now that most of the province has emerged from the stay-at-home order imposed in January, it's crucial to give residents safer options to socialize to help prevent another spike in COVID-19 infections, particularly in light of new, more contagious variants of the virus, some experts said. "It's really important now that we find realistic solutions for people, and what we know is that we by all means should avoid ... that people now congregate inside," said Dr. Peter Juni, an epidemiologist and director of the province's COVID-19 science advisory table. "People are social animals. We need something to balance ourselves mentally, socially, and psychologically, and so we will need to find a good way forward." A simple message – that outdoor, distanced gatherings are safer, while any indoor gatherings with people from other households should be avoided – should help people make decisions based on common sense, he said. Juni said he felt the need to bring the issue to the science table after seeing photos of large crowds and lineups inside malls and big box stores over the weekend, which he said gave him "goosebumps." The group will discuss possible recommendations to the province regarding messaging related to gatherings over the next few weeks, he said. While being outdoors doesn't mean there is zero risk of infection, that risk becomes "minimal" if people also follow distancing and masking guidelines, he said. By comparison, congregating indoors is "playing with fire," he said. Dr. Nitin Mohan, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Western University, said switching the messaging to promote outdoor activities makes sense from a harm reduction standpoint. "Folks have been indoors for quite some time. We know the mental health and other psychological issues that are going to be a result ... of our lockdown and quarantine measures," he said. "So if folks can get outdoors and it's safe to do so, I think it should be encouraged." There is a risk people may get used to seeing their loved ones when the weather is nice, and then break the rules when it's too cold or snowy to meet outdoors, Mohan said. "Are you comfortable saying, 'hey we probably can't see each other today, let's wait until it gets warmer,' or does it become sort of a lack of compliance where 'hey, we've already seen each other outside, it's no big deal to come inside for a quick cup of coffee,'" he said. "And that's where it becomes problematic." People also have to be reasonable in terms of the kinds of gatherings they're having, Mohan said, noting it won't be safe to have "500 people in a backyard barbecue." Timothy Sly, an epidemiologist and professor at Ryerson University, echoed that warning. "In very general terms, 'outdoors' presents a huge reduction in risk, all other factors being unchanged. BUT this is NOT the time for throwing the masks away and getting into yelling at sports arenas or close-up BBQ parties," he said in an email. "Those will be super-spreader events for sure, especially with the new variants." Most of Ontario has returned to the government's colour-coded system of pandemic restrictions after weeks under an order that required residents to stay home except for essential activities. The government still advises all residents to limit close contact to those in their household. Restrictions regarding gatherings vary between the colour-coded zones, with the more stringent grey or lockdown zone prohibiting indoor gatherings and allowing outdoor ones of up to 10 people with distancing measures in place. Regions in the green, or least restrictive, zone permit private gatherings of up to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, along with events of up to 50 people indoors and up to 100 outdoors, all with distancing measures in place. Three regions -- Toronto, Peel, and North Bay-Parry Sound -- remain under the stay-at-home order that's set to last until March 8. A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the possibility of updating the guidelines on outdoor gatherings. Health officials in Toronto, meanwhile, said their guidance on socializing remains the same. "Our advice at this time is still to try to maintain as much distance and to not interact with people with whom you don't live," the city's top public health doctor, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said earlier this week. "And if you have to be outside, to really keep your distance and to ensure that you're wearing your mask as much as possible." - with files from Denise Paglinawan This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Minister of Health Tyler Shandro joined Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw during her regular COVID update on Monday, March 1 to announce the province is moving on to Step 2 of the phased relaunch. Hospitalizations and ICU admissions have declined since the first phase of restrictions eased in February; however, despite admissions below the threshold to enter Step 3 of the phased relaunch, the Alberta government is taking cautious steps towards a full reopen. “We are taking a cautious approach, recognizing active cases and hospitalizations have declined, but the threat of COVID-19 remains real,” Premier Kenney said during the press conference. “Thanks to the hard work of Albertans over the past few weeks, we’re taking this safe step forward.” Effective immediately, libraries will be permitted to reopen to the public at 15 per cent capacity--not including staff members. Adults will also be allowed to resume indoor low-intensity individual and group exercises, though masks and three metres physical distancing between each individual are mandatory. Fitness activity will be by appointment only, with no drop-ins permitted. Children’s sports and high-intensity activities, such as running, spin, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), are still prohibited unless done with a paid, professional trainer. The next phase of reopening will be considered, at the earliest, in three weeks on Monday, March 22. As of Monday, March 1 there are five active and 210 recovered cases of COVID-19 within the Town of Drumheller. This includes four active and 64 recovered cases at the Drumheller Institution. Starland County currently has zero active cases; Wheatland and Kneehill Counties each have five active cases. Lacie Nairn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Drumheller Mail
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s Cabinet is taking shape at the slowest pace of any in modern history, with fewer than a dozen nominees for top posts confirmed more than a month into his tenure. Among Biden’s 23 nominees with Cabinet rank, just 11 have been confirmed by the Senate, or about half. And among the 15 core nominees to lead federal agencies, 10 have been confirmed, or about two thirds. According to the Center for Presidential Transition, about a month into their first terms, the previous four presidents had 84% of their core Cabinet picks confirmed. The delay in confirmations means some departments are left without their top decision-makers as they attempt to put in place policies to address the overlapping crises brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said there are a number of “big decisions” at HHS and across the federal government that are waiting on leadership from the top. “It’s very unfortunate. And in the middle of a huge health crisis, it’s the wrong thing to do,” she said. “Civil servants are capable, but they need leadership. And they’re used to having leaders.” Shalala was confirmed two days after President Bill Clinton was sworn in, and said she had her chain of command ready to go and could immediately dig into a long list of decisions and policy changes. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the Biden administration’s HHS nominee, will get a committee vote Wednesday, and he’s expected to receive easy confirmation. But Shalala pointed to a laundry list of issues — from oversight of hospitals, health care companies and nursing homes during the pandemic to issues surrounding drug pricing, telemedicine and child care services — that urgently need his input. Lacking a department head, she said, “just slows everything down.” Matt Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit organization that tracks presidential transitions, said federal departments tend to act more conservatively around decision-making and shifting policies without the top brass in place. “Missing the top person means that it’s pretty difficult to actually address the very big questions and to make big changes," he said. “And there’s a natural conservatism in place when people don’t know yet what the top person is going to really want.” The slow pace in confirmations partly results from the delay in the transition process resulting from President Donald Trump's attempts to dispute his loss in the 2020 presidential race and from what the Biden White House says was a lack of co-operation from Trump administration officials. Senate Democrats did not win a majority of seats in the chamber until the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff elections, and then it took nearly a month for Democratic and Republican leadership to agree on a resolution governing the organization of the upper chamber, which further delayed committee work. And Democrats privately acknowledge that Trump’s second impeachment trial also slowed down the process some, eating up a week of valuable time in the Senate and bogging lawmakers down with other work beyond reviewing and processing Biden’s nominees. Still, Biden transition spokesman Andrew Bates said that after the delays “stemming from the previous administration’s resistance to the will of the American people,” the relatively smooth confirmation progress in recent weeks “is both welcome and appreciated.” He added, however, “it is hardly enough, and nominees with strong bipartisan support — and who are critical to defeating the pandemic and turning our economy around with the creation of millions of jobs — remain needlessly obstructed by individual members. That must change.” The Biden administration has prioritized confirming those nominees who are key to national security, the economy and public health decisions. Biden does have in place his director of national intelligence, and his top brass at the departments of State, Homeland Security and Defence, as well as his treasury secretary. But in addition to waiting on Becerra at HHS, the administration lacks top leaders at the Justice Department, Housing and Urban Development and the Small Business Administration, departments that will be key to some of Biden's top priorities and the implementation of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill, if it's passed into law later this month. And the delay in confirming top posts also means a delay in confirming and seating deputy secretaries and undersecretaries, who are often in charge of the nitty gritty in implementing major policy. Shalala noted, for instance, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will offer guidance on how insurers should cover coronavirus costs and implementation on aspects of the COVID-19 aid bill, and currently only has an acting administrator. She also noted HHS has deputies who oversee everything from refugee resettlement to child care programs. Among those awaiting confirmation is Biden’s nominee to head the budget office, Neera Tanden. Her nomination is in doubt after she lost support from a key Democrat and a number of centrist Republicans, adding to uncertainty surrounding the administration’s first budget. The Biden administration has yet to offer a timeline for releasing the budget, citing the transition delays and a lack of co-operation from the Trump administration. That puts them behind most recent presidents, who typically submit written budget toplines to Congress by the end of February, though Trump didn’t submit his until mid-March. The Biden administration has not been completely hamstrung by the slow pace of confirmations, however. The White House has issued a number of executive orders outlining policy reviews and changes that are underway at federal departments, and civil servants are working through key policy decisions, even without Senate-confirmed leadership in place. For instance, while Biden’s nominee to head the Department of Education, Miguel Cardona, was just confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday, the department's acting head last month put out guidelines requiring states to administer standardized tests despite the pandemic. And Stier noted that the Biden administration has installed hundreds of non-Senate-confirmed staff across the federal government, helping to provide guidance even without department heads in place. Biden himself swore in more than 1,100 non-Senate-confirmed staff throughout the federal government on the first day of his presidency, a number Stier said was unprecedented. "It ameliorates the problem in that you then have in place people who can provide guidance to the career team about what the administration’s positions and priorities are," Stier said. ___ AP writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Matthew Daly and Ashraf Khalil contributed to this report. Alexandra Jaffe, The Associated Press
PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — In all, Lionel Desmond spent five years seeking treatment for debilitating mental disorders that emerged after he served as an infantryman during a violent tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2007. In 2011, he was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression while still serving in the military. But it wasn't until 2016 — almost a year after he was discharged from the military — that he was also diagnosed with "mixed personality traits," an inquiry in Nova Scotia learned Tuesday. The provincial fatality inquiry is investigating why the former corporal bought a rifle on Jan. 3, 2017 and fatally shot his 31-year-old wife, Shanna, their 10-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, and his 52-year-old mother, Brenda, before killing himself in their rural Nova Scotia home. The inquiry has heard much evidence about Desmond's PTSD and depression, mental disorders that combined to cause poor sleep, vivid nightmares, anti-social behaviour, hyper-vigilance and flashbacks that forced him to relive gruesome firefights. But something new was introduced Tuesday by Dr. Robert Ouellette, a psychiatrist at Ste. Anne's Hospital in Montreal, where Desmond was assessed and received in-patient treatment between May 30 and Aug. 15, 2016. Ouellette said Desmond also suffered from so-called mixed personality traits, which mainly involved obsessive compulsive and paranoid behaviour. The psychiatrist said these traits, which were not full-blown disorders, complicated Desmond's treatment because they made him suspicious of other people's motives and unwilling to trust others. "He was not sure if we were working with him or against him," Ouellette testified. As well, Ouellette said these traits seemed to feed Desmond's mistrust and jealousy towards his wife. "They doubt everybody," he said, referring to Desmond's condition. "They will not confide in others because they feel they will turn against them." Ouellette said Desmond's anger and jealousy toward his wife wasn't caused by his PTSD, but the psychiatrist said the condition "might have exacerbated these traits of his personality." Ouellette stressed that the former corporal would have benefited from taking additional medications, something he agreed to do before he arrived at the hospital. But by June 16, 2016, Desmond told Ouellette he would not be taking more drugs. At one point, Desmond told the psychiatrist: "You're not going to take the demon out of me." Still, Ouellette said his patient had made progress in the initial stabilization program, when he reported better sleep patterns, more energy, increased socialization and virtually no depression. That's why Ouellette recommended Desmond for the residential phase of the treatment program, even though he felt his chances for success were only "50/50." In the end, Desmond refused to take new medications, and he left the treatment program before it was finished in August 2016, the inquiry has heard. "If he would have taken the right medications, he would have shown more progress in the residential program and later at home," Ouellette said. The prescribed medications and therapy at the hospital would have also helped Desmond control his outbursts, he said. "Anger was a major problem for him," he said. When asked if Desmond should have been able to access firearms, Ouellette said that would have been a bad idea, mainly because of his anger management challenges. Despite Desmond's lack of co-operation when it came to medications, Ouellette reported that his patient was highly motivated to attend the residential program because he was desperate to become a better father and husband. "There were a lot of problems with his wife," Ouellette said. "He made that the purpose of being with us .... He was always talking more about his marital life than his PTSD symptoms." Ouellette said Desmond's wife told hospital staff that her husband had never been physically violent toward her and their daughter, and she said she was not afraid of him. The psychiatrist said Shanna and Aaliyah Desmond had visited him in Montreal for four days, and there was every indication it was a successful encounter. Desmond left the hospital in August 2016. The inquiry has heard that Desmond received no therapeutic treatment for the next four months, even though Veterans Affairs Canada was in the process of getting him the help he needed. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. — By Michael MacDonald in Halifax The Canadian Press