Snow falling, and covering the landscape.
Snow falling, and covering the landscape.
While Ontario and Quebec are the epicentres of COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada, people in First Nations are being hit the hardest in Western Canada, where they make up half the number of hospitalizations in some provinces. The rising curve is alarming federal officials, who urged the provinces during a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday to continue prioritizing Indigenous populations as they roll out vaccines. "So what we're saying to Canadians, to Indigenous Peoples, is now is not the time to let down your guard," Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said. "This is not the time to ease public health restrictions." As of Jan. 19, Indigenous Services Canada was reporting 5,571 active cases on reserves — most of them in Prairie provinces: British Columbia: 580 Alberta: 1,312 Saskatchewan: 1,196 Manitoba: 2,241 Ontario: 93 Quebec: 144 Atlantic: 5 Indigenous Services Canada has reported 13,873 confirmed COVID-19 cases on reserves since last March. More than 90 per cent are in Western Canada: British Columbia: 1,348 Alberta: 4,459 Saskatchewan: 3,525 Manitoba: 3,643 Ontario: 428 Quebec: 462 Atlantic: 8 First Nation leaders and health experts say there are several reasons why infections are increasing in First Nations in Western Canada, including overcrowding, gatherings, people letting their guard down, relaxed restrictions and people driving in and out of communities with road access for goods and work. Lack of housing With COVID-19 caseloads rising all across Canada, the pandemic is emerging in places where it wasn't before, said Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at Temerty Faculty of Medicine and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. "It's quite concerning that COVID is starting to break into these communities," Banerji said. "They've held the forts for so long." Banerji researched respiratory infections in Inuit communities for over two decades. She said the main risk factors facing First Nations are poor access to health care services, underlying ailments, food insecurity, poverty and overcrowding. Banerji said she fears that when people get sick in First Nations, they can't find places to self-isolate. Onekanew (Chief) Christian Sinclair of Opaskwayak Cree Nation, 628 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, said his community needs 600 more houses. "When you have people living under one roof, anywhere from six to as high as 14 members living under one roof on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, you can see how quickly that spread can happen," Sinclair said. "We're second-class citizens living in Third World conditions in a first world country." Opaskwayak Cree Nation has had success in preventing and controlling outbreaks by enforcing curfews and monitoring who enters and leaves the community with border patrols paid for by Indigenous Services Canada. The highest funding requests the department has seen for the Indigenous Community Support Fund — which was created to help communities fight COVID-19 — have been for perimeter security, said Valerie Gideon, associate deputy minister of Indigenous Services. Close to 350 First Nations across the country have closed their borders to non-essential travel, she added. But even with the added layer of security in some places, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says 50 per cent of all active COVID cases in Manitoba are First Nations members. Call for stricter provincial measures Relaxed provincial measures are also being blamed for the rise in First Nations cases. The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan is calling on the province to close bars and liquor establishments. "We believe alcohol in the bars is a contributing factor," said FSIN Vice Chief David Pratt, who recently recovered from COVID-19. "When you're on alcohol, you're more likely to lose your inhibitions, share drinks and not keep those social distance practices in practices and in check." Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs' Organization in Manitoba is urging the provincial and federal governments to enforce tougher rules to limit travel. Daniels said he thinks caseloads are rising because of people going back and forth from First Nations to urban areas. "I think until COVID is completely wiped out, they should be taking the strongest approach possible," Daniels said. Daniels said nearly 80 per cent of the 34 Anishnaabe and Dakota communities he represents are trying to control the spread of COVID-19. Concern for loss of elders Dr. Shannon McDonald, acting chief medical officer at the First Nations Health Authority in British Columbia, said there isn't enough rapid testing available to test everyone who needs to travel to B.C. First Nations, and some tests can't detect infections in their first few days. "It only takes one person to come in and spend time with people in the community," McDonald said. McDonald fears the pandemic could take a particularly heavy toll on First Nations communties. "I always worry about our elders," McDonald said. "Our elders are our knowledge-keepers, our language holders and they are the human libraries, culturally. So communities are very sensitive to that, but individuals who are choosing not to adhere to public health advice are putting those individuals at risk and I really worry about that." Lawrence Latender, a member of Dauphin River First Nation, has felt first-hand the impact of COVID-19 during an outbreak in his community 250 kilometres north of Winnipeg. He recently lost seven neighbours and friends to the virus, including two aunts and an uncle. "I don't know if I had time to really grieve because it's one thing after the other," Latender said. "It's like you're focused on one death and then you're, well ... 'OK now I got to focus on this one. Ok, this one is gone, now I got to focus on this one.'" Letander, his wife and two young sons also tested positive, but have since recovered. Indigenous Services Canada says that, so far, there have been 120 COVID-19 deaths in First Nations. But with 169 Indigenous communities now administering the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and more doses on the way, there's hope the chain of transmission will break.
From a global perspective, there was nothing unique about the recent raid on the U.S. Capitol. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have backed military coups around the world for decades.
Souvent embauchés pour exercer un emploi de nuit, des milliers de travailleurs au statut migratoire précaire sont dans l’impossibilité d’obtenir une attestation de leur employeur pour justifier leurs déplacements entre 20 h et 5 h. Craignant d’être interceptés par la police, ce qui pourrait leur valoir une contravention, voire l’expulsion, ils sont contraints de quitter l’emploi qui leur permet de subvenir à leurs besoins et à ceux de leurs familles. Le couvre-feu a des conséquences lourdes pour des milliers de travailleurs de nuit œuvrant dans des domaines essentiels, comme l’entretien ménager et l’alimentation. Deux travailleurs mexicains nous ont confié l’état de leur situation. Les noms des travailleurs cités dans ce reportage ont été modifiés afin de protéger leur identité. Arrivée du Mexique avec un permis de travail temporaire en septembre 2019, Angela a travaillé comme femme de ménage dans un hôtel de Québec jusqu’en décembre 2020. L’industrie de l’hôtellerie ayant été durement touchée par la pandémie, son employeur n’a pas été en mesure de fournir une nouvelle évaluation de l’impact sur le marché du travail (EIMT), ce qui a entraîné le refus du renouvellement de son permis de travail. « Mon permis expiré, je suis tombée sans statut à la fin décembre », raconte la mère de trois enfants, venue au Québec en quête d’une meilleure rémunération pour pouvoir subvenir à leurs besoins. « J’ai pu trouver un emploi en entretien ménager de nuit dans un centre commercial à Lévis, mais j’ai dû le quitter début janvier en raison du couvre-feu. » Travaillant au noir, Angela se débrouille pour l’instant pour payer son loyer en faisant l’entretien ménager de bureaux quelques heures par soir. « J’arrive à 17 h, une fois que les gens sont partis. Toutefois, je dois repartir vers 19 h 40, pour réussir à attraper le bus qui me permet de rentrer chez moi juste avant 20 h. » Gagnant très peu d’argent en faisant trois heures de travail quotidien, elle nous confie devoir à tout prix trouver un autre emploi de jour pour pouvoir couvrir son loyer, payer les honoraires de l’avocat qu’elle a embauché pour l’aider à retrouver son statut migratoire et recommencer à envoyer de l’argent à ses enfants. « Je veux pouvoir offrir à mes enfants un meilleur avenir. Mon fils aîné est à la veille de commencer l’université. Il veut être médecin », raconte Angela, qui devra quitter le Québec si elle ne réussit pas à trouver un emploi de jour à temps plein d’ici quelques semaines. Sans statut depuis 2013 en raison du refus de sa demande d’asile, Omar travaille en assainissement dans un abattoir situé à l’extérieur de Montréal depuis quelques mois. N’ayant droit à aucune aide du gouvernement en raison de son statut, tout comme Angela, il dépend à 100 % des emplois au noir qu’il peut trouver çà et là pour couvrir ses dépenses et pouvoir envoyer de l’argent à ses enfants au Mexique chaque mois. Jusqu’à l’entrée en vigueur du couvre-feu, le résident de Villeray devait se rendre chaque soir à 22 h tapant à une station de métro dans l’est de la ville pour monter en voiture avec un de ses collègues qui l’emmenait au travail pour son quart de travail qui commençait à 23 h. Depuis le 8 janvier, il doit se rendre chez son collègue avant 20 h et attendre l’heure du départ assis près de la porte. « Je ne suis pas censé entrer chez lui, mais je n’ai pas d’autre choix si je veux me rendre au travail. Je dois briser une loi pour éviter de contrevenir à une autre », avoue le père de trois enfants, qui craint de tomber sur la police chaque fois qu’il est en déplacement vers son travail depuis le 8 janvier. « Mon collègue n’est pas à l’aise de m’accueillir chez lui, car il habite avec sa famille, et mon boss craint que je lui attire des ennuis si je me fais arrêter, car il m’embauche sans papiers. Alors, c’est ma dernière semaine de travail. » Juan devra recommencer sa recherche de travail dès samedi prochain. « J’ai toujours fait le travail que les autres ne veulent pas faire. Actuellement, je lave les machines et le plancher souillés de sang et d’excréments de porc, mais cela ne me dérange pas, pourvu que je puisse travailler pour nourrir mes enfants et payer l’avocat qui soumet ma demande de résidence permanente pour des raisons humanitaires », dit-il. « Depuis la première vague de COVID-19, le rôle clé des travailleurs sans statut dans notre société a été mis en évidence. Ils occupent souvent les emplois que la société n’arrive pas à pourvoir malgré les incitatifs financiers du gouvernement », explique Mostafa Henaway, organisateur communautaire au Centre de travailleurs et travailleuses immigrants. Il ajoute qu’il est nécessaire de remettre en question le rôle de la police dans la crise sanitaire actuelle. « En raison du couvre-feu, ces travailleurs doivent rester cachés dans l’ombre et perdre leurs revenus, n’ayant aucune garantie que la police ne vérifiera pas leur identité ou n’alertera pas l’Agence des services frontaliers du Canada. Nous devrions plutôt consacrer toutes ces ressources aux agences de santé publique ou à la santé et à la sécurité au travail », conclut-il.Karla Meza, Initiative de journalisme local, Le Devoir
As the COVID-19 vaccine program rolls out across the province and country, polls indicate most Canadians intend to get immunized. For the minority who remain uncertain – safety and effectiveness are cited as primary concerns – we gathered the most common questions and turned to scientists, experts, and reputable sources for answers. Do vaccines work? Yes. Every year, vaccines prevent people around the world from contracting dozens of infectious diseases and their variants, including, polio, hepatitis, measles, tetanus, tuberculosis and others. According to the World Health Organization, over the past century, billions of vaccinations have been administered globally, preventing 2 to 3 million deaths annually. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are both about 95 per cent effective at preventing symptoms, serious illness, and the development of COVID-19. Seasonal influenza vaccines typically have between a 40 to 60 per cent effectiveness. “When someone receives a vaccine, it stimulates our own body's immune system to produce antibodies to that antigen, that protein,” said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. The vaccine was developed so fast, is it safe? “The global community of scientists have collaborated in ways we never experienced before, with a single purpose in mind to develop a safe and effective vaccine for the world,” Henry said. “The greatest brains around the world were put to this process and to this task.” Each vaccine manufacturer had to demonstrate clear and substantial scientific and clinical evidence that the vaccines are safe, effective, and manufactured to the highest quality, she said. COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial results published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Dec. 10 indicated similar safety levels to other commonly administered virus vaccines. “Health Canada, and other regulators around the world, set the bar high to ensure that any vaccines that came out of this process met those standards, that they were safe, that they worked, and that they were quality vaccine,” Henry said. How long will I be immune after I get vaccinated? Immunity varies for different vaccines. Some provide immunity for years, some for a lifetime, and others, like influenza, for months. So far, the immunity levels have held steady for people who received the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines beginning with clinical trials last fall. “It's at least three to four months, which is good news,” said Henry. We won’t know the full length of immunity until more time passes. Can I still spread the virus after getting vaccinated? It’s not yet known whether people can shed virus after being immunized. Vaccines are effective tools against the spread of communicable disease. The COVID-19 vaccine will slow the spread of the virus by reducing the number of people who contract the disease and suffer severe illness, but it won’t eliminate the virus. “This disease appeared a year ago, and we've made so much progress in terms of knowledge about this disease in a year it is incredible,” said Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, a pediatric infectious disease physician who holds the Canadian Research Chair in Infection Prevention at the University of Montreal and is also Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). “So yes, there are things we don't know, and I think it is important to acknowledge we don't know. But I don't think that that should stop people from getting vaccinated.” Will I still have to wear a mask after I’ve been immunized? Yes. While the vaccine is about 95 per cent effective at preventing the development of COVID-19, it’s not yet known if a vaccinated person can, subsequently, be an asymptomatic spreader of the virus, just as it’s unknown whether a person can be reinfected after contracting COVID-19 naturally. “That's why, it's still really important that everybody continues to wear masks, to clean their hands regularly, to take those measures that we know prevent transmission to droplets between people,” said Henry. COVID-19 isn’t as serious as public health is saying – why don’t we just let the disease die out naturally? “The risk of complication and death is just too high to let it run its course,” said Quach-Thanh. In Canada, as of Jan. 20, more than 725,000 people had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 18,462 Canadians had died from the disease (including 1,004 people in B.C.) over the duration of the pandemic. Worldwide, more than 2 million people had died and more than 97 million had been diagnosed with COVID-19. By that date in the U.S., 24.4 million Americans had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 405,000 people had died of it. Virginia Commonwealth University researchers called the COVID-19 mortality rate in the U.S. ‘calamitous,’ comparing it to having 15 Airbus jetliners carrying 150 people crash every day. Will the government make vaccinations mandatory? Neither Federal, nor British Columbian government officials have suggested mandating vaccinations. According to a recent Ipsos poll for Global News, however, 64 per cent of Canadians support mandatory vaccination, while 72 per cent said they would get vaccinated as soon as they could, including 88 per cent of British Columbians polled. Are the vaccine side effects worse than the disease? In Canada, side effects so far have been similar to mild flu symptoms, sometimes intensifying after the second dose, Quach-Thanh said. Common side effects include pain at the site of injection, body chills, fatigue or feeling feverish. These indicate a healthy immune system response and tend to occur within one to three days of inoculation, resolving within hours or a few weeks, according to Health Canada. As of Jan. 20, almost 700,000 COVID-19 shots had been administered in Canada, including almost 98,125 in B.C. By the same date, more than 55 million COVID-19 vaccine shots had been administered worldwide, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. “If something happens, we will hear about it, because the company has to report it to Canada,” said Quach-Thanh. Pregnant women, people with severe autoimmune conditions such as cancer patients, and people who have previously had severe allergic reactions to vaccines should consult a health practitioner before getting vaccinated. Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine? “There is absolutely no way you can get COVID-19 from the vaccine. It is not possible,” said Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at University of California Davis Children’s Hospital in the school’s health bulletin. “None of the vaccines being developed use the live virus. There is nothing in the vaccine that could cause COVID-19.” Should I get vaccinated? “I think that if we are able to stop this pandemic, it will be due to the vaccine, otherwise, it will strain our lives like this for many, many, many years to come,” said Quach-Thanh. “The Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines are very effective at preventing symptoms, especially severe symptoms, and preventing people from hospitalization and dying from COVID,” said Henry. For more information, visit: BCCDC.ca or Canada.ca Fran@thegoatnews.ca / @FranYanor Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Rocky Mountain Goat
Workers trapped in a gold mine in China since Jan. 10 may have to wait another 15 days before they can be rescued because of a blockage on their intended escape route, officials said on Thursday. A total of 22 workers were trapped underground after an explosion at the Hushan mine in Qixia, a major gold-producing region under the administration of Yantai in Shandong province on the northeast coast. However, at least another 15 days may be needed to clear obstacles, Gong Haitao, deputy head of Yantai's propaganda department, told a news conference at the headquarters of the rescue operation.
The number of people confirmed to have COVID-19 in Fort Liard, N.W.T., now stands at six. That's according to a 9 p.m. news release from the territory's chief public health officer, Dr. Kami Kandola. Kandola says she's "cautiously optimistic" that the situation in that community is now under control. "However, we do still expect to see some more infections in the community in the coming days — and things can change very quickly." The release confirms no other cases were detected in the territory Wednesday, including in Yellowknife, where last week a case surfaced with no known origin. The news release again suggests that the positive wastewater signal detected in Hay River was linked to the Fort Liard cluster, and not to Hay River. A vaccination clinic planned in Fort Liard Thursday will go ahead as planned. It will run from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Information on who will get vaccinated and how will be available at the Fort Liard health centre Thursday morning. Additional clinics will run Friday and Saturday. The territory has now given out 1,893 vaccinations, according to the N.W.T. government.
WASHINGTON — Three new senators were sworn into office after President Joe Biden's inauguration, securing the majority for Democrats in the Senate and across a unified government to tackle the new president's agenda at a time of unprecedented national challenges. In a first vote, the Senate confirmed Biden's nominee for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines late Wednesday, overcoming Republican opposition to approve his first Cabinet member. It's traditionally a show of good faith on Inauguration Day to confirm at least some nominees for a new president’s administration. On Thursday, the new Senate majority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he hoped Biden's nominees for the departments of Defence, Homeland Security, State and Treasury could also be swiftly confirmed. “To leave these seats vacant does a disservice to America,” Schumer said at the Capitol. Schumer introduced all six new Democratic senators — the “majority makers” — who he said represent an “expanding Democratic majority." Four are from the West and two from the South. They are a diverse group bringing several firsts to the Senate, along with Schumer's rise as the first Jewish majority leader of the Senate. The three who joined on Wednesday — Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Alex Padilla of California — took the oath of office from Kamala Harris, a former California senator who is first woman to be vice-president, and the first Black woman and Asian-American to hold that office. Warnock, a pastor from the late Martin Luther King Jr.'s church in Atlanta, is the first Black senator from Georgia. Ossoff, a former congressional aide and investigative journalist, is Jewish and also the now youngest member of the Senate, at 33. They won run-off elections in Georgia this month, defeating two Republicans, to lock the majority for Democrats. Padilla, a the son of immigrants from Mexico, becomes his state's first Latino senator, tapped by California’s governor to finish the remainder of Harris’ term. They join a Senate narrowly split 50-50 between the parties, but giving Democrats the majority with Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote. “Today, America is turning over a new leaf. We are turning the page on the last four years, we’re going to reunite the country, defeat COVID-19, rush economic relief to the people,” Ossoff told reporters earlier at the Capitol. “That’s what they sent us here to do.” Taken together, their arrival gives Democrats for the first time in a decade control of the Senate, the House and the White House, as Biden faces the unparalleled challenges of the COVID-19 crisis and its economic fallout, and the nation's painful political divisions from the deadly Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol by a mob loyal to Donald Trump. Congress is being called on to consider Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion COVID recovery package, to distribute vaccines and shore up an economy as more than 400,000 Americans have died from the virus. At the same time, the Senate is about to launch an impeachment trial of Trump, charged by the House of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol as rioters tried to interrupt the Electoral College tally and overturn Biden’s election. The Senate will need to confirm other Biden Cabinet nominees. Yet as Washington looks to turn the page from Trump to the Biden administration, Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is not relinquishing power without a fight. Haines' nomination was temporarily blocked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., as he sought information about the CIA's enhanced interrogation program. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is holding back the Homeland Security nominee, Alejandro Mayorkas, over Biden's proposed immigration changes. McConnell is refusing to enter a power-sharing agreement with Senate Democrats unless they meet his demands, chiefly to preserve the Senate filibuster — the procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation. At her first White House briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s desire to have his Cabinet confirmed and in place is “front and centre for the president,” and she said he was hoping to have his national security nominees in place Thursday or Friday. Psaki said the president will be “quite involved” in negotiations over the COVID relief package, but left the details of the upcoming impeachment trial to Congress. The Senate can “multitask,” she said. That’s a tall order for a Senate under normal circumstances, but even more so now in the post-Trump era, with Republicans badly split between their loyalties to the defeated president and wealthy donors who are distancing themselves from Republicans who back Trump. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is expected to soon transmit to the Senate the House-passed article of impeachment against Trump, charged with incitement of insurrection, a step that will launch the Senate impeachment trial. Meantime, the power-sharing talks between Schumer and McConnell have hit a stalemate. It’s an arcane fight McConnell has inserted into what has traditionally been a more routine organizing resolution over committee assignments and staffing resources, but a power play by the outgoing Republican leader grabbing at tools that can be used to block Biden’s agenda. Progressive and liberal Democrats are eager to do away with the filibuster to more quickly advance Biden’s priorities, but not all rank-and-file Senate Democrats are on board. Schumer has not agreed to any changes but McConnell is taking no chances. For now, it will take unanimous consent among senators to toggle between conducting votes on legislative business and serving as jurors in the impeachment trial. The House last week impeached Trump for having sent the mob to the Capitol to “fight like hell” during the tally of Electoral College votes to overturn Biden’s election. __ Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report. ___ This story has been updated to correct that Sen. Tom Cotton represents Arkansas, not Oklahoma. Lisa Mascaro, The Associated Press
COVID-19 conspiracy theories – even recycled ones from previous epidemics – fill an information void, empower and impart belonging, and build vaccine hesitancy. In the study, Understanding Vaccine Hesitancy, McGill University and University of Toronto researchers tracked Canadians’ views of the COVID-19 vaccine from April until the end of November. Sixty-five per cent of respondents said they intended to get a vaccine; 15 per cent were unwilling, and 20 per cent were unsure. Of those who said no to the vaccine, 77 per cent cited safety and efficacy concerns. Yet, when presented with scenarios where the vaccine would be 90 per cent effective with minimal side effects, their views remained unchanged. Whereas the unsure group were more willing to get vaccinated after learning about the effectiveness and safety attributes of the vaccine. After surveying 40,000 Canadians and reviewing 277 million social media posts on Twitter, Reddit and Facebook, the study concluded distrust of experts was the strongest determinant of vaccination hesitancy. Conspiratorial thinking came second. People who lack social power are especially susceptible to conspiracy theory, said Suffolk University folklore professor Dr. Jon Lee, who specializes in conspiracies and narratives during epidemics. “It provides a voice for them that gives them power.” Conspiracies can also convey identity and belonging, said Lee, who wrote the book An Epidemic of Rumors. Such as when Trump supporters banded together and stormed the U.S. capital buildings this month in an attempt to stop congress from ‘stealing’ the presidency from the candidate who lost the election. “Believing in the conspiracy theory gives someone a sense that other people are believing the same thing I do,” said Lee. Some of the most enduring conspiracies throughout history imply government deception, political intrigue and misconduct. For Interim B.C. Liberal Leader Shirley Bond, truth, data, and transparency are the solutions. “People need a real sense of certainty, they need to know that there’s a plan,” she said. “If you give people the information, it helps make the why clearer to them, and it helps inform their personal decision.” A conspiracy theory can flourish in an information void. “The distance between the time a pandemic arises and the time that science or medicine can give an answer is sometimes enormous, and the public wants information now, so conspiracy theories are an easy thing to turn to,” he said. “When people can’t easily access reliable information around vaccines and when mistrust in actors and institutions related to vaccines is high, misinformation narratives rush in to fill the vacuum,” according to a report by First Draft, an international non-partisan network that helps build resilience against harmful disinformation on social media. The challenge for information providers – reporters, fact checkers, governments, health bodies – is to find the data deficits, prioritize them, and act fast, the report stated. “It's really hard for somebody who doesn't trust the government and the experts, to listen to what I'm going to say,” said National Advisory Committee on Immunization Chair Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, a pediatric infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital. A popular anti-vaccine conspiracy posits that Big Pharma, in collusion with government, is pushing the vaccines to make money. “I have no ties with industry. The only reason I'm for the vaccine is that I look at the data,” said Quach-Thanh. “I think if we are able to stop this pandemic, it will be due to the vaccine.” Getting ahead of a conspiracy isn't easy; stopping it after it’s out the door, is pretty much impossible. "Fake news spreads more quickly and more easily than the virus, and can be just as dangerous," World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last February. Conspiracies have been around as long as humans. In 1832, German writer Heinrich Heine was in Paris during the devastating cholera outbreak when rumours circulated that the death and sickness weren’t from a randomly transmitted disease but rather due to men who were deliberately poisoning the water and food sources. “Men who seemed suspicious were searched and woe to them when any doubtful objects were found on them. The mob threw themselves like wild beasts or lunatics onto their victims.” wrote Heine. Ultimately, six suspected poisoners were literally torn apart by crowds before a newspaper article later set the facts straight: there was no poisoning, no poisoners; the deaths were all from cholera. Lee called that the ‘deliberate infector’ narrative or, in modern lingo, the super spreader. “People who purposely spread the disease either because they have it themselves, or because they're trying to kill other people,” he said. Some narratives repeat from epidemic to epidemic, such as those with racist undertones, said Lee. Asian people were implicated in SARS; with H1N1, it was Mexicans, and in 2020, it was the Wuhan or China Virus. “We keep having these same things that we return to, over and over again,” Lee said. “It's almost like you take the narrative from a previous outbreak, take out the name of the disease, and just plug in the name of the (new) disease, and circulate.” Fran@thegoatnews.ca / @FranYanor Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Rocky Mountain Goat
Doctors and nurses are grappling with the strain of exhaustion and loss. Joy Halliday, consultant in intensive care and acute medicine, is in charge of a high-dependency unit for COVID-19. It is a step down from an intensive care unit (ICU), and severely ill patients there are receiving CPAP oxygen.
VANCOUVER — Bo Horvat scored the shootout winner to give the Vancouver Canucks a 6-5 victory over the Montreal Canadiens Wednesday. The Canucks captain put a shot between the legs of Montreal goalie Carey Price to seal the win in Vancouver’s home opener. Horvat and Brock Boeser each had two goals and an assist for Vancouver (2-3-0) in regulation. Tyler Motte also scored for the Canucks, and J.T. Miller notched three assists. Canucks goalie Braden Holtby stopped 31-of-36 shots through regulation and overtime. Carey Price had 23 saves for the Canadiens (2-0-2), who have yet to be beaten in regulation this season. Former Canuck Tyler Toffoli scored a hat trick for Montreal in regulation, while Jesper Kotkaniemi had a goal and an assist and Brendan Gallagher scored his first goal of the year. Boeser forced overtime 16:51 into the third period, blasting a snap shot past Price for his second goal of the game. Toffoli had put the Canadiens up by one 32 seconds earlier, deflecting in a shot by Jeff Petry. Toffoli spent the end of last season in Vancouver after the Canucks acquired him from the L.A. Kings at the trade deadline. He had 10 points (six goals, four assists) in 10 regular-season appearances for Vancouver, then signed a four-year deal, at US$4.25-million per season with Montreal in free agency. Kotkaniemi had evened the score at 4-4- with a blast from the top of the slot 10:14 into the third period. It was the first goal of the season for the 20-year-old Habs forward. Horvat had previously broken a 3-3 deadlock with a power-play goal 3:24 into the final frame. Miller sent the Canucks captain a slick pass from below the goal line and Horvat snapped a shot past Price from the slot. After struggling through the first four games of the season and failing to convert on 15 opportunities with the man advantage, Vancouver's power play found its groove Wednesday The Canucks opened the scoring with a power-play marker 11:07 into the game after Montreal's Ben Chiarot was called for holding. Miller slid a short pass to Horvat who riffled it in past Price for the Canucks' first power-play goal of the season. The home team added another 12:13 into the second frame when Kotkaniemi was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after appearing to say something untoward to an official. Vancouver's power play looked strong from the start, with shots from Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes missing the target before Boeser hammered in a rebound. Motte also scored for the Canucks in the second period, patiently skating deep into Montreal territory and assessing his options before sending a wrist shot past Price. Vancouver suffered some breakdowns in the second frame, though, starting 1:37 in when the squad lost track of Toffoli during a Canadiens change. Kotkaniemi sent Toffoli the puck and he waltzed deep into the Vancouver zone alone, putting a shot over Holtby's blocker. It was the 28-year-old centre's first goal of the year. Toffoli struck again with a power-play goal 5:27 into the second period after Antoine Roussell was called for interference. Nick Suzuki sent the puck rocketing towards the Vancouver net and Toffoli tipped it in for his second goal of the game. Gallagher added to the Canadiens goals to close out the period, deflecting a pass from Tomas Tatar into the net and ensuring the score was tied at 3-3 heading into the second intermission. Wednesday's game marked the first the Canucks played in Vancouver in 316 days. Without fans in the stands, players from both sides could be heard vocally disputing the officials' calls and cheering teammates on. Simulated crowd noise pumped into the arena sounded similar to the background noise in videogames. Midway through the second period, a video on the big screen over centre ice read "make some noise," challenging the upper bowl to compete with the lower bowl as both sat empty. Montreal won't have to wait long to seek revenge for the loss -- the Canadiens and Canucks will face off again in Vancouver on Thursday. NOTES: Canucks defenceman Jalen Chatfield made his NHL debut. The 24-year-old from Ypsilanti, Mich., went undrafted before signing as a free agent with Vancouver in March 2017. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021. Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press
Our panel of U.S. politics experts break down Wednesday’s inauguration, from the traditions to the speeches and the first actions by President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris.
Washington– This is the verbatim executive order killing the Keystone XL pipeline, again, assigned by newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden within his first hour in the Oval Office: “Sec. 6. Revoking the March 2019 Permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline. (a) On March 29, 2019, the President granted to TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P. a Presidential permit (the “Permit”) to construct, connect, operate, and maintain pipeline facilities at the international border of the United States and Canada (the “Keystone XL pipeline”), subject to express conditions and potential revocation in the President’s sole discretion. The Permit is hereby revoked in accordance with Article 1(1) of the Permit. “(b) In 2015, following an exhaustive review, the Department of State and the President determined that approving the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would not serve the U.S. national interest. That analysis, in addition to concluding that the significance of the proposed pipeline for our energy security and economy is limited, stressed that the United States must prioritize the development of a clean energy economy, which will in turn create good jobs. The analysis further concluded that approval of the proposed pipeline would undermine U.S. climate leadership by undercutting the credibility and influence of the United States in urging other countries to take ambitious climate action. “(c) Climate change has had a growing effect on the U.S. economy, with climate-related costs increasing over the last 4 years. Extreme weather events and other climate-related effects have harmed the health, safety, and security of the American people and have increased the urgency for combatting climate change and accelerating the transition toward a clean energy economy. The world must be put on a sustainable climate pathway to protect Americans and the domestic economy from harmful climate impacts, and to create well-paying union jobs as part of the climate solution. “(d) The Keystone XL pipeline disserves the U.S. national interest. The United States and the world face a climate crisis. That crisis must be met with action on a scale and at a speed commensurate with the need to avoid setting the world on a dangerous, potentially catastrophic, climate trajectory. At home, we will combat the crisis with an ambitious plan to build back better, designed to both reduce harmful emissions and create good clean-energy jobs. Our domestic efforts must go hand in hand with U.S. diplomatic engagement. Because most greenhouse gas emissions originate beyond our borders, such engagement is more necessary and urgent than ever. The United States must be in a position to exercise vigorous climate leadership in order to achieve a significant increase in global climate action and put the world on a sustainable climate pathway. Leaving the Keystone XL pipeline permit in place would not be consistent with my Administration’s economic and climate imperatives.” Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury
BlackRock Inc, the world's largest asset manager, is adding bitcoin futures as an eligible investment to two funds, a company filing showed. The company said it could use bitcoin derivatives for its funds BlackRock Strategic Income Opportunities and BlackRock Global Allocation Fund Inc. The funds will invest only in cash-settled bitcoin futures traded on commodity exchanges registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the company said in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday.
SYDNEY — People travelling to Australia from most other countries will need to test negative for the coronavirus before they depart, as of Friday. Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said Thursday that he has signed orders that require international travellers to have a negative test within three days of leaving for Australia. All internationals passengers will also have to wear masks on their flights. New Zealand and a handful of Pacific Island countries are exempt from the new rules. ___ THE VIRUS OUTBREAK: Britain hits another record daily virus deaths. Ontario's leader asks Biden for 1 million vaccine shots due to Pfizer shortfall for Canada. India to start delivering Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines to neighbouring countries. Expert panel says both China and the WHO should have acted faster to prevent the pandemic. Surging infections give Spain’s new emergency hospital in Madrid a chance for use. Italy ponders suing Pfizer for vaccine delays. __Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak ___ HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING: TOKYO — Japanese electronics maker Panasonic Corp. says it is using its refrigerator technology to develop special boxes for storing the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, which must be kept at ultracold temperatures. The company said Thursday that samples will be ready in March, with a product to follow a month or two later. The box will use dry ice to maintain the temperature at the minus-70 degrees Celsius required for the Pfizer’s vaccine. It does not need to plug in. Japan’s government has deals with various drug companies, including one with Pfizer for enough vaccine to inoculate 72 million people this year. That is more than half the nation’s population. Japan is pushing a vaccine rollout after a surge in coronavirus cases, including a more than doubling of its pandemic death toll in the last three weeks to more than 4,600. ___ BEIJING — China is imposing some of its toughest travel restrictions yet as coronavirus cases surge in several northern provinces ahead of the Lunar New Year. Next month’s festival is the most important time of the year for family gatherings in China, and for many migrant workers it is often the only time they are able to return to their rural homes. This year, however, travellers must have a negative virus test within seven days of departure, and many local governments are ordering quarantines and other strict measures on travellers. A national health official had this message Wednesday for Chinese citizens: “Do not travel or have gatherings unless it’s necessary.” Officials are predicting Chinese will make 1.7 billion trips during the travel rush. That is down 40% from 2019. ___ MEXICO CITY — Mexico has had a second consecutive day of COVID-19 deaths surpassing 1,500. Officials reported 1,539 such deaths Wednesday, a day after 1,584 deaths were listed. There was also a near-record one-day rise in new virus cases of 20,548. Mexico has seen almost 1.69 million confirmed coronavirus infections and over 144,000 test-confirmed deaths related to COVID-19. With the country’s extremely low testing rate, official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000. Mexico City is the current epicenter of the pandemic in the country, and 89% of the capital’s hospital beds are in use. For the nation as a whole, 61% of hospital beds are filled. ___ TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s surgeon general is urging the federal government to increase allotments of coronavirus vaccine to states like his where large concentrations of seniors face the greatest risk of illness and death from COVID-19. But Dr. Scott Rivkees added Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press that Floridians will eventually get their turns at vaccination. In his words, “The message is this: We will get to you.” It will be many months before all Floridians can be vaccinated. With 21.5 million people, Florida is the country’s third most populous state, and the state has vaccinated at least 1.1 million people so far. Since the pandemic began, the state has recorded about 1.6 million coronavirus cases and had more than 24,500 deaths — 83% of them 65 or older. ___ O’FALLON, Mo. -- Missouri's governor says the state plans to have mass vaccination sites by the end of the month in an effort to get more protection against the coronavirus to more people. Gov. Mike Parson said Wednesday that he will activate the National Guard to help with new vaccination sites in each of the nine Missouri State Highway Patrol regions. Specific dates and locations for the sites were not announced. Each will be capable of administering up to 2,500 doses per day. The state also plans to send “targeted vaccination teams” to St. Louis and Kansas City, where they will work with clergy to help get vaccinations to “vulnerable populations” in the two cities. State officials say at least 250,000 Missourians have been vaccinated so far. The state’s initial doses have been for people such as health care workers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities and those at high-risk of serious illness. ___ FRANKFORT, Ky — Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is warning his state that although it is ramping up its vaccination effort, demand continues to outpace supply. He says that “the supply that we’re going to get next week is already 30,000 doses underneath our ability of what we can put in someone’s arm in just a seven-day span.” As of Wednesday, Kentucky has administered around 60% of doses designated for its state immunization program and roughly a third of doses in the Long Term Care Facilities Program. While Kentuckians age 70 and up are now eligible for the vaccine, many are having to wait for more appointments to become available due to the limited supply. ___ LONDON — An arthritis drug tried in patients with severe COVID-19 showed no benefit in a study that was stopped early because of safety concerns. The study was published Wednesday in the British journal The BMJ. The drug tocilizumab hadn’t been recommended outside a clinical trial, but some less rigorous research had suggested it could help. The study found more deaths in patients who received the drug. The deaths were attributed to COVID-19 related breathing problems or organ failure. The drug is sold by Switzerland-based Roche as Actemra and RoActemra for treating rheumatoid arthritis and some other diseases. It lowers inflammation by tamping down a protein called interleukin-6 that’s often found in excess in COVID-19 patients. The study involving 129 patients at nine hospitals in Brazil found no benefit for those who got the arthritis drug along with standard care. Two weeks later, 11 patients who received the drug had died, against two in the other half who didn’t. ___ ATLANTA — Judges say Georgia’s court system could take years to dig out of a backlog of jury trials delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. State Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton told lawmakers during hearings Wednesday that it could take one to two years to catch up. Superior Court Judge Wade Padgett estimated it could be more like three years. Under state law, Melton has been renewing a declaration of judicial emergency every 30 days, limiting what court cases can happen in person. He says he’s eager to resume jury trials as soon as possible. For a period late last year, Melton allowed some jury trials to go ahead. But Melton says rising infection rates forced another shutdown. ___ SACRAMENTO — California reported its second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths Wednesday but also a dip in hospitalizations below 20,000 for the first time since Dec. 27. The California Department of Public Health has reported the total of 694 new deaths is second to the record 708 reported on Jan. 8. Hospitalizations stood at 19,979. California officials are pinning their hopes on President Joe Biden as they struggle to obtain coronavirus vaccines to curb a coronavirus surge that has packed hospitals and morgues. Doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been arriving haphazardly as they make their way from the source to counties, cities and hospitals. ___ COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Health has said a pharmacy responsible for distributing the coronavirus vaccine to Ohio nursing homes failed to document storage temperatures for leftover shots, resulting in 890 doses being wasted. The agency said on Wednesday that it suspended SpecialtyRx in Columbus from the distribution system and ordered it not to administer any of the wasted doses. Officials said SpecialtyRx received an initial 1,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine late last year for distribution to eight nursing homes and had 890 leftover. The state said the company failed to properly record the minimum and maximum refrigerator and freezer temperatures for the leftover doses each day during transportation. Department spokesperson Melanie Amato said the doses are considered wasted because the monitoring wasn’t done properly. An official with New Jersey-based SpecialtyRx said Wednesday she wasn’t aware of the problem but promised a company response. ___ NEW YORK — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday that he expects the state to exhaust its supply of vaccine available to people receiving their first dose within two or three days. “What’s clear now is we’re going to be going from week to week and you will see a constant pattern of basically running out, waiting for the next week’s allocation, and then starting up again,” the Democrat said. He urged health care facilities to be careful not to schedule appointments to give away vaccine they haven’t been allocated yet, “because we don’t know what we’re going to get next week and we don’t know where we’re going to distribute it next week.” ___ OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Department of Health said Wednesday that it is seeking volunteers to help at vaccination sites in the state. The department’s Medical Reserve Corps said Wednesday that both medical and non-medical volunteers are needed to give vaccinations, handle registration and other tasks. The volunteers work at points of dispensing sites at more than 50 locations in the state. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Oklahoma has administered 242,093 vaccinations, including 30,919 to people who have now received the required two doses of vaccine. The CDC reported the state has received 455,275 doses thus far. According to Johns Hopkins University, Oklahoma had the fourth highest number of new cases per capita in the nation Wednesday with 1,270 per 100,000 residents during the past two weeks. The health department reported 1,986 new cases Wednesday and 48 more deaths due to the virus. ___ TOPEKA, Kan. — The top health official in Kansas has told lawmakers that the state will likely see a small uptick in immediate supply of the COVID-19 vaccine with the change in presidential administrations. In a joint hearing Tuesday before Senate and House health panels, Dr. Lee Norman, head of the state health department, said he has been told the state will probably get a 1% or 2% increase in its vaccine supply in the short run. The federal government allocates vaccines to states based on population. Kansas, with its population of 3 million, receives 1% of the nation’s allocated vaccines, he said, adding that the state has at times been shorted as much as half of its anticipated supply. The state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout prioritizes health care workers and nursing homes in its first phase, which is almost complete. About a third of the state’s population will be covered in the second phase, which covers people ages 65 and older, those in congregate settings such as prisons, and high-contact critical workers. ___ MADRID — Spain’s government is resisting calls by regional health authorities to let them impose earlier curfews amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases. Spain’s hospitals are filling up again after a third rise in infections since the start of the pandemic. Another 464 people were reported dead on Wednesday, increasing the confirmed death toll to 54,637. Some regions want the government to allow a change of the curfew to 8 p.m., instead of the current 10 p.m. allowed under a state of emergency. Health Minister Salvador Illa says the ministry would “evaluate” the request, even though he insisted it wasn’t needed because of current measures. Spain registered another 41,000 cases on Wednesday in the midst of rolling out its vaccination program. Despite the recent hiccups in the shipments the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Spain broke 1 million vaccines administered on Wednesday. Spain has 2.4 million confirmed cases, eighth in the world. It has registered more than 54,000 deaths, 10th globally. ___ The Associated Press
Some days, hours go by without a single customer coming into Renaissance Coffee at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. "We have never seen or experienced anything like this, it has been very devastating for us and the staff who have been with us for 20 or 15 years. Now they're all sitting at home waiting for things to improve," said owner Parminder Parhar. He has laid off nine staff and is running the coffee shop with his wife, just like the old days. They started the business 25 years ago and have three locations at the Burnaby Mountain campus, but only one is open right now. Most post-secondary institutions are offering online classes and have shut down lecture halls, leaving campuses empty. "Right now, it seems like a ghost town," said Parhar. The lack of foot traffic has put a serious dent in revenue. "We probably only do, best case scenario, five per cent of what we did before ... or even less," he said. But he believes the university has taken the right approach by limiting the number of people on campus. He keeps the one location open to serve the few people that do come by. "Whoever is here in the community, we are here to serve and we have been part of this community for many years, around 25 years, so we still like to be part of that. Another thing is nothing to do sitting at home, so better to do something meaningful," he said. Even businesses not located directly on campus are feeling the hit. Rice Burger is less than three kilometres from the University of British Columbia and heavily marketed to university students. "Our strategy was about 60 to 70 per cent university kids. We took a hit for sure," said co-owner Jackson Uppal about the arrival of pandemic restrictions last spring. Uppal and his best friend from high school, Austin Chen, started the concept four years ago. There's a giant graffiti wall, blasting R&B hits and a unique menu offering kimchi fries. Plus the 99 B-Line is just steps away. "It was a little bit of a kick to the groin at first, because we have invested so much in student life and when not that many students are on campus, we had to MacGyver. How do we get back?" They've pivoted and started focusing more on drawing in families through various promotions and marketing strategies. Food delivery apps have also been a saviour — the apps are now 70 per cent of their business. University budgets impacted, too Universities and colleges have also seen serious impacts to their budgets due to the pandemic. The University of British Columbia is projecting a $100-million deficit this fiscal year, which is $125 million lower than initially expected, due to "strong student demand," it says. The number could still change in February. Simon Fraser University says it also has lost revenue due to pandemic restrictions, but says it is no longer forecasting the $9-million shortfall projected in its 2020 budget. "Losses have been offset by stronger than anticipated undergraduate enrolments this past year. Our non-endowment investment income is also projected to be much stronger than anticipated," the university said in a statement. Universities have lost revenue for a variety of reasons. From reduced occupancy at student residences so that proper safety measures can be carried out, to lost parking revenue, cancelled conferences and the closing of food establishments, museums, galleries. There have also been additional costs. "We increased expenditures to support online instruction, additional cleaning, and student financial assistance," read a statement from Peter Smailes, UBC's vice-president of finance. Smailes said the university has undertaken "a range of mitigating strategies including travel restrictions, a hiring chill, and the reduction in discretionary spending." Recovering from the deficit will be a multi-year project for the university. While, SFU is also looking to identify administrative saving opportunities and minimize hiring where possible.
WALTHAM, Mass. — The man who designed some of the world’s most advanced dynamic robots was on a daunting mission: programming his creations to dance to the beat with a mix of fluid, explosive and expressive motions that are almost human. The results? Almost a year and half of choreography, simulation, programming and upgrades that were capped by two days of filming to produce a video running at less than 3 minutes. The clip, showing robots dancing to the 1962 hit “Do You Love Me?” by The Contours, was an instant hit on social media, attracting more than 23 million views during the first week. It shows two of Boston Dynamics' humanoid Atlas research robots doing the twist, the mashed potato and other classic moves, joined by Spot, a doglike robot, and Handle, a wheeled robot designed for lifting and moving boxes in a warehouse or truck. Boston Dynamics founder and chairperson Marc Raibert says what the robot maker learned was far more valuable. “It turned out that we needed to upgrade the robot in the middle of development in order for it to be strong enough and to have enough energy to do the whole performance without stopping. So that was a real benefit to the design,” Raibert says. The difficult challenge of teaching robots to dance also pushed Boston Dynamics engineers to develop better motion-programming tools that let robots reconcile balance, bouncing and doing a performance simultaneously. “So we went from having very crude tools for doing that to having very effective rapid-generation tools so that by the time we were done, we could generate new dance steps very quickly and integrate them into the performance,” Raibert says. The quality of the robots’ dancing was so good that some viewers online said they couldn't believe their eyes. Some applauded the robots’ moves and the technology powering them. Others appeared to be freaked out by some of their expressive routines. Others added that what they were seeing was probably computer-generated imagery, or CGI. Not so, Raibert says. What was on display was a results of long, hard work fueled by a determination to program the robot to dance to the beat, he says. “We didn’t want a robot doing robotlike dancing. We wanted it to do human dancing and, you know, when a human dances, the music has a beat and their whole body moves to it — their hands, their body, their head,” he says. “And we tried to get all of those things involved and co-ordinated so that it, you know, it was ... it looked like the robot was having fun and really moved with the music. And I think that had a lot to do with the result of the production.” Teaching robots to dance with fluid and expressive motions was a new challenge for a company that spent years building robots that have functional abilities like walking, navigating in rough terrain, pick things up with their hands and use attached advanced sensors to monitor and sense many things, Raibert says. “You know, our job is to try and stretch the boundaries of what robots can do, both in terms of the outer research boundary, but also in terms of practical applications. And I think when people see the new things that robots can do, it excites them,” he says. The advanced Atlas robot relies on a wide array of sensors to execute the dance moves, including 28 actuators — devices that serve as muscles by converting electronic or physical signal into movement — as well as a gyroscope that helps it to balance, and three quad-core onboard computers, including one that processes perception signals and two that control movement. Still, the fact that video of the dancing robots has fired up the public imagination and inspired a sense of awe was gratifying, Raibert says. “We hoped ... that people would enjoy it and they seem to. We’ve gotten calls from all around the world,” Raibert says. “We got a call from one of the sound engineers who had recorded the original Contours performance back in the '60s. And he said that his whole crew of Motown friends had been passing it around and been excited by it.” Rodrique Ngowi, The Associated Press
Like 8,000 flying trapeze artists passing in midair, the Biden and Trump administrations swapped out senior leadership of the federal government on the fly as Joe Biden was inaugurated as the nation's 46th president. Biden announced the dozens of career civil servants who would be leading federal agencies, pending Senate approval of his permanent nominees. Acting heads of Cabinet agencies raised their right hands Wednesday afternoon for oaths of office. Emails went out briefing federal employees on just which career employee would be serving as their acting boss. It’s a painstakingly executed exchange of Cabinet agency senior staffing with inherent risk of bad goof-ups in the best of years, former agency officials and scholars of the federal bureaucracy say. And this year, when Biden’s administration was starting work amid fears that President Donald Trump’s followers would launch more attacks like the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, had added challenges. “Day One is always going to be the riskiest” when it comes to uncertainty about who's in charge, or the new people missing news of some critical event during an agency transition, said Paul C. Light, a professor of public service at New York University. One example, he said, would be scientists in the ranks learning of some vital development in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic or development of vaccines. “As sure as we’re talking here, these things happen,” Light said. “It’s a very dense hierarchy and there are no alarm bells." There was no immediate word of any trouble Wednesday in the first hours of the change in leadership. Biden supporters earlier had accused Trump security agencies of failing to share vital information in the weeks leading up to the handoff. Trump’s false insistence that he, not Biden, won the presidential election raised the level of worries over Wednesday’s transition. U.S. officials this month made a point of specifying in advance who would be the acting head of the Defence Department at 12:01 p.m. Wednesday, the minute after Biden became president. Deputy Defence Secretary David Norquist became acting head of the Defence Department between the resignation of Trump appointee Christopher C. Miller and Senate confirmation of Biden’s nominee to replace him, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin. Across Cabinet-level agencies, most political appointees of the old administration turned in resignations by Inauguration Day, following tradition. Before leaving office, Trump had tweaked the orders of succession at some agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, in ways that changed which career staffer was in charge when all the political appointees go away. Environmental advocates and other opponents of the Trump administration, and scholars of government, expressed suspicion of some of Trump’s succession changes in his last weeks, fearing he might plant loyalists as acting heads to make trouble for Biden. But Barack Obama’s White House and others before him in their finals weeks also made adjustments to who’s left in charge in agencies, said Anne Joseph O’Connell, a Stanford Law School professor and expert in government process. That's usually “not because of party preferences but to help with good governance,” O’Connell said. “To the extent you care about government, you care about transition.” However, with Trump’s reluctance after Election Day to yield power, “you could see why many would question the need for changes to succession now,” she added. In any case, federal law on vacancies gives incoming presidents wide choice in picking their own acting agency heads from among employees, regardless of succession plans. Biden by Wednesday afternoon announced his own selections of acting agency heads, from the State Department to the Social Security Administration to the National Endowment for the Arts. “My expectation is that the incoming Biden administration will be relying very heavily on the vacancies act to staff their administration until their nominations are confirmed,” O’Connell said. Another Trump-era complication for this election cycle's power swap: Trump added more layers and senior staffers to federal government, Light said. Researchers have crunched the federal government’s annual directory of executive-level Cabinet staffers — the associates to the chiefs of staff, the deputies to the deputies — each year since the Kennedy administration. There were 451 of them, then. There were 3,265 of those senior Cabinet employees when Obama left town — and 4,886 at last count under Trump, Light said, in research that Brookings published in October. The thicker bureaucracy adds to the risk of vital communications not making it up to new leaders, Light said. The rule for any acting heads remaining from past administrations is simple, Light said: Do no harm. The understanding over the years is “acting appointees are not going to do anything significant” without warning, he said. “We just cross our fingers and hope that people will behave.” Ellen Knickmeyer, The Associated Press
People working in Vancouver coffee shops are calling on the city to step up and provide public washrooms for the homeless, saying COVID-19 has forced the young people who often work in them to be front-line workers as the pandemic stretches on. Julian Bentley, 32, has worked at JJ Bean for 10 years and now manages the location at East 14th Avenue and Main Street in Vancouver. He said he's dealt with verbal abuse, assault, and just this week, a burning log thrown at his storefront. But the worst came when a person took their own life in the coffee shop's bathroom. "I think it's something that's just escalating ... and I have compassion that there are just less resources for those that are unfortunate enough," said Bentley. "For my staff I think it's unfair for someone who's 18 years old and paid $14 an hour, and then they have to come to work and handle dirty needles and face mental abuse. It's not good for their mental health." The issue isn't new for Vancouver — in a city with a growing homelessness crisis, fast-food restaurants and coffee shops have long served as makeshift drop-in centres for people trying to stay warm and dry. In 2018 there was public outcry after a 74-year-old man named Ted died in a Tim Hortons location on Broadway, and wasn't noticed for several hours. Since then, the pandemic and an increasingly toxic street drug supply have only worsened the issue. City 'grateful' for businesses providing bathroom access In a statement, the City of Vancouver acknowledged COVID-19 has complicated access to public bathrooms and said it was grateful to all businesses who have kept them open. "The closure of public facilities during COVID-19 has led to many people not having safe access to washrooms. This can lead to an increased risk of overdose and violence, as well as a loss of dignity as many people are forced to use alleys and other public and private spaces as washrooms, increasing sanitation concerns," the statement read in part. "We are committed to expanding washroom access and are currently finalizing details of new initiatives that will provide immediate action on this issue." The city says it's working on increasing access to essential resources like washrooms, but for now is focusing on hotspots like the Downtown Eastside and Strathcona Park. Mayor Kennedy Stewart, speaking to CBC's On The Coast, asked businesses for patience, saying more support is coming. But John Neate, the owner of JJ Bean, which has 21 locations, said he's concerned for his staff and feels caught between the police and the city. He said the city should at minimum create a hotline for staff to call when a situation escalates. "When we phone the police for such issues, those are considered non-emergency. I have asked a number of times for public washrooms, but I never know who to ask. There seems to be misdirection. It's a city thing, it's a provincial thing," he said. "But nobody wants to put in a public washroom that the city would need to maintain." Const. Steve Addison with the Vancouver Police Department said he understands the frustrations of business owners like Neate, and that police respond and open a file when behaviour is considered criminal. "They're justifiably frustrated by it. I should say that homelessness isn't a crime in the city and the vast majority of people who are homeless in the city, we don't hear from," he said. "Some of them are criminal issues — but we're also dealing with issues that are beyond the scope of the police department, we're dealing with issues of homelessness, mental health poverty and drug addiction." Bill MacEwan, lead psychiatrist with Vancouver's Downtown Community Court mental health team, said he understands the frustration as well, but said some of that is due to "very little support from the health, or civic, or police resources that are available" when people see someone in need. He said when officials respond to a situation where someone is struggling with myriad socio-economic and health issues, it is better to use the opportunity to talk about what supports they need, rather than entangle them in the justice system over petty crimes. "Everything seems to be falling through the cracks here," said MacEwan on CBC's The Early Edition on Thursday.
The Vancouver School Board says changes are being made to secondary school schedules to increase in-person class time after parents questioned why high school students were getting fewer instructional hours than students in other districts. On Wednesday night, the Vancouver School Board's student learning and well-being committee heard from parents. Parent Nancy Small told the committee she feels her children are being short-changed and doesn't understand how the situation could be considered acceptable. "Our Vancouver secondary students are receiving one-third of the amount of in-class time that other districts have," pointed out Small. Those concerns are in addition to opinions from parents collected during a survey conducted by the school district from Nov. 25 to Dec. 6, 2020. Small said she doesn't understand why the situation has gone on so long in Vancouver when other districts are providing more education during the pandemic. "Kids across the board like mine are struggling academically with motivation, there is no social interaction, lack of direction, and too much screen time. My Grade 8 son who has just gone into high school is expected to self-direct and self-manage his own homework and his time." Changes to school instruction During the meeting, director of instruction Aaron Davis said the Vancouver School District has noticed a trend in student performance. "One of things that was noticed with Grade 8s is [they] are performing slightly below the three-year average particularly in literacy and science." Earlier this week, Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside said a review of Vancouver's instructional model, involving parents, students, Indigenous representatives and unions, was underway. On Wednesday, associate superintendent with the Vancouver School District, Rob Schindel, announced that beginning on Feb. 4, there will be more instruction and more opportunities for interactive learning. "We have been listening to students, families and staff, and we have been analyzing information about student attendance and achievement," said Schindel. The VSB says the changes will allow all Grade 8 students to attend their remote class in person twice a week. The board also announced that all high schools will go to a one-week rotation of remote and in-person classes and all students will have three interactive learning opportunities per week for remote classes. Schindel said, "These changes ensure that health and safety remain our top priority for students and staff. The changes also reflect our commitment to student well-being, transparency, and data-driven decision-making."