SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea is reporting 103 new coronavirus cases. It is one of the country’s biggest daily jumps in months, and officials are expressing concern that infections are getting out of control in the capital of Seoul and other major cities as Koreans increasingly venture out in public.The figures released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday brought the national caseload to 14,873 cases, including 305 deaths.Eighty-three of the new cases were in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where authorities have struggled to stem transmissions. Infections were also reported in other major cities such as Busan, Gwangju and Ulsan.Friday’s jump was driven by local transmissions, which health authorities said could worsen because of the increase in travellers during the summer vacation season.___HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:— NYC mayor plans to reopen nation's largest public school system on time— WHO says Russian vaccine not in advanced test stages— Second man dies of virus in federal immigration custody in Georgia— Talks by U.S. leaders on emergency coronavirus aid are stalling out, with both sides playing the blame game rather than make any serious moves to try to break their stalemate.— Number of U.S. laid-off workers applying for unemployment aid fell below 1 million last week for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic intensified five months ago, yet still remains at a high level.— Artist creates origami crane memorial for COVID-19 victims___Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak___HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:FRESNO, Calif. — A private school in California has been ordered to close after it reopened classrooms in violation of a state health order aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.Fresno County issued a health order Thursday against Immanuel Schools in Reedley. The K-12 school was told to close its classrooms until the county is removed from a state monitoring list for two weeks.The school has about 600 students and it allowed students into classes Thursday without masks or social distancing. The school’s trustees and superintendent say they believe students’ development will suffer if they can’t be taught on campus.___BEIJING — China has reported another eight cases of locally transmitted coronavirus infections, all in the northwestern region of Xinjiang where the country’s last major outbreak has been largely contained.Officials said Friday that 22 other new cases were brought from outside the country by Chinese travellers returning home. China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths from COVID-19 among 84,786 cases.Hong Kong reported 69 new confirmed cases and three deaths over the past 24 hours. The semi-autonomous Chinese city has required masks be worn in all public settings, restricted indoor dining and enacted other social distancing measures to bring down transmissions that now total 4,312 with 66 deaths.___MEXICO CITY — Mexico has passed the half-million mark in confirmed coronavirus cases.The Health Department reported 7,371 newly confirmed cases Thursday, bringing the country’s total for the pandemic to 505,751. The department reported 627 more confirmed COVID-19 deaths, giving Mexico a total of 55,293.Experts agree that due to Mexico’s extremely low testing rates, those numbers are undercounts and that the real figures may be two to three times higher. With only about 1.15 million tests conducted to date in a country of almost 130 million people, less than 1% of Mexicans have been tested.___AUSTIN, Texas — Texas is reporting fewer than 7,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients for the first time in six weeks.That encouraging sign Thursday was clouded by questions over testing as students return to school and college football teams push ahead with playing this fall. Testing has dropped off in Texas, a trend seen across the U.S as health experts worry that patients without symptoms aren’t bothering because of long lines and waiting days to get results.Numbers from Texas health officials this week offer a hazy picture of how much testing has fallen. At one point this week, the infection rate in Texas was as high as 24%, only to suddenly drop Thursday to 16%.Officials have not offered explanations about the wild swing in infection rates.___SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will resume eviction and foreclosure proceedings Sept. 2, stoking fears of a wave of evictions during the coronavirus pandemic unless the governor and state Legislature can agree on a proposal to extend protections.The Judicial Council of California voted 19-1 Thursday to end the temporary rules blocking such proceedings that had been in place since April 6.Since the pandemic began in March, more than 9.7 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in California. A survey from the U.S. Census shows more than 1.7 million renters in the state could not pay their rent on time last month.California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye has been reluctant to let the rules stay in place much longer, saying it is the job of the judicial branch to interpret the laws, not make them.___LONDON — Britain will require all people arriving from France to isolate for 14 days -- an announcement that throws the plans of tens of thousands of holidaymakers into chaos.The government said late Thursday that France is being removed from the list of nations exempted from quarantine requirements because of a rising number of coronavirus infections, which have surged by 66% in the past week. The Netherlands, Malta, Monaco and the Caribbean islands of Aruba and Turks & Caicos also were added to the quarantine list.France is one of the top holiday destinations for British travellers, who now have until 4 a.m. Saturday to get home if they want to avoid two weeks in isolation.The number of new infections in Britain is also rising.___JACKSON, MISS. — The governor of Mississippi says new cases of the coronavirus are steadily declining in most of the state’s 82 counties.Gov. Tate Reeves attributed the decrease to residents’ commitment to wearing masks and social distancing, but he also urges people not to become complacent.Reeves says the state is seeing steady decreases in more than 70 counties. However, he says “there’s more work to do” in six counties — Forrest, Jones, Lee, Union, Bolivar and Panola, where officials are still seeing a considerable number of infections.The Mississippi State Department of Health reported 612 new confirmed cases and 22 deaths Thursday, raising the state’s total cases to 2,011.___ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp says he’s dropping a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta in a dispute over the city’s requirement to wear masks in public and other restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.The Republican governor sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the City Council in July to block them from implementing restrictions at the local level, even as case counts and hospitalizations in the state soared.Kemp argued that local governments can’t impose measures that are more or less restrictive than those in his statewide executive orders, which have strongly urged people to wear masks but not required them.He has sought to block local governments from issuing orders requiring that masks be worn, but several cities, including Atlanta, have done it anyway.___RENO, Nev. — Nevada’s biggest daily jump in coronavirus fatalities to date has pushed the state’s COVID-19 death toll past 1,000.Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday that the grim milestone should reinforce the seriousness of the pandemic and the need for individuals to do more to help slow its spread.On Thursday, Nevada recorded 602 new cases of the virus to bring the total to 58,650. The death toll grew 34 to 1,030, surpassing the previous single-day record of 29 deaths reported on July 31 and equaled Aug. 7.The state’s cumulative positivity rate remained virtually unchanged at 10.5%. It’s generally been rising since it hit a low of 5.2% on June 17.___ATHENS, Greece – Greek authorities have quarantined the country’s third-largest migrant camp on the eastern Aegean Sea island of Chios after an asylum-seeker and a staff member were diagnosed with COVID-19.The quarantine, in force until Aug. 25, includes a ban on anybody entering or exiting the facility, and the suspension of all programs in the camp by charity groups as well as the asylum application process.The camp is home to more than 3,800 people — almost four times above capacity. It’s the first time a COVID-19 outbreak has been registered at any of the island camps, where a total 25,000 people live in very cramped conditions after arriving in smuggling boats from the nearby Turkish coast.The migration ministry said Thursday that a 35-year old asylum-seeker from Yemen was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was taken to hospital with “mild” symptoms and a fever. The other case was a staff member at the camp. No details were provided on her condition.___MILAN — Italian Health Ministry data shows that the number of new confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country has risen above 500 for the first time this week.According to the data released on Thursday, the 523 new positives brings to 252,235 the total number in Italy since the virus was first detected locally in late February.The northern regions of Veneto, Lombardy and Liguria all recorded boosts in the high double-digits, while only Valle d’Aosta, which shares an Alpine border with France, recorded none.Six people died in the last 24 hours, compared with 10 a day earlier, bringing the epidemic total to 35,225. A weekly report shows that the situation in Italy ‘’risks worsening’’ with 1,000 active outbreaks, with new cases recorded in every region of the country, often imported from abroad.Italy is imposing mandatory testing on anyone arriving from Greece, Spain, Malta and Croatia as the numbers continue to nudge up, but the head of the scientific committee helping to guide the coronavirus response said that a new national lockdown was "improbable.’’___NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio held firm to plans to reopen the nation’s largest public school system within a month, despite pleas from teachers and principals to delay the return of students to classrooms.The city is aiming for a hybrid reopening Sept. 10, with most of the 1.1 million students spending two or three days a week in physical classrooms and learning remotely the rest of the time. Parents were given the option of requesting full-time remote learning for their children.The Democratic mayor conceded there were challenges with the plan as the city recovers from a pandemic. But he says the city has managed to lower the rate of positive cases to around 1%.The union representing school administrators sent a letter to de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza on Wednesday, saying school leaders still had questions about various issues, including staffing, personal protective equipment and ventilation system repairs___MEXICO CITY — A potential COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University will be produced in Mexico if its advanced trials are successful and it receives regulatory approval, the government said Thursday.President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the agreement with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which also provides for production in Argentina, should result in a vaccine that the government would provide free starting in the first quarter of 2021.Production of the vaccine in Mexico and Argentina would allow for distribution throughout Latin America, except for Brazil, which had already reached its own agreement with the drug maker.Sylvia Varela, AstraZeneca’s president in Mexico said the cost of a dose would be around $4, but López Obrador said the government would cover that expense.Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said the foundation of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim would effectively guarantee production starts on time. He said results from the Phase III clinical trials are expected in November.___MADRID — Spain’s daily number of new coronavirus cases reached nearly 3,000 Thursday, up significantly from 1,690 the previous day.That’s the highest daily number of new infections since April, as countries around Europe are concerned about a second wave of the coronavirus.Emergency health response chief Fernando Simón says part of the increase was due to the Madrid region reporting the numbers for two days, after missing the deadline Wednesday.Cases in Spain have been steadily increasing since the country ended a more than three-month lockdown on June 21. Simons says there is no pressure on the health system, with coronavirus patients occupying only 3% of hospital beds.Spain is conducting around 340,000 nasal swab tests a week, he says. More than 50% of cases are asymptomatic, and the average age of infected people is 42 for women and 39 for men.The Health Ministry says Spain has officially recorded more than 337,00 total infections and more than 28,000 deaths.The Associated Press
The owner of an independent movie theatre in Grand Falls-Windsor says his business is being pushed to the brink of closure, as he tries to operate under COVID-19 restrictions that he feels are harsher than those for bars and restaurants.While restaurants and lounges are permitted to operate at 50 per cent capacity, cinemas are capped at 50 people no matter the size of the space. Shawn Feener, who owns and operates the Classic Theater, says that limit isn't sustainable to his bottom line, despite being open and showing old blockbusters and the scattered new release."It's not very hard to do the math," he said. "I'm making $250 on the door, I'm paying royalties to the movie companies — even though the movies are 30-plus years old, I've still gotta pay a royalty. So, I mean, I'm not making nothing on the door."Feener said he's taken extensive safety measures, including signs and directions for foot traffic, hand sanitizer and physical distancing, but hasn't been able to convince the provincial government to loosen its rules."Here at the Classic Theater, we took every measure right to the limit," he said.He put together a package for the Department of Health and Community Services — that included a video he made on safety measures for his customers — to ask for an exemption. He said he now wants government officials to visit his business, and look at his precautions."Let's start categorizing each individual business, let's start looking at the floor plans," he said. "Because there's not two corner stores, there's not two bars, there's not two cinemas that got the same floor plan." 'It's so frustrating'Feener said the restriction particularly stings, because bars and restaurants are operating with more people in much smaller spaces."It's so frustrating, you know, that we've done everything. Like the government asked us to close our business because of COVID, and we agreed wholeheartedly," he said. "We do all of this and then the government comes out again and says 'OK, now we got to learn to live with COVID.' Ok, we're living with COVID, we're doing everything we could possibly do."The area's MHA, Chris Tibbs, has taken up Feener's cause — and is calling on the provincial government to reverse its decision. He said the business is a victim of a double standard."How you can jam... one hundred people into something half the size of this movie theatre and maintain safety and physical distancing when we [can't] do it right here is beyond me," he said. "I couldn't be happier for the bars and restaurants, I want to make that quite clear, but we want the same opportunity." In Wednesday's media briefing, Newfoundland and Labrador's Chief Medical Officer of Health said the interactions that take place inside movie theatres are different — and that's why the rules are different."People who are watching a movie tend to go in together, they spend a period of time together in the same enclosed space," said Dr. Janice Fitzgerald. "That's a little bit different than people who are going to a restaurant who may overlap and may not spend a lot of time with each other.""There's a couple of things to keep in mind: People, space, time, place, right?"However, Fitzgerald also said the province is currently reviewing those restrictions, and the general restriction against gatherings above 50 people."Certainly these are questions that we are looking at," she said.Feener wants the provincial government to expand his capacity to more than 80 people — 40 per cent of his previous allowance. He said that amount would be safe and economically feasible.He also invited Dr. Fitzgerald and Health Minister John Haggie to come to his business to see his measures firsthand.Nova Scotia currently allows its movie theatres to operate at 50 per cent occupancy with a cap at 200 people, while Ontario has limited the number of people to 50 inside the entire movie theatre building — not just a single auditorium — prompting Cineplex to ask that province's government to loosen its regulations.Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador
Alberta has reported a higher number of cases of COVID-19 by population for much of the pandemic compared to the rest of Canada. They're currently neck and neck with Quebec's and remain stubbornly high compared to neighbouring provinces, even though they never reached the levels laid out in the government's worst-case scenarios and are well below the springtime peak. Currently, Alberta — with a population of about 4.4 million — has more active cases than Ontario, with a population of 14.6 million.Why?Is there something in Alberta's culture or politics that could be driving the higher numbers? Is there some demographic clue that explains it all? Is it policy? A few different factors might be behind it.The epidemiologyAccording to data reported on Aug. 12, Alberta had nearly 24 active cases per 100,000 residents, compared to 21 for Quebec and six for Ontario — two provinces that have often led the country in total cases — and 13 next door in Saskatchewan. This is still a big improvement from May, when Alberta peaked at just over 70 active cases per 100,000, but it's well above the low of eight per 100,000 in June. Quebec, by comparison, peaked at just over 350. Craig Jenne, an infectious disease expert at the University of Calgary, says age is likely one of the reasons Alberta is seeing more cases since the province eased restrictions. "We in general have a lower average age here, which means there are more people, for example, working jobs that may expose them," he said."But also more people that are likely going out to restaurants and pubs and bars than other provinces."Statistics Canada estimates the median age in Alberta in 2019 is 37.1 — the lowest of the provinces, but higher than Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. It's below the national median of 40.8 and well below some of the provinces with the oldest populations, like Newfoundland and Labrador at 47.1.Outbreaks have been attributed to bars and restaurants in Alberta, including 58 cases linked to the Fire N Ice Lounge in Calgary, 23 to the Cactus Club on Stephen Avenue in Calgary, as well as 19 to Greta Bar and 12 to The Pint, both in Edmonton.Jenne also notes that there appears to be a shift in attitudes across North America and Europe. "We're seeing that shift strongly as cases move from older to younger people — this attitude that they are protected, or that at least it's not a dangerous infection," he said. "And as a result, people are willing to take more risk, and that does lead to increased infections."Alberta's higher numbers can't simply be brushed off by attributing them to higher per capita testing for COVID-19 than every other province except Ontario.Jenne points to the hospitalization rates in Alberta, which are currently second only to Quebec, and also a high rate of positive results in relation to tests administered.Alberta was ahead of most of Canada in reopening its economy starting in May, which could also be a factor, Jenne said. He predicted other jurisdictions could see their numbers rise in the coming weeks."Now, the good news is it seems to be stabilizing, and we can hold at this level fairly safely," said Jenne. The Albertan attitudeAlberta is often viewed, inside and outside the province, as some sort of cohesive political monolith focused on libertarian values. Like most stereotypes, that one's not quite up to snuff. "So to say, well, Alberta numbers are going up because there's something sort of attitudinally odd about Alberta, that doesn't really explain kind of the regional differences we're seeing now," said Janet Brown, an Alberta-based pollster who frequently mines the views of the province's residents. "If it was, if it was all about these libertarians who were just too damn stubborn to wear masks, then … we should have seen outbreaks in rural Alberta a long time ago."Instead, Brown notes the pandemic was largely a story of Calgary and area until recently. The biggest outbreaks over the course of the pandemic have been among largely immigrant communities that work in meat plants just south of Calgary.Some of Brown's past polling, commissioned by the CBC, shows Albertans are politically drawn to the middle of the road rather than the left and right fringes. Brown says the province is far more diverse in its views than most of the rest of Canada realizes and that makes it difficult to isolate easy answers regarding some social driver of the higher COVID-19 numbers. But there are ideological factors at play for how Albertans have responded to the pandemic. Brown says the most distinct split in attitudes regarding COVID-19 she found in recent polling for CBC News was between left and right — with those on the right who support the governing United Conservative Party more concerned about the economy and opening it up sooner, and those on the left more concerned about health and a slower reopening. There's also the at times confounding interplay of two core Alberta values. "One of the values is just that sense of individuality, that sense that I don't want government telling me what to do," says Brown."But another core value is a sense of community and coming together. Alberta can be sort of neighbourly like no other jurisdiction. So there's a funny push-pull there."For Brown, it's a sign that despite the potential pushback against some policies, when it comes down to it, Albertans are prepared to clamp down and find solutions. Don't panicJenne says Alberta has been pretty lucky in terms of the timing of its infections and when most big policy decisions had to be made. School was out, winter was easing its grip and there were lessons to learn from other jurisdictions. At least two of those things will change in the coming months. "We have to remember that the overall spike we saw in April started with one individual in the province," he said. "So the fact that there's community level transmission is still a risk, and we don't exactly know — we've got good models and a good idea and we're prepared for it — but we don't know exactly what's gonna happen when school is open."Jenne warns that it's up to individuals to remain vigilant and look out for one another or the province might have to reapply some of the restrictions that have fallen away. For Brown, the timing of a new round of anxiety over the numbers could actually prove useful."Maybe the fact that Albertans are getting agitated, that our numbers are going up, maybe that's the best thing that can happen," Brown said, "because we're going to go back to school with a level of vigilance that maybe people in Ontario aren't going to go back to school with."
David Vanderberg says his school's back-to-school plan exceeds the minimum safety standards set out by Saskatchewan health officials "because the bar is not set very high." "We feel as though we've got one chance to get this right," said Vanderberg, the principal of Regina's Prairie Sky School.The school, which falls under the category of "qualified independent schools" that receive half of their funding from the province, only has about 80 students total, spread across Grades 1 to 8. When Prairie Sky's students return to class next month, they will have their temperatures checked daily by the front gate and be required to wear masks inside the classroom (though much of the school's teaching happens outside, Vanderberg said). Kindergarten students will be exempt from that rule, but will need to wear face shields.The school will also cut its schedule to four days a week, down from four and a half. "[That's] one less day in the week that that potential transmission could occur," Vanderberg said. Responding to 'a complete lack of leadership'Prairie Sky School released its plan on Tuesday, the same day the province outlined minimum standards for mandatory masking and clarified that individual school boards would decide when to make the move to "Level 2" and require masks. Vanderberg said Tuesday was the earliest his school could publicly release its plan because the province approved the plans for public and separate school divisions first and did not approve Prairie Sky School's plan until Monday.He said the province's larger back-to-school strategy "demonstrates a complete lack of leadership.""It is putting the onus of student safety and staff safety on individual school boards and individual schools as opposed to taking the responsibility for that as a Ministry of Education and as the government of Saskatchewan," Vanderberg said. Carla Beck, the Saskatchewan NDP's education critic, has criticized the province's a-la-carte approach, saying it leaves school divisions open to "political fallout." Education Minister Gord Wyant has defended the choice, saying what works for a small school may not be appropriate for a larger one. Not all families on board with maskingVanderberg said a minority of families have requested to withdraw their child from the school because of the masking policy, but that other families want in because of the plan."The best we can do is say that we can put you on the waiting list," he said. Vanderberg said the school has tried to keep the conversation around masking "as fact-based as possible." "Overwhelmingly the response from the education community, the American medical community, in Saskatchewan and elsewhere in Canada has been that masking, when social distancing is not a possibility, is effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19," he said. "So that's what we're going with."According to the minimum Level 2 standards released by the province Tuesday, Saskatchewan students in Grades 4 to 12 at schools using that level will need to wear masks in hallways, buses and other high traffic areas. Inside classrooms, however, "masks may be required….where it is not possible to maintain physical distancing or where students are outside of the cohort within their classroom."Vanderberg said the province allowed schools go over and above the minimum standards, so that's what Prairie Sky School did. Vanderberg acknowledged daily temperature checks will require a robust supply of thermometers. "But that's our job. And that's important. And we're going to find the money," he said. The school pays for the other half of its budget through fundraising and scholarships.
Politicians and women's groups in Newfoundland and Labrador are raising their voices to detail how the pandemic has hit women particularly hard — and discussing what can be done to move closer to gender equality, and not simply during the era of COVID-19.The early consensus on the pandemic's effects upon Canadian women show widespread job upheaval, stress and increased workloads. A recent Royal Bank of Canada report stated women's participation in the workforce has dipped to its lowest level since the 1980s; another report from Deloitte detailed that women are at the centre of what it terms a "human crisis" of mental health issues spiralling out of COVID-19.Little of this is news to Helen Conway Ottenheimer."We know that the structural inequalities exist, but now they're intensified and compounded by the pandemic," said Conway Ottenheimer, MHA for Harbour Main and the PCs' Status of Women critic.On the west coast, Paula Sheppard Thibeau is seeing the same setbacks."We saw that with COVID, and the shutdown of the economy, and many people leaving their workplace and returning home that this burden, again, became disproportionately handed to usually the female in the traditional family," said Sheppard Thibeau, who is the executive director of the Corner Brook Status of Women Council.Conway Ottenheimer is urging the province to tackle the complicated issue, and increase resources for women, particularly when it comes to mental health, through such things as more counselling or phone lines. The province did unveil a domestic abuse hotline in June, which had been demanded for years.Still, Conway Ottenheimer said it's clearly time for the provincial government to expand on its actions. With only 10 of the province's 40 MHAs identifying as female — six of whom are in the ruling Liberal party — she urged the provincial government not to act without inviting more female voices to the table."We've been drawing upon the same lens to solve the problems. But that's not really addressing the issues, in my opinion," she said."Any future economic planning has to take a more of a broader, gender-based analysis. And we need to look at any type of viable solution, or viable recovery plan, that includes and centres on the voices and experiences of women."A second look at the 'second shift'Conway Ottenheimer suggested the expertise is already there to draw from."I think it's important to tap into the many incredible networks of women and women's organizations in our province. They would be best suited and in a good position to play a more important advisory role," she told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.The Corner Brook Status of Women Council is trying an education tactic to help ease the burden the pandemic has placed on half the population.> Equality starts at home. \- Paula Sheppard ThibeauIt's created a video highlighting the "second shift," a term coined in the late 1980s for the hours of unpaid labour women do outside of their careers, whether it be housework, child or elder care."The Second Shift campaign is really just a gentle reminder that, 'Wait a second, let's reassess the situation: in the household, is Mom doing everything?'" said Valetta Colbourne, the council's project co-ordinator.That "everything" has been upped during the pandemic to include homeschooling, extra sanitation and disinfecting, and managing family emotions in a time of uncertainty. "It really doesn't necessarily have to be the mom, the female, but are we all doing our part? Is there someone in the house taking on that role and really having to do everything, having to work a second shift? if so, it's time to pull up your boots and get to work," she said.No less important, said Colbourne, is the notion of pitching in for the sake of sharing work — not as a favour for an overworked mother."It's not for Mom. Once that's the mentality, you've already lost the battle. It's for the whole family. So, for every member to think, 'I'm going to do this one thing to keep the household running,' that's what we're looking for," she told CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning."Equality starts at home," agreed Sheppard Thibeau.Mat leave woes Inequality outside the home was highlighted this week when a St. John's hairstylist in her third trimester spoke out about her inability to get answers about maternity leave benefits affected by COVID-19. Samantha McLennon doesn't have enough hours to qualify before her baby arrives, and she has been looking for help.One of the people McLennon reached out to was NDP MP Jack Harris, and she hasn't been the only one."We've had several calls over the last number of months concerning this very question," Harris said.Harris said the fix should be straightforward, with the federal government providing some flexibility to qualify. "This is a longer conversation, but one of the things that the pandemic and the response has done [is] exposed how many vulnerable people there are, in our society and in our system, and we do need a permanent solution for this," said Harris.Conway Ottenheimer said McLennon's case illustrates deep, systemic problems with how maternity leave is handled."It's outdated, it's bureaucratic. It's badly in need of an overhaul. It needs to be changed in order to meet the needs of modern women."The federal minister overseeing such benefits, Carla Qualtrough, has pledged that pregnant women will not fall through the cracks, although no formal policy changes or regulations have been announced.Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador
The federal government's COVID-19 contact tracing app is among the most downloaded in the country, but as Quebec considers whether to build its own, opposition politicians are showing little interest in the project.A legislative hearing began Thursday in Quebec City devoted to exploring the benefits — and downsides — of mobile phone apps that warn users of potential exposure to the novel coronavirus.Ahead of the hearing, the Quebec government revealed that around 17,000 Quebecers had taken part in online consultations since June. Joëlle Boutin, the Coalition Avenir Québec MNA who is chairing the hearing, said 75 per cent of the responses indicated support for a contact tracing app in Quebec."Now we want to hear from experts over the next few days to help us decide," Boutin said, adding the government was open to both developing a Quebec version or signing on to Ottawa's.COVID Alert, the federal government app, was downloaded more than 1 million times in the first week it was available, despite only working in Ontario. Alberta and the Atlantic provinces have said they will begin using COVID Alert as well.Tepid response from oppositionBut in Quebec, opposition parties feel little enthusiasm, or urgency, for either adopting the federal app or developing one in-house."The contact tracing app doesn't answer the real problems," said Marwah Rizqy, the Liberal critic for government administration. "When we were short of workers in CHSLDs [long-term care homes], it was the army that responded. It wasn't a contact tracing app."Rizqy added that she wouldn't download a tracing app if it was available in Quebec. "You're speaking to a woman who never downloaded the Waze [traffic] app," she told reporters in Quebec City.Québec Solidaire's house leader, Gabrielle Nadeau-Dubois, questioned the value of the apps, saying they haven't been effective elsewhere in the world and entail significant privacy risks."We haven't finalized our position yet, but I'm not going to hide the fact that we're looking carefully at what's happening outside of Quebec, especially in Canada, but also in other countries in the world."Asked why Quebec wouldn't simply use the federal government's app, Nadeau-Dubois said: "last time I heard, health care was a competency of the Quebec government."Fed app good on privacy, less so on accessibility The federal government's app uses Bluetooth technology to exchange randomly generated codes with other phones in close proximity. Those codes are stored in your phone for two weeks. If an app user tests positive for COVID-19, they input that information into their phone, which is then transmitted via the stored codes to other app users. Any phone that was near the COVID-positive person for long enough receives an alert, informing the owner they may have been exposed to the virus.Because the app uses Bluetooth, rather than GPS, it has been lauded by privacy experts for protecting personal information. In an opinion released last month, the federal privacy commissioner said "exceptionally strong measures have been adopted by the government to ensure that the identity of users is protected and not disclosed to the Government of Canada."But the app only works on iPhones and Android phones built in the last five years. Advocacy groups worry this limits its accessibility to seniors and low-income Canadians, two population groups particularly vulnerable to the disease.Martin Ouellet, the Parti Québécois's critic for digital strategy, said the app's accessibility was among his party's central concerns about a possible Quebec version. "A lot of people talk about this technology as if it was easily accessible on a mobile phone, but a lot of Quebecers don't have a mobile phone," Ouellet said.The hearings continue on Thursday.
Back to school is imminent for Ontario students, but important elements of exactly how that will look during the COVID-19 pandemic remain up in the air. Many questions remain about the province's $309 million plan to reopen K-12 schools this fall, with new protocols to be implemented and scores of new staff including teachers, school nurses and custodians who need to be brought on board, trained and deployed.One notable part of the plan is a $50-million commitment to hire up to 500 school-focused public health nurses. But midway into August, that process is still in the "call-out" stage, Premier Doug Ford admitted on Wednesday."We have a call-out right now for nurses. We want to make sure we fulfil the 500 positions without draining from the system," Ford said during his daily news conference."Let's get them in the classrooms as soon as possible — even if it takes a couple extra weeks … as long as the 500 nurses are coming."Details around school nurses still to be ironed outDetails about who is hiring these nurses and where they will be embedded need ironing out, according to Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario.Grinspun, who is among those consulting the province about this part of the plan, welcomes the initiative as a whole, calling the new hires a public health necessity for schools given the complex health concerns that are facing students and teachers going forward."We need to be prepared for an outbreak in a school. We need to be prepared for preventing an outbreak," she said. These nurses, who Grinspun notes would ideally be registered nurses with baccalaureate degrees, would have the expertise to tackle a wide range of issues. Not only would they adapt to potentially changing COVID-19 conditions this fall and winter, as well as liaise with local public health authorities, but would also tackle flu season and address concerns such as bullying, addiction, anxiety and depression — conditions that may already be exacerbated by the pandemic, Grinspun added."This is not only about donning and doffing [masks] … This is about much more than that," she said. "Solving problems [on an ongoing basis], in the context of reopening of schools, it's not simple at all."Tying this new wave of school nurses to local public health units across the province is also vital, Grinspun said, "to fit the teams on those units and … blend with the rest of the programs" already underway for specific communities.Custodial staffing levels an ongoing issue, unions sayAnother major component of Ontario's plan is $75 million for hiring more than 900 additional custodians and buying cleaning supplies.But it doesn't go far enough, according to Laura Walton, president of Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), which represents 55,000 education workers including custodians and cleaning staff."Nine-hundred custodians seems like a lot of people. But you're talking about 4,800 [public elementary and secondary] schools across the province," she said. "That's not enough for the amount of cleaning that we need to do for our students," Walton said, adding that the issue of too few staffers to clean and maintain Ontario public schools has been a perennial issue and was raised during contract negotiations last year. Walton said she has heard from OSBCU locals about custodial job postings going up in various regions.She also predicts that, as a first measure, school boards likely will tap their existing casual supply lists to offer those workers permanent employment. "These are decent paying jobs and so hopefully we will have folks come forward interested," she said. "There is going to be a lot of work."'Trying to put a puzzle together' Boards have been working on reopening scenarios for months. "We've been at this since really, the beginning of May," noted Peter Sovran, associate director of learning services for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) and chair of its back-to-school planning group. His team has been planning how to reopen following the latest pandemic guidelines as well as the board's standard budget allocation from the province.Sovran says they've been guided by a number of key principles, including student and staff safety, minimizing disruption to regular school routines and flexibility between conventional, adaptive or remote learning if COVID conditions change quickly.WATCH l Epidemiologist answers questions about heading back to school:They've also looked at the financial support needed for scenarios such as reducing class sizes. Since the province announced its decision to keep elementary class sizes at pre-COVID levels, various health officials, parents and educators have reiterated the call for a drastic reduction to facilitate in-class physical distancing.However, with just weeks to go before school starts, a major reduction to class sizes across HWDSB elementary schools alone would be a complex endeavour, Sovran explained.According to an updated HWDSB report released Monday, 15-student classes would require about 900 additional teachers at the cost of approximately $76 million. The province has thus far pledged $30 million for the hiring of additional teachers across all of Ontario. Funding for new teachers aside, Sovran said other logistical considerations if class sizes were reduced include identifying additional classroom spaces, implementing health and safety requirements for those locations and putting necessary resources into them, as well as figuring out which students will be reassigned to what schools and how to get them there.While HWDSB has already learned of some additional provincial funding headed its way — $1.2 million to hire more custodians, for instance — officials are still awaiting many more details. "It's trying to put a puzzle together and sometimes all the pieces aren't there or partway through, the pieces of the puzzle change. Trying to fit them together sometimes is a real challenge," Sovran said. "Has it been stressful? Probably like no other time in any of our careers."No perfect solution, Ford saysAmid ongoing criticism of Ontario's back-to-school plan, Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Education Stephen Lecce have repeatedly cited the need for flexibility to remain "responsive" to COVID conditions across the province. "We have to be flexible when it comes to education … it doesn't mean that everything will be perfect," Ford noted on Wednesday.An announcement regarding "improvements" to the back-to-school plan is forthcoming, Ford said, adding there would be no significant changes."We're just going to continue working at the process and always improving it. I've never believed in just saying 'OK, that's it. Here, it's done.' "
CBC News has obtained an unredacted copy of a lawsuit launched by an anti-vaccination advocacy group against the government response to the coronavirus crisis, the details of which can now be independently verified and publicly reported for the first time. The lawsuit was filed July 6 in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto by Aylmer, Ont.-based Vaccine Choice Canada and seven individuals. The legal action is a challenge under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms to the country's pandemic response measures, including compulsory face masks, the closure of businesses and the enforcement of physical distancing. The plaintiffs are suing the governments of Canada and Ontario, the City of Toronto, senior politicians, a number of local Ontario health authorities, health officials and the CBC over their response to the pandemic. The suit states that the closure of businesses to prevent the spread of the virus was "extreme, unwarranted and unjustified," that self-isolation measures imposed on individuals were "not scientific, nor medically based nor proven" and that the mandatory wearing of face coverings in some public spaces imposes "physical and psychological harm."The lawsuit alleges that the measures violate Sections 2 (right of association), 7 (life, liberty and security of the person), 8 (unlawful search and seizure), 9 (arbitrary detention of enforcement officers) and 15 (equality before and under the law) of the charter. "The measures ... are further not in accordance with the tenets of fundamental justice in their overbreadth, nor are they justified under S.1 of the charter in that they are demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society," the lawsuit states. Vaccince Choice Canada describes itself as a watchdog organization whose mandate is "to empower families to make educated, voluntary, and informed decisions about vaccination," but public health authorities have criticized the group for spreading false or misleading information about vaccines and immunization.Names of plaintiffs redacted for fear of harassmentWhile copies of the 191-page statement of claim exist online, the names and stories of some of the individual plaintiffs have been redacted on the documents by the plaintiffs themselves. Social media posts from Rocco Galati, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said it was done out of precaution to protect the individuals from harassment. CBC News has agreed not to name the individuals, who range from a former professor to working parents, a chiropractor and people living with chronic illnesses or disabilities.No date has been set for when the case will go to court, and it's unclear whether a judge will allow it to proceed. The lawsuit is seeking $1 million in general damages and $10 million in punitive damages, plus legal costs.No statements of defence have been filed in the case. Legal scholar says lawsuit has claims worth examiningAmong the personal stories contained in the statement of claim is that of a 23-year-old Hamilton man with autism who has the emotional capacity of a four-year-old. His guardian claims in the suit that the man doesn't have the capacity to understand pandemic health measures, which have "totally mentally devastated" him by depriving him of his routines and his social and emotional network. Another account is of a Mississauga woman who says she can't wear a mask because it triggers a traumatic memory of having a mask forcibly held over her face during a sexual assault.The claim states the woman is often faced with a choice when she goes out in public without a mask: risk being embarrassed by disclosing her private history or be denied service at local businesses. "I don't think we need to violate people's privacy or have them disclose medical conditions, particularly in the context of a private business," said Jacob Shelley, an assistant professor of health law and ethics at Western University in London, Ont., who examined an unredacted copy of the lawsuit provided by CBC News. "We need to have a discussion about what does it mean to mandate masks. What does it mean to have everyone wear masks when you're indoors and you can't socially distance, because I think there are going to be legitimate instances where people are going to be unable or unwilling to wear a mask for reasons that really are their own."There's lucid, valid, potential issues that maybe are worth being adjudicated before the court."Shelley said given the content of the lawsuit, a public debate over masks risks being overshadowed by other claims that aren't supported by science. "The 'pandemic' is false, and the measures phony, designed and implemented for improper and ulterior purposes, at the behest of the WHO, controlled and directed by billionaire, corporate oligarchs," the statement of claim says. "The plaintiffs state, and the fact is, that the evidence is that far many more people have died as a result of the 'pandemic' measures themselves than purportedly from the 'COVID-19 deaths,' even if one takes the deaths 'caused' by COVID as a given."Other lawsuit claimsOther claims made in the lawsuit are unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic."Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report the development of a novel way to record a patient's vaccination history by using smartphone-readable nano crystals called 'quantum dots,' embedded in the skin using micro-needles. In short, a vaccine chip embedded in the body. This work and research are funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation," the lawsuit said. The statement of claim includes a timeline that begins in the year 2000 when Bill Gates steps down as the head of Microsoft to start the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It also states Gates expects a "'twenty-fold' return on his $10 billion vaccine investment within the next few decades."Included in the timeline are references to the Chinese military, 5G networks, international vaccine programs and the Rockefeller Foundation as relevant to the creation and spread of the coronavirus, but the lawsuit isn't clear on how.Shelley said including such references in the statement of claim without providing supporting scientific evidence could ultimately be what gets the suit dismissed before it goes to trial under Ontario's rules of civil procedure. CBC News reached out multiple times to Galati, who is listed as the spokesperson for the lawsuit in a press release issued by Vaccine Choice Canada. He spoke with a reporter last Wednesday but did not agree to an on-the-record interview. Galati told CBC News he would be available last Thursday for a recorded interview but did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday or the following Monday.The CBC has also been named as a defendant in the lawsuit for allegedly propagating misinformation and "false news" about the coronavirus crisis.Vaccine Choice Canada has also issued an intent to sue the CBC over other coverage relating to the anti-vaccination and anti-mask movements.
Decision day is looming for many Ottawa parents. Will they send their kids back to school in September or not?Both English-language boards have said parents may be able to change their minds, but likely not until at least halfway through the fall."To the parents of Ottawa, I hear you," said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa's medical officer of health, during a virtual news conference earlier this week."This is a difficult decision for many parents, given so many variables and so many unknowns about the future," she said. "There's no right answer for everyone."Here's some guidance from Etches and other experts. Their comments come from a combination of recent CBC interviews, virtual news conferences and public forums. What key risk factors should I consider?The key factors, according to Etches: * Your child's health conditions. * Your child's close contacts, and their health conditions. * Your family's ability to find child care. * Your family's ability to home-school. * And whether your child has development needs that require in-class learning with a trained professional.What are the experts watching for?Many experts agree a low rate of community transmission is key."If it's not in the community, it can't get into the schools," said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa."In Ottawa, as of today, I think I'd be confident in opening schools."WATCH | Why to take a city-wide look at casesAnother expert points to "the three C's." "In epidemiology and public health, you often talk about the three C's: closed spaces, crowded places and contact. And you know, I just described every public school in Canada," said Dr. Doug Manuel, senior scientist with The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.Still, Manuel said he's planning to send his own kids back to school, adding he's "encouraged" by some of the measures that will be in place, such as masks and alternating schedules for high school students. What can we learn from other countries?"We know there's tremendous possibility of transmission," said Manuel. Other countries have already sent their children back to school, with mixed results. According to Manuel, we want to be more like Denmark or Finland, and less like Israel."In Israel, there were some problems," he said.There, after initial success in controlling the spread of COVID-19, "they went back to school, got a big heat wave, they couldn't wear their masks … and there was a lot of transmission in communities. And they especially had some high schools that were very hard-hit."Denmark and Finland started sending kids back in the spring, he said, with smaller class sizes and alternating schedules. At the time, Denmark had a similar rate of community transmission to Ottawa's current rate, according to Manuel.Since then, both Denmark and Finland have been able to maintain low community transmission and are now moving toward a full-time return to the classroom. "We didn't see a lot of transmission in schools [in those countries]. More so in the high schools, less in the ... age 10 and under," Manuel said.He said the jury is still out when it comes to whether kids transmit the virus at a different rate than adults."The scientists I speak to, there's quite a lot of uncertainty. People aren't comfortable making a call on that."Will we see positive cases in schools?Yes, according to every expert we've spoken to."There will be [COVID-19] cases," Etches said this week. "We know that. We can anticipate that." Will that contribute to a jump in cases in Ottawa? Etches did not offer a prediction, but did say any new cases would likely originate outside the school rather than be transmitted within classrooms and corridors. Will I need to screen my child for symptoms?Yes. Every morning. And you should err on the side of caution when deciding whether to keep your kids home.Etches said detailed at-home screening recommendations will be provided to parents soon. Public health nurses will also be assigned to schools, where "rigorous screening" will be done. Etches also said parents who keep their kids home because of possible symptoms can expect a follow-up phone call from Ottawa Public Health (OPH).Experts said parents should look for more than just respiratory symptoms, since COVID-19 can also cause gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, particularly in children.And it's time to let go of the quaint notion that good attendance equals academic success."Keep them at home if they have symptoms. And you know, I would even go so far as to say if people in your bubble have symptoms, to consider keeping your kids home," said epidemiologist Dara Spatz Friedman.What's with these 'isolation rooms'?School boards are trying to figure out what to do with students who display symptoms while at school. Boards said they're looking to OPH for guidance on this."We talk about having isolation spaces if a child should become sick, or be seen to be sick, during the school day," said Camille Williams-Taylor, director of education with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB).She said planning is in the initial stages, and more information will be communicated to parents in the coming weeks.What happens if someone at school tests positive?Etches said earlier this week that positive test results in schools will be looked at on a case-by-case basis. She also said there will be "response teams" with officials from both OPH and the school board deployed to "make sure that the actions that need to be taken, are taken."She defined an "outbreak" as "two cases in a school where there's a link between them," as opposed to two cases that originated separately outside the school.The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) said it's waiting to hear from the Ministry of Education on what will happen if a single student tests positive."We expect that any day now, and it will have the very key logistics of who needs to be tested, how long each student or staff needs to be out of the building, what are the procedures for the return," said Tom D'Amico, director of education at the OCSB.Does this burst the idea of bubbles?"You might throw up your hands and say, 'Well, what's the point of a bubble if my kid is in school?'" said Friedman.But going back to school doesn't mean it's time to stop bubbling, according to her and other experts."The kids in your kid's classroom are not part of your bubble, [so] there should be physical distancing," she said.Etches also appealed to adults this week to keep their contacts to a minimum. "Adults are likely the source for children bringing it into the school," she said.CHEO emergency room doctor Dayna Bell advised parents who are sending their kids back to school to have frank discussions with the other adults in their bubbles."You need to be able to say to that person, 'Hey, if my child picks up COVID at school and they give it to you, and you end up hospitalized, are we still going to be friends?" Bell suggested. "Because if that situation isn't acceptable, then you know you can't be in a bubble together."Is going back to school better for my child's mental health?Dr. Catherine Horvath, a child psychologist, said she's concerned that children who suffer from anxiety, depression or learning issues will find it increasingly difficult to return to school the longer they stay home.She said since schools closed in March, her young patients have reported a decrease in anxiety because "there's such a decrease in demands and expectations and things that make them anxious."She said parents should broach the subject the same way they would approach a sex talk: make it age-appropriate, give only the facts and let them ask questions. "We need to remember that a lot of that is our stress and not our children's stress — unless we make it their stress," she said. Horvath said children who don't typically struggle with anxiety could benefit from returning to class, and said that's what she plans to do with her own kids.Are school boards considering alternative classrooms spaces?School boards said they're hoping to keep the learning environment as "familiar" as possible. "There are operational challenges with moving spaces," said Williams-Taylor, adding that transporting students to locations outside the school would pose too great a challenge."We certainly are not looking to move to spaces that are outside of the school."Will online learning be better than it was in the spring?Online learning in the spring was an "emergency pivot," said Michelle Schira Hagerman, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Education."I'm confident the online instructional modality will feel a little bit more predictable, a little bit more measured. There are systems now in place that weren't necessarily in place at scale when we had to pivot in March," she said.The OCDSB said "clear schedules and clear expectations" will be in place with online learning."Having students understand when their tests are going to be, what the assessments are going to look like, is going to be certainly one of the other differences that we will see with online," said Camille Williams-Taylor, director of education with the OCDSB.The Catholic board said it does not anticipate live-streaming classes."One of the things that our teachers unions have indicated to us in our dialogues is they do not want the classroom teacher responsible at the same time for instructing and supervising students at home and those in front of them," said Tom D'Amico with OCSB.Can my children still see their grandparents if I'm sending them back to school?Experts say this is an individual decision that depends on comfort levels and health status.At least one epidemiologist we spoke with said he wouldn't be comfortable with it."I don't think I would at this point," said Deonandan. "Again, it all varies depending on the nature of the community load. If suddenly we're getting one or two cases per week in the community, then my confidence level goes up tremendously."But if we're in double digits per day, I'm confident about opening schools, but not around exposing my parents to potential lethal infection. So I'd be hesitant, but it doesn't mean that they can't visit the child, if the appropriate protections are in place, like face shields and face masks and distancing."Is there reason to be optimistic?Deonandan, who describes himself as an optimist, has a mantra to share."Don't let perfect be the enemy of good," he said. "We can deploy important strategies, and they may not work perfectly. But if enough of them work most of the time, then we have sufficient protection."It's like building fortifications against an invading army. You could build your castle, you could build your moat, you can build a big door, but either one of those things is not going to be perfect. But all of them in series may provide sufficient protection."So the mask wearing won't be perfect. Kids will fidget. That's fine. Plexiglas barriers between desks won't be perfect. Sometimes kids will look over them … but all those things, layered on top of each other, should offer sufficient protection," he said.WATCH | Combining measures to widen protection
After closing his Barrie, Ont., café for the day recently, René Segura checked his smartphone and saw a reassuring message."No exposure detected," the screen read.Like 1.9 million other Canadians, Segura downloaded the COVID Alert app on the understanding it would notify him if he spent time in close contact with a known coronavirus carrier.Launched by the federal government on July 31 — and so far only operational in Ontario — the app is designed to warn users if they've spent at least 15 minutes in the past two weeks within two metres of another user who later tested positive for the coronavirus.Having survived a near-death encounter with COVID-19, Segura has extra incentive to use the app."I still have my guard up," Segura said. "I don't want to go through the same episode again."The app, which works on later-model Apple and Android devices, has received positive reviews from privacy advocates, but myths persist about the data it collects — and doesn't collect. Experts in both technology and public health stress that the more people who use it, the better it will be. However, they say it doesn't need to be adopted by a majority of the population for it to have a positive impact.Segura installed COVID Alert as a means of extra protection, knowing he would constantly be in close contact with customers at the café he co-owns with his wife. In March, at age 41, he was placed in intensive care with a severe case of COVID-19. He's fully recovered now but had lingering symptoms for weeks.With businesses like his recently reopening and students soon going back to school, Segura said the app is "a great tool." He just hopes it will function as advertised.Using the app does not lessen requirements for public health measures like physical distancing, handwashing and wearing a mask. It's also not meant to replace manual contact tracing — where teams reach out to anyone who's been put at risk of exposure.So far, there are few ways to measure whether it has been effective, but that appears to be the price for the software's built-in privacy measures.WATCH | COVID-19 exposure notification app rolling out in Ontario:Does it work?At this point, it's virtually unknowable whether the app has prevented anyone from contracting COVID-19. In a nutshell, "you're trying to measure something that didn't happen," said Lucie Abeler-Dörner, a scientific manager at Oxford University's Nuffield Department of Medicine in Britain. She said it's a recurring challenge when reviewing preventative public health interventions.When a user of the app is diagnosed in Ontario, they're given a one-time code to input, which then alerts others with whom the patient has been in close contact recently. The feature is built on a framework jointly developed by Apple and Google.To ensure better privacy, the data is stored on individual devices, not on a central server. The drawback is there's no way of knowing how many users have received an exposure notification.What's more, a user isn't told when, where or with whom any potential exposure occurred, so it's impossible to determine whether it's a real threat or the result of a glitch. The alert would direct the user to seek advice from provincial public health officials.The app uses Bluetooth to determine the proximity of other smartphones, but the technology's level of precision is unclear.Andrew Urbaczewski, an associate professor in business information and analytics at the University of Denver, who examined the effectiveness of similar apps in various countries, said testing such technology in a lab doesn't guarantee results in the real world."We've got no reason to believe that it doesn't work," he said in an interview, "but we certainly don't have five years or five months or even five weeks of history as to whether or not this works in the wild as intended."Urbaczewski pointed to three indicators of success: the app's download rate among the population, its capacity to accurately provide exposure notifications and its users' willingness to follow public health advice in the event of contact with the virus.An Ontario government spokesperson confirmed to CBC News on Wednesday that COVID Alert has been downloaded almost 1.9 million times "with it being expected that the overwhelming majority of these downloads have come from Ontario."Although the app is available across Canada, it has so far only been integrated into Ontario's health-care system, rendering it virtually useless in the rest of the country for now.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has suggested the Atlantic provinces will join next."We hope to see the number of downloads continue to increase across Canada as other provinces and territories connect their health-care authorities to the system," said Alain Belle-Isle, a spokesperson for the federal Treasury Board, the department that is tracking the download rate.Once anecdotes emerge of exposure notifications leading users to get tested, that's "what's going to be compelling for people to download it more," said Emily Seto, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto's Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation."I've downloaded it," she said. "Everybody should — if they can — download it," because of the potential public health benefits.How many users are needed?It's often been reported that a majority of people in a given country would need to install a coronavirus app for it to be effective. Experts now say that's not entirely true. Much smaller uptake can help, too.In April, a team of Oxford University scientists, including Abeler-Dörner, published research suggesting if 60 per cent of the British population installed a contact-tracing app, it would be effective in stopping the epidemic. The number has since been cited around the world to illustrate that high uptake is needed for the app to work."It's the figure from early simulations, and it's the figure you need to control the epidemic in the absence of all other measures," Abeler-Dörner said in an interview this week. "Our latest simulations show that actually you start seeing an impact of the app from about 15 per cent uptake."But Abeler-Dörner, who is part of a team of scientists advising the British government and the country's National Health Service, said she suspects even smaller uptake provides benefits. She pointed to anecdotal evidence from Germany that young, urban populations living in denser neighbourhoods and prone to take part in group activities — more likely to spread the virus — are also more likely to install a coronavirus app.In Canada, 1.9 million downloads represents five per cent of the country's population of 38 million. It's unclear how many of the downloads have come from provinces where the app is not yet active.Once downloaded, the app also requires a short installation process before it can monitor for COVID-19 exposure. Data from Switzerland indicates not everyone who downloads a coronavirus app actually uses it. The country's app has seen more than two million downloads, but as of Monday, it had fewer than 1.25 million active users.When COVID Alert launched, Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said officials would need "an ongoing way of evaluating its effectiveness." She declined to provide an uptake target but said the more people who use it, "the more useful it would be."In July, Australia topped a list compiled by app analytics firm Sensor Tower ranking national coronavirus apps by download rate (21.6 per cent). Ireland is reported to have reached 1.3 million downloads — representing more than 26 per cent of the population — for its COVID Tracker app within eight days of its release.The Canadian app has only been in use for two weeks. "I think you're on the right track," said Abeler-Dörner.Is it actually secure?The federal government, digital privacy advocates and software experts have provided assurances that COVID Alert is safe. "Canadians can opt to use this technology knowing it includes very significant privacy protections," federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said when the app was released. "I will use it."The app only exchanges random codes, not identifying data, with nearby devices. It checks daily for codes belonging to a user who's said they've tested positive.The app doesn't provide the government — or anyone else — with a user's name, whereabouts or health information. It also doesn't use a smartphone's GPS function, which could have allowed the app to geolocate a user.But some Canadians appear to still have deep-seated doubts.Leger survey results released this week found that 52 per cent don't believe the government when it says the app does not collect personal information and does not geolocate users. Another 39 per cent did not believe the app "will work."The results come from a web survey of 1,513 Canadians carried out Aug. 7-9. The comparable margin of error for a study this size would be plus or minus 2.52 per cent, 19 times out of 20.A promotional campaign has followed the release of the app, with ads appearing on websites, social media platforms and elsewhere. The U of T's Emily Seto said targeted campaigns might help clear up misconceptions.As employees return to workplaces, she said, managers "may want to promote it — maybe not make it mandatory — but to have a campaign to [help] understand the benefits, as well as the privacy measures."Could it be better?The concession for enhanced privacy and security measures appears to be a limited set of public health functions."That's always the tradeoff," said Urbaczewski. He compared it with Apple's Siri vocal assistant, which he said sends less data to a central server compared with Amazon's Alexa, but it can be less responsive as a result.Coronavirus apps with fewer privacy protections in use elsewhere can provide public health officials with more data to get a better handle on outbreaks. Ireland's COVID Tracker also uses the Apple-Google framework, but it counts the number of positive test results recorded in the app and how many users get exposure notifications.Experts say publishing such data can help build trust among the population that the app is working. As it stands in Canada, officials have provided little tangible evidence of its efficacy. It's unknown how many users have uploaded a COVID-19 diagnosis through the app since its launch. A federal government representative directed such inquiries to Ontario's Ministry of Health, which instructed a reporter to ask Ontario's Treasury Board Secretariat, which in turn declined to provide an exact figure.Swiss officials regularly post online the number of active users and downloads. In Germany, the federal disease control agency reported Tuesday that 1,320 people had so far been issued codes for uploading their positive tests to the app. In Canada, the government is considering how to track — and potentially make available — data related to the app once other provinces and territories adopt it. "Anything that the government can do to continue to promote these types of things and talk about the successes they've had will just encourage individuals to participate in the overall effort," Urbaczewski said.So far, the only measure made available in Canada is the download rate: 1.9 million in about 12 days.Abeler-Dörner said she recommends that public health authorities collect additional app data manually, such as by asking people who are reached through traditional contact tracing if they were previously alerted of an exposure through the app. That way, officials could get a sense of whether the app is notifying users quickly, as it's meant to.The other persistent criticism of the initiative surrounds the app's accessibility. COVID Alert can only run on an Apple or Android device released in the past five years, making it unavailable to vulnerable populations without access to recent technology.Research has consistently shown that lower-income and marginalized communities are at a higher risk of contracting the virus — meaning those who could most benefit from an exposure notification app can't access it. Singapore addressed the issue by providing contact-tracing tokens — small devices carried in someone's pocket or purse — that play a role similar to an app.In Canada, the flaw arises from the Apple-Google framework, which only works on later-model phones. But according to Sebastian Skamski, a spokesperson for Ontario Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy, that covers "the vast majority of smartphones owned by Ontarians."
More than a third of Canadians say they've been homeless or know someone who has — leading to health problems and even deaths that advocates worry could worsen as encampments multiply during the pandemic.The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness says the ranks of people lacking a roof over their head will grow without urgent investments in affordable housing during pandemic recovery and as provincial plans preventing landlords from evicting tenants are lifted.The Encampment Support Network Toronto, a group of volunteers who check in on people, says the number of encampments in the city has increased, with more than 100 groups of people living in tents during COVID-19. Vancouver, Edmonton and Hamilton have also reported encampments.In Toronto, encampments popped up after outbreaks of COVID-19 occurred in the city's homeless shelters. Then, after two-metre physical distancing measures were enforced at shelters, people were provided free, temporary housing in apartments and hotels.But those weren't a perfect solution either, said Rev. Leigh Kern of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. Temporary housing doesn't create a stable situation for people, she said, and rules against visitors in hotel rooms, along with scarcer overdose prevention services, could also be contributing to increases in overdose deaths.Kern handed out her last tent two weeks ago to a man who was just evicted."The beds are full so it's really hard as a worker and as a priest to see people in these dire situations."'I didn't realize how hard it is'Last month, Norman Black, 62, became homeless for the first time after he experienced a severe panic attack precipitated by a break down in the computer he uses to keep his mind occupied."I lasted five days and nights, and I was losing my mind staring at the walls," Black recalled.He moved out to save up for the repair, but he now regrets that decision."I didn't realize how hard it is for homelessness. And now, I've looked at eight different rooms [to rent]," he said. "Nobody's replied. So, I just keep looking."Black said a doctor advised he quit his physically demanding job as a city sanitation worker decades ago to ease his anxiety. Social anxiety now makes it difficult for him to tolerate staying in a shelter."I can't handle strangers," he said.The interaction triggers symptoms such as dizziness, pressure in his chest and trouble breathing, he said.In contrast, Black said, he now feels safe with his fellow tent dwellers at Alexandra Park, who call him Pops.Health suffers without supportsDr. Naheed Dosani, a palliative care physician and homeless health advocate in Toronto, said COVID-19 has perpetuated inequities for people experiencing homelessness in Canada.He said it exacerbated their physical and mental health needs when access to social support, drop ins and respite also dropped because of physical distancing requirements."What I've seen from people experiencing severe and persistent mental illness in our communities is that they were already hanging by a thread before the pandemic and that thread is now snapped," Dosani said.Symptoms like depression and psychosis can then worsen."What I've seen with my own eyes is a strong desire for people who have mental illness to be more connected."Instead, he said, people experiencing homelessness have been treated like criminals in parks and public spaces when they have nowhere else to go.Before COVID-19, Dosani said the average lifespan of those experiencing chronic homelessness ranged from 34 to 47 years.
Most parents in B.C. are in favour of sending their children to class with a face mask to wear, but are split on what should happen after school bells ring in September, a new poll suggests.About half (49 per cent) of British Columbians surveyed by Insight West were in favour of the provincial government's plan to reopen schools, while 42 per cent oppose it.The poll confirms what Premier John Horgan already suspected — not everyone is pleased with the back-to-school plans, said the market research firm's president Steve Mossop in a news release ."Our latest poll on the state of readiness of parents and the general public to go back to school shows a significant level of fear and uncertainty," reads his statement.The poll suggests parents appear to be divided on three key facets: their comfort level with sending their kids back to class, their take on the idea of possibly wearing masks and their preferences between online and in-person learning.If given a choice, four out of ten parents (41 per cent) prefer a mix of online and in-person classes, just over a quarter (27 per cent) would put their kids back in a full-time classroom setting and 27 per cent prefer all learning takes place online, according to the poll.The poll suggests about half of parents (51 per cent) feel very or somewhat comfortable sending their kids back to the classroom, while another 30 per cent are not very comfortable and 19 per cent are not comfortable at all.Parents also expressed concerns about isolating their children without any in-class learning and shortcomings in the quality of online learning.Seventy-one per cent of respondents agree with the statement "if there is not in-class learning, I worry about my child(ren)'s socialization" and about two-thirds (63 per cent) concur that in-class learning is necessary because online instruction provides a "poor quality" of education.Parents expressed concernAbout half of parents (49 per cent) say they do not know how they will manage remote learning and a similar proportion (46 per cent) do not have childcare in place if their kids stay home, the poll suggests.Parents were also split on whether their children would be safe from exposure to COVID-19 if they return to classrooms full time.Four out of five of parents (80 per cent) agree they need more information about how the plan will work, and seven out of every ten (70 per cent) say the provincial government is not being strict enough with the rules around reopening schools.Meanwhile, the majority of respondents (85 per cent) praise the government's overall handling of the COVID-19 crisis.Masks in schoolsIn an interview on Wednesday, Mossop said he was most surprised about the overwhelming support for masks in schools, which presents a stark contrast to what he has observed anecdotally while visiting malls and in transit."[It's] what people do versus what they say," he said, adding there was less controversy in the responses this time around compared to another poll from about a month and a half ago.The latest online study sampled 825 B.C. residents from Aug. 5 to Aug. 9, according to the release. A comparable margin of error for a study this size would be +/- 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.According to the B.C. government's website, schools will be reopening with in-class instruction within learning groups, capped at 60 students for elementary and middle schools, and 120 for high schools.The website states students and staff will not be required to wear face masks while at school.It advises young children should not use masks and recommends staff and older students wear non-medical masks in situations outside their learning group and where physical distancing is not possible for an extended period of time. "Wearing a mask is a personal choice that will always be respected," reads the website.Non-medical masks will be provided upon request.
ORLANDO, Fla. — Walt Disney World and the union for its actors and singers reached an agreement on Wednesday that will allow them to return to work, more than a month after they said they were locked out of the reopening of the theme park resort for publicly demanding coronavirus tests.Disney agreed to have a state-run drive-thru COVID-19 testing site for workers and the public at the Florida theme park resort. That decision encouraged Actor's Equity Association to sign a memorandum of understanding allowing the actors, singers and stage managers to return to their jobs.“We have been consistent that testing is an important part of ensuring a safe workplace for Equity performers, and today, I’m pleased to see that Disney World has agreed,” Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity Association, said in a statement.The union represents 750 Disney World workers.Disney officials said in a notice to its workers that there would be a dedicated testing lane for its workers and their families, and that reservations could be made for testing starting Thursday.“As a reminder, testing is voluntary and Cast Members will not be paid for testing time," the notice said.Disney released a statement later Wednesday saying that allowing the testing locations was not in response to union demands.“The Florida Division of Emergency Management will operate the location, which is available to cast members and their immediate families, as well as Florida residents,” the statement said. “Our actions support all cast and our community at large.”Actors’ Equity Association filed a labour grievance against Disney World, saying its members faced retaliation for demanding the coronavirus tests before Disney World's theme parks reopened to visitors last month after being closed since March because of the pandemic. About 220 actors and singers initially were called back to work, but that invitation was rescinded after the union made public its concerns about the lack of testing, according to the union.It was unclear how many actors and singers would be called back now that an agreement has been signed.___Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAPMike Schneider, The Associated Press
VICTORIA — Children in British Columbia will return to classrooms two days later than originally planned as part of a gradual restart to schooling, the education minister says.Rob Fleming said earlier this week that students wouldn't be expected back on the original date of Sept. 8 to help give administrators and teachers more time to prepare amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Staff will now meet on Sept. 8, while students will be welcomed in classrooms by Sept. 10."We arrived at the two days after discussions with all the leaders of all the major partner groups in B.C.," Fleming said on Wednesday. "This is the best scenario, I think, to continue to build the confidence and familiarity with the protocols that are in place."He said outdoor education will play a large role in the first two months of classes and emphasized the importance of students returning to schools to continue their education."We can't sacrifice 18 months of education, we have to learn how to do things safely during this pandemic. That's why we've developed and evolved the guidelines to maximize the return to in-class instruction," Fleming said.He acknowledged that some parents will not feel comfortable sending their kids back to school and the province's distributed learning centres would help those who have concerns.School districts will individually set the hours of the first two days back in school, Fleming added.Premier John Horgan said he understands parents and families are concerned about the circumstances, but added that schools are fundamental in a return to normalcy."We're working everyday, diligently, to try and ease those concerns to make it as safe as we possibly can," Horgan said."I think parents understand that, educators understand that, and the kids, of course, they just want to get back to school."He said the government will be flexible over how schools operate and Fleming demonstrated that by delaying the school year for students by a few days."This is an extraordinary time, our children are going to be extraordinary because of this time that we're living in," said Horgan.A government steering committee, established to help schools plan their restart, will issue operational guidelines next week on issues ranging from health and safety protocols to supporting the mental health of students.The B.C. branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and Canadian Union of Public Employees K-12 Presidents Council said in a statement that it supports the gradual restart plan."The details announced this morning will help ensure that all K-12 workers will understand how schools will operate in the 'new normal,' " said Paul Faoro, the president of the B.C. union branch. "All stakeholders generally support this phased-in approach."BC Teachers' Federation president Teri Mooring said she is pleased by the new return dates."I do applaud government for making the announcement today. I think it's important that families know when their children start school and I know that there's a lot of angst out there," she said."I do think it was important to get this information out."More decisions will need to be made, but this is a step in the right direction to help teachers and students, Mooring added.The government is spending $45.6 million on safety measures, including increased cleaning of high-contact surfaces, an increased number of hand-hygiene stations and boosting the availability of masks.Students will be organized into learning groups to reduce the number of people they come in contact with, cutting the risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus.Children in elementary and middle schools will have their learning groups capped at 60, while students in secondary schools will have a cap of 120.— By Nick Wells in Vancouver.This report was first published by The Canadian Press on Aug. 12, 2020.The Canadian Press
Provincial health officials are cautioning people who attended a Vancouver nightclub and some recent airline passengers they may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.On Wednesday, Vancouver Coastal Health issued a warning about potential COVID-19 exposure at Levels Nightclub on Seymour Street in Vancouver.The statement, posted online, said people who visited the 560 Seymour St. location between Aug. 4 and 7, from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. (closing time), should self-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19 for 14 days.Provincial health authorities have tightened restrictions on nightclubs after exposure events at several establishments across B.C.New flight added In a tweet, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control announced Wednesday a new flight has been added to its list of possible exposures.It releases the information when a case of COVID-19 is identified on board a flight that departs from or arrives in the province.The latest addition brings the total number of affected flights in the province to nine in the past two weeks.Domestic flights:Aug. 1 Air Canada Flight 304 Vancouver to Montreal Affected rows not reported July 30 WestJet Flight 186 Vancouver to Edmonton Rows 6-12 July 29 Air Canada Flight 343 Ottawa to Vancouver Rows 4, 12-17 July 29 WestJet Flight 538 Victoria to Calgary Rows 5-11 International flights:Aug. 1 United Airlines Flight 375 San Francisco to Vancouver Rows 25-29 July 31 Alaska Airlines Flight 2930 Seattle to Vancouver Rows 12-14 July 29 Aeromexico Flight 696 Mexico City to Vancouver Rows 19-27 July 29 Delta Flight 3898 Seattle to Vancouver Rows 10-16 July 29 KLM Flight 681 Amsterdam to Vancouver Rows 31-35 Anyone who was seated in the listed rows is considered to be at higher risk of potentially contracting the virus."Passengers on a domestic flight with a COVID-19 case should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days," said the BCCDC on its online public exposures page, which has a list of affected flights dating back to June.Anyone arriving to the province from outside of Canada must isolate and monitor for symptoms for 14 days, according to the website. They also need to register and complete a self-isolation plan.The news comes as the province announces 85 new cases of COVID-19, many of them connected to young people in the Lower Mainland.Symptoms of COVID-19 may include fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, diarrhea and loss of smell. The virus is spread by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or simply exhales. It can also spread when people touch an object or surface with the virus on it and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands.
"I’ll do anything to prove that theatres can re-open safely," the award-winning composer tweeted on Wednesday
Universities are keeping tuition at the same levels despite many classes moving online, and students aren't happy.
With a coronavirus vaccine still months off, companies are rushing to test what may be the next best thing: drugs that deliver antibodies to fight the virus right away, without having to train the immune system to make them.Antibodies are proteins the body makes when an infection occurs; they attach to a virus and help it be eliminated. Vaccines work by tricking the body into thinking there’s an infection so it makes antibodies and remembers how to do that if the real bug turns up.But it can take a month or two after vaccination or infection for the most effective antibodies to form. The experimental drugs shortcut that process by giving concentrated versions of specific ones that worked best against the coronavirus in lab and animal tests.“A vaccine takes time to work, to force the development of antibodies. But when you give an antibody, you get immediate protection,” said University of North Carolina virologist Dr. Myron Cohen. “If we can generate them in large concentrations, in big vats in an antibody factory ... we can kind of bypass the immune system.”These drugs, given through an IV, are believed to last for a month or more. They could give quick, temporary immunity to people at high risk of infection, such as health workers and housemates of someone with COVID-19. If they proved effective and if a vaccine doesn't materialize or protect as hoped, the drugs might eventually be considered for wider use, perhaps for teachers or other groups.They’re also being tested as treatments, to help the immune system and prevent severe symptoms or death.“The hope there is to target people who are in the first week of their illness and that we can treat them with the antibody and prevent them from getting sick,” said Dr. Marshall Lyon, an infectious disease specialist helping to test one such drug at Emory University in Atlanta.Having such a tool “would be a really momentous thing in our fight against COVID,” Cohen said.Vaccines are seen as a key to controlling the virus, which has been confirmed to have infected more than 20 million people worldwide and killed more than 738,000. Several companies are racing to develop vaccines, but the results of the large final tests needed to evaluate them are months away. Russia on Tuesday approved a vaccine that hasn't undergone such a test, sparking international concern that it was cutting corners.The antibody drugs are “very promising” and, in contrast, could be available “fairly soon," said Dr. Janet Woodcock, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration official who is leading government efforts to speed COVID-19 therapies. Key studies are underway and some answers should come by early fall.One company, Eli Lilly, has already started manufacturing its antibody drug, betting that studies now underway will give positive results.“Our goal is to get something out as soon as possible” and to have hundreds of thousands of doses ready by fall, said Lilly’s chief scientific officer, Dr. Daniel Skovronsky.Another company that developed an antibody drug cocktail against Ebola — Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. — now is testing one for coronavirus.“The success with our Ebola program gives us some confidence that we can potentially do this again,” said Christos Kyratsous, a Regeneron microbiologist who helped lead that work.Regeneron’s drug uses two antibodies to enhance chances the drug will work even if the virus evolves to evade action by one.Lilly is testing two different, single-antibody drugs — one with the Canadian company AbCellera and another with a Chinese company, Junshi Biosciences. In July, Junshi said no safety concerns emerged in 40 healthy people who tried it and that larger studies were getting underway.Others working on antibody drugs include Amgen and Adaptive Biotechnologies. The Singapore biotech company Tychan Pte Ltd. also is testing an antibody drug and has similar products in development for Zika virus and yellow fever.“I’m cautiously optimistic” about the drugs, said the nation's top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci. “I’m heartened by the experience that we had with Ebola,” where the drugs proved effective.What could go wrong?— The antibodies may not reach all of the places in the body where they need to act, such as deep in the lungs. All the antibody drugs must make their way through the bloodstream to wherever they’re needed.— The virus might mutate to avoid the antibody — the reason Regeneron is testing a two-antibody combo that binds to the virus in different places to help prevent its escape.Skovronsky said Lilly stuck with one antibody because manufacturing capacity would essentially be cut in half to make two, and “you will have less doses available.” If a single antibody works, “we can treat twice as many people,” he said.— The antibodies might not last long enough. If they fade within a month, it’s still OK for treatment since COVID-19 illness usually resolves in that time. But for prevention, it may not be practical to give infusions more often than every month or two.A San Francisco company, Vir Biotechnology Inc., says it has engineered antibodies to last longer than they usually do to avoid this problem. GlaxoSmithKline has invested $250 million in Vir to test them.Giving a higher dose also may help. If half of antibodies disappear after a month, “if you give twice as much, you will have two months’ protection,” Lilly’s Skovronsky said.— The big fear: Antibodies may do the opposite of what’s hoped and actually enhance the virus’s ability to get into cells or stimulate the immune system in a way that makes people sicker. It’s a theoretical concern that hasn’t been seen in testing so far, but large, definitive experiments are needed to prove safety.“As best as we can tell, the antibodies are helpful,” Lyon said.___Marilynn Marchione can be followed on Twitter: @MMarchioneAP___The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.Marilynn Marchione, The Associated Press
It's been suggested by health care professionals and academics that ethnicity is one of the risk factors for COVID-19. The largest outbreaks in Alberta affected primarily immigrant workers and new Canadians at meat processing facilities in High River and Brooks.Nearly half of the cases in Calgary can be found east of Deerfoot Trail, in neighbourhoods with larger immigrant populations and higher rates of poverty.In Ontario, demographic data suggests that minority groups are over-represented in reported cases of the disease. In Alberta, no such data is publicly available, at least not yet.Human rights advocates, anti-racist groups, researchers and social agencies say the data needs to be collected and shared publicly to ensure those impacted by the disease the most are getting the help they need. "It could lead to a change in health care," said Linda McKay-Panos, a leading human rights advocate in Alberta. Alberta Health says the government has instead chosen to focus on risk factors and "case-specific data by age and location" when it comes to sharing information about COVID-19. "We need to know what's going on in order to more effectively treat it," said McKay-Panos, who is the executive director of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre. In the United States, the COVID Racial Data Tracker found that Black people are dying 2.5 times the rate of white people.In Toronto, Black people make up 21 per cent of COVID-19 cases even though they only make up nine per cent of the city's population. White people accounted for 17 per cent of the cases, despite representing 48 per cent of the population. The data also showed lower income earners make up a higher share of the total number of cases in Canada's biggest city.In Alberta, it's difficult to get a clear picture of exactly who is contracting and spreading the virus. While we do know which areas are being impacted the most, we don't know anything about the people getting the disease, including race, age, gender, disabilitiy or socio-economic status. Alberta Health has divided the city into 16 local geographic areas with nearly half of the COVID-19 cases being reported east of Deerfoot Trail, in areas identified as upper northeast, lower northeast, east and southeast Calgary.The numbers show the total cases, total active cases, how many people have recovered and how many have died. Almost half of the cases in Calgary are located in those four areas on the east side.Beyond those numbers and what we know about those communities, there is no detailed demographic data to help understand why it appears that people in that part of the city seem more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than other areas."Until we have that concrete data shared across levels in a standardized format, it lends itself to conjecture," said Jason Devine with the Calgary Anti-Racist Action group. "If we're talking about how COVID is possibly and most likely unequally impacting certain communities, well that in fact affects us all because a pandemic is beyond all communities and all borders."In June, 11 of Canada's federal, provincial and territorial human rights commissions, including Alberta's, called on the federal government for a national strategy for the collection of disaggregated health data, which could help identify Canadians who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.The commissions say traditional health data collection is based on a high level of aggregation and reveals limited information about the severity of the impact of the virus on vulnerable and marginalized Canadians.Those include Black Canadians, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, women, older people living alone or in institutions and "low income communities who have unequal access to health care, child care and are often underemployed."In response, the prime minister said at the time that more needs to be done to collect more detailed demographic data during the pandemic. Ontario's Human Rights Commission said that such data, including race, socio-economic status and disability, along with sex and age, is "the foundation of evidence-informed decision-making," and "demographic data collection is a best-practice."> Strong data allows health-care leaders to identify populations at heightened risk of infection or transmission. \- Ontario Human Rights Commission When asked to provide further comment on the letter or on the amount of time that has passed since the request was made to the federal government, the office of the Alberta Human Rights Commission provided a brief response to the CBC."This data will help identify inequalities and advance human rights in Canada as we navigate this unprecedented public health crisis," said a spokesperson.A leading Calgary agency that helps newcomers get settled with language training, employment and housing opportunities echoes the call for better data collection to fully understand who is most at risk of contracting the virus."I hope this kind of approach has one purpose and that would be giving our policy-makers and the public information that we really need to pay more attention to our most vulnerable population," said Fariborz Birjandian, the CEO of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society.Fear of discrimination, stigma While there are calls for more information about people impacted by COVID-19, there are also warnings about how the data could lead to further discrimination and stigmatizion of certain groups.Birjandian says people have to understand the nature of the work taken on by some immigrants and temporary foreign workers already puts them at higher risk, whether it's employment as a cleaner, delivery person, long-term care facility employee or a meat-packing worker.He says it's also common for newcomers to live in smaller, more crowded conditions and to rely on public transit or carpooling. "If you just come in and say, 'yes, the immigrants, they are getting more impacted by the disease,' that is not going to help anybody," he said.McKay-Panos has the same concerns."You'd hate to see an employer say, 'well, we're not going to hire you because you have a greater chance of having COVID.'""We don't want to see the blowback. In other words, the statistics can't be used negatively. They have to be used in a way to help people so that we can all get through this and address it in a proper way," she said.Race, ethnicity part of meat packing plant studyA Calgary health researcher is leading a national study that will examine the COVID-19 outbreaks at meat processing facilities in Alberta. The outbreak in the Cargill facility at High River was the site of the largest COVID-19 cluster linked to a single facility in North America.Dr. Gabriel Fabreau, who studies refugee and immigrant health in Calgary, will lead the study into the outbreaks at Cargill near High River, JBS near Brooks and Harmony Beef in Balzac, north of Calgary.The Canadian Institutes for Health Research is funding the $365,000 study, which will look into why the outbreaks mostly affected new immigrants, refugees and temporary foreign workers and their communities."We suspect that newcomer communities were primarily affected; that needs to be quantified," he said.Fabreau says his research will examine what he calls the 'transmission chain," and why the virus spread so quickly. "Where did it start? Who got it next? Where did that go next? How did that interact with the rest of the clusters of outbreaks in our community?"Fabreau, who is an assistant professor at the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, says other factors will also be examined, including housing, transportation, language barriers and access to public health-care resources. Fabreau says more detailed demographic data collected during his research — and throughout the pandemic — could uncover inequities in health care. But he says it needs to go beyond race and ethnicity."We need to collect the social determinants of health more broadly. So income and education, housing, socioeconomic status," he said."Those sorts of data would really help us first understand how health is being distributed in our country, and then to see how those factors are interacting to affect people's health.""By not routinely collecting them, it makes it very difficult," said Fabreau.Data collection, sharing 'important'Alberta Health says there may be more information related to race-based reporting coming in the days and weeks ahead.A spokesperson for the department says they are looking at ways to "effectively report" demographic data on race, ethnicity and socio-economic status of patients."We hope to have more information to share soon," said Tom McMillan. For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.
Ontario public servants may not be required to wear face masks in all instances when they return to work, according to documents obtained by CBC News from the Doug Ford government.In the "Guide to Planning for the Gradual Reopening of the Workplace," dated Friday, Aug. 7, the government says masks will not be mandatory unless employees are in indoor public spaces.The guide notes that Ontario cities and regions have made masks mandatory in enclosed public spaces, while most public health units have recommended that masks should be worn in public spaces."When access to ministry/working space is controlled (security cards, locks, etc.) then it is generally not considered public space," the guide says.Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, said the guide is a work in progress. The province has not yet finalized a return to work plan for the Ontario Public Service (OPS) for employees currently working at home, she said."The attached documents are in no way final," Hilken said in an email on Tuesday. "They were prepared to begin the conversation internally as to what a return to work could look like. While initial planning is underway, no final direction has been provided to the OPS around a potential return to work for those working remotely."The documents obtained by CBC News include a safety plan template and a readiness checklist. Instructions in the safety plan template also do not insist that employees wear masks while at work.The "Personal Protective Equipment" section of the safety plan template says, "Where you cannot use engineering and administrative controls to maintain physical distance, personal protective equipment (PPE) will be needed."The plan acknowledges most public health units have advised wearing masks in public spaces, but goes on to say that where workspaces with controlled access aren't considered public spaces. Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa, is in favour of masks being mandatory for Ontario public servants when they return to the office."To simply say, 'If a key card allows you entry, the mask rules no longer apply,' is troubling to me," Deonandan said on Tuesday."I think the mask prescription should be across the board in the event of an inability to socially distance."The guide says certain rooms, such as kitchens and mail rooms, will have a one-person limit.Deonandan said such restrictions will make a difference. "As long as the spacing is enforced and the mask wearing is a little more than highly encouraged, things should be okay," he added.The guide includes a section entitled "Support," which is an action plan in case of potential, suspected or positive COVID-19 cases.Deonandan said he was impressed by the section. "I looked very carefully at their procedures on what to do if someone tests positive and it's fairly robust. I'm kind of impressed by that."According to the documents, workers should continue to work from home and meet virtually where possible. Where workers have to come in, it recommends barriers, shifting schedules and using outdoor spaces.One document suggests ministries should try to finalize their protocols by mid-August.
Students in Ontario will return to school classrooms in just a few weeks, and that's prompted many questions and concerns from parents, educators and the public.It is unclear what education will really look like in the COVID-19 era — and what happens if an outbreak occurs in a school. The province has pledged to hire up to 500 extra school nurses to help prevent and deal with possible infections. Austin White is one of them, located in the Niagara area, where he'll be serving 14 different elementary schools. He says there are still unanswered questions about the return, but he's confident they'll be able to adapt, even on such a tight timeline. He spoke with the CBC's Justin Mowat about what his new role entails, how he feels about returning to a school environment amid the pandemic, and the importance of education in preventing further infections. Note: this interview has been condensed for clarity. JM: What do you know so far about what your role as a school health nurse will look like?AW: I can't speak to specifics, because we haven't been told by the government minister what the exact details of the position will look like. But I can assume what it'll look like based on my role as a school health nurse within elementary schools and the current work that I'm doing now. A large part of what we do as public health nurses is education, and providing the support necessary for schools to really address health challenges within their schools. And it's really going to continue in the next few months, especially when it comes to contact tracing and case management — it's all about education.JM: How will you be educating students about the virus, especially younger children?AW: The job of a school health nurse has always been about that education piece. And it's always been about tailoring education to age-appropriate messages for students, so really ensuring that they understand why things are being put in place. I always say you can't go into a community, or a school community and expect them to follow through with policy changes — or just changes in general — without providing that thorough education and understanding about why things are the way they are. When it comes to students, really making sure they understand that physical distancing should always be the first line of defence. But when it isn't possible, then it really comes down to hand hygiene and proper cough and mask etiquette. So making sure that, let's say for students in grade four and older, they understand why they use a mask and how to use it properly. And ensuring that they understand that it's not only to protect themselves, but to protect their friends and family, and everyone around them. JM: Do you believe these measures will be well received by children, and that they will follow the rules?AW: I think the important thing about educating younger students is that partnership between public health, the school staff and parents at home. The messages just can't come from public health and not just from schools, but it also has to come from home as well. It's very important that parents start to discuss the expectations of what school is going to look like. Students have been off for the past six months, and we don't know what kind of psychosocial effects and mental health impacts that can have on them. So it's really important that we — as public health staff and teachers, along with parents — start preparing them now. We have to start talking about what it's going to be like walking into class, tell them they're going to have to wear a mask if they're in grade four or above and that it's really important they're washing their hands. Similar to our comprehensive school health model, you really have to engage the entire school community and provide that education through a variety of different means. JM: You've been working as a contact tracer this summer, which will also take place in schools if an outbreak occurs. How does that process work?AW: Typically with any case right now when we receive a positive result, we contact the individual and we really try to understand if they're experiencing symptoms. If they are, when was their onset and what might be their infectious period? And then from there we look at who they might have been exposed to and come in contact with. It's important to make sure we do contact them, inquire about symptoms and provide them with recommendations. With contact tracing comes thorough questions of what the environment looked like, if proper PPE was used, whether physical distancing was in effect...we look at all these aspects to determine whether it's a high-risk or low-risk contact. When it is a high-risk, we recommend a 14-day self-isolation. It's really about the research that shows the virus can take up to 14 days to incubate in the body. I can only imagine that contact tracing in schools will be about a lot of education around contact tracing and case management, and they understand what it means to properly self-isolate — or self monitor, if it's a low-risk contact. JM: There's still a lot of concern from parents about their children returning to school in September. Are you at all worried?AW: Of course I have concerns, as any individual would. I'm not a parent, so I can only speak from my own experience, but I understand the concern with sending their kids back. There is always going to be a risk with sending kids back to school during a pandemic. My main concern is making sure that they have the supports necessary to ensure this is a safe transition. There are going to be challenges and there may be potential exposures. I think it really comes down to that education piece, making sure they feel equipped. We all fear what we don't know and there are so many unknowns about this situation. But as long as we're continuously working together and collaborating, and providing the necessary educational support, I think that it's really important for kids to go back to school. For their mental well being, I think it's really important for them. We have to consider the psychosocial aspects of it.JM: With such a heavy focus on preventing COVID-19 in schools, do you see other issues (mental health, sexual health) falling to the wayside?AW: Just because we're in a pandemic, it doesn't mean everything else stops. I still have concerns about all the other health issues that we typically address within school. Within our school health program, we focus on comprehensive school health. A lot of that is really engaging the schools, parents and the students themselves in identifying health needs, and coming up with tailored programs that meet those needs. Often it's issues like vaping, sexual health, mental health and physical well-being. We still have to think about those, so I'm curious to see how the next few months are going to play out. I know our team has really transitioned into providing support online. But, of course there's still a value of us in the schools and getting to know our students and their problems, and working with them to create solutions.
There is a lot riding on Quebec's back-to-school plan, the latest version of which was revealed Monday by Education Minister Jean-François Roberge. Broadly stated, it has to accomplish two things: return as many students to the classroom as possible this fall, and do this without triggering a second wave of infections that could imperil the provincial health-care system.Roberge took an initial crack at squaring this circle in June, releasing a plan that made no mention of masks and proposed keeping students in small groups to limit outbreaks.The upside of that plan was that it made clear to parents there was going to be in-class education in September, which, along with vital implications for the development of children, has significant economic and social consequences.The downside was that the plan was light on details and was quickly eclipsed by the rapidly evolving science on COVID-19.Earlier this week, after weeks of increasingly urgent questions from teachers and parents, Roberge announced major revisions to the government's strategy for mitigating the risks of returning to school.While the new plan addresses many of the major concerns of health experts, there are some holes they hope will be addressed in subsequent revisions. Landmark studyThe biggest issue about the first draft of Roberge's back-to-school plan was the absence of any mask requirements for students. Ministry officials were working from the assumption, not unreasonable at the time, that children are not potent vectors of the disease. In July, however, researchers from South Korea published an early version of a study that found children and teens aged 10 to 19 transmit the virus as much as adults do. It also found that while children under the age of 10 can spread the virus, they don't do so as much as older children.The study, which analyzed case histories of nearly 60,000 people who had been in contact with a COVID-19 patient, helped confirm numerous smaller studies that came to similar conclusions."It has really changed people's approaches, especially when it comes to wearing masks," said Dr. Earl Rubin, who heads the infectious disease unit at the Montreal Children's Hospital. The updated version of Quebec's plan, released Monday, is in line with the latest research: students in Grade 5 and up will have to wear a mask almost everywhere inside, unless they're seated at their desks.Given that infection rates are still relatively high in Quebec, some experts have suggested students should wear their masks in the classroom as well, at least for the start of the year."I think this is the time to push for maximum intervention to reduce the risk of viral transmission," said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist with the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal."Once we have a sense of how things are doing in school, then there can be some room for flexibility."The other big change from the June draft is doing away with the concept of "bubbles."Initially, it was thought keeping students in small sub-groups of six would limit the size of outbreaks. But many teachers worried bubbles would be a nightmare to enforce, and medical experts said their value was minimal. "Whether you have small bubbles or not, the entire class would be quarantined if there was a case in the classroom," said Dr. Caroline Quach, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at the Sainte-Justine children's hospital in Montreal.Instead of bubbles, students will be able to interact with anyone in their class, but not with students from other classes. Positive reception, but some fuzzinessThe reaction, so far, to Roberge's updated plan has been fairly positive from teachers, administrators and opposition politicians. "When you compare it with what was presented in the spring, this one is a lot more coherent," said Josée Scalabrini, president of the Fédération des syndicats de l'enseignement, an association of 34 teachers unions.WATCH | Quebec's education minister explains back-to-school plan:Unlike in Ontario, there has been no outcry — yet — over Quebec's intention to keep class sizes at their usual pre-pandemic levels.Public health authorities in Toronto are recommending schools there reduce class size as much as possible in order to limit transmission, especially in younger grades where masks are not mandatory. The Ontario government has refused to budge from its plan to return to full-size classes in the fall, but opposition is growing. A petition demanding smaller class sizes in elementary schools has gathered more than 200,000 signatures. Quach, who has provided advice to the Quebec government over the course of the pandemic, acknowledged that more students in a classroom means a higher risk of transmission."Yes, we could decrease the size of classes, but then you would need more teachers, which I think is not possible at this point in time," she said.Quach believes full-size classes can be relatively safe if a number conditions are met, including low community transmission and rapid testing and tracing. She also suggested that having desks in rows with students facing forward, rather than toward each other, could limit their exposure to droplets, which is thought to be the main way the virus spreads outside medical settings.Quebec's guidelines, though, make no mention of how to position desks. Once inside the classroom, students will be able to remove their masks and won't be required to distance from each other, but will have to stay two metres away from their teacher.Rubin, who also advised the government on its back-to-school plan, called the absence of guidelines on class size "confusing.""Sometimes there are 30 kids in the class," he said. "What are the physical parameters of that room that will allow 30 kids to sit, and how far apart will they be from the next student?"Rubin said it will take one to two incubation periods of the virus — the equivalent of two to four weeks — before public health officials will be able determine the effect that reopening schools will have on infection rates. Like the first school plan, he said, this latest version is also likely to change, depending on what happens in those first few weeks."The thing with [COVID-19] is what we know today may be different than tomorrow and certainly different than yesterday," Rubin said. "Things are always changing and, because of that, the recommendations will change."
As schools across Canada finalize their back-to-class plans, doctors say there are a few things educators and parents should keep in mind during COVID-19.People will form new routines that build on the advice provincial medical officers of health regularly share about handwashing, avoiding touching your face and trying to keep two metres away from others. Schools will now put students into smaller groups, check ventilation and consider use of masks.Cases of COVID-19 haven't overwhelmed health systems in Canada thanks to collective sacrifices, but cases continue to occur. CBC News is breaking down need-to-know information on the pandemic based on questions sent via email to COVID@cbc.ca. Here, physicians offer advice and answer questions on back-to-school topics such as distancing, health checks, safe nap times and when to stay home.Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious diseases physician at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said keeping school as safe as possible for kids to learn and socialize doesn't follow a set timetable.By necessity, she said, school plans can't be perfect and people won't follow all of the basics to the letter at all times."If we don't do a better job of tracking and tracing, then some of these school plans … are going to fail, and we're going to see outbreaks and clusters we can't control," she said.Layering public health measures for all Canadians on top of testing and contact tracing aims to keep outbreaks manageable. Priority 1: Keep COVID-19 outMany school boards have not yet offered details on what they'll be implementing to keep children safe and how. Until then, infectious disease and public health experts say some precautions will be the most effective.Infectious disease physicians stress prevention before control — meaning they'd like to keep the novel coronavirus out of schools altogether.That's why they, along with pediatricians and epidemiologists, repeat that people need to stay home when sick. Doing so prevents an individual's illness from sparking more.Dr. Laura Sauvé, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of British Columbia, said public health, school authorities and infectious disease specialists are collaborating closely across the country."Public health authorities are trying their best to balance multiple competing priorities keeping in mind the whole child," Sauvé said.Priority 2: Check frequently for symptomsRecognizing a sickness and acting on it is a major layer of defence to keep COVID-19 out of schools.Sauvé's son is heading into Grade 4. When he attended day camp in B.C. this summer, she said, there were either sign-in sheets or a daily email requiring parents to declare the child is not sick."It's not so much the signing. It's the fact that every day we're checking in with ourselves and saying, 'Am I sick today? Do I have any symptoms?'" she said. "And if there's any way I could have symptoms, I need to stay away and reassess. If I get worse, get a test."To emphasize the stay-home message, schools and workplaces plan to send notices home, and provincial health officers will give regular reminders, she said.Priority 3: Stay apartPublic health experts have repeatedly stressed that physical distancing is key to preventing the spread of COVID-19, but how that will play out in schools with small classrooms and large numbers remains to be seen.Andisha A., a Grade 11 student in Calgary, sent the this question to Ask CBC: "How can I be safe when my classroom is full, with not a lot of social distancing going around? The school board is also not forcing students to wear a mask?"WATCH | Physical spacing for students' return to school:The federal government's COVID-19 guidance for schools resource emphasizes separating people from each other through physical distancing and barriers as more protective than what individuals can do, such as covering coughs, handwashing or wearing non-medical masks.To that end, local medical officers of health in Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa have called for smaller class sizes."Ottawa Public Health supports having the number of students within a classroom to be as small as possible, in order to facilitate appropriate physical distancing, and to maintain distancing and limit the mixing of cohorts in common areas such as hallways and washrooms," Dr. Brent Moloughney, the city's associate medical officer of health said in a statement on Tuesday. Provincial recommendations to school boards are also subject to change.Masks are another issue school boards are tackling differently. In Alberta, students from Grades 4 through 12 will be required to wear masks in all public spaces like hallways and can choose to wear them while seated in the class. Masks will be optional for younger students. Quebec's plans are similar. Ontario requires masks in Grades 4 to 12.Priority 4: Ventilation Lorna C. asked, "What is the plan to ensure safe air flow and humane working temperatures in elementary schools without air conditioning?"At her clinic, Sauvé said fans are generally avoided to prevent the spread of fungal spores but they are turned on since it can get as hot as 35 C inside.For schools, Sauvé said opening windows is encouraged.Provincial occupational health and safety committees have more specific recommendations on ventilation in school. Priority 5: Personal protective equipmentDr. Catherine Clase, a nephrologist at St. Joseph's Healthcare in Hamilton, applauds Andisha for being proactive about staying safe at school Clase suggests fabric masks for students, which she first proposed for her kidney patients. Some school boards across Canada are making masks mandatory for secondary school students. "If [masks] are normalized in school and we have conversations and kids are not shamed for doing it wrong, I think that's going to be really important," Sauvé said. "Everything we do has to be done with the thought of kindness and support." Clase hopes people will create shareable videos to encourage proper use.Making masks attractive to children would help, and some trial and error could be in order, she said.Sauvé suspects that with encouragement and redirection, most children will be able to get used to wearing masks, which are not the "be all and end all" of protection.Monica N. asked about how often to change a mask during a six-hour day with Grade 3 students. If families have the resources, then both Clase and Sauvé suggest providing two facial coverings each day to change at lunch or if one becomes soiled."We need to be planning for at least one clean mask for every person going outside the house every morning," Clase said.Sophie D. said "physical distancing is not possible with infants, toddlers or preschoolers, especially during nap time when up to 24 children sleep on cots close together. Will masks really protect educators in this environment?"Likely, yes. "You will get protection from wearing a mask," Clase said.Sauvé said sleeping children are also not coughing and running around."Evidence suggests that toddlers would transmit less than a 20-year-old having a nap."Schools aren't the most dangerous placeDoctors and scientists also know more about the virus than when schools abruptly closed back in March, when the pandemic was taking hold in Canada.The bulk of evidence globally shows some kids will get very sick with COVID-19, but overall they get much milder disease symptoms than adults, Sauvé said."Of kids who get it, about 80 per cent get it from somebody in their household … even in settings where kids are getting back to school and back to daycare," she said.It also appears that young children transmit the virus less than older kids. There's no clear age cutoff, according to Sauvé.Keep your questions coming by emailing us at COVID@cbc.ca.
Provinces are releasing their back-to-school plans for students ahead of the September 2020 return to the classroom.