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Alberta investing $10M for targeted COVID-19 antibody testing

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The province is launching a series of antibody studies that will aim to better estimate how many people in Alberta have had COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Alberta Health announced $10 million is being allocated to fund four different targeted serology testing programs.

Serology tests detect the presence of antibodies in a person’s blood, which will indicate if the person has previously been exposed to the COVID-19 virus. The new program will not allow for on-demand individual testing like the current swab program, but will be a targeted approach to test specific segments of the population.



Alberta collaborating with federal government, other provinces on serology testing

“We know that there are people have been infected and were never tested,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said at Tuesday’s in-person provincial update on the pandemic efforts in the province.

“Many of them simply because they never got sick, and that’s where serology testing comes in,” he said. “It detects the presence of antibodies in a person’s blood which can show us if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 in the past.

 

“That shows us more about how the virus is spreading and how best to contain it.”

The serology testing is not the same as the swab testing that the province is currently offering.

“It does not, and I repeat not, replace swab testing. It doesn’t tell us if you’re currently sick or if you’re contagious — and it doesn’t tell us if you’re immune to COVID-19 to a degree or for how long.”

The four studies the province will fund are as follows:

  • Two pediatric studies in Calgary and Edmonton testing 1,000 children in each study every six months until 2022
  • A random, anonymous testing of about 55,000 blood samples across the province that have been collected for other purposes
  • 10,000 select Albertans over the age of 45 who will each be tested regularly

With the above studies, the province is aiming more to take representative samples of the population, not necessarily just people who think they may have previously caught the virus.

“I know that there are many individuals who are very curious about their own personal results,” Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday.

“However, if we recruited only individuals who thought they might have had COVID[-19], we would get a non-representative sample of the population, which wouldn’t be helpful for us to determine at an overall population level who may have been exposed.

“Serology is not a useful individual clinical test except in some very rare select circumstance,” Hinshaw said.

Hinshaw added that the province is working with Canada’s national genomics consortium to compare what other provinces are planning for their serology testing programs.

“We are collaborating with other provinces and territories, and the federal government,” Hinshaw said.

Alberta is the first province to officially announce a program.

Alberta Precision Laboratories will also offer serology testing for specific clinical purposes and funded population-level serology research studies.

Albertans who would like to be tested for COVID-19 can sign up online for swab testing, even when asymptomatic.

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VCH warns of COVID-19 exposure at Downtown Vancouver club – Vancouver Is Awesome

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Vancouver Coastal Health is notifying people who visited the bar and nightclub areas of the Hotel Belmont about a possible exposure to COVID-19 during the nights of Monday, June 27 and Wednesday, June 29.

In a release, VCH states that individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 attended these areas of the Hotel Belmont (654 Nelson Street) on those dates.

However, the health authority adds that there is no known risk to anyone who attended the Hotel Belmont outside these two dates. In addition, there is no ongoing risk to the community.

As a precaution, VCH advises people who attended the bar and nightclub areas of the Hotel Belmont during the nights of Monday, June 27 and Wednesday, June 29 to monitor themselves for 14 days. As long as they remain healthy and do not develop symptoms, there is no need to self-isolate and they should continue with their usual daily activities.

If you have no symptoms, testing is not recommended because it is not accurate or useful. If you develop any of these symptoms of COVID-19, please seek COVID-19 testing and immediately self-isolate. Please call ahead and wear a mask when seeking testing. 

In June, VCH warned of a possible exposure to COVID-19 to people who were at Brandi’s Exotic Show Lounge between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. from June 21 to 24. It says a number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 attended the lounge on those dates. However, the club has since passed a health inspection and reopened. 

COVID-19 is spread by respiratory droplets when a person who is sick coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread when a healthy person touches an object or surface (e.g. a doorknob or a table) with the virus on it, and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes before washing their hands. Most people who get COVID-19 have only mild disease, but a few people can get very sick and may need to go to hospital. The symptoms of COVID-19 may include fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue, runny nose, sore throat loss of smell and/or diarrhea.

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Scientists warn of overlooked danger from coronavirus-spreading airborne microdroplets – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Physical distancing and frequent handwashing are not enough to fully protect against airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus, hundreds of scientists say.

Virus-carrying microdroplets pose more of a danger than is currently being communicated, the scientists argue in a new medical commentary, and the result is that poor ventilation is easing the path of the pandemic.

The commentary has been accepted for publication in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. It is signed by 239 scientists from 32 countries and a wide variety of science and engineering disciplines, according to a statement from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia.

“We are concerned that people may think they are fully protected by following the current recommendations, but in fact, additional airborne precautions are needed to further reduce the spread of the virus,” lead author and QUT air quality expert Lidia Morawska said in the statement.

MICRODROPLETS EXPLAINED

It is not controversial to say that the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread through exhaled airborne droplets. This is why physical distancing was one of the earliest individual measures urged to stop the spread of the virus, because putting space between people allows for particles to fall to the ground rather than latch on to another person.

It is also normal for viruses to be passed through droplets. Measles, for example, has an airborne transmission pathway that poses far more of a danger than has thus far been found with COVID-19.

“I can be in a room with measles, and leave, and somebody walks in hours later and they can get measles,” Dr. Sumon Chakrabati, an infectious diseases physician based in Missisauga, Ont., said Monday on CTV News Channel.

The World Health Organization says the droplets that carry SARS-CoV-2 can be spread through actions including coughing, sneezing and speaking, and recommends that everyone keep a one-metre distance from others. Many countries, including Canada, have gone farther, recommending a distance of two metres.

However, there are signs that the smallest microdroplets can travel beyond the two-metre limit. One American study found that they can move three metres in 12 seconds, and a fourth metre as they linger in the air for up to a minute. Morawska said that there is significant evidence that microdroplets can travel even farther – into the tens of metres – especially when indoors.

“Studies by the signatories and other scientists have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are exhaled in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in the air and pose a risk of exposure beyond [one to two metres] by an infected person,” she said.

“Hand-washing and social distancing are appropriate, but … insufficient to provide protection from virus-carrying respiratory microdroplets released into the air by infected people.”

‘IS THERE A DANGER THERE?’

Advice from public health experts in Canada and elsewhere has largely downplayed the risk of airborne transmission of the virus, even as evidence mounts that it is a real threat. In one study cited in the commentary as an example, droplets were found to be the most likely source of transmission among three dining parties at a restaurant in China, in a case where surveillance video footage showed no direct or indirect contact between the groups.

The debate over droplets has been playing out since the pandemic took hold. Dr. Colin Furness, a Toronto-based infection control epidemiologist, described it as “a pretty serious fight, intellectually,” but said the commentary is unlikely to lead to significant changes in virus protection thinking.

“The concern is ‘Are we ignoring those small droplets? Is there a danger there? Are our interventions maybe not enough?'” he said Monday on CTV News Channel.

“It could be that a smaller dose, those smaller droplets, actually matter for [COVID-19] because it’s so good at getting a toehold in your body once it gets in there.”

In Chakrabati’s view, the possibility of airborne transmission is overshadowed by the evidence that Canada and other countries have been able to slow the spread of the virus with the current precautions and restrictions.

“Are there situations where the two metres is a bit too little, for example a karaoke bar or a choir, where you’re singing and your voice is propelling? Perhaps,” he said.

“But I think for the most part, the recommendations that have been there since the beginning are the ones that are truly preventing the spread of this virus.”

REDUCING THE RISK

Morawska said that effective ventilation systems are the best way to reduce the spread of microdroplets. She said the most effective systems minimize the use of recirculated air by bringing in as much clean air from outdoors as possible, and that even opening doors and windows can make a major difference.

These ventilation techniques can be augmented with the use of air filtration and exhaust devices, as well as ultraviolet (UV) lights that kill germs. Another way to lessen the risk of microdroplet transmission is to avoid situations of overcrowding, especially on public transport and in public buildings, Morawka said.

Furness agreed with the suggestion to use UV lights in air filtration systems, saying that there could be a “renaissance” in this practice because the light can be effective against the virus in a way that physical filters cannot.

“I think we will probably see a resurgence in the use of UV light within air circulation systems, because UV light will kill viruses and it doesn’t really matter how small they are,” he said.

Face masks do not play a role in protecting against microdroplets, Furness said, because the droplets are so small that they can fit through the holes in most masks.

“If we were really concerned about aerosol, if we were really concerned about airborne, we would also be finding that wearing face coverings typically didn’t have that much of an effect – but the evidence says that they do,” he said.

“It’s not that we dramatically need to change what we are doing, it’s a question of trying to better understand our adversary and better understand what some of those risks may be.”

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30 workers test positive for COVID-19 at mushroom farm in Vaughan – CBC.ca

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Thirty workers have tested positive for COVID-19 at a mushroom farm in Vaughan, according to York Region Public Health.

In a public notice posted to its website on Monday, the public health agency said it is investigating this “workplace cluster” of COVID-19 at Ravine Mushroom Farm, 4101 King-Vaughan Road.

York Region Public Health has conducted risk assessments on the workers and determined that the risk of the virus being transmitted to members of the public is low.

Twenty-four of the 30 workers with the virus are said to be residents of York Region.

The public health agency said it is following up with the close contacts of those infected.

It said it has also inspected the farm, reviewed and strengthened infection prevention and control measures, implemented physical distancing of workers and reminded the workers at the farm not to report to work when sick.

York Region Public Health said it was notified of the first case at the farm on June 27.

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