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Alberta invests $10M in serology testing to help track spread of COVID-19 – CBC.ca

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Alberta is investing $10 million into targeted serology testing to help track the spread of COVID-19 across the province.

Serology testing is used to detect the presence of antibodies in a person’s blood, indicating that a person has been exposed to the COVID-19 virus in the past, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday. 

“Serology testing is a big step forward, but we also need to be clear about what it doesn’t do,” Shandro said. “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 or to a degree or for how long.”

Alberta Health is investing in four voluntary public health studies, he said.

Each will test specific groups of Albertans for the virus. Alberta Health Services will also make serology testing available for specific clinical purposes where testing can inform treatment decisions.

“This virus is new and we just don’t know how it behaves yet,” Shandro said. “We can make assumptions based on other viruses, and they may turn out to be right, but we can’t base our relaunch on assumptions.

“We need to know how much immunity people have after they’ve been infected, if they can be infected again.”

The tests will help epidemiologists understand what proportion of a population may have been exposed to COVID-19 within the past several months and then use that information to understand what proportion may not have been captured by swab testing, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, told Tuesday’s news conference.

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

“I know that there are many individuals who are very curious about their own personal results.

“However, if we recruited only individuals who thought they might have had COVID 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.”

So far provincial labs have completed 402,837 swab tests for COVID-19.

Alberta is the first province in Canada to make targeted serology testing available, Shandro said.

Latest numbers

Alberta recorded 45 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday with no new deaths.

The number of active cases in the province now stands at 532. The number of deaths remains at 153. 

Thirty-seven people are in hospital, six of them in intensive care.

Another hospital has been hit by an outbreak, this time Edmonton’s Misericordia Community Hospital.

“This outbreak is confined to a single unit and so far six patients and two staff have tested positive,” Hinshaw said.

“Outbreak protocols have already been implemented, and all staff and patients who may have been exposed are being tested.”

‘We will continue to see some new cases’

Hinshaw also addressed the five restaurants in Edmonton that voluntarily closed for a short time when a staff member or customer reported testing positive for the disease.

Several Edmonton restaurants recently closed after employees or customers at these locations tested positive for COVID-19. On Tuesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said the province didn’t force these closures and that COVID-19 outbreaks haven’t been found in these restaurants. 2:01

“As we move forward, we will continue to see some new cases in all sectors, including the food-service industry,” she said. 

While it’s important to take every case seriously, one positive case does not automatically require a business to close for public health reasons, Hinshaw said.

“It also does not mean that everyone who visited the same establishment is automatically at risk. Determining who is at risk is something that our contact tracing teams closely assess based on when the individual became symptomatic.”

Hinshaw said she hasn’t yet heard of a similar situation in Calgary.

The city of Edmonton proper has 223 active cases, outpacing Calgary, which has 202. 

Here is how active cases across the province break down by zone:

  • Edmonton zone: 236 
  • Calgary zone: 230
  • North zone: 36
  • South zone: 22
  • Central zone: 3
  • Unknown: 5

Edmonton’s northeast region is now under a watch designation as it has more than 10 active cases and has surpassed 50 active cases per 100,000 people.

The watch went into effect Monday. The region has 45 active cases and an active case rate of 50.6.

The designation means the province is monitoring the risk and discussing with local government the possible need for additional health measures.

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Why airlines won't contact you if a passenger with COVID-19 was on your flight – CTV News Winnipeg

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WINNIPEG —
The Manitoba government has explained why health officials are notifying airline passengers about possible COVID-19 exposure, and not the airlines themselves.

In recent days, the province has advised passengers on three Air Canada flights to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms, as a recent positive case was a passenger on the flights.

The flights are listed below:

  • AC 295 from Winnipeg to Vancouver on June 19. Affected rows are 19-25.
  • AC 122 from Vancouver to Toronto on June 21. Affected rows are 31-37.
  • AC 259 from Toronto to Winnipeg on June 23. Affected rows are 24-30.

Health officials said those in the impacted rows are considered close contacts and are asked to self-isolate for 14 days and monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. Any other passengers on the flights are asked to monitor for symptoms.

Since the pandemic started, the provincial government has maintained a list of flights where passengers with confirmed cases of COVID-19 were on.

However, some have wondered why provincial health officials are providing the updates, instead of the airlines.

CTV News Winnipeg reached out to the Manitoba government for additional information on the process.

A provincial spokesperson said the plan to post information on flights publicly, instead of requesting flight manifests, was established early in the pandemic.

“There is no direct evidence at this time that contacting individual air travellers has made it possible to find cases earlier,” the spokesperson said in an email to CTV News. “All air travellers should be self-monitoring for symptoms post-travel.”

The spokesperson went on to add, “Flight manifests take time to retrieve and often do not have contact information for all travellers that allows public health to follow-up. Airlines do not contact air travellers about public health issues directly.”

The province said the process is consistent with national guidelines and said most jurisdictions in Canada will publicly post the flight information for COVID-19 cases.

There have been 325 cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba since March 12.

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No new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba for 4th straight day – CBC.ca

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No new cases of COVID-19 were announced in Manitoba on Saturday, marking the fourth straight day since a case of the illness was identified in the province.

The total number of cases identified in Manitoba is still 325, the province said on Twitter.

Numbers on testing, recoveries and hospitalizations will be updated again on Monday.

As of Friday, 16 of the known cases in the province were still active and no one was in hospital with COVID-19.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, seven people who contracted the illness caused by the new coronavirus in Manitoba have died and 302 have recovered.

As of Friday, the total number of COVID-19 tests done in the province was 64,968.

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Some experts are concerned about a coming influenza and COVID-19 collision – CTV News Montreal

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MONTREAL —
Quebec’s public health authorities are preparing now to avoid a potential catastrophe later when flu season hits particularly if there is no COVID-19 vaccine available.

Quebec’s Health Ministry has ordered 400 thousand more influenza vaccines for this fall’s public vaccination program than it did last year to try and increase vaccination rates among people at risk of complications and hospitalizations, according to a ministry spokesperson.

A total of two million doses will be available for those who meet the Quebec Immunization Committee’s criteria (see below for complete list).

That’s still a far cry from the universal coverage some had hoped for- especially during a pandemic.

Montreal infectious diseases specialist Dr. Matthew Oughton says offering a free vaccine to all Quebecers who want one would could help prevent the worst in Quebec if influenza season collides with COVID-19 outbreaks.

“If we can do anything that we can to reduce influenza disease that helps put us in a better position to deal with a subsequent second wave of COVID-19 that may come around the same time and we don’t want to get swamped by two waves.”

All provinces and territories offer a universal influenza vaccine with the exception of British Columbia, New Brunswick and Quebec.

Healthy people who catch influenza are not at increased risk of serious illness requiring hospitalization. However, the chief of infectious diseases at the Jewish General Hospital points out that every time we have a major outbreak of influenza in Quebec, the emergency rooms become overcrowded.

“So, imagine if we have the regular influenza season and on top of it we have a wave of Covid-19. It’s going to be a nightmare,” says Dr. Karl Weiss.

“The flu vaccine is not a great vaccine and won’t protect you one hundred percent,” Weiss adds, “but if you have everybody with the flu vaccine then you will lower the impact of the flu and you probably have a better handle on Covid-19.

An added benefit of offering the flu vaccine to everyone according to Dr. Oughton, who also works at the Jewish General, is that it would “maximize the accessibility of that very important and cost effective means of preventing vaccine preventable diseases…rather than having to work your way through the list of all indications and exceptions.”

For the last few years flu vaccines are also available and administered at many pharmacies across the province, at a cost of between $20 and $40 per visit, depending on the store.

Last year interested Quebec pharmacies purchased 200,000 doses of flu vaccine to sell to customers ineligible for the public plan from the Quebec Association of Pharmacy Distributors, according to its spokesperson, Hughes Mousseau,

Mousseau doesn’t know yet if pharmacies ordered more vaccines for the upcoming flu season than last year because the orders were still coming in, but he says if any want to up their stock afterwards he may not be able to fulfill the order, with such a limited supply.

The distributors, just like the provinces, have to order the vaccine from the manufacturers a year in advance because producing the vaccine takes months.

“We did factor in an increase because we saw there was a 10 per cent to 40 per cent increased demand for the vaccine in Australia and New Zealand,” Mousseau explained.

The flu season in Australia is underway right now and is being closely monitored to get a sense of what’s to come in North America. 

On a positive note, Dr. Gaston De Serre from Quebec’s National Public Health Institute told CTV, the “current surveillance data show influenza and influenza-like illness indicators are all lower than usual. The speculation is that COVID-19 related distancing measures and mask wearing may be helping prevent influenza as well as the coronavirus.

De Serre said that’s a good incentive for Quebecers to stick with public health practices here, throughout fall and winter.

The following are covered for a flu vaccine in Quebec in 2020-2021:

  • children aged 6 months – 17 months with certain chronic illnesses
  • adults with certain chronic illnesses (including pregnant women at any stage of their pregnancy)
  • pregnant women in their 2nd and 3rd trimester
  • seniors aged 75 years and older
  • those who live with a baby under 6 months of age, or with a person who has an increased risk of hospitalization or death, or who are caregivers
  • health care workers

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