At a Dec. 24 news conference, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called the Omicron variant a ‘game changer’.
“Omicron is different, we’re in a different game, a different pandemic now,” she said.
Henry shared that Omicron’s incubation period is reduced from the usual average of five to seven days down to two or three days. Omicron sits in the upper portion of the respiratory tract, which makes it even more infectious with aerosolized transmission.
The highly infectious variant has strained B.C.’s testing capacity. Henry advised only those with symptoms who need a PCR test to go to testing centres. B.C. can administer as many as 20,000 PCR tests a day and will be supplementing with rapid tests where available. Due to the limited capacity and supply of tests, rapid tests will not be used for people who are asymptomatic.
Even with the limited testing capacity, B.C. has been setting record daily case counts. On Thursday (Dec. 23), the province recorded 2,046 new cases of COVID-19 and one death.
“If you have any symptoms, you must assume you have COVID and take measures to avoid passing it on,” Henry said.
People with symptoms should self-isolate for at least 10 days. Fully vaccinated people, particularly young people, are not advised to get tested. Henry said the priority for PCR tests is for people who “need to know” whether they’re infected such as health care workers.
Henry once again cautioned against having large holiday gatherings and pleaded with British Columbians to keep their celebrations small. She added that there are still many unknowns with Omicron, however, the variant has shown it can infect those who are double vaccinated and reinfect those who have already had COVID-19.
B.C. is racing to get booster shots to the public. To date, the province has administered 807,094 booster doses and is working to bring mass vaccination clinics back online. Starting in January, the province estimates booster capacity will increase by 62 per cent.
The province will provide written updates on case counts, vaccination data and preliminary case counts on Dec. 27 and 28. Regular case counts and media availability will resume on Dec. 28.
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PEI has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases amongst Canadian provinces – SaltWire Network
As of Jan. 21, P.E.I. had the highest reported rate of COVID-19 cases, with 1,050 per 100,000 people, of any province in Canada over the last seven days.
Only one jurisdiction, the Northwest Territories, surpassed the province’s rate of cases over the last week, with 2,024 cases per 100,000 people. The next closest province to P.E.I. was Alberta with 759 cases per 100,000.
But Susan Kirkland, head of Dalhousie University’s department of community health and epidemiology, said daily case counts and case rates do not capture the whole story.
“There does become a point where following cases – it collapses.”
Susan Kirkland, Dalhousie University Department of community health and epidemiology
Kirkland says it is now clear that community spread of COVID-19 is widespread in Atlantic Canada, including in provinces like P.E.I., where testing of incoming travellers had previously helped contain spread of the virus.
Kirkland said differences in testing criteria, as well as differing reporting details mean comparing case rates between provinces is becoming less and less useful.
While P.E.I. still allows PCR-RT testing for anyone with symptoms, Nova Scotia has limited PCR testing to specific vulnerable populations that are symptomatic. Rapid antigen tests are provided to the general population that is symptomatic.
In many provinces, daily positive case counts are not capturing the full number of people who have contracted the virus. New Brunswick has also stopped reporting daily case counts in COVID-19 briefings because of this, although the information is still available on the province’s website.
Kirkland said other indicators like hospitalization rates and test positivity are better indicators of how well a province like P.E.I. is faring amid the Omicron wave.
“Ultimately, what we are trying to do is stop the health-care system from (collapsing),” Kirkland said.
P.E.I.’s most recent test positivity rate was 20.7 per cent – significantly higher than all three other Atlantic provinces. There have been 19 hospitalizations since the first Omicron case was announced on Dec. 14.
After weeks of escalating case counts, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King imposed tighter public health restrictions on Jan. 19, closing gyms and in-room dining in restaurants.
Since Jan. 18, the P.E.I. government has stopped recording daily counts of outbreaks associated with long-term care homes, shelters, the provincial correctional centre and other congregate settings.
While the lack of daily reporting has occurred in conjunction with continuing escalating case counts, P.E.I. may not be the only province to have made a decision to report less information about outbreaks.
Nova Scotia is continuing to report daily positive cases associated with long-term care outbreaks, but the province has recently decided to not report school outbreak numbers.
As an epidemiologist, Kirkland said she was not sure what she thought of public health offices restricting reporting on outbreak case counts.
She said Atlantic Canadians have become used to COVID-19 being contained. This has made it difficult for public health offices to communicate that overall containment of the virus is less feasible, due to the higher transmissibility of the Omicron variant.
“I think that what public health is now doing is trying to turn the corner to say, ‘we have to start to learn how to live with COVID,’ ” Kirkland said.
“We have to deal with the things that we know will reduce risks – we have to wear masks. We have to improve ventilation where we can. We have to limit social contacts in areas where we can,” she said.
But Kirkland also believes governments are faced with the challenges of prioritizing a safe reopening of schools.
“Very often people will say, ‘why is it safe for kids to be in school but we need to close restaurants,’ ” she said.
“That’s not the point. The point is that the priority is to keep kids in school. So, we have to do these other things in the community so that kids can stay in school. Because that’s what we think is the most important.”
Now is not the time for vaccine mandates, even as vaccinations among children remain low: experts – CBC.ca
Less than half of Canadian children ages five to 11 have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, but Canadian experts say now may not be the time to start mandating them for students attending school in person.
In December, Windsor’s city council endorsed a recommendation from its health unit that all elementary school students be vaccinated before returning to school.
Meanwhile, in the United States, New York City now requires students to be vaccinated before taking part in extracurricular activities. California, which already has strict vaccine requirements for students, is mulling the addition of the COVID-19 vaccine to that list.
“For provinces that don’t have vaccine mandate policies, to start a conversation about vaccine mandates at a time where emotions are very heightened around vaccination is a risky endeavour,” said public health researcher Devon Greyson.
Greyson, an assistant professor of health communication at the University of British Columbia, has studied the efficacy of childhood vaccine mandates. They found that while uptake does increase, the boost can’t be solely attributed to mandates. Better communication, access and reporting systems also played a role.
In fact, in some jurisdictions, mandates did more harm than good by pushing some people away from vaccination, Greyson says.
“I recommend first really trying to build confidence in the population and make it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated before considering a policy that has potentially negative consequences on children or parents,” they said.
No provincial or territorial governments have announced plans for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in schools, but jurisdictions such as Ontario and New Brunswick already require vaccinations for certain preventable diseases in students entering the public school system.
Legislation to strengthen mandatory-vaccination rules for N.B. schoolchildren was proposed in 2020, but was defeated. “There are varied opinions, and very strong opinions,” Premier Blaine Higgs, who voted in favour of the change, said earlier this month on CBC’s Power & Politics.
Dr. Cora Constantinescu, a pediatric infectious diseases expert who counsels vaccine-hesitant parents, says that with lower vaccine uptake among five- to 11-year-olds — and children returning to classrooms — there’s an urgency get them vaccinated as soon as possible. But she stopped short of calling for a mandate.
While Constantinescu believes that a vaccine mandate could be effective she pointed out some children risk being kept out of the classroom as a result of such a policy.
Only about five per cent of children ages five to 11 have been fully vaccinated, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed concern over the low vaccination rate on Wednesday, saying that it puts society’s most vulnerable people at greater risk.
Access remains a key issue
In October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the COVID-19 vaccine would be added to the list of vaccinations required for students to attend school in-person. The policy will be enforced after the federal government approves the vaccines, and the state will grant exemptions for medical reasons, plus religious and personal beliefs.
Some school districts have already enacted mandates in the state.
Young children are particularly good at spreading respiratory illnesses — and that’s likely the case for COVID-19 as well, according to Annette Reagan, adjunct assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health in California.
She says that justifies the addition of COVID-19 vaccines to existing mandates.
“Increasing vaccination rates and stopping transmission in younger children is a good thing for our community, but it comes with the mandates,” said Reagan, noting that such policies limit parental autonomy.
The reasons behind low uptake among the pediatric group in Canada are varied, according to Greyson, but might be explained by timing and limited access to clinics.
Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine was approved by Health Canada for the five to 11 cohort in late November — just weeks before the holidays when non-emergency medical appointments tend to slow down.
Pediatric vaccine doses may also be less widely accessible compared to adult doses, said Constantinescu, making it more difficult for parents to get their kids immunized.
“The low-hanging fruit of vaccine uptake is always access,” said Constantinescu. “We have not made this as easily accessible as we could have.”
Constantinescu believes, however, that the narrative children experience more “mild” illness when they contract COVID-19 is a key factor behind the low vaccination rate — a message that parents should reconsider.
“We pray and hope that it’s just going to be a mild illness in most kids. That would be fantastic and I sure hope that, but we don’t know,” she said.
“What we do know is that the vaccine is safe and we have enough supply.”
‘It’s in the best interest of your child’
Perhaps the most significant risk that comes with vaccine mandates, however, is the potential for children with vaccine-hesitant parents to miss out on in-person learning.
Constantinescu argues that some children may not get the protection provided by vaccination or the benefits of learning in person.
With new evidence that negative side effects, such as myocarditis, are rare in the five to 11 bracket, she says now is the time to “shout from the rooftops” that vaccinating against COVID-19 is safe.
“This is the top vaccine-preventable threat to our children and we have a safe vaccine,” she said.
“We need to tell parents this is about protecting your child, first and foremost. It’s not about saving the pandemic, it’s not about saving the world.”
“This is because it’s in the best interest of your child.”
Written by Jason Vermes with files from Ashley Fraser, CBC News and The Associated Press.
Nova Scotia reports 11 people in ICU Saturday, total of 287 people in hospital with COVID-19 – CTV News Atlantic
In a news release Saturday afternoon, health officials in Nova Scotia said 82 people were admitted to hospital and are receiving specialized care in a COVID-19 designated unit. 11 people were reported to be in intensive care.
According to the province, the age range of those in hospital is 23-100 years old, and the average age is 67.
Of the 82 people receiving specialized care for COVID-19 in hospital, 79 were admitted during the Omicron wave.
There are also two other groups of people in hospital related to COVID-19:
- 84 people who were identified as positive upon arrival at hospital but were admitted for another medical reason, or were admitted for COVID-19 but no longer require specialized care.
- 121 people who contracted COVID-19 after being admitted to hospital.
The number of COVID-19 admits and discharges to hospital was not available Saturday.
On Jan. 21, the Nova Scotia Health Authority labs completed 3,682 tests.
According to a news release, an additional 502 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 are being reported.
Of the new cases; 219 are in the Central Zone, 88 are in the Eastern Zone, 59 are in the Northern Zone and 136 new cases are in the Western Zone.
Nova Scotia remains under a state of emergency. Provincial officials first declared a state of emergency on March 22, 2020 and it has now been extended to February 6, 2022.
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