From manufactured rinks in city parks, to lengthy swaths of iced-over rivers, Canada’s outdoor public skating spaces may prove popular during the first full winter of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health experts say that’s a good thing, as skating outdoors offers opportunity for socialization and exercise. And it poses relatively low risk of coronavirus transmission.
So go ahead and lace up those skates, they say, but be mindful of a couple caveats.
Risk goes up if those outdoor ice surfaces become too crowded, says Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto, and safety precautions need to be followed in the moments before and after people hit the ice, where spread is more likely to occur.
“‘The activity (of skating) itself is safe, but if you’ve got 20 people in an indoor change room, especially unmasked, maybe with poor ventilation, that would be a real challenge,” Morris said.
“But in general, the more outdoors and the less crowded, the better. And if people can skate or engage in any other safe outdoor activities this winter, they should absolutely be doing it.”
Municipalities across the country are working on guidelines for their outdoor skating rinks, which can open anywhere from mid-November to early January, weather-depending.
Most cities are expected to cut on-ice capacity in order to better maintain a safe distance between skaters, and places like Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa say other safety measures will depend on public health advice at the time rinks open.
Calgary, home to many outdoor rinks including an artificial ice patch at Olympic Plaza, is also starting a pilot project of skating trails in parks across the city this winter, spokesperson Todd Reichardt said. The idea came together before the pandemic began, but will serve a safety purpose in giving skaters more space to spread out.
Winnipeg’s river trail, which also includes spaces for curling and hockey, is one popular outdoor destination once it opens in the chilly city, typically around New Year’s Eve.
Clare MacKay, a spokesperson for the Forks Renewal Corporation which runs the trail, says the skating area can stretch up to 11 kilometres in length, depending on how the river freezes each year.
Public health guidelines will be implemented on the trail, MacKay says, but the wide-open space gives her confidence people will be able to keep a safe distance.
Still, Jason Kindrachuk, a virologist with the University of Manitoba, expects the river trail to look different this year if COVID cases continue to rise in Winnipeg.
The Manitoba capital reported 265 cases on Thursday and 136 more on Friday, and Kindrachuk says that while outdoor skating is low risk, danger can rise depending on how much COVID we’re seeing when rinks open.
“The trail is kind of a centerpiece for winter in Winnipeg, so it can get busy, and I don’t think we quite know what it’s going to look like (this year),” Kindrachuk said. “We know the situation in Winnipeg has not been good, but is that going to be the case in January and February?
“What we need to focus on is — if we want to be able to do these things safely we need to make the right decisions now to try and reduce transmission.”
Ottawa’s popular Rideau Canal Skateway, which is operated by the National Capital Commission, says it will also follow public health directives as it prepares to open in January, and skaters will be required to adhere to guidelines that will be posted along the trail.
Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist with the University of Ottawa who’s lived in the Canadian capital for 17 years, has seen how busy the canal can get at the height of the winter season.
But he’s not concerned with COVID spreading from person to person when they’re gliding past each other on canal’s lengthy ice surface — a six-metre wide track that winds 7.8 kilometres through the city.
“There’s a lot of space and a lot of movement, which is good; it means you’re not being exposed to the same people for prolonged periods,” he said. “And the ventilation is, of course, second to none.”
Crowding into one of the indoor spaces along the trail, such as a warming hut or public bathroom, isn’t advisable though, he added.
“So really it’s the stuff surrounding the skating that’s the concern, not the skating itself.”
Deonandan suggests putting on skates outside to avoid indoor locker areas that may be crowded. And he advises against huddling for warmth with people outside of your household while waiting your turn on an outdoor rink.
Masks should be worn in indoor environments to limit risk, Deonandan says. But wearing a face covering while skating isn’t necessary — “unless maybe you’re ice dancing with someone and you’re face-to-face,” he added.
Morris says skating with a mask likely won’t be a requirement at most rinks, but it won’t hurt to wear one anyway.
“Every measure increases the safety of an activity,” he said. “My guess is that if people are masked, it’s going to make everyone feel safer. And I think that’s part of the importance.”
As for Winnipeggers skating on the river trail this winter, MacKay says making masks mandatory likely won’t be necessary, but that could change based on public health directives.
“Right now things are changing so rapidly, but I mean, it’s Winnipeg in winter,” she said with a laugh. “You’re probably already wearing something over your face just to keep warm.”
Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press
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Ontario NDP calls for more asymptomatic COVID-19 testing in schools after 19 new cases discovered – CTV Toronto
NDP MPPs are calling on the Ford government to conduct widespread COVID-19 testing at all schools in the province’s hardest hit neighbourhoods after asymptomatic testing at an East York elementary school unearthed 19 previously undetected infections.
Members of the official opposition are urging the provincial government to immediately deploy resources to facilitate voluntary testing centres inside schools in Ontario neighbourhoods with high COVID-19 positivity rates.
“Doug Ford is trying to save a buck by underserving the hardest hit areas,” NDP Deputy Leader and Brampton Centre MPP Sara Singh said in a news release issued Monday.
“He has been refusing to send extra help to hot spots, because he wants to do things on the cheap. That’s resulting in longer, deeper lockdowns and more devastating illness. We need help to end this nightmare, and stop the virus from hurting our loved ones.”
On Sunday, it was revealed that asymptomatic testing at one Thorncliffe Park elementary school resulted in 18 students and one staff member testing positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
In a letter sent to parents yesterday, the principal of Thorncliffe Park Public School said Toronto Public Health detected the cases after 433 tests were processed on Thursday and Friday.
Thorncliffe Park is one of the neighbourhoods in the GTA that has been hardest hit by the pandemic.
Speaking at a news conference on Monday afternoon, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that the data indicate that community transmission in Thorncliffe Park is substantially worse than the transmission happening within the school.
“I think it should be noted that the principal within this school has communicated that the positivity rate compared from the community to the school is quite vast. In the community, it is roughly 16 per cent positivity whereas in the school it is roughly four per cent,” he said.
“There is a four time increase of transmission happening in the community notwithstanding that those schools are right at the heart of those neighbourhoods.”
He said the disparity indicates that there is “something right happening” when it comes to the “layers of prevention” occurring in the public school system.
“The fact that hundreds of students and staff have gotten tested in this school in conjunction with the local public health unit, I think underscores that the plan in place is working hard to mitigate any further spread,” Lecce said.
“This morning, including the data points from Thorncliffe, 99.9 per cent of Ontario students are COVID-free and that continues to underscore the importance of following public health advice and it really I think demonstrates the importance of keeping schools open, which is our plan for 2021.”
Roughly 14 per cent of the province’s 4,828 publicly funded schools have at least one reported case of COVID-19 and at least four schools are currently closed as a result of outbreaks of the disease.
Province changed testing guidelines last week
Just last week, the province adjusted its COVID-19 testing guidance for school staff and students in Toronto, York Region, Peel Region and Ottawa to allow voluntary asymptomatic testing.
The province also offered school boards in the regions an additional $35 million to strengthen public health measures.
The testing pilot, which is in place for four weeks, was implemented to better track how the virus is spreading in and around schools.
Since late September, Ontario’s assessment centres would not test asymptomatic people unless they were linked to a known case.
The NDP called the funding and four-week testing program a “half-measure.”
“Some students in some regions may be able to get tests. According to the government, the location and method for testing will vary between regions and cities, regions will have to develop their own plan,” the NDP said in a news release last week.
“Ford’s still trying to cheap out on testing students, teachers and staff, and that’s not good enough.”
Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy said he believes the discovery at Thorncliffe Park Public School is an imporant one.
“We know that children tend to be minimally, if not symptomatic at all, but they appear to be quite good at spreading this,” he told CP24 on Monday.
“So we need to be quite aware of whether or not there is any asymptomatic signal within our younger children to prevent that from spreading to others in a multi-generational household or others who are certainly going to be at a higher risk if they acquire COVID-19 and become a lot sicker.”
Sharkawy said he hopes the province continues to expand asymptomatic testing in schools.
“There are a lot of asymptomatic people out there who are infected with this virus and unfortunately until we ramp up our testing capacity and ideally target areas that appear to be harder hit, we won’t really know the extent of the disease that’s out there,” he told CP24 on Monday.
“I think that this was actually an important finding. I don’t think it is one that should create too much alarm amongst people sending their children to school but I hope it is a pilot program that will catch on, especially in other areas that are hard hit.”
Ontario urged to expand COVID testing in schools in wake of 'scary' results at Thorncliffe Park – Toronto Star
Ontario is being urged to expand testing of staff and students — especially in hot spots — after the first site in Toronto uncovered some 19 cases at one elementary school.
“When it comes to our schools and the safety of our students … we need a robust, fully staffed in-school testing program,” said New Democrat MPP Marit Stiles, her party’s education critic and a former trustee for the Toronto District School Board.
“Why, after all these months, is the government still reacting to this virus instead of listening to the experts, planning ahead and investing the resources necessary to keep our schools open and our students safe?”
Last week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the voluntary, asymptomatic testing program for four areas in the province with high numbers of COVID-19 cases — Toronto, Peel, York and Ottawa — leaving it up to boards and their local public health units to determine how to conduct the testing and where.
Toronto’s public and Catholic boards have announced initial locations for the testing, which began last Thursday at Thorncliffe Park elementary, where the 19 cases, including 18 students and one staff member, were found on that first day. Testing was to continue this week.
The board and public health have said the school does not need to be shut down because the cases were not transmitted in the school but rather the community, which has a much higher positivity rate.
Stiles said the province “has asked businesses to close, people have been asked to spend more and more time away from their families, and we owe it to staff and students and their families to test as much as possible.”
And, she added, “to me, the issue is protecting staff and students by knowing the extent” of COVID-19 cases, especially after the holiday break. “If we are going to have a safe and orderly return to class this New Year, we need to know exactly how many students have COVID.”
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said the 19 cases found at Thorncliffe Park is a “scary number” and shows the government should have started sooner.
“This will give parents a lot of anxiety,” he told reporters. “Ontario’s not been testing the way that we should be … this government’s really late to the game.”
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the result at Thorncliffe Park “highlights the need for additional testing, particularly in hot spot areas.”
In York Region, public health is working with the two local boards — public and Catholic — on school-based testing and hopes to reach about 4,000 students over the next three weeks, said Scott Cholewa, manager of infectious disease control.
It has designated 30 schools to target, and will be holding testing after school hours in local high schools. Some will be areas with recent or current cases, and some in areas where schools have had no cases — which it will use as a control group of sorts to “get a sense of baseline, asymptomatic positive level” — and areas that are “testing deserts” in the region, notably King Township and Georgina.
High schools were chosen as testing locations because “they have gyms, and have outside access or are larger and can accommodate people, and the structure can allow one way in, one way out, and no mixing of individuals who come in for testing,” Cholewa said, but both elementary and secondary students will be eligible.
Saliva testing will be used, “which is a less intrusive form of testing” then the typical nasopharyngeal swab, but with comparable accuracy, he added.
He said two different school testing sites will be set up this week, two the following week and the week before the holidays will have three sites.
Lecce said the provincial testing program is already working, given the findings at Thorncliffe Park school.
“Identifying COVID cases, isolating them or moving them from the school, so we don’t have spreaders within the school. That is what the program is designed to do. It is what is taking place,” he said.
As well, he added “part of the benefit of having asymptomatic testing in those high-risk communities … is to provide us with more data to better understand not just where the risk is, but how we could further counter it.”
Stiles said she and MPP France Gélinas, her party’s health care critic, urged a province-wide school surveillance program in the summer and “it never happened.”
She said she can’t understand what took the government so long to act.
Lecce, however, noted that “there are 86 per cent of schools in this province that have no active case at all” and that the province continues to announce “additional surge funding” for schools in areas with growing COVID cases.
Provincial statistics released Monday show that 670 or 14 per cent of the 4,828 schools have known cases of COVID-19, but the Thorncliffe results are throwing that statistic into question.
Four schools in Ontario are now closed because of outbreaks.
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Dallas County reports 3,303 more coronavirus cases, 6 deaths; Tarrant County reports 1,305 new cases, 5 – The Dallas Morning News
Updated at 3:34 p.m.: revised to include state data.
Dallas County on Sunday reported 3,303 more coronavirus cases and six COVID-19 deaths.
The latest fatalities were a woman in her 40s, a man in his 50s, a man in his 60s, a man in his 80s, and a man in his 90s, all of whom were Dallas residents and had been hospitalized. The sixth victim was a Mesquite man in his 50s who had been ill at a hospital. All six victims had underlying health problems, the county said.
Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, Sunday’s COVID-19 report included cases from Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said.
“When you spread that out over the three days, it’s actually a lower number than we’ve been averaging for the last week and probably indicates less people getting tested as most testing facilities were closed Thursday and Friday,” Jenkins said.
Of the cases reported Sunday, 3,083 were confirmed and 220 were probable.
They raise the county’s total confirmed cases to 126,006 and probable cases to 12,090. The county has recorded 1,209 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 32 probable COVID-19 deaths.
The county announced it is counting only positive antigen tests (sometimes called rapid tests) as probable cases; a few antibody and “household” results were included previously.
Although other North Texas counties provide estimates for how many people have recovered from the virus, Dallas County officials do not report recoveries, noting that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not use that metric.
The county reported that during the Nov. 8-14 period, 1,282 school-age children tested positive for COVID-19.
More than two-thirds of all confirmed cases requiring hospitalization so far have been in people under 65, and diabetes has been an underlying condition in about a third of all hospitalized patients, according to the county.
The county’s provisional seven-day average of daily new confirmed and probable cases for the latest reporting period, Nov. 8-14, was 1,405 — a rate of 53.3 daily new cases per 100,000 residents. The figure is calculated by the date of the COVID-19 test collection, according to the county.
Dallas County doesn’t provide a positivity rate for all COVID-19 tests conducted in the area; county health officials have said they don’t have an accurate count of how many tests are conducted each day. But as of the county’s most recent reporting period, 17% of people who showed up at hospitals with COVID-19 symptoms tested positive for the virus. That’s an increase from 16.8% the previous reporting period.
The county said Sunday that 20 active “clusters” of cases in homeless shelters and group homes have been reported in the last 30 days, totaling 167 reported coronavirus cases. One facility in the last week had 81 confirmed cases, the county said.
Over the last 30 days, there have been 818 COVID-19 cases reported from 90 long-term care facilities, the county said Sunday. Of the cases, 29 people have died and 48 have been hospitalized.
Of the county’s total confirmed COVID-19 deaths, about 23% are associated with long-term care facilities.
Across the state, 6,041 more cases and 48 COVID-19 deaths were reported Sunday. Of the 6,041 new cases, 163 are considered older cases by the state, including one in Ellis County and one in Kaufman County.
Texas has now reported 1,157,273 confirmed cases and 21,357 fatalities.
There are 8,634 COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals, including 2,375 in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Of all hospitalizations in the 19-county hospital region that covers the Dallas-Fort Worth area, 15.6% are COVID-19 patients, according to the state’s data. Sunday was the third day the state crossed the 15% threshold set by Gov. Greg Abbott in an Oct. 7 executive order that states businesses must scale back from 75% to 50% capacity if they are in a region where more than 15% of hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients for seven days in a row.
The area first hit the 15% threshold Friday after several record-setting days.
The seven-day average positivity rate statewide, based on the date of test specimen collection, was 11.1% as of Saturday. State health officials said using data based on when people were tested provides the most accurate positivity rate.
The state also provides a positivity rate based on when lab results were reported to the state; that rate stood at 11.33% as of Saturday.
Officials previously calculated Texas’ coronavirus positivity rate by dividing the most recent seven days of new positive test results by the most recent seven days of total new test results. By that measure, the positivity rate is now 9.4%, according to the state dashboard.
A spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services has said positivity rate data based on lab results and new cases probably will be phased out but is being provided for transparency and continuity purposes.
Tarrant County reported 1,305 coronavirus cases and five new deaths Sunday.
The latest deaths include a man in his 90s and a man in his 70s from Fort Worth, a woman in her 80s and a man in his 70s from Arlington, and a man in his 60s with an unknown address. All had underlying health problems.
The newly reported cases bring the county’s total to 97,294, including 86,052 confirmed cases, 11,242 probable cases and 68,950 recoveries. The death toll stands at 843.
The state added 626 coronavirus cases in Collin County on Saturday, bringing the county’s total to 26,192. One new COVID-19 fatality also was reported, bringing the death toll to 253.
No details about the latest victim were available.
According to state data, the county has 3,295 active cases and has logged 22,897 recoveries.
COVID-19 hospitalizations total 276, according to the county’s dashboard.
Denton County officials have said they will no longer report new coronavirus data on Sundays.
As of Saturday, the county had reported 23,276 cases, including 5,523 that were active and 17,605 that were recoveries. The death toll stood at 148.
The Texas Department of State Health Services has taken over reporting for these other North Texas counties. In some counties, new data may not be reported every day.
The latest numbers are:
- Rockwall County: 2,994 cases, 37 deaths.
- Kaufman County: 4,900 cases, 80 deaths.
- Ellis County: 6,898 cases, 115 deaths.
- Johnson County: 5,407 cases, 105 deaths.
CORRECTION: This story originally included the wrong date range for which 1,282 children tested positive and the seven-day average of new and confirmed cases. The correct date range is Nov. 8-14.
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