The Canadian Armed Forces is apologizing after some residents of Kings County, N.S., received a phoney letter warning of wolves in the area.
The letter, dated Sept. 19, said a pack of eight grey wolves had been released in northern Nova Scotia in August to reintroduce the species into the ecosystem.
Written on what looks like provincial Department of Lands and Forestry letterhead and signed by someone identified as a “large mammal biologist,” the letter advised anyone encountering a wolf to “back away slowly while remaining calm — do not turn and run.”
Lt. Lance Wade, a public affairs officer with the36 Canadian Brigade Group, acknowledged in an interview Tuesday that the letter came from an army reserve training session at Camp Aldershot outside Kentville, N.S.
“We’re sincerely apologetic,” Wade said, adding the incident was a first for reservists. “Any inconvenience we’ve caused to the public and the Department of Lands and Forestry, we deeply regret.”
He said he doesn’t know why the training required the false note or how it got into civilian mailboxes. He said an investigation is ongoing.
“It seems relatively innocuous,” he said. “Once we have all the facts, we’ll be happy to explain a little bit further on why that was chosen.”
The letter had the appearance of an official Lands and Forestry notice, but in a Twitter “alert” last week, the department confirmed the letter was a hoax and stressed that the government had not released any wolves into the wild.
“This letter has been showing up in some mailboxes,” the tweet said. “It’s fake. We do not know who circulated it or why.” The Department of Lands and Forestry had no further comment on the incident Tuesday.
According to the Shubenacadie Provincial Wildlife Park, grey wolves no longer inhabit Nova Scotia, but they can still be found in other areas across Canada thanks to conservation efforts.
As for the actual release of wolves into the province, Dalhousie University professor Karen Beazley cautions against it.
Beazley, a professor in Dalhousie’s School for Resource and Environmental Studies, completed a study on the feasibility of wolf introduction in the province in 2016. She concluded “insufficiently connected habitat, insufficient prey, and insufficient public/social support or tolerance” made actual wolf introduction in the province a difficult task.
She said, however, that future reintroduction of wolves could be supported by compensation for livestock losses, education to increase public’s awareness and better land management across the province.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
It’s more important than ever to get a flu shot this year because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, say public health officials.
“We definitely want people to get the flu shot this year,” said Lambton medical officer of health Dr. Sudit Ranade. “There are early indications that it may offer additional protection against COVID-19.”
The degree of that protection isn’t clear, he said, “but even if it’s a little bit, it’s probably worth taking this year.”
There’s “very preliminary research” in countries that have already had COVID-19 outbreaks during their winter flu seasons that shows flu shots had an effect on the severity of COVID-19 and disease mortality, he said.
Why also isn’t clear, he said.
“It’s possible it just revs up your immune system a little bit and prepares it to handle all kinds of respiratory diseases, but that’s just speculation.”
Bookings for flu shot clinic appointments via the health unit in Lambton began Oct. 20. People are asked to visit lambtonpublichealth.ca/flu-shot or call 519-383-8331.
Flu shots are also given at pharmacies and via primary-care providers.
The shot, recommended for anyone six months or older, is also helpful to reduce the prevalence of sickness in the community and to keep people from crowding hospital emergency rooms, Ranade said.
Bluewater Health generally plans for a “surge” of patients in winter months.
“The flu vaccine is proven to reduce the number of doctor visits, hospitalizations and deaths related to the flu,” said health unit supervisor Crystal Palleschi in a statement.
“During a pandemic, it’s important to reduce the strain on the health-care system from other infections, so we have the capacity to respond to COVID-19.”
COVID-19 and influenza spread similarly – through coughing, sneezing or touching infected surfaces, health officials said.
People 65 years and older, under five years old, with chronic health conditions, pregnant and living in care facilities are more vulnerable to flu and COVID-related complications, health officials said, urging anyone in close contact with people in those groups to get a flu shot.
Proper handwashing, covering coughs with tissues or sleeves, keeping surfaces clean, and staying home if sick are also important measures to help stop the spread of both viruses, officials said.
“This is one of those years where flu shots are kind of like toilet paper and hair dye – everybody is going to want one,” said Ranade, cautioning people they may have to wait.
“So it’s important to stay patient and recognize that getting your flu shot this year is important, but whether you get it this week, next week, or the week after is not materially different to your risk.”
CALGARY — Alberta Health says 49 active COVID-19 cases have been linked to a wedding in Calgary earlier this month.
The health agency says the wedding had a large number of Albertans from different households.
Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan says aggressive contact tracing is underway to identify anyone who may have been exposed to make sure they are isolating and getting tested.
He did not say how many people attended the wedding and says specifics about individual cases cannot be disclosed because of patient confidentiality.
COVID-19 restrictions implemented by the province say a maximum of 100 people can attend outdoor and indoor seated events, such as wedding ceremonies, funeral services, movie theatres, indoor arts and culture performances.
McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings.
“This is a reminder to all Albertans that this virus is still here and any social gathering carries a risk of exposure,” he said in an email Tuesday.
“It is important that nobody attend if they are feeling ill with even mild symptoms, or if they are awaiting test results.”
He says it is also important that organizers do everything possible to comply with the public health guidance in place, including having enough space for physical distancing between cohorts, following gathering size restrictions and avoiding sharing food and utensils.
Before COVID-19, Lyne Gauthier did her best to keep her husband’s mind from slipping away by organizing activities they had enjoyed together before he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
She would visit the long term facility where Yves Dessureault, 66, has lived for three years and take him on simple outings.
“We’d go grocery shopping, go out for an ice cream cone,” said Gauthier. Sometimes they would just “listen to music and dance.”
But then the coronavirus hit, and there were no more outings.
There were also no more services like pet therapy or music therapy within the facility due to the pandemic.
Gauthier says she has watched her husband deteriorate dramatically in the past six months. He’s now considered to be in the late stages of Alzheimer’s.
“I think COVID has really fast-tracked the progression of his symptoms,” she said.
Lyne Gauthier has watched her husband slip further and further away amid restrictions limiting family visits, outings, and therapeutic connections with the outside world. 3:26
Gauthier feels the health rules that curtailed their outings and deprived Dessureault of face-to-face contact robbed him of precious time as a husband, father and grandfather.
At his care home, there is little mingling these days and many residents eat their meals in their rooms.
The social isolation has left him more fragile, both physically and emotionally, said Gauthier.
Since the spring, she says, Dessureault appears more upset and anxious. His balance has gotten worse and even the simplest words have lost their meaning.
“If I want to show him where we’d like to sit, I need to tap the seat and do more gestures,” said Gauthier.
“There is a lot he can’t do anymore.”
Worsening symptoms linked to lockdowns
During the pandemic, many residents in long-term care experienced rapid cognitive decline, increased depression and more behavioural symptoms such as wandering and agitation, said Dr. Isabelle Vedel, a public health physician and associate professor in McGill University’s Department of Family Medicine.
There is some preliminary research from the United States and the U.K. suggesting people with dementia were hit the hardest by the virus.
Not only were they at an increased risk of being infected and of dying from COVID-19, but there were thousands of so-called excess deaths — meaning many more people died than the average for the same period in previous years.
Vedel fears the same will be true in Canada.
“People living in long-term care were extremely affected by the pandemic,” said Vedel. “Eighty per cent of the deaths happened in long-term care in Canada, and we know that approximately 80 per cent of people in long-term care have dementia.”
With funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, Vedel is leading a research project in collaboration with Alzheimer’s societies across Canada that will measure the deaths of people with dementia during the pandemic.
It will also examine what impact the disruption of services and access to health care may have had on their lives.
For instance, during the first wave of the pandemic, Quebec feared hospitals would be overrun, so long-term care facilities were asked not to send people to the ER, said Vedel.
“It’s very probable that even though they had acute illnesses, they were not sent to the emergency department, so they didn’t receive the appropriate care they needed.”
Lessons for the 2nd wave
Maintaining services as much as possible during subsequent waves of the virus is paramount, Vedel said.
People with dementia rely on home care, community services, family physicians and caregivers. If there are obstacles to getting these services, people with dementia will decline and fall between the cracks, she said.
“We have to make an extra effort for them and make sure that they can be well cared for during the pandemic,” said Vedel.
She expects the research group will have statistics and recommendations in the spring.
Disruptions, reimposed restrictions
With parts of Canada now firmly in a second wave of the pandemic, all the changing health precautions and disruption can be especially distressing for people with dementia.
In Quebec, for instance, more and more regions are in red zones, where visits are once again limited in long-term care homes and private seniors’ residences. The partial lockdown also means many programs are suspended.
The goal is to limit contacts and keep the virus from sweeping through those facilities as it did in the first wave.
The directive to wear masks or face coverings to slow the spread poses a problem for these patients because it’s harder to read facial expressions, which they rely on to communicate and interact.
Overmedication is another problem: As patients get more agitated, more medication is being prescribed, including anti-psychotic drugs to calm them down, said Nouha Ben Gaied, the director of research and development for the Federation of Quebec Alzheimer Societies.
These drugs, “are inappropriate to use for people with dementia and they can cause more harm than benefits” said Ben Gaied.
Ben Gaied hopes Quebec’s health ministry has learned lessons from the first wave.
A spokesperson for the ministry said it has introduced measures to better protect this population and reduce the number of excess deaths.
That includes better access to a family doctor and improving the transition between primary care and specialized services, said Marie-Louise Harvey.
The government has also recruited nearly 10,000 new patient attendants, about 7,000 of whom are already working in the system. The rest are still in training.
The province has asked long-term care homes to limit the movement of employees between long-term care homes as much as possible.
Infection control and prevention is also being closely watched.
Even so, since September, some of the new outbreaks in long-term care homes or private seniors’ residences in Quebec have been in units for people with a cognitive impairment like Alzheimer’s or dementia.
‘He deserves better’
Gauthier’s greatest fear is her husband getting COVID.
She’s concerned about the high number of cases in Quebec, and what will happen to her husband if the partial lockdown is extended beyond the end of the month.
She’s doing everything she can to help her husband connect, though now that his care home is in a red zone, all she can offer are video chats with family, walks on the grounds or jaunts in the car to listen to music.
One of the activities that still makes Dessureault light up, she says, is a visit with his grandchildren — even if it is through a window or on FaceTime. Dessureault loves children, she says, and seeing them brings out his goofy, playful side.
“I find my husband for a few more seconds, a minute. It’s as if my husband is back,” said Gauthier, fighting to hold back tears. “The emotions are there. They connect. It’s just simple.”
She says she knows he’s still there, underneath the disease, but his quality of life has spiralled downward during the pandemic.
“He deserves better,” said Gauthier, who sometimes finds it hard to keep her spirits up.
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