A total of 18 people have been identified with infections of new variants of the novel coronavirus in B.C., an issue that Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says is one of the most concerning facing the province right now.
During Monday’s daily briefing, Henry said that 14 cases of the variant first reported in the U.K. have been confirmed here, along with four of the variant from South Africa.
She pointed out that Ontario is starting to see community transmission of the new variants, and B.C. health officials are stepping up surveillance to track the spread of these more infectious versions.
“This is one of the things that is factoring into all of the decisions that we have to make together over the coming weeks,” Henry said.
Monday’s update is the first since Friday.
Henry said B.C. health officials have confirmed 1,158 more cases of COVID-19 over the last three days and another 21 people have died.
There are now 4,134 active cases of the novel coronavirus in B.C. Of those, 289 patients are in hospital, including 79 in critical care.
There has been one new outbreak in a long-term care home. There are currently 24 active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living, and eight in hospitals.
To date, there have been 67,937 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in B.C. and 1,210 people have died. A total of 7,242 people are in isolation and being monitored by public health workers because of close contact with known cases.
Henry acknowledged that B.C. has limited supplies of vaccines to start the month of February, but more of the Moderna product is expected by the end of the week.
“We hope and we’ve been told we are increasing our supply,” she said.
So far, 138,892 people have received their first dose of a vaccine, including 4,491 who have received a second dose.
Henry noted that the Super Bowl is coming up this weekend, followed by Lunar New Year and Family Day. She said that even though there will be a temptation to get together or travel to mark these occasions, everyone needs to follow public health advice and orders.
That means no parties, no socializing with anyone outside of your household and no travelling.
But she noted that bigger celebrations might be possible in time for the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs in July.
“We will be in a different place in July, I hope,” she said.
Maple Ridge students tested for exposure to new variant
During Monday’s briefing, Henry addressed the news that a student who attends Garibaldi Secondary School in Maple Ridge has tested positive for COVID-19 and is a close contact of someone who tested positive for one of the new variants of concern.
She said her team is working with Fraser Health to test everyone who’s in the student’s cohort at Garibaldi. That means about 80 people will be screened through rapid testing as well as a PCR test.
The province has recently ramped up screening for the faster-spreading coronavirus variants of concern.
Henry said health officials are screening through random sampling at places like St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, targeting travellers arriving in B.C. and targeting other specific groups that may have higher chances of exposure.
Despite a high level of concern about the spread of these recent variants, there was hopeful news in Monday’s briefing.
The weekly average of COVID-19 deaths is now at the lowest level in two months, and the average number of new cases reported each day is started to trend downward again after stalling out in recent weeks.
And, as Health Minister Adrian Dix pointed out, there has been a “significant reduction” in the number of active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living. On Jan. 15, there were 49 — two weeks later, that number has been cut in half.
Vancouver party ‘offensive,’ Henry says
Over the weekend, a 42-year-old man in Vancouver was arrested and charged for allegedly hosting a large party in a three-level penthouse in the city’s downtown.
Police issued $17,000 in fines to 77 people for contravening health orders and said the penthouse operation appeared to be running as a nightclub.
No one inside the three-storey apartment was wearing a mask, according to police.
Henry said Monday that it’s not her role to determine how people who defy public health orders should be treated by the justice system, but “I do think it was offensive that that was happening.”
She also noted that inspectors from WorkSafeBC and Vancouver Coastal Health spent time in Whistler this weekend in an attempt to get a handle on the surge in cases in the resort community.
Henry said restaurants and bars in Whistler have good safety plans in place, but there are challenges later in the night when staff have trouble trying to stop people from congregating.
“We know that that’s where this virus can be transmitted,” she said.
To date, inspectors with WorkSafeBC have found more than 1,600 violations of COVID-19 health and safety plans in workplaces across the province, according to the agency.
The number has more than doubled since July, when the agency had issued just 334 orders.
This weekend, Vancouver Coastal Health started offering COVID-19 vaccines to vulnerable residents on the Downtown Eastside as part of Phase 2 of its immunization plan.
What's behind the rise in monkeypox cases? Here is what scientists know so far – The Globe and Mail
A handful of cases of monkeypox have now been reported or are suspected in Britain, Portugal, Spain and the United States.
The outbreaks are raising alarm because the viral disease, which spreads through close contact and was first found in monkeys, mostly occurs in west and central Africa, and only very occasionally spreads elsewhere.
Here is what scientists know so far.
Monkeypox is a virus that causes fever symptoms as well as a distinctive bumpy rash. It is usually mild, although there are two main strains: the Congo strain, which is more severe – with up to 10 per cent mortality – and the West African strain, which has a fatality rate in about 1 per cent of cases. The UK cases have been reported as the West African strain.
“Historically, there have been very few cases exported. It has only happened eight times in the past before this year,” said Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who said it was “highly unusual”.
Portugal has logged five confirmed cases, and Spain is testing 23 potential cases. Neither country has reported cases before.
The United States has also reported one case.
The virus spreads through close contact, both in spillovers from animals and, less commonly, between humans. It was first found in monkeys in 1958, hence the name, although rodents are now seen as the probable main animal host.
Transmission this time is puzzling experts, because a number of the cases in the United Kingdom – nine as of May 18 – have no known connection with each other. Only the first case reported on May 6 had recently traveled to Nigeria.
As such, experts have warned of wider transmission if cases have gone unreported.
The UK Health Security Agency’s alert also highlighted that the recent cases were predominantly among men who self-identified as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men, and advised those groups to be aware.
Scientists are now carrying out genomic sequencing to see if the viruses are linked, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this week.
One possible scenario behind the rise in cases is increased travel as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
“My working theory would be that there’s a lot of it about in west and central Africa, travel has resumed, and that’s why we are seeing more cases,” said Whitworth.
Monkeypox puts virologists on the alert because it is in the smallpox family, although it causes less serious illness.
Smallpox was eradicated by vaccination in 1980, and the shot has since been phased out. But it also protects against monkeypox, and so the winding down of vaccination campaigns has led to a jump in monkeypox cases in areas where the disease is endemic, according to Anne Rimoin, an epidemiology professor at UCLA in California.
She said urgent investigation of the new cases was important as “they could suggest a novel means of spread or a change in the virus, but this is all to be determined”.
Experts urged people not to panic.
“This isn’t going to cause a nationwide epidemic like COVID did, but it’s a serious outbreak of a serious disease – and we should take it seriously,” said Whitworth.
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Montrealers 'do not have to panic' about monkeypox, Drouin says – Montreal Gazette
Public health authorities are investigating 17 suspected cases of monkeypox in the Montreal area. It is the only known outbreak in Canada of the rare disease, which can cause painful pustules and scabs to break out. Recent outbreaks have been reported in Europe and the United States.
Montreal public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin said authorities will put protective measures in place, but stressed that all cases so far have been minor and there is no cause for alarm.
“We do not have to panic at this time. It’s not something that is going to go to sustained community transmission,” she said at a hastily organized news conference Thursday, the day after Radio-Canada reported there were several suspected cases in the city.
“It’s not something you can acquire if you go to the grocery store or go on public transportation.”
The disease is spread primarily through close, sustained contact, which includes but is not limited to sexual contact, Drouin said. Contacts considered at risk are those who live in the same household with an infected person, or who have had sexual relations with someone who has had the disease.
To date, 15 suspected cases have been identified in Montreal, as well as one on the South Shore and one on the North Shore. The infected are mainly men who had sexual relations with other men, between the ages of 30 and 55.
Drouin stressed that monkeypox is not a sexually transmitted disease and warned against stigmatizing a particular segment of the community, as anyone can catch the virus.
The first cases were declared on May 12 from clinics specializing in sexually transmitted diseases. The cases were initially thought to be chancroid, a rare sexually transmitted disease that causes painful genital ulcers.
It wasn’t until Tuesday, when authorities learned of a suspected case from the United States who had travelled to Montreal, that monkeypox was suspected. Several of the cases in Montreal have been linked to a traveller who came from Boston.
Montreal’s cases have not yet been confirmed by a laboratory, but Drouin said recent outbreaks in Europe and a case reported in the United States suggest they are likely cases of the virus.
Monkeypox is typically limited to Africa, and rare cases in the United States and elsewhere are usually linked to travel there. A small number of confirmed or suspected cases have been reported this month in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain.
Drouin said the disease is transmitted by close contact and droplets.
Monkeypox typically begins with such symptoms as fever, headache, backache and fatigue, then progresses to a rash on the face and body. The Public Health Agency of Canada says the swelling or enlargement of lymph nodes that accompanies monkeypox distinguishes it from smallpox.
The incubation period is seven to 17 days and most infections of monkeypox last two to four weeks, the agency says. Montreal officials said there is no treatment at this time.
The first symptoms of the disease that were identified in Montreal have been traced back to April 29. People who have been in contact with a suspected case will not have to isolate, but they are asked to monitor for symptoms and go to a doctor if they suspect they have contracted the disease. Health workers in contact with possible cases are advised to wear full protective gear, including a gown, N95 mask and gloves.
The Public Health Agency of Canada notes that the smallpox vaccine, which was routinely administered to Canadians born before 1972, protects against monkeypox. Smallpox was eradicated in 1977.
Some people who have been in contact with cases in the U.K. have received a smallpox vaccine as protection. Drouin said the decision on whether similar actions will be taken here depend on availability of the vaccine, and will be decided on a provincial and federal level.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported Wednesday that it had confirmed the first U.S. case of monkeypox virus infection of 2022. The individual is an adult male who recently travelled to Canada. The agency didn’t indicate what province or provinces he visited and did not respond to questions.
This story will be updated.
Canada’s COVID-19 infections among adults tripled in early 2022 due to Omicron: study
TORONTO — The number of Canadian adults infected with COVID-19 tripled during the fifth wave of the pandemic compared with the total number of adults infected in the previous four waves, according to a new study led by Toronto researchers.
More than 5,000 Canadian adults — members of the Angus Reid Forum, a public polling cohort — participated in the fourth phase of the Action to Beat Coronavirus (Ab-C) study. The findings of the study were published as a letter to the editor in The New England Journal of Medicine Wednesday.
The adult participants took a self-administered dried blood spot test between Jan. 15 and March 15, 2022 and sent the blood samples back to the researchers for analysis. The research team then tested the samples for antibodies related to COVID-19.
From those results, the researchers found nearly 30 per cent of Canadian adults were infected during the first Omicron wave of infections compared with roughly 10 per cent who had been infected in the previous four waves.
Of those fifth waveinfections, one million were among the country’s 2.3 million unvaccinated adult population — representing 40 per cent of all unvaccinated adults, the study notes.
Patrick Brown, a lead author of the Ab-C study and biostatistician at the Centre for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s Hospital, said the study is meant to portray a “complete and representative picture” of COVID-19 in the country in the absence of widespread PCR testing and COVID-19 data tracking.
“This is quite important for us to be able to understand COVID in the population,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“The testing data is incomplete and we’ve essentially stopped PCR testing for the most part in Canada, or in Ontario, at least, so having a representative sample of people who receive these test kits is very important to figure out how much COVID there has been and how much immunity we have in the population.”
The study also found that antibody levels were much lower amongst adults with only two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine compared to those with three doses, meaning those with three doses had stronger immunity in the face of the virus.
And amongst the unvaccinated population — including those who had a COVID-19 infection — their antibody levels were “quite” lower than people with three doses of the vaccine, Brown noted.
“(In) Canada, we had quite a bit less COVID-19 than some other countries, especially the U.S. We have less natural protection and we’re really relying on vaccines in Canada to build up immunity in our population,” he said.
“Certainly three doses plus an infection was the maximum protection, but three doses of vaccine certainly gave a very good amount of protection — a big improvement over two doses alone.”
The Ab-C study is a collaboration between Unity Health Toronto, the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the Angus Reid Institute and the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute at Sinai Health. It’s funded by the federal government through its COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.
The team of researchers has been tracking the pandemic in Canada with periodic polling about lived experience and blood sample collection since May 2020.
Brown said the next phase of the study is already being conducted. The team has started surveying roughly 1,300 Canadian adults who were not infected by the initial Omicron variant known as BA.1 to determine whether they were infected by the Omicron subvariant called BA.2 from March to June 2022.
“We are preparing test kits now to send out our panel of people we’ve come back to several times, and this will be the fifth round of tests we’re sending them to better understand the second wave of Omicron,” he said.
“We found that the number of cases reported by public health isn’t as high as the previous wave, the number of hospitalizations hasn’t risen very much, but there has been a lot of infection … so we’re expecting to see that there’s been quite a lot of COVID throughout the population.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press
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