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B.C. slated to give more details on COVID-19 vaccine program – Toronto Star

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VICTORIA – British Columbia is updating its immunization strategy for COVID-19 today as Premier John Horgan is scheduled to be joined by health officials to lay out the latest on the government’s plan.

Nearly 31,000 doses of vaccine that the province expected to arrive by Jan. 29 could be curtailed due to production delays in the supply from Pfizer-BioNTech.

Two doses of the vaccine are needed to ensure immunity from the virus that causes COVID-19 and Health Minister Adrian Dix said earlier this week that B.C. was set to begin administering second doses.

He said the province remains committed to ensuring all those who have had the first shot get a second dose within 35 days.

On Thursday, the province said it had administered 104,901 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, of which 1,680 were second doses

Horgan is being joined in making today’s announcement by Dix, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Dr. Penny Ballem, who is leading the COVID-19 immunization rollout.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2021.

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Ontario reports surge in new COVID-19 infections with more than 1200 cases added – CTV Toronto

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TORONTO —
Ontario is reporting a spike in new COVID-19 infections with more than 1,200 cases logged Friday.

The 1,250 new infections mark an increase over Thursday’s report when 994 cases were logged.

This is the first time in three consecutive days that the province has added more than 1,000 new cases of the novel coronavirus.

Since the pandemic began, Ontario has recorded 306,007 cases of COVID-19, including 288,583 recoveries and 7,046 deaths related to the disease.

Of those deaths, 22 occurred in the last 24-hour period, according to the province.

There are currently 1,0378 active cases of COVID-19 in Ontario. 

Ontario labs completed 64,748 tests in the previous day, bringing the positivity rate to 2.3 per cent. 

The seven-day average for number of infections reported is 1,062, down from 1,114 a week ago today. 

This is a breaking news story. More to come.

Backstory:

NOTE: The numbers used in this story are found in the Ontario Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any city or region may differ slightly from what is reported by the province, because local units report figures at different times.

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Active COVID-19 infections in B.C. rise to seven-week high – Vancouver Is Awesome

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Vaccinations have helped reduce the number of outbreaks at seniors’ homes, but B.C. has a long way to go until they start to have any widespread effects. 

The number of British Columbians actively fighting COVID-19 infections rose by 89 overnight, to 4,743 – the highest number since January 13, more than seven weeks ago. This came in part because another 564 B.C. residents were diagnosed in the past day as having the virus that has spawned the global pandemic. 

The number of those with serious infections is also on the rise. Those hospitalized rose by two overnight to 248, which is the highest number since February 5 – almost four weeks ago. Of those, 63 individuals are sick enough to be in intensive care units. When all newly added hospital beds across the province are included, B.C. hospitals are at 74.4% capacity, Health Minister Adrian Dix said March 4. 

Another four people have died from the virus overnight, raising the province’s death toll from the virus to 1,376.

Some good news is that 76,289 people, or more than 92.5% of the 82,473 individuals in the province who have contracted the virus since January 2020, have recovered. 

Health officials are closely monitoring another 8,659 people for symptoms because they have had known exposure to individuals identified as carrying the virus. That is the highest number since January 8, almost eight weeks ago.

Here is the breakdown of where the 564 new cases are located:
• 168 in Vancouver Coastal Health (29.8%);
• 279 in Fraser Health (49.5%);
• 35 in Island Health (6.2%);
• 36 in Interior Health (6.4%); and
• 46 in Northern Health (8.1%).

Some cases of COVID-19 are identified as being variants of concern because they are mutations from the main strain of COVID-19. B.C. detected 46 more of these cases overnight, for a total of 246. There is a lag in detecting many of these cases. 

Of the known variant infections, only 16 are active cases, said provincial health officer Bonnie Henry.

She sounded optimistic about B.C.’s vaccine roll-out, even though many have criticized it for being too slow.

“We’re getting our regular supply of vaccines and more vaccines are on the way,” she said. “We know that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is in for final review with Health Canada. We don’t yet know when it might be available but that will be another tool, another piece that we can add to our toolkit.”

Health officials launched a new vaccination strategy earlier this week, whereby they plan to provide an interval of up to 112 days between doses in order to give more people first doses of vaccine as soon as possible. 

That is why 8,922 of the 9,052 vaccine doses that went into British Columbians’ arms in the past day were first doses, with only 130 doses going to individuals as second doses. 

In total, 212,115 British Columbians have received at least one dose of a vaccine since the first dose was administered on December 16, more than 11 weeks ago. Of those, 86,746 have had second doses. 

Dix recently said that around 98% of seniors in care homes have had at least one dose of vaccine, and Henry on March 4 followed that up by saying that an easing of restrictions on visitors need not come after all residents and staff have had second doses. She did not, however, give a timeline for when she would ease restrictions. 

Good news is that there were no new outbreaks of COVID-19 identified at seniors’ homes in the past day.

None of the nine active outbreaks at seniors’ homes is in the Vancouver Coastal Health region. 

The five active outbreaks at seniors’ living facilities in Fraser Health are:
• CareLife Fleetwood in Surrey;
• Chartwell Carrington House in Mission;
• Revera Sunwood in Maple Ridge;
• Royal City Manor in New Westminster; and
• Shaughnessy Care Centre in Port Coquitlam.

Royal City Manor is by far the largest of those current outbreaks, as it has had a total of 133 cases and 31 deaths, according to government data up until March 2. 

The outbreak at Glacier View Lodge in Courtenay is the only outbreak at a seniors’ home in the Island Health region.

The only outbreak at such a facility in the Northern Health region is at the Acropolis Manor in Prince Rupert.

The two active outbreaks at seniors’ living facilities in Interior Health are now at Brocklehurst Gemstone Care Centre in Kamloops, and The Florentine in Merritt.

There are also eight active COVID-19 outbreaks at B.C. hospitals. They include:
• Chilliwack General Hospital in Chilliwack;
• Dawson Creek and District Hospital in Dawson Creek;
• Eagle Ridge Hospital in Port Moody;
• Kelowna General Hospital in Kelowna;
• Mission Memorial Hospital in Mission;
• Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster;
• Surrey Memorial Hospital in Surrey; and
• Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver.

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom 

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How COVID-19 reshaped Calgary, one year after first case – Calgary Herald

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Though Albertans could not have known it on March 5, 2020, the novel coronavirus would quickly plunge the province into turmoil

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Dr. Deena Hinshaw walked into the Alberta legislature media room at 5:38 p.m. on March 5, 2020, and stood alone at the lectern. Neither Hinshaw nor any of the reporters present for her impromptu news conference were wearing face masks.

A weighty air hung in the room as Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, announced the province had detected its first presumptive case of COVID-19.

“I want to remind Albertans that despite this case, the risk of catching the virus is still considered low in our province,” she said.

One week later, the province banned all large gatherings, signalling Alberta’s descent into a pandemic that would reshape life over the year to come.

Though Albertans could not have known it on March 5, the novel coronavirus would quickly plunge the province into turmoil, bringing with it unprecedented restrictions on public life and business meant to stop a wave of infections from overloading hospitals and causing widespread suffering.

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Over the following year, 134,785 Albertans would test positive for the virus. It would claim the lives of 1,911. Nearly two-thirds of those lost were vulnerable seniors in continuing-care environments.

During the earliest weeks of COVID-19 in Calgary, information changed daily, as experts scrambled to learn how to best fight a novel virus spreading rapidly throughout the world. Recommendations against international travel morphed into panicked attempts to repatriate those stuck abroad; the Saddledome hosted more than 18,000 Flames fans March 9, unmasked and sitting side-by-side, days before the NHL pulled the plug on its season; and schools closed until September only two days after Hinshaw pledged they would remain open.

Even playgrounds were closed after Calgary declared a state of local emergency.
Even playgrounds were closed after Calgary declared a state of local emergency. Photo by Brendan Miller/Postmedia

The chaos manifested on store shelves even before any cases were confirmed in Alberta, as Calgarians began stockpiling toilet paper, hand sanitizer and any other medical products they could get their hands on. As uncertainty mounted, that turned into a run on food essentials, like flour and chicken.

Though that panic may have been misplaced, it underlined the pervading sense of unpredictability through the pandemic’s latent days, according to Dr. Craig Jenne, a University of Calgary infectious disease researcher.

“I think we went from basically zero to full-on panic response very quickly,” Jenne said. “And then after a period of a few weeks, we settled back into probably a more realistic view of the situation and a reality that was going to be the case for the next year or more.”

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Outbreaks defined pandemic’s first months, but public trust held high

Two weeks after Alberta’s first COVID-19 case was announced, the province hit another foreboding milestone: its first death linked to the virus.

At the time, Hinshaw characterized the news as tragic but expected, saying the “aggressive measures” put in place would “make the number of these tragic occurrences as small as possible.”

Mortality defined the first wave of the coronavirus in Alberta, with vulnerable communities bearing the brunt of the impact.

Oft-overlooked long-term care and supportive-living facilities emerged as the wave’s most brutal battlegrounds.

Calgary’s first long-term care outbreak occurred at the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre. It stretched through the first wave, killing 20 and infecting 111, and became a sobering example of the devastating impacts COVID-19 can have if allowed to run rampant through these spaces.

“Since then, we have consistently seen COVID-19-related deaths in these homes,” said Sandra Azocar, executive director of Friends of Medicare.

“It was, at first, an unconscionable thing and then people grew steadily numb to what was happening unless you have a loved one at these facilities. It’s shown the inequities in care for the elderly and other vulnerable people in our society.”

Family and residents rally outside the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre on March 31, 2020.
Family and residents rally outside the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre on March 31, 2020. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Other local care homes, including AgeCare Skypointe and Extendicare Hillcrest, would later see even more widespread outbreaks.

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Though Alberta’s deadliest outbreaks came in continuing care, the largest in the province — and North America — transpired at a meat-packing plant south of Calgary.

More than 950 staff at Cargill in High River, over half the site’s workers, tested positive for COVID-19 in the outbreak that began in early April. Nearly 500 cases were confirmed by the time the company agreed to temporarily close the plant; three eventually died.

Since that outbreak, there has been a persistent fear among members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 who don’t have the option to work from the safety of their home, explained union president Thomas Hesse.

“Some of these sort-of invisible people who we’ve always taken for granted, we now see this issue about their safety, how much they get paid and how important they are in our society,” Hesse said.

Despite these hot spots, Albertans gave overwhelmingly glowing reviews of Hinshaw’s handling of the pandemic. For many, she became a rational and calming voice during the spark of uncertainty.

A late-April ThinkHQ poll showed 88 per cent of Albertans approved of Hinshaw’s pandemic response as she gained local celebrity status. Within the first weeks of her daily updates, Hinshaw’s fashion caught Albertans’ eyes, with her charcoal periodic-table dress a hot commodity, and T-shirts sold sporting her face.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta chief medical officer of health, delivers a COVID-19 update while wearing a dress emblazoned with the periodic table of elements on March 19, 2020.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta chief medical officer of health, delivers a COVID-19 update while wearing a dress emblazoned with the periodic table of elements on March 19, 2020. Photo by Larry Wong/Postmedia

The goodwill toward Hinshaw carried over to front-line workers, dubbed “heroes,” with symbolic gestures like the banging of pots and pans and emergency-vehicle hospital drive-bys serving as a thank you. Some workers at grocery stores and other essential businesses received pandemic pay in the early months before losing the bonuses.

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Modelling released by the province in early April projected as many as 800 Albertans could be hospitalized with COVID-19 by mid-May. First-wave hospitalizations peaked at 89, weeks earlier, a success Hinshaw credited to adherence to public-health measures.

As spring blossomed and the first wave ebbed, Alberta eyed an economic reopening. Businesses started to reopen in mid-May, though Calgary was left behind for two weeks, partly due to the Cargill outbreak.

By June 12, many restrictions had been lifted, and Calgary ended its local state of emergency, with the province following suit days later.

But well before restrictions eased, it was clear mass gatherings were out of the question. Alberta axed summer events on April 23, forcing the cancellation of the Calgary Stampede, something Mayor Naheed Nenshi at the time called “a punch in the gut for us all.”

“To stand here and say there will be no Stampede for the first time in 97 years, well, that’s very, very, very tough,” Nenshi said.

An extended fireworks display lights up the sky above an empty Calgary Stampede grandstand and grounds on July 3.
An extended fireworks display lights up the sky above an empty Calgary Stampede grandstand and grounds on July 3. Photo by Gavin Young/Postmedia

Summer of COVID-19 a brief reprieve, but anxieties persisted

It was a summer without Stampede, without concerts, without CFL football.

But a vague sense of normalcy nonetheless settled in Alberta over the warm-weather months, as the government relaxed restrictions and rising temperatures allowed for safer outdoor gatherings.

The province had successfully flattened the curve of infections and entered a phased relaunch strategy in mid-May, desperate to mend its economy after weeks of stringent measures that stymied small businesses.

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Daily case rates dipped as low as seven new infections on June 5, which Hinshaw celebrated as a landmark, collective achievement.

“This is in large part thanks to your efforts and sacrifices,” she said, a phrase recycled several times since.

The summer allowed Albertans to visit friends at restaurants, go for drinks to watch the NHL playoffs broadcasted from the Rogers Place bubble in Edmonton and spend time with family with few impeding public health measures. Masks weren’t mandatory in Calgary’s public spaces until Aug. 1.

It was also a summer of social reckoning as thousands of anti-racism protesters took to the streets across Alberta — and the world — to call for systemic change following the death of a Black man beneath the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Massive crowds became a cause for concern and Hinshaw pleaded with protesters to get tested for the novel coronavirus, though most attendees wore face masks. No outbreaks were ever linked to the outdoor rallies.

But anxiety over a potential second wave loomed, with worries over the impending school year emerging as Alberta announced at the end of July in-person classes would resume in September.

Calgary parents made the difficult decision between sending their children to school or educating them from home. Mental-health experts noted a rise in anxiety among parents, teachers and students in the weeks before the start of school.

Alberta may have been lulled into a false sense of security by its comparatively mild first wave, University of Alberta clinical epidemiologist Dean Eurich suggested.

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This led to a gap in planning over the summer in some areas, including back-to-school, he said.

“I think it really fed into that inability (for the province) to be as prepared as they probably should have been, for returning students to school,” Eurich said.

“I think that helped to propagate COVID within the province, because we just weren’t as prepared as we should have been. I don’t think we learned the lessons.”

Long second wave devastates as vaccines, variants point to uncertain future

Alberta was the victim of its own success. Or at least, that’s what Hinshaw said during a November briefing.

“What we know about COVID is that it can grow very quickly, the transmission rate can change within a matter of weeks and it can take off,” Hinshaw continued.

It took just over a week of in-person classes before Calgary’s first outbreak was declared at Henry Wise Wood High School. And transmission between students only rose from there.

By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, there were 170 outbreaks in Alberta schools, seven per cent of all schools. Families were strongly encouraged not to gather for the traditional holiday.

But Alberta hadn’t come close to the frightening projections that Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro had warned in the early days of the pandemic, and case rates were still low.

At the time, 282 people had died from COVID-19 and there were 2,225 active cases.

Hinshaw would later cite Thanksgiving as a turning point for Alberta’s second wave.

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Infections spread like wildfire, peaking in December at 21,131 active cases provincewide, magnitudes above the first wave’s peak of 2,942 active infections. Racialized and working-class areas with high housing density, like Calgary’s northeast, were hit disproportionately hard by the virus.

Christmas shopping was a grim affair in downtown Calgary on Dec. 17, 2020.
Christmas shopping was a grim affair in downtown Calgary on Dec. 17, 2020. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

“These are my neighbours,” Nenshi said at the time. “And when we say that we’re keeping the economy open to protect them, we’re also putting them at risk by making them go to work and deal with people who may not be isolating.”

The province’s contact-tracing system crumbled under the pressure, resulting in the loss of a huge player in Alberta’s defences against the virus. A provincial contact-tracing app had been developed, but was hindered by technological problems and by mid-November had only been used to track exposures 19 times. Kenney repeatedly rejected calls to adopt the federal government’s own app.

“We lost the ability to contact trace within the province. We were no longer able to determine who had it and where it was spreading,” Eurich said.

“And once you lose the ability to track the virus within your population, any pandemic response you could possibly mount is severely limited.”

Kenney declared Alberta would enter a second state of public-health emergency on Nov. 24, banning indoor social gatherings, closing classes for grades 7 to 12 and calling for stricter enforcement.

Yet many public-health experts begged the government for stronger restrictions, foreseeing a deadly second wave.

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For weeks, Kenney rejected calls for further action against the spread of COVID-19, claiming a broad lockdown represented a violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“I think the inability to act at that particular time … really kind of set up the dominoes of what we’ve seen for the last three months,” Eurich said.

It was only on Dec. 8, as hospital capacities threatened to overflow, that the premier announced a major shutdown of Alberta businesses, including restaurants, bars and indoor fitness.

The partial lockdown extended over the holiday season, prohibiting Christmas dinners between households. But outrage bubbled after nine government MLAs and officials left the country for warmer climates amid the shutdown. Each was sanctioned following prolonged pressure.

A Leger poll conducted as news broke of politicians heading south showed approval ratings trending in the same direction. Only 27 per cent of Albertans said they were satisfied with the Kenney government’s pandemic response, Canada’s lowest rate by far. Gone were the pot-banging days and the “all-in-this-together” mood of the first wave.

“COVID fatigue is real. We are now bordering COVID exhaustion,” Jenne said.

“People can do the hard things and can really buckle down for the short term, but when it drags out, when it doesn’t seem like it’s gonna end, that perspective changes.”

The second wave raged and left behind a human toll. Between Thanksgiving and March 4, 1,626 died of the virus, about 85 per cent of the province’s total deaths.

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Though trends shifted in a positive direction after weeks of restrictions in early-January, concern grew with the emergence of highly contagious variants of the virus. The variant originally identified in the U.K. has become a thorn in the government’s plan to once again reopen the economy.

Alberta has detected 531 cases of the U.K. variant, B.1.1.7, a mutation that could overwhelm the health-care system if left to become the province’s dominant strain. Ten cases of the B.1.351 strain, originating in South Africa, were also confirmed.

Fortunately, the introduction of two COVID-19 vaccines, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, has given Alberta an additional defence against the novel coronavirus. And more vaccines are coming, including the recently approved AstraZeneca shot and the forthcoming Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The quick production of multiple safe and effective vaccines to combat COVID-19 is lauded as an outstanding scientific achievement. However, Canada’s vaccine procurement has been bumpy, despite being one of the first countries to start immunizations.

A month-plus delay on mass shipments of doses to Canada in February stalled immunizations in Alberta and across the country, causing Canada to fall behind many countries in its efforts to vaccinate all who wanted it.

Through March 3, Alberta has immunized 176,445 eligible seniors, health-care workers and paramedics. Of them, 89,786 have had both necessary shots.

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The vaccine is “the game changer” for Alberta’s economic recovery, Kenney said Monday.

“Widespread use of the vaccine will mean freedom,” the premier added, after delaying much of the second step of economic relaunch amid troubling infection rates.

Dorothy Boothman, 98, receives a COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse Brenda Claudio at Clifton Manor in Calgary.
Dorothy Boothman, 98, receives a COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse Brenda Claudio at Clifton Manor in Calgary. Photo by ALBERTA HEALTH SERVICES

Following the lead of other provinces, Hinshaw announced Alberta would delay second doses up to four months to “provide the most benefit to the most people,” dramatically accelerating immunizations. All adults who want the vaccine will receive their first shot by the end of June, Shandro announced Thursday.

The same day, Hinshaw marked the one-year milestone.

Hinshaw took a moment during Thursday’s news conference — her 182nd of the year — to mark the milestone of one year since the first case.

“Together we have navigated the uncertainty of COVID-19 and living in a global pandemic,” Hinshaw said.

“We are so much closer to returning to a more normal way of life than we were a year ago or even a few weeks back.”

Much as Albertans couldn’t have known how the next year would develop on March 5, 2020, a similar sense of unknown permeates the year to come. Vaccines have been approved, but will supply hold? Case counts have trended down, but will variants of concern derail progress?

Though we can’t know what’s ahead, it’s worth recognizing and celebrating Alberta’s anniversary milestone, Jenne said.

“Looking back on a year where we have lost thousands of Albertans, we have to remember those are not numbers. They’re family members, they’re lives.

“But when I look around the world and I look at what happened in New York, what happened to the U.K., what happened even early on in northern Italy, I think Albertans should be proud of how they responded, how they did meet that challenge, how they did the difficult things that were asked of them.”

COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of our community for the last year. Starting March 15, we will be publishing a series of stories that looks at the effects the pandemic has had on Calgarians.

sbabych@postmedia.com
Twitter: @BabychStephanie

jherring@postmedia.com
Twitter: @jasonfherring

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