Canada is emerging from months of lockdown, but key questions remain unanswered about where Canadians are getting infected with COVID-19 and why case levels remain high in our hardest-hit provinces.
Ontario and Quebec have seen their rate of new cases plateau in recent weeks, still in the hundreds each day, and have little information on the source of infection or what effect reopening will have.
“It’s scary. There’s a large sense of unknown there,” said Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist and chief of staff at Humber River Hospital in Toronto, who is a veteran of SARS and H1N1.
“And there’s no way around the fact that this is uncomfortable.”
Even local health officials have concerns about lifting lockdown measures.
Dr. Lawrence Loh, the Medical Officer of Health for Peel Region, west of Toronto, said this week the province’s move to reopen was “out of step” with the “continuing risk” of the coronavirus pandemic, and recommended delaying easing restrictions.
“We have seen our new cases starting to plateau, but we have just not seen a decline in line with the province’s own framework for reopening at this point,” he said, adding the region had 20 per cent of all new COVID-19 cases in Ontario last week.
He notes the recent new case levels in the province — between 300 and 500 each day — mirror the levels in the early days of lockdown.
That concern was echoed by Dr. Chris Mackie, the Medical Officer of Health and CEO for the Middlesex London Health Unit in London, Ont., who said the region may need to “reconsider” reopening after case counts rose this week.
“We should not be seeing these sorts of numbers at this stage,” he said, adding the local increase, as well as the provincial one, is higher than it should be.
“If this continues on for the next few days, we might have to reconsider some of the loosening of public health measures.”
The Ontario Ministry of Health could not provide CBC News with a clear picture of where exactly people are getting infected in the province.
“This is ongoing work,” a spokesperson said in a statement, and said the issue was being examined by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams.
“Dr. Williams has asked the local public health units to collect more specific information from new cases about the possible sources of transmission.”
Experts say lifting lockdown measures without a clear picture of where new cases are coming from, and while testing is not at capacity, is cause for concern.
“We’re only ever measuring the tip of the iceberg, and so there’s a bunch of cases out there that we don’t know about, and presumably those cases are transmitting,” Gardam said.
“Because you’re not testing everybody, you are going to get cases where you don’t know where they came from.”
Dr. Irfan Dhalla, a physician and University of Toronto medical professor who is also a vice-president at Unity Health Toronto, said Ontario needs to proceed with caution.
“I would be nervous about some elements of the reopening strategy in some areas of the province,” he said.
“We need to redouble our efforts to continually improve our understanding of where ongoing transmission is occurring so that we can reopen safely.”
Quebec forges ahead with reopening
In Quebec, the number of new cases remains the highest in the country, with an 720 new cases and 82 deaths reported Thursday.
Quebec’s Director of Public Health Dr. Horacio Arruda said he’s still not satisfied with the number of people getting tested in the province, falling well below the capacity to test 20,000 per day.
And the province’s latest public health data provides no clear information on why infection continues to occur even after months of lockdown.
Despite this, Quebec is moving ahead with reopening soon.
As of Friday, people from up to three different households in the province will be allowed to gather outside in groups of 10 as long as they maintain physical distancing.
And starting June 1, the province will allow a number of personal care services such as dental clinics and massage therapy to reopen.
Hairdressers, manicurists and other beauty care services will be allowed to open on the same date — but not in the greater Montreal and Joliette areas, where there are still significant COVID-19 outbreaks.
“This has to be done while ensuring everyone’s protection — the protection of workers and clients as well,” Health Minister Danielle McCann said Wednesday. “So there will be rigorous prevention measures set up.”
Quebec’s public health strategic adviser, Dr. Richard Massé, said visits to these types of service providers can be carried out safely if both the providers and the clients respect the rules.
“If it’s done properly, there is a very good level of protection,” he said.
No clarity on source of COVID-19 infections
But the level of uncertainty over where infections are happening in Ontario and Quebec as lockdown measures lift is compounded by the fact that a large number of cases in Canada have no known source of infection.
The federal government can only provide basic information on where infection is occurring for less than half of our more than 80,000 COVID-19 cases — and even that data is incomplete.
The latest available update from the Public Health Agency of Canada found 3,787 COVID-19 cases had travelled outside of Canada; 24,848 are from “domestic acquisition”; while a further 10,433 have “information pending.”
But not all parts of the country have the same problem.
Alberta has expanded testing to asymptomatic close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases in an effort to find and isolate new cases before they turn into outbreaks.
While British Columbia, which looked like it could be among Canada’s hardest-hit provinces early on in the pandemic, now appears to be one of the best positioned to reopen.
So should parts of the country be moving toward reopening even if they can’t answer those key questions?
“Everybody would like them answered, but I think it’s just not possible in the current circumstances to be able to think that we can,” said Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious disease expert and a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
“So if we can’t do that, then the question becomes: Do we sit forever? Or do we move with everybody else in reducing precautions and watch to see what will happen?”
Ontario says its first phase of reopening is focused on “low-risk workplaces,” and that public health officials will “carefully monitor each stage.”
If the first stage of the gradual reopening of Ontario is successful, it will move toward second and third stages. If not, public health measures will need to be “adjusted and/or tightened.”
There’s really no way of knowing what the future holds for any part of the country as lockdown measures lift, McGeer says.
“The only way you can answer that question is by trying it out. There’s not a rulebook. You can’t know what’s going to happen when you do this,” she said.
“I hope that we all know, as Ontarians, as Canadians, that this step forward might be reversed, but we’re going to try it out and we’re going to see what happens.”
1 step forward, 2 steps back?
But Canada should consider whether reopening then backtracking could ultimately set us back further.
South Korea was forced to take a step back from its reopening strategy last week after a cluster of cases at a nightclub district in Seoul called into question whether the country lifted certain lockdown restrictions too soon.
The incident led to an outbreak of more than 100 new cases and ultimately forced the country to shut down thousands of nightclubs indefinitely to prevent a spike in new cases.
“If you don’t have to backtrack at all, then it probably suggests that we waited too long to reopen,” said Dhalla.
“What we don’t want to have happen are large outbreaks that result in lots of people needing to be cared for in hospital and people dying, but I think it’s inevitable that we will learn as we go.”
McGeer said although it may not be palatable for Canadians to think about lockdown measures being reimposed if things don’t go well, it may be part of our new reality as we test the waters of reopening.
“Honestly, I think it’s the best we can hope for. We don’t want to stay in lockdown unless it’s essential that we stay in lockdown,” she said.
“But if we can allow more activity and not get into trouble, then that’s what we should be doing.”
She said Canadians should brace themselves for the possibility of lockdown measures being lifted then reimposed for the foreseeable future until an effective treatment for or vaccine against COVID-19 is developed.
“As long as we know that’s where we’re going and what’s going to happen, I think people will be happier with being allowed to do some things for a while rather than staying in lockdown for the whole time,” she said.
“But it’s really important that people know that this might happen — that we might have to go back.”
Anti-black racism protests, vigils planned across Canada – CBC.ca
Canadians continued to rally and demonstrate against anti-black racism and police brutality on Saturday, a day after thousands attended protests and vigils across the country.
The demonstrations follow days of protests across the U.S. over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis, Minn. A police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Many are calling for police reform and an end to systemic racism.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam on Friday urged demonstrators to “take care of themselves” and follow public health guidelines such as physical distancing as much as possible and using hand sanitizers.
Read on to see what’s happening around Canada.
Thousands demonstrated in two separate protests in Toronto against anti-black racism. The first protest began at Nathan Phillips Square, while the second began at Trinity Bellwoods Park.
Twanna Lewis, a Toronto resident at Trinity Bellwoods Park, said she was protesting for the first time on Saturday because she felt the need to take a stand for people who are voiceless. She has an 18-year-old black son, cousins, uncles and a brother.
“It’s 2020 and we need to be doing better,” Lewis told CBC Toronto. “It’s a shame that we have to be having this conversation in this day and age, when we think that we have gone so far.”
WATCH | Hand sanitizer, masks handed out at Toronto protest:
At Nathan Phillips Square, demonstrators chanted, held placards and posters, and listened to speakers. Then the protesters marched to the U.S. consulate and onward to Yonge-Dundas Square.
“I can’t breathe,” the crowd chanted at one point at Nathan Phillips Square, in a reference to some of Floyd’s last words before his death on May 25.
People held up signs that read “No Justice No Peace” and “Yes it’s here too Ford.” Ontario Premier Doug Ford had said Canada doesn’t have the “systemic, deep roots” of racism as the U.S.
WATCH | Protesters, police speak at Toronto demonstration:
Thousands of people kneeled on the lawn of Confederation Building in St. John’s during a rally in support of the Black Lives Matter.
The rally, organized by newly established Black Lives Matter NL, featured speeches and performances from members of the area’s black community sharing their own stories of racism.
Crowds were able to physically distance during the rally, spreading themselves across the lawn of Confederation Building. There was a small police presence, but no incidents were reported.
Zainab Jerrett, who came to Newfoundland in the 1990s and is a professor at Memorial University, was one of the speakers on stage and was overwhelmed by the public support.
“That shows that this problem is effecting everybody, and everyone wants to chip in to bring a solution,” Jerrett said. “I almost got emotional because there’s so many people … young people of all cultures in Newfoundland.”
“This is an awakening. The people are interested in listening to the black community” she added. “[But] we are all the same. The more we come together as a human race, the better.”
“I am almost speechless. I am about to cry,” she says. “I feel like I am a Newfoundlander in spirit and soul.” <br><br>The audience yells back at her “you are!” <a href=”https://t.co/rZXj08NvIT”>pic.twitter.com/rZXj08NvIT</a>
A vigil is scheduled for 4 p.m. MT outside Calgary’s Olympic Plaza in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
“We must all come together to speak against murders by police officers and the institutions defending them,” organizers said in a Facebook post.
They also encourage attendees to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines like wearing masks and physical distancing.
Thousands attended a similar demonstration in Calgary on Wednesday.
Fort McMurray, Alta.
Elsewhere in Alberta, a Black Lives Matter rally was held at Fort McMurray City Hall.
The rally comes as Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam says Wood Buffalo RCMP officers beat and arrested him in a Fort McMurray parking lot earlier this year.
In London, Ont., hundreds gathered at Victoria Park for an anti-racism rally.
Mayor Ed Holder said he supports the purpose behind the rally but declined to attend in person to comply with physical distancing rules recommended by health authorities in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Hundreds of Londoners are here at Victoria Park for an anti-black racism protest <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/LdnOnt?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#LdnOnt</a> <a href=”https://t.co/PVevHrYQGV”>pic.twitter.com/PVevHrYQGV</a>
Rally is so big it fits down Queens Street, around the block in both directions. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/LdnOnt?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#LdnOnt</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/BLM?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#BLM</a> <a href=”https://t.co/3a6bzJFVwy”>pic.twitter.com/3a6bzJFVwy</a>
Volunteers handed out bottles of water and squirts of hand sanitizer to marchers in Guelph, Ont., as thousands of demonstrators descended upon city hall. Organizer took COVID-19 precautions after health officials urged protesters to adhere to public health protocols.
A similar demonstration in Kitchener on Wednesday saw thousands of people walk through the downtown core holding signs.
‘They’re targeting us’: Why some advocates want to defund Canadian police – Global News
In recent days, protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality have erupted across the U.S. and Canada in response to the deaths of Black Americans George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor.
Now, some advocates are calling for police forces to be defunded and taxpayer money to be redirected — a conversation that is also happening in Canada, stemming from the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year-old Black and Indigenous woman who fell from her Toronto apartment balcony after police entered the unit.
Police claim they were responding to a reported assault, but the family has questioned the role of the police in her death. The Special Investigations Unit, Ontario’s police watchdog, is currently investigating.
Defunding the police means redirecting the budget for Canada’s police forces to other services that focus on social supports, mental health and even spaces like transit, said Sandy Hudson, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter Toronto and a law student at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“There’s no reason why we can’t start a service that is another emergency response service where people can call a number and have someone who is trained in de-escalation,” Hudson said.
Now, with more incidents of police brutality in the news, calls for defunding the police both in the U.S. and Canada are louder than ever.
The history of police in Canada
This is hardly the first time defunding the police has been talked about in Canada, experts told Global News.
Examining the way police uphold and participate in anti-Black racism and violence towards Black and Indigenous communities in Canada has been a discussion for decades, said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga.
“Part of it is discrimination within policing — both implicit and explicit — but then the other parts of it are how the police operate and what we’re asking police to do,” he said.
Regis Korchinski-Paquet death: Toronto protesters march in memoriam, against anti-Black violence
The origins of policing in the southern United States were based on preserving the slavery system, as Time magazine reports, and police were primarily tasked with being “slave patrols” to prevent Black slaves from escaping. After the Civil War ended, these patrols still existed to uphold segregation and discrimination towards Black people.
Police in Canada were historically also tasked with “clearing the land” to steal the property of Indigenous Peoples, said Hudson.
“Those two focuses of the police, Indigenous and Black people, controlling us … there’s a through line to today and how the police interact with our communities,” she said.
Policing has been used to enforce the dominant narrative in Canada, which is colonization, said Alicia Boatswain-Kyte, a social work professor at McGill University whose research examines systemic oppression.
“These institutions are a product of (colonialism); they stem from that,” she said. “Right now we’re seeing what it looks like at this stage … and it gets manifested in the form of police brutality.”
Mental health, homelessness and other social issues
Experts are concerned that police in Canada are tasked with issues related to poverty, mental health and homelessness, and they are “ill-equipped and an inappropriate resource to be addressing those issues,” Owusu-Bempah said.
A 2018 report on racial profiling by the Ontario Human Rights Commission found that a Black person was 20 times more likely than a white person to be involved in a fating shooting by Toronto police. The report was the result of an inquiry launched after Andrew Loku, a father of five who was experiencing mental health issues, died after being shot by police.
A coroner’s inquest ruled that Loku’s death was the result of a homicide and recommended that police are better trained if they are to deal with mental health calls.
“The violence we see inflicted by the police are often happening with people who are having a mental health crisis,” said Hudson.
Shifting the money to fund organizations that understand the nuances of mental health issues and the challenges faced by racialized communities would be a better use of taxpayers’ money, she said.
How racism affects Black mental health
Out of the nearly one million calls the force responds to, Toronto police respond to about 30,000 mental health calls every year, spokeswoman Meaghan Gray told the Canadian Press.
The force’s mobile crisis intervention teams — which include a trained officer and a mental health nurse — attend only 6,000 of those calls each year because they do not go to calls where a weapon may be involved.
Annual training for the force includes courses on communication and deescalation techniques, said Gray.
“The Toronto Police Service believes that mental health is a complex issue that requires the involvement of multiple entities, including but not limited to community support, public health, and all levels of government, to render any meaningful change,” she said.
It would be better if a mental health nurse or some other trained expert was always present, Boatswain-Kyte said.
“Are they (police) really the ones that are best suited?” she said.
“Social workers, for instance, go to school to understand how to form relationships, to understand how people are excluded and what factors contribute to their exclusion.”
By making police the body available to provide help in these situations, Boatswain-Kyte said, it sends a message that people with those health issues aren’t welcome in our society.
“Regardless of the amount of training … the implicit bias as a result of what (police) have been socialized to believe and understand about the ‘dangers’ of Black and brown bodies is going to influence them at the time when they have to make a decision.”
Boatswain-Kyte points to a study published in May from Columbia University that found there is “no evidence that enhanced police training focused on mental health crises” can reduce fatal shootings towards those having a mental health crisis, or racialized people in general.
By the numbers
In Toronto, the largest portion of a resident’s property tax bill — around $700 out of an average bill of $3,020 — goes to the Toronto Police Service. The lowest portion of property taxes goes to children’s services, Toronto employment and social services and economic development and culture.
The situation is similar elsewhere in the country, as the Vancouver police budget has grown by more than $100 million in the last decade, representing about one-fifth of the city’s $1.6-billion 2020 operating budget.
Backlash mounting over Premier Doug Ford’s comments on racism in Canada
A 2014 report published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute found that policing budgets in Canada had doubled compared to the GDP since 2004, even though the public calls to police have “remained stable.”
“Police associations have been happy to stoke public fears about safety, but the correlation between numbers of officers, crime rates and response times has long been shown to be spurious,” the report said, authored by Christian Leuprecht, a political science professor at Queen’s University and Royal Military College.
Police work that is essentially unrelated to policing could be done by other groups, Leuprecht explains.
Owusu-Bempah is calling on city mayors like Toronto Mayor John Tory to review which roles and functions we want the police to provide and which should be provided by other agencies.
“Then we need a lot of (the) funding currently spent on police … given to other organizations” that are better equipped to help with issues like homelessness and mental illness, he said.
Given the recent incidents of anti-Black racism and brutality perpetuated by police, Hudson says defunding the police would also give agency and safety to Black communities.
“How could the body that is ostensibly meant to provide safety for our communities … be one of the the the the reasons we keep getting hurt?” Hudson said.
“Most people don’t have to interact with police at all … but for our communities, they’re targeting us.
“We just want to live like everybody else.”
— With files from the Canadian Press
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Ontario extends emergency orders to June 19, as province reports 455 new COVID-19 cases – CBC.ca
Ontario is extending its emergency orders for another 10 days, the same day the province reported an additional 455 cases, 68 of which were the result of a reporting delay.
The province’s emergency orders had been set to expire June 9 but Ontario announced Saturday that they are being extended until June 19.
Those orders include banning people from dining in bars and restaurants, and gathering in groups larger than five.
They also include the closure of child-care centres, though Premier Doug Ford has said that a phased reopening plan for them will be announced early next week.
Extending the emergency orders also means the continued closure of bars and restaurants except for takeout and delivery, libraries except for curbside pickup or delivery, and theatres.
Ontarians looking to use playgrounds, or beat the heat at public pools and splash pads are also out of luck as a result of the extended orders.
“Extending these emergency orders will give employers of frontline care providers the necessary flexibility to respond to COVID-19 and protect vulnerable people and the public as the province gradually and safely reopens,” the Ontario government said in a release issued Saturday morning.
Additionally, the province says it is extending the suspension of limitation periods and time periods for legal proceedings until Sept. 11, ensuring people “will not experience legal consequences” if the original time requirements of their case are not met while this order is in effect.
This news comes after Ontario’s state of emergency, which permits the government to issue emergency orders like these, was extended earlier this week to June 30.
Ontario’s cumulative cases surpass 30,000
Meanwhile, the province reported 387 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, as well as 68 others that were impacted by a reporting delay.
According to new data released by Ontario’s Ministry of Health, the lag in reporting was the result of a “laboratory-to-public health reporting delay.”
That delay stemmed from a “breakdown in communication” between an assessment centre and a hospital lab where a number of positive tests were not communicated to the public health units, Public Health Ontario told CBC Toronto in an email.
When combined, those 455 newly reported cases represent a 1.5 per cent increase in total cases, a spike when compared to increases in new cases seen earlier this week, which hovered around 1.2 per cent.
The province’s cumulative number of cases now sits at 30,202. Some 23,947 of those cases are considered resolved.
Ontario’s network of about 20 labs processed some 23,105 tests on Friday, the most on any single day since the outbreak began in late January and the first time that figure has surpassed 23,000.
Ontario has now broken its record number of tests processed for the third straight day, though the province’s partnership of about 20 public, commercial and hospital labs have capacity to handle up to 25,000 samples per day.
Watch l Ontario struggles to keep COVID-19 under control:
The province’s official COVID-19 death toll grew by 35 and now sits at 2,407. A CBC News count based on data compiled directly from regional public health units puts the real toll at at least 2,434 as of Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
Just over 64 per cent of COVID-19-linked deaths were residents in long-term care homes, a drop of 15 per cent from the province’s previous update.
The province has tracked outbreaks in 311 long-term care facilities, while 88 remain ongoing, a drop in 78 homes since yesterday.
Public Health Ontario that significant drop stemmed from the the fact that many long-term care outbreaks that were classified as “open” also included an “declared over” date, which signals that the outbreak is over. That error has since been rectified, Public Health Ontario said in an email.
The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 dropped by 76, down to 673.
Those being treated in intensive care units fell by one, to 117, while patients requiring a ventilator increased by three, to 97.
Despite steady new case numbers, Ford says he will reveal details next week on Ontario’s second phase of loosening pandemic restrictions.
Although Stage 2 won’t begin immediately after details are revealed, Ford says the province will give notices to businesses that will be given the green light to reopen.
“We encourage businesses to begin preparing to reopen, so when the time comes, they will be able to protect employees, consumers and the general public,” Ford said in the statement Saturday.
Meanwhile, thousands of people took to the streets of downtown Toronto Friday to protest against anti-black racism — you can read more about that here.
2nd migrant worker dies in Windsor
The Windsor region is reporting the death of a second migrant worker from COVID-19.
Windsor Regional Hospital says a 24-year-old man was first admitted to a different hospital on Monday, and died at their facility on Friday.
The hospital says they have contacted the man’s family in Mexico.
It is with regret that we confirm the death of a second migrant worker in our region due to COVID-19 and announce plans for a multi-partner commitment for mass testing of thousands of migrant workers and other vulnerable settings in our region. <a href=”https://t.co/lvxyjxnvCg”>https://t.co/lvxyjxnvCg</a>
A news release also says that local hospitals and health organizations will jointly conduct a “mass swabbing” for COVID-19 of 8,000 migrant workers in Windsor-Essex starting on Tuesday.
Another temporary foreign worker in the Windsor area who came to Canada in February and tested positive for the virus on May 21 died last weekend.
Approximately 20,000 migrant workers come to Ontario each year to work on farms and in greenhouses — many of them from Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean — and this year have been required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.
Outbreaks that have affected dozens of migrant workers have been reported in Chatham-Kent, Windsor-Essex, Niagara Region and Elgin County.
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