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Canadians urged to keep COVID-era Thanksgiving gatherings small, virtual – CTV News

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Many Canadians are setting new Thanksgiving traditions as the COVID-19 pandemic downsizes family dinners, while some who are separated from their loved ones try to find other ways to be grateful.

As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic washes over the country, Canadians from coast to coast are being asked to limit the size of their Thanksgiving gatherings or keep them entirely virtual.

Canada’s chief public health officer said last week’s troubling surge in infections means that some guests may be missing from the Thanksgiving table.

But Dr. Theresa Tam said the best way for Canadians to show their gratitude this holiday is to keep each other safe by staying away from anyone outside their immediate circle.

“What is usually a special tradition for many Canadians, will serve as a hard reminder of how much we are sacrificing to protect ourselves, those we love and our communities,” Tam said in a statement Sunday.

“As difficult as it may be, we need to continue on the right path and recommit, for ourselves and our loved ones, to follow the public health practices that helped us flatten the curve in the spring.”

With daily case counts continuing to rise in some provinces, increased restrictions came into effect in several hot spots heading into the long weekend.

In Quebec, which reported 942 new cases Sunday, nearly every community along the St. Lawrence River is now considered a “red zone.” Premier Francois Legault has entreated Quebecers to put public health before the desire to host large holiday gatherings.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has urged people to stick to their immediate households, saying it’s too risky even to expand the celebration to the current indoor gathering limit of 10 people.

That message came as the province imposed harsher restrictions on the hard-hit areas of Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region.

Ontario reported 649 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, a significant dip from Friday’s all-time high of 939 new infections.

After the province notched that new record, Susan Torrie of Ottawa made the bittersweet decision to scrap her plans for an outdoor get-together with her brother’s family in favour of what she called a “Zoomsgiving.”

Torrie said each household donned autumnal-themed outfits and plush-turkey hats, sitting down at their virtually extended table to share a meal and play board games.

“It wasn’t quite the same, but we felt like it was the very best we could do. And I think in its own way, it’s gonna be a really good memory of this.”

Madelaine Wight in Winnipeg said Zoom might become a fixture of future festivities as COVID-19 constraints forced her to find creative ways to mark her first Thanksgiving since getting sober.

In a normal year, Wight said she’d probably be sitting at her grandmother’s table to chow down on her family-famed turkey. But because she can’t safely see her grandparents, the 27-year-old said she’s cooking her first bird to mark the start of a “new tradition” with her children and her father.

And while pandemic precautions have distanced her from some relatives, Wight said Zoom has also allowed her to spend the holidays with family members as far away as Honduras.

“Now we can be a little bit closer together, and I (can see) family that wouldn’t have been necessarily a part of our meal.”

In some ways, Leanne Shaw feels the pandemic has shifted the focus of Thanksgiving away from familial obligation and allowed people to reconnect with the spirit of giving.

Shaw recently split from her husband and isn’t working while she raises four children, two of whom have been in the hospital in the last month. All she could afford for Thanksgiving dinner was a turkey, so she posted in a Toronto “caremongering” group to see if strangers would donate food to help her fill her family’s plates.

In a matter of hours, do-gooders had dropped off a full spread of supplies and side dishes, Shaw said.

“I call them my family,” she said. “I introduce (my kids) to the people when they come. Because I want them to know when they’re older, that if someone’s in need of help, and you’re in the position to help them, help them.”

Still, the pandemic is preventing many Canadians from sharing their gratitude with their loved ones this holiday.

Amanda Northrup wishes she was in Moncton, N.B., giving back to the community with the Humanity Project, a group she credits with giving her the strength to seek help for her addiction issues.

Northrup, 38, moved to Winnipeg early this year to seek treatment, and had planned on returning east to spend Thanksgiving volunteering with her chosen family.

But she said that’s not possible, between New Brunswick’s strict travel rules and her limited funds after being laid off in June.

Instead, she’s spending her first sober Thanksgiving alone.

“I’m hungry, I’m lonely, and I’m sad,” Northrup said. “I’m thankful to still be here and I’m thankful to be clean. And even if I’m lonely I’m very thankful that I have a roof over my head.”

Even in the so-called “Atlantic bubble,” where case counts have been creeping upwards of late, officials are urging people to limit their gatherings.

New Brunswick reported 14 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the province’s active total to 71, while P.E.I. reported two new cases.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 11, 2020.

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People with dementia among hardest hit by COVID-19 health restrictions – CBC.ca

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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.

McGill University’s Dr. Isabelle Vedel is leading a research project that will examine the impact of the pandemic on people living with dementia. (McGill University)

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.

Many of the outings Gauthier and her husband enjoyed, like going out for an ice cream, were curtailed due to COVID-19 public health restrictions. (Submitted by Lyne Gauthier)

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.

Nouha Ben Gaied, director of research and development for the Federation of Quebec Alzheimer Societies, said people with dementia are being prescribed more medication to keep them calm during the pandemic. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

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.”

Dessureault gets a visit from his grandchildren through the window of his care home. (Submitted by Lyne Gauthier)

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.

“As a society, we can do better.”

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At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health – CityNews Edmonton

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CALGARY – Alberta Health said 49 active COVID-19 cases have been linked to a wedding in Calgary earlier this month.

The health agency said the wedding had a large number of Albertans from different households.

Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan said 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 said specifics about individual cases cannot be disclosed because of patient confidentiality.

COVID-19 restrictions implemented by the province state 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.

WATCH: Recent rise in numbers due to large social events 

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Active COVID-19 cases in Calgary zone exceed 1,000 – Calgary Herald

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Article content continued

Sixteen of the 70 ICU beds allocated for COVID-19 patients are currently in use in Alberta, which marks 23 per cent of available space.

Due to the rise in case numbers, delayed wait times for test results and an increase in flu and cold symptoms, the province has placed more restrictions on asymptomatic testing.

“We must take further action,” said Hinshaw. “Effective immediately, we will be pressing pause on all asymptomatic testing in those who have no known exposure. This is an important and necessary step to help us reduce testing wait times, get results to Albertans and limit the spread.”

Asymptomatic testing was only available for priority groups before Tuesday’s announcement.

Alberta’s top doctor said Alberta has seen a handful of examples of gatherings gone wrong in recent weeks, adding to the provincial COVID-19 case count.

She noted a Calgary “superspreader” wedding linked to at least 49 cases, a workplace gathering connected to nine cases, and a party where one-third of the attendees have tested positive.

“COVID-19 really does love parties and we need to keep this in mind while planning or attending social events,” said Hinshaw, reminding Albertans to keep gatherings small while following all public health guidance.

There are no immediate plans for the government to implement additional measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 as cases grow, unlike other provinces such as Ontario that have rolled back relaxed directives.

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