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Computer programmer shares workaround to Alberta COVID-19 vaccine booking issues – Global News

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UPDATE: As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, it appeared the website had been changed and the workaround was no longer effective.

Hundreds of people said they were able to book COVID-19 vaccination appointments for their loved ones Wednesday thanks to a workaround published online by a computer programmer.

It all started Wednesday morning when Kory Mathewson‘s family logged on to the Alberta Health Services website to book appointments for Grandma Mufty and Grandpa Bill.

The first appointment was booked after a few tries but getting the second was more difficult.

Like so many other Albertans, once logging onto the website and putting in the postal code, the website stopped working for Mathewson.

Read more:
Alberta COVID-19 vaccine booking site ‘experiencing very high volumes’ as appointments open to those 75 and older

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Being a computer programmer and developer, Mathewson checked out the coding of the website.

He discovered that he could alter the code and bypass the postal code section, going straight to the patient information form.

By doing so, Mathewson was quickly able to book an appointment.

Upon getting the confirmation, he describes feeling immediate relief.

“It’s exactly that. It’s like: ‘Finally! I don’t have to worry.’”

After double checking the process and simplifying it for a less tech-savvy audience, Mathewson posted the workaround to Twitter in hopes of helping others do the same.

“It was like, ‘OK, how do we make this as easy as possible for people?’ You know, people that don’t know code,” Mathewson told Global News.

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Within hours, hundreds of Albertans responded saying the hack had worked for them and they were also able to book appointments for their loved ones.

However, as of 7 p.m. it appeared the website had been changed and the workaround was no longer effective.

In a series of messages on Twitter Wednesday night, AHS said it had “put additional queuing software in place to help manage the volume of users on the AHS COVID-19 immunization booking tool.

“This software will indicate an estimated wait time, and where each individual is in the booking queue to give people the option to continue booking, or to try again later.”

As of 7 p.m., 43,000 eligible seniors 75 and over had booked appointments using the immunization tool and 811 since it went live at 8 a.m., AHS said.

A spokesperson for AHS told Global News that the queueing system has “nothing to do with the workaround” shared on Twitter.

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A Twitter user created a video walking through the steps to show others how to do it in a visual way.

“It was a real community effort and all the different people kind of pulled together to make this solution happen,” said Mathewson.

Read more:
Albertans 75 and older can book COVID-19 vaccine appointments starting 8 a.m. Wednesday

The former Edmontonian believes Alberta Health Services could use the tool to fix the delays for all Albertans.

“In my opinion, this seems like a relatively straightforward fix.”

“I’m more than happy to be connected with the people at AHS to make this happen,” Mathewson said. “Part of the reason that I’m here is to sort of communicate that there are great developers like myself that are ready to help make this possible and make this as frictionless and as easy as possible for all Albertans.”


Click to play video 'Alberta Health Minister says AHS is ‘fixing the the problems’ with COVID-19 vaccine booking system'



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Alberta Health Minister says AHS is ‘fixing the the problems’ with COVID-19 vaccine booking system


Alberta Health Minister says AHS is ‘fixing the the problems’ with COVID-19 vaccine booking system

In a statement, Alberta Health Services confirmed the appointments booked using the workaround were official but that “this is not a permanent solution.”

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“The AHS online immunization booking tool continues to experience extremely high volumes and our IT teams are working to find a way to make the process as fast and efficient as possible for everyone.”

Read more:
Should all seniors get the COVID-19 vaccine before essential workers?

In the meantime, Mathewson and his brother Kyle say they’ll continue to help others looking to book appointments.

“I did this for my grandparents but really, this is for all the grandparents of Alberta,” said Mathewson.

“There’s a lot of people that want this and want to be safe. And hopefully this gets them one step closer and takes away that, ‘when is it going to happen?’”


Mufty and Bill Mathewson.


Courtesy/Kory Mathewson

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Ontario hospitals may have to withhold care as COVID-19 fills ICUs

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By Allison Martell and Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Doctors in the Canadian province of Ontario may soon have to decide who can and cannot receive treatment in intensive care as the number of coronavirus infections sets records and patients are packed into hospitals still stretched from a December wave.

Canada‘s most populous province is canceling elective surgeries, admitting adults to a major children’s hospital and preparing field hospitals after the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs jumped 31% to 612 in the week leading up to Sunday, according to data from the Ontario Hospital Association.

The sharp increase in Ontario hospital admissions is also straining supplies of tocilizumab, a drug often given to people seriously ill with COVID-19.

Hospital care is publicly funded in Canada, generally free at the point of care for residents. But new hospital beds have not kept pace with population growth, and shortages of staff and space often emerge during bad flu seasons.

Ontario’s hospitals fared relatively well during the first wave of the pandemic last year, in part because the province quickly canceled elective surgeries.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario told doctors last Thursday that the province was considering “enacting the critical care triage protocol,” something that was not done during earlier waves of the virus. Triage protocols help doctors decide who to treat in a crisis.

“Everybody’s under extreme stress,” said Eddy Fan, an ICU doctor at Toronto’s University Health Network. He said no doctor wants to contemplate a triage protocol but there are only so many staff.

“There’s going to be a breaking point, a point at which we can’t fill those gaps any longer.”

In a statement, the health ministry said Ontario has not activated the protocol. A September draft suggested doctors could withhold life-sustaining care from patients with a less than 20% chance of surviving 12 months. A final version has not been made public.

Ontario’s Science Advisory Table had been forecasting the surge for months, said member and critical care physician Laveena Munshi. During a recent shift she wanted to call the son of a patient only to discover he was in an ICU across the street.

“The horror stories that we’re seeing in the hospital are like ones out of apocalyptic movies,” she said. “They’re not supposed to be the reality we’re seeing one year into a pandemic.”

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In COVID-19 vaccination pivot, Canada targets frontline workers

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By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is shifting its vaccination campaign to target frontline workers, moving away from a largely age-based rollout as the country tries to get a handle on the raging third wave of the pandemic.

Canada‘s approach thus far has left unvaccinated many so-called “essential workers,” like daycare providers, bus drivers and meatpackers, all of whom are among those at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission. Provinces are now trying to adjust their strategy to tackle the surge driven by new variants.

Targeting frontline workers and addressing occupation risk is vital if Canada wants to get its third wave under control, says Simon Fraser University mathematician and epidemiologist Caroline Colijn, who has modelled Canadian immunization strategies and found “the sooner you put essential workers [in the vaccine rollout plan], the better.”

Initially, Canada prioritized long-term care residents and staff for the vaccines, as well as the very elderly, health workers, residents of remote communities and Indigenous people.

Targeting vaccinations by age made sense early on in a pandemic that ravaged Canada‘s long-term care homes, Colijn said. But now, immunizing those at highest risk of transmission brings the greatest benefit.

“If you protect these individuals you also protect someone in their 60s whose only risk is when they go to the store. … The variants are here now. So if we pivot now, but it takes us two months to do it, then we will lose that race.”

Data released on Tuesday from the Institute of Clinical and Evaluative Sciences showed that Toronto’s neighbourhoods with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections had the lowest vaccination rates, underscoring the disparities in vaccination.

‘IT’S A JUGGERNAUT’

On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a plan to have mobile vaccine clinics target COVID-19 “hotspots” and high-risk worksites, although he stopped short of giving people paid time off to get the shot.

Karim Kurji, medical officer of health in York Region north of Toronto, characterizes the shift in vaccination priority from age to transmission risk as moving from defence to offence.

“It’s a juggernaut in terms of the immunization machinery, and turning it around takes a lot of effort,” Kurji said.

Meanwhile, officials in the western province of Alberta say they are offering vaccines to more than 2,000 workers at Cargill’s meatpacking plant in High River, site of one of Canada‘s largest workplace COVID-19 outbreaks. Provincial officials said in a statement they are looking to expand the pilot to other plants.

Quebec will start vaccinating essential workers such as those in education, childcare and public safety in Montreal, where neighbourhoods with the highest vaccination rates have been among those with the lowest recorded infection rates.

The people doing the highest-risk jobs, from an infectious disease perspective, are more likely to be poor, non-white and new Canadians, health experts say. They are less likely to have paid leave to get tested or vaccinated or stay home when sick and are more likely to live in crowded or multi-unit housing. They need to be prioritized for vaccination and their vaccination barriers addressed, experts say.

Naheed Dosani, a Toronto palliative care physician and health justice activist, said making vaccines available to high-risk communities is not enough without addressing barriers to access.

“The face of COVID-19 and who was being impacted changed dramatically. The variants seemed to take hold in communities where essential workers live. … This [pivot] is a step in the right direction and will hopefully save lives.”

 

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Denny Thomas and Aurora Ellis)

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Canada finance minister: Pandemic an opportunity to bring in national childcare

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic and its damaging impact on women has underlined the need for a national childcare plan, which would also help the economic recovery, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday.

Since taking up her job in August, Freeland has repeatedly spoken about a “feminist agenda,” and has said childcare will be part of a stimulus package worth up to C$100 billion ($79.6 billion) over three years. She will unveil details in her April 19 budget.

“I really believe COVID-19 has created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany … on the importance of early learning and childcare,” Freeland told a online convention of Canada‘s ruling Liberal Party.

The budget is set to be a springboard for an election that Liberal insiders say is likely in the second half of the year.

Canadian governments of various stripes have mused about a national childcare program for decades but never acted, thanks in part to the cost and also the need to negotiate with the 10 provinces, which deliver many social programs.

Freeland said a childcare program would help counter “an incredibly dangerous drop” in female employment since the start of the pandemic.

“It is a surefire way to drive jobs and economic growth … you have higher participation of women in the labor force,” Freeland said. “My hope … is that being able to make that economic argument as well is going be to one of the ways that we get this done.”

Freeland, who is taking part this week in meetings of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations and the International Monetary Fund, said U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had told her they saw early learning and child care as a driver for economic recovery.

($1=1.2560 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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