Ottawa Public Health reported 79 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Sunday and two new deaths, bringing the city’s totals to 8,458 and 374, respectively, since January.
A total of 343 cases, according to Sunday’s figures, remain active. Meanwhile, 22 people were being treated for COVID-19 in Ottawa hospitals, one of them in intensive care.
Twenty-one health-care institutions are currently experiencing outbreaks, as are three child-care or educational centres. There are also four active community outbreaks, an increase of one from the previous day’s report.
Ontario reported 1,708 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on Sunday, more than 100 fewer than the 1,822 from a day earlier, and almost 150 fewer than the daily record of 1,855 set on Friday.
The new cases, which include those reported through Saturday afternoon, bring the total in the province to 114,746 since January.
Peel and Toronto remained the worst-hit areas, with 503 and 463 confirmed new cases, respectively.
The province also reported 24 new COVID-19 deaths, bringing Ontario’s total to 3,648 since January.
In addition to the 79 new cases in Ottawa, 24 new cases were reported elsewhere in Eastern Ontario, including 10 by the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, and five each through Hastings Prince Edward Public Health and Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Public Health. The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit reported four new cases, while the Renfrew County and District Health Unit reported no new cases.
The province also reported 586 Ontarians hospitalized with COVID-19, but added that the number may be skewed low by the fact that approximately 40 hospitals did not complete the Daily Bed Census on Friday.
Quebec on Sunday reported 1,395 new COVID-19 cases and four new deaths, bringing the province’s total to 141,038 cases and 7,025 deaths since January.
COVID-19 hospitalizations reduced slightly from Saturday’s report, with 665 Quebecers being treated for the pandemic illness. Of those, 92 are in intensive care.
Meanwhile, the Outaouais reported 30 new cases and no new deaths.
The region has reported 3,554 cases and 80 deaths since the pandemic began.
COVID-19 BY THE NUMBERS
79: New cases 8,458: Total cases 2: New deaths 374: Total deaths 343: Active cases 22: Hospitalized 1: In ICU 7,741: Cases resolved
1,708: New cases 114,746: Total cases 24: New deaths 3,648: Total deaths 586: Hospitalized 97,319: Cases resolved
B.C.’s health ministry expects to start registering four million people for COVID-19 vaccine in March, beginning with the oldest and reaching everyone 18 and older who wants to be immunized by the end of September.
The largest immunization program in the province’s history will set up clinics in 172 B.C. communities, using school gymnasiums, arenas, community halls, church halls and convention centres, as well as mobile clinics for rural areas. Mobile teams will also be dispatched to people who aren’t able to leave their homes, using transit buses and other self-contained vehicles.
Health Minister Adrian Dix says the current phase one of vaccinations has reached most long-term care staff and residents as well as front-line acute care staff with a first dose. Decisions on increasing access and mobility in long-term care homes can be considered in March, he said.
Phase two in February and March continues to target the highest-risk populations, seniors aged 80 and up in communities, hospital staff, community physicians and staff in home support and nursing for seniors.
The mass vaccination starts with phase three from April to June, with people registered for vaccination in five-year increments, starting with the group aged 75 to 79. Phase four, from July to September, moves to people younger than 60, moving down to age 18. Approximately 900,000 of B.C.’s population of more than five million are under 18, and won’t be eligible for vaccine under the current plan.
With the delay in delivery of Pfizer’s vaccine while it expands its production facility in Belgium, deliveries to Canada are interrupted until February. Despite that, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said seniors aged under 80 in communities are likely to be registered and start receiving vaccine by the end of March.
Dr. Penny Ballem, the former deputy health minister appointed to lead the B.C. vaccine rollout, said the program is designed to be flexible, diverting vaccination to emerging situations like infection clusters in communities, work camps, and other group situations that may need earlier protection.
Details of the registration are still to come. Ballem said a phone call centre will be available to assist seniors who don’t have online access to get registered. For those who miss an appointment, they don’t lose their place in line and will receive priority for rescheduling.
Sharon Lee-Flynn, 43, says she suffers from a spinal cord injury of more than twenty years and, with impaired pulmonary and cardiovascular systems, she’s “more at risk than a 60-year-old.”
That’s why the B.C. resident says she doesn’t understand the province’s COVID-19 vaccination plan announced Friday which mainly prioritizes people by age, leaving Lee-Flynn to wait at least another six months before she can be vaccinated.
Lee-Flynn is one of a large group of vulnerable people who say they should be further up the new vaccination line. The list also includes teachers, first-responders and grocery store workers who are no longer being given higher priority based on their jobs.
Instead, provincial officials announced that, after health-care staff, Phase 2 of the plan will allow seniors over 80 and Indigenous seniors over 65 to be vaccinated starting in February. Next will be Phase 3 in April which includes seniors 60 to 79. This leaves Lee-Flynn in Phase 4 starting in July when people from 18 to 59 will finally have the chance to be vaccinated.
“It really seems like patients with true medical compromise have been overlooked in the ‘ethical framework’ put forth,” said Lee-Flynn, adding that she’s had “a very limited, house-arrest type of life” since last March to avoid risking her health.
Henry says schedule could move quicker if more vaccines approved
Premier John Horgan said Friday that he’s received a pile of mail “a couple of inches thick” from advocates asking for higher priority for certain people.
“All of the arguments were very compelling … but the science is pretty clear: age is the dominant determinant factor on severe illness and death.”
Both Horgan and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said other at-risk people could be vaccinated sooner than scheduled if more vaccines are approved by Health Canada.
Russ Grabb, 63, from North Vancouver, says while he’s been diagnosed with a rare, incurable form of leukemia and is severely immunocompromised, he’s prepared to wait the three-to-five months it will for this vaccine rollout because it is still faster than most.
“For us to be getting any kind of vaccination within 10 months to a year is a miracle,” he said, adding that he’s in “really good hands” with his doctors and his family in the meantime.
First-responders should be prioritized, says firefighters association
Gord Ditchburn, president of the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association, says while he’s happy the plan is finally out, he’s disappointed that firefighters, along with other first responders have been bumped down to Phases 3 and 4, under the new plan.
“Our members right across this province are exposed every day while interacting with the public in unknown environments… [This] puts firefighters at risk every day to picking up this virus,” he said.
Similarly, Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, told CBC’s On The Coast Friday that she’s concerned about “thousands of front-line essential workers” who are at high risk of exposure to the virus every day.
“For us, it’s a question of clarity,” said Smith. “We represent members in corrections, shelters, supportive housing, child care… When with their turn be?”
Teachers union wants enhanced protections
Meanwhile, Teri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, said that she understands many teachers are stressed at not being prioritized, and called for the government to “take immediate action” to improve safety measures in schools, if this continues to be the case.
“We must have a mandatory mask mandate, we must have better physical distancing measures, and we must have ventilation upgrades in our classrooms,” her statement reads.
Horgan said the long-term goal is still to have everyone in the province who wants a vaccination to have it by the end of September.
Starting in February, British Columbia’s oldest residents will be asked to pre-register to get their COVID-19 vaccination, securing a place in line for when their age group is called.
The B.C. government offered the details of its distribution plan on Friday, as it wraps up the first phase of priority vaccinations for those in long-term care facilities. Rebuffing demands from various industries and professions,it hasinstead established a rollout based mostlyon a resident’s date of birth.
“The science is very clear. The single biggest factor for death or severe illness, is age,” Premier John Horgan told a news conference on Friday. He said he has been lobbied hard by different interest groups that wanted priority vaccines, but said the plan is driven by the statistics on risk. An individual older than 60 is five times as likely to get seriously ill or die from COVID-19 than someone younger than 45, he noted. “No matter where you work, no matter what you do, your age is the predominant factor. And that’s been the focus of the development of this plan.”
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Even with mass vaccinations around the province starting in April, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said relief from pandemic restrictions such as mask requirements, travel limits and bans on social gatherings are many months away.
“I would love to be able to say July 1st, but I think there are a whole lot of unknowns,” she said. She suggested that non-essential travel within B.C. will likely be permitted by the summer, but not large gatherings. She cautioned that the new variants of COVID-19, or additional shortages of promised vaccines, could change that.
“By the summer, we should be able to have some types of our normal lives back again,” she said. “But the full, back to what we would like to have, in terms of social interactions and being together, is not likely until the fall.”
The province, dealing with uncertainty around vaccine supply, is focused on reaching select high-risk populations, such as people who are homeless, acute-care health workers, elderly residents at home and family doctors. Roughly 520,000 people are expected to be vaccinated in this early stage of the program, before distribution is opened up to the remainder of the province’s eligible adults. The two vaccines currently available in Canada, made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, have not been approved for people younger than18.
Once residents are pre-registered, they will be contacted by their local health authority for the opportunity to visit one of mass vaccination centres that are being organized in 172 communities around the province. Theywill be set up in school gymnasiums, convention halls and stadiums, staffed by nurses and others who can be trained to administer the vaccine. Residents will emerge with a vaccination card, and instructions on when to return for their booster shot within 35 days.
Residents older than 79, or Indigenous elders older than 64, will be served first. Vaccinations will proceed based on age, descending in five-year increments. The last group to receive their shots will be those aged 18 to 24, with the last, second doses expected to be done in October.
The B.C. teachers union said they are concerned with the plan. “B.C. teachers, like many others, will be disappointed to see there is no prioritization for the front-line workers who have kept our schools, public services and economy open,” federation president Teri Mooring said in a statement.
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The Mayor of the Vancouver Island city of Duncan, which has seen a large wave of COVID-19 cases, expressed relief at word the program is under way. “The way that they rolled it out makes sense,” Michelle Staples said in an interview. “You can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Before, there has been [this sense] that we have no idea how long this is going to go on.”
Ian MacPhee, comptroller of Prince of Whales, a marine-tour company operating out of Vancouver and Vancouver Island, said the prospect of widespread vaccination in B.C. provides some “hopeful certainty” for his tourism business.
But hope has a cost. He said his 27-year-old company faces the challenge of surviving to the point when many are vaccinated. “But how many limbs will we have left? We may be that soldier stumbling off the battlefield with only one arm and one leg,” said Mr. MacPhee, who is also an at-large member of the board of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C.
The province’s plan is banking on the delivery of only the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, but Dr. Henry said she is hoping a third vaccine, by AstraZeneca, will be approved shortly. That additional supply would allow the province to target some groups that are not currently prioritized but still facing elevated risk.
Until a majority of residents are vaccinated, the virus will continue to pose a risk, she noted. “We need to keep this bargain that we have made with each other, this social contract that we have, to keep ourselves, our communities, protected through this next few months, as we get towards the light, as we start to see the time when we will be able to come together again, when we will be able to take our masks off.”
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