Researchers at a Montreal university are estimating that the prevalence of the COVID-19 virus in Canada is much higher than what is being reported.
In Ontario and Quebec alone, economists at l’Université de Montréal (UdeM) are saying nearly half a million people have the virus – which is about 14 times higher than the official number.
The researchers say differences in testing across different provinces have added to uncertainty surrounding the true number of cases in the country. Quebec had nearly 9,000 more cases than Ontario on April 22, but the researchers pointed out that Quebec has been much more aggressive with its testing.
“Do the differences in confirmed cases reflect the true prevalence or do they result from differing testing standards?” said UdeM economist Joshua Lewis, who worked on the analysis with an UdeM colleague, Raphael Godefroy, and David Benatia from the Institut Polytechnique de Paris.
The trio used a statistical technique to calculate what they say is a more accurate number of cases in the central provinces by adapting a study they used to analyze the prevalence of COVID-19 in the United States.
They found that on April 22, infection numbers in Quebec were just over 255,000 – 12 times more than what was being reported by officials at the time; and over 220,000 in Ontario – 18 times as many.
“Our results show how differences in testing standards across provinces can greatly mask the true severity of outbreak,” Lewis said. “The actual number of infections in Quebec and Ontario is remarkably similar despite Quebec having nearly twice as many officially reported cases.”
The researchers said public health needs timely, accurate data to adjust its response accordingly as governments deal with the ongoing pandemic. To do that, they suggest for testing to be expanded to the general population – this would help stop community transmission occurring without notice and would help identify what they say is a significant amount of people who could have a level of immunity to the virus.
“How widespread is COVID-19 in the general population, really?” Lewis said. “That’s what we need to get a much better picture of. It’s important for policymakers who have to make difficult choices about how long to impose costly social distancing measures.”
Lewis said accurate numbers will also help Canadians decide what personal precautions to take to protect themselves from the virus.
“Every time we venture out to the supermarket or for a walk, we worry about crossing paths with someone who has the virus,” he said. “The question is, should we, and to what extent?
Over the past week, Quebec Premier François Legault announced the reopening of elementary schools, daycares, the construction and manufacturing sectors and some retail stores, as early as May 11.
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.
Canada has an army of volunteers ready to help fight COVID-19 — so why aren't we using them? – CBC.ca
Thousands of Canadians have volunteered their time to help track COVID-19 cases across the country, but even Canada’s hardest-hit provinces haven’t used them.
The National COVID-19 Volunteer Recruitment Campaign was launched by the federal government in early April, calling on Canadians from coast-to-coast to step up and help.
“We need you!” the campaign urgently stated.
“We are building an inventory of volunteers from which provincial and territorial governments can draw upon as needed. We welcome ALL volunteers as we are looking for a wide variety of experiences and expertise.”
Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, tweeted the campaign on April 12 to Canadians wondering how they could help with the COVID-19 response.
Wondering how you can help with Canada’s <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> response? Check out the National COVID-19 Volunteer Recruitment Campaign if you can help with: <br><br>- case tracking<br>- contact tracing<br>- health system surge capacity<br>- case data collection and reporting<a href=”https://t.co/YkohwHSjM6″>https://t.co/YkohwHSjM6</a>
Volunteers were called on to help with three key areas: case tracking and contact tracing, assessing health system surge capacity, and case data collection and reporting.
Health Canada and The Public Health Agency of Canada said 53,769 people signed up to assist in the effort by the time the posting closed on April 24.
But weeks later, the volunteer database does not appear to have been used in any province or territory — even in Ontario and Quebec, where 90 per cent of Canada’s new COVID-19 cases are now occurring.
“As contact tracing responsibilities fall under each provincial and territorial jurisdiction, they are determining when and how they will train and deploy volunteers to meet their evolving needs,” a spokesperson for Health Canada and PHAC said.
CBC News reached out to every provincial and territorial health ministry in the country and none could confirm they had used any of the volunteers.
Health Canada said it also shared names from the volunteer database with the Canadian Red Cross to help personnel in long-term care facilities.
But a spokesperson for the organization said they have only “recently started the initial process of reaching out to some of the individuals who submitted their names.”
This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.
Canadians ready to help
Toronto teacher Shalini Basu found herself unexpectedly unemployed due to the global coronavirus pandemic, after her contract ended in March and schools across Ontario closed for the remainder of the school year.
“I read about volunteers for the database on Twitter and thought it would be a great way to use my time and be useful, seeing as though I have a lot of free time these days,” she said.
“I follow the news very closely and it seemed like there was an urgent need for volunteers.”
She filled out an extensive questionnaire online and was excited to help at a time when there wasn’t much else she could do for others — aside from staying home.
But Basu still hasn’t heard anything.
Volunteers said they were extensively questioned on whether they had medical experience, military experience and even veterinary experience to gauge where they could be best put to use.
But despite calling on people with a “wide variety of expertise,” many volunteers are left wondering who exactly the federal government was hoping to use.
“I hope by not being called it also means that a lot of Canadians applied and they filled their quota,” Basu said.
“I’ve been wondering how much this initiative actually got underway.”
Paul Baker also wanted to help.
The retired Guelph, Ont., senior has a background in marketing and felt he could be put to use reaching out to confirmed COVID-19 cases by phone to help track their close contacts.
“There is that first step that’s got to be taken in contact tracing, which is calling the person that’s positive and they know they’re positive, so it’s not going to be a stressful situation,” he said.
“Then you turn that over to somebody who’s got more training in how to actually call somebody and say, ‘You might be COVID positive.'”
Baker spent 45 minutes filling out the questionnaire, and hoped to be called on to help in other areas of the province or the country that had a high volume of new cases or outbreaks in long-term care homes.
But weeks later, he hasn’t received an update.
Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, says the motivation for the campaign was commendable and compared it to a “wartime effort.”
“Congratulations to the government for having that initiative up front, because they recognize contact tracing would be a big part of this,” he said.
“But there clearly wasn’t a subsequent plan to use the roster in a strategic way and there wasn’t a subsequent plan to navigate the federal-provincial divide.”
Because each province and territory has individual public health units that allocate resources and make decisions at a local level, Deonandan says a national database of volunteers would be challenging to roll out effectively.
“I’m not really surprised,” he said.
Even one of his PhD students in epidemiology volunteered and never heard back, Deonandan said.
“What needs to happen, obviously, is for the provinces to take over the contact tracing capacity in a meaningful way and maybe even restart the volunteer rostering process — because I’m still getting people contacting me asking how they can get involved.”
Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, has been calling on Ontario to step up contact tracing as the province continues to move toward reopening despite a steady stream of high caseloads.
“Anyone who knows what it’s like to go after something, can use a telephone and has a high school education can be trained to do the work,” he said. Both his parents — one of whom is a university professor — had volunteered and never heard back.
“I think public health is so overwhelmed that even managing a bunch of new people, whether they’re hired or volunteers, is probably something they can’t handle.”
Contact tracing key to stopping spread
A recent study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal found isolating positive cases and contact tracing played a key role in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Shenzen, China.
Patients that were found to have COVID-19 because they reported symptoms of the disease were identified at an average of 4.6 days after they reported getting sick.
But contact tracing of those close to them, such as in the same household, reduced that time to just 2.7 days on average.
Another recent study published by JAMA Internal Medicine examined the first 100 confirmed COVID-19 patients in Taiwan and found they were most infectious in the days leading up to showing symptoms and in the five days after.
That study stresses the need to identify potential cases that may have been unknowingly exposed, but not know they’re sick yet, to effectively contain the spread of the disease.
“These findings underscore the pressing public health need for accurate and comprehensive contact tracing and testing,” Robert Steinbrook wrote in an editor’s note. “Testing only those people who are symptomatic will miss many infections and render contact tracing less effective.”
The World Health Organization also says contact tracing is “an essential public health tool for controlling infectious disease outbreaks” that can “break the chains of transmission” of COVID-19.
Volunteers could help not only with tracing contacts of COVID-19 patients, but also with cutting down the time it takes to notify public health units of positive cases, Warner said.
“One of the biggest sources of a lag in effective contact tracing is the time it takes from the moment the patient is swabbed to the time that piece of paper arrives in the fax machine at the public health office,” he said.
“We’ve got we’ve got people on the bench willing to work, but they probably don’t even have the capacity to open that list and look at those names because they can’t even do the job they’ve been tasked to do.”
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Provincial border bans during pandemic anger barred Canadians, spark lawsuits – CBC.ca
Lesley Shannon of Vancouver was infuriated when New Brunswick rejected her request last month to enter the province to attend her mother’s burial.
“I’m mystified, heartbroken and angry,” said Shannon on Wednesday. “They’re basically saying my mother’s life has no value.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and the three territories have temporarily barred Canadian visitors from entering their borders unless they meet specific criteria, such as travelling for medical treatment.
The provinces and territories say the extreme measures are necessary to protect their residents from the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 illness.
But the border bans have fuelled criticism from civil rights advocates who argue barring fellow Canadians is unconstitutional. The travel restrictions have also angered Canadians denied entry for travel they believe is crucial.
“I’m not trying to go to my aunt’s or cousin’s funeral. This is my mother, my last living parent,” said Shannon, who grew up in Rothesay, N.B.
Protecting health of its citizens
On Thursday, shortly after CBC News asked for comment on Shannon’s case, the New Brunswick government announced it will reopen its borders starting June 19 to Canadian travellers with immediate family or property in New Brunswick. It also plans to grant entry to people attending a close family member’s funeral or burial.
The province’s Campbellton region, however, remains off limits.
Shannon was happy to hear the news, but is unsure at this point if she’ll be allowed to enter the province in time for her mother’s burial. She would first have to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival, as required the province, and the cemetery holding her mother’s body told her the burial must happen soon.
“I’m just hoping that [permission comes] fast enough for me.”
New Brunswick told CBC News that restricting out-of-province visitors has served as a key way to protect the health of its citizens.
“It’s necessary because of the threat posed by travel: all but a handful of New Brunswick’s [COVID-19] cases are travel cases,” said Shawn Berry, spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, in an email.
Kim Taylor of Halifax was so upset over being denied entry in early May to attend her mother’s funeral in Newfoundland and Labrador she launched a lawsuit against the province.
“I certainly feel like the government has let me and my family down,” she said.
It’s not right. No province in Canada can shut its borders to Canadian citizens.– John Drover, lawyer
Shortly after speaking publicly about her case, Taylor got permission to enter the province —11 days after initially being rejected. But the court challenge is still going ahead — on principle.
“It’s not right. No province in Canada can shut its borders to Canadian citizens,” alleged Taylor’s lawyer, John Drover.
Violates charter, CCLA says
The CCLA argues provinces and territories barring Canadians violates the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that every Canadian has the right to live and work in any province.
The CCLA said if a province or territory limits those rights, its reasons must be justified.
“So far, what we’ve seen from these governments hasn’t convinced us that there is good evidence that these limits are reasonable,” said Cara Zwibel, director of CCLA’s fundamental freedoms program.
“The existence of a virus in and of itself is not enough of a reason.”
Newfoundland and Labrador also face a proposed class-action lawsuit launched this month, representing Canadians denied entry who own property in the province.
“The issue that our clients take is that this [restriction] is explicitly on geographic grounds and that seems to be contrary to the Charter of Rights,” said Geoff Budden, a lawyer with the suit, which has not yet been certified.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government told CBC News it’s reviewing the lawsuits. They have both been filed in the province’s Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball defended the province’s travel restrictions, arguing they remain necessary to avoid spreading the virus.
“This is put in place to protect Newfoundlanders and Labradorians; it’s not about shutting people out,” he said.
WATCH | Inside the fight against COVID-19:
What about a 14-day isolation?
The rest of Canada’s provinces have each advised against non-essential travel for now but are still allowing Canadian visitors to enter their province. Nova Scotia and Manitoba, however, require that visitors self-isolate for 14 days. CCLA’s Zwibel said that rule may be a less restrictive way for a province to protect its residents during the pandemic.
“The Charter of Rights does require that if governments do place limits on rights, they do so in a way that impairs them as little as possible,” she said.
Back in Vancouver, a frustrated Shannon points out that New Brunswick is already allowing temporary foreign workers into the province — as long as they self-isolate for 14 days. However, her invitation is still pending.
“It’s very upsetting to think I’m less welcome in New Brunswick than somebody who was not even born in Canada,” she said.
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