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COVID-19 cases spreading rapidly, contact tracers stretched thin – BC News – Castanet.net

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With case numbers rising rapidly in British Columbia in recent weeks, Dr. Bonnie Henry had some serious words for British Columbians Thursday.

Another 1,130 new cases of the virus were identified in the province over the past two days, the majority of which came from the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions.

During Thursday’s press conference, Dr. Henry said despite the hiring of hundreds of new contact tracers, they’re being stretched thin in the Metro Vancouver area.

“Our ability in public health to find everybody in a timely way, particularly in Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal regions, has put stretched to the max and we are falling a little bit behind,” Dr. Henry said.

“We need to get our social interactions back to those levels where our public health contact tracing can control the spread. That is in our hands.”

She noted that the goal is not get the number of cases down to zero, as that won’t be possible until a vaccine is developed and distributed, but to control its spread. Dr. Henry said a vaccine is expected sometime next year.

“We need to find ways to live with [the virus] without putting people at risk, particularly our seniors and our elders,” she said. “We are in a challenging time, perhaps the most challenging time of this pandemic.”

Social interactions in households and other gatherings continue to be the primary source of transmission across the province. But in recent weeks, this transmission has started to spread to older British Columbians.

“We’re starting to see young people again driving infections in the province, whether it’s through social interactions primarily, whether it’s through work interactions, and what we’re seeing now is spill over into older age groups,” Dr. Henry said. “Once again, we’re starting to see spill over into long-term care homes where we know its an older population that are more likely to have severe illness.”

As of Thursday, 155 people were hospitalized with the virus, 44 of whom are in ICU.

“That’s our signal, it’s time to step back. We have to step back from our social interactions so we can protect our community’s health and wellness in the long term,” she said.

Dr. Henry noted that as public health officials are learning more about the virus, and as the virus appears to spread easier in cooler weather, some businesses COVID-19 plans are not adequate. Last weekend, she ordered all indoor fitness businesses in the Lower Mainland to close, as the virus was spreading rapidly in those environments.

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Province reports 1,707 new COVID cases today – SooToday

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Public Health Ontario has confirmed 1,707 new cases of COVID-19 today, which is 39 fewer than yesterday. There were 1,746 cases reported on Monday.

Of today’s new cases, most are confined to the Greater Toronto Area. There are 373 new cases confirmed in Peel Region, 727 cases in Toronto and 168 in York Region; that represents 1,268 — or 74 per cent — of the new lab-confirmed cases reported over the past 24 hours.

The agency also reported seven more deaths related to the coronavirus over the past 24 hours. Yesterday, eight deaths were reported.

More than 1,373 cases have been resolved since yesterday. 

Over the past 24 hours, 34,600 tests were completed.

Since the start of the pandemic, public health labs in Ontario have processed more than 6.3 million COVID-19 tests.

Throughout Ontario, there are 645 people currently hospitalized with the coronavirus.

  • Algoma Public Health: 60 cases, rate of 52.4 per 100,000 people. There are three known active cases.
  • North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit: 79 cases, rate of 54.7 per 100,000 people. There are 10 known active cases.
  • Porcupine Health Unit: 106, rate of 127 per 100,000 people. There are no known active cases. 
  • Public Health Sudbury and Districts: 230 cases, rate of 113.1 per 100,000 people. There are eight known active cases.
  • Timiskaming Health Unit: 18 cases, rate of 55.1 per 100,000 people. There is one known active case. 
  • Northwestern Health Unit: 121 cases, rate of 123.2 per 100,000 people. The health unit has also reported two probable cases that are under investigation. There are 17 known active cases.
  • Thunder Bay District Health Unit: 308 cases, rate of 168 per 100,000 people.There are 93 known active cases.

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Some Ottawa Public Health programs slowly returning – CBC.ca

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has begun ramping up some community programs that were suspended at the start of the pandemic, but the city’s medical officer of health said not all will return to their pre-COVID-19 selves.

The pandemic didn’t just throw OPH’s budget into disarray but also how it offered many of its services, including chronic disease prevention work.

“These kinds of teams are completely redeployed to the COVID-19 response,” said Dr. Vera Etches, the city’s medical officer of health, on Monday.

OPH also had to shutter its four dental clinics across the city that offered services to people who had difficulties paying for care elsewhere.

The St. Laurent Boulevard clinic reopened for emergency services last week, while the Wabano Centre clinic should reopen part time on Thursday, Etches said.

Ottawa’s medical officer of health Vera Etches during a school visit in early September. Etches says some of OPH’s programs have gone virtual, while others have been scaled back or cancelled altogether. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Those clinics together saw 140 clients a day before the pandemic hit, said OPH’s director of health promotion and chief nursing officer Esther Moghadam, and the hope is to get the other two open so vulnerable populations have easier access to one nearby. 

While the clinics were closed, Moghadam said dentists across the community stepped up to help and will likely have to continue to do so until the clinics are at full capacity.

“It’s still very early … There is going to be a need that we won’t be able to address fully,” she said.

Another program that fell by the wayside was the Healthy Growth and Development Program, which Etches said is currently running at 50 per cent capacity.

Its breastfeeding support work is moving online or having mothers come to OPH or other community partners instead of nurses visiting them in their homes.

Two mothers breastfeed their babies in Spain in a file photo. Ottawa Public Health’s Healthy Growth and Development Program, which offers breastfeeding support, is running at about 50 per cent capacity and has had to prioritize who gets an at-home visit from a public health nurse. (Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)

Not all programs are set to return to the way they once were.

“We’re looking to learn from the new tools we have, the innovative approaches that can be built upon and the partnerships that we have grown to extend some of this work into the future,” said Etches.

That future shift includes those services tailored at chronic diseases, which she said will change because private companies have been stepping up to help protect and promote employee health.

COVID-19 in 2021

Ottawa’s Board of Health unanimously passed its largest budget ever at its meeting Monday night, with $24 million of its $98.1 million budget for 2021 expected to cover a number of one-time COVID-19 expenses

Even with positive vaccine updates, Etches said next year’s budget forecasts a similar amount of COVID-19 cases, outbreaks, follow-up and communication work in 2021 as exists now.

It is also expecting to help provide that COVID-19 vaccine to Ottawa residents “which we are hopeful, initially, will protect against hospitalizations and deaths in the people most at risk,” she said.

“That would be excellent.”

The budget will go to city council for final approval on Dec. 9.

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Parents welcome asymptomatic COVID-19 tests in schools, even if the news isn't always good – CBC.ca

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It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster weekend for Toronto father Yaser Nadaf, after Ontario’s new asymptomatic testing for schools in COVID-19 hot spots turned up 19 new positive cases at his children’s school.

While his daughter and her Grade 3 class were cleared to return to school on Monday, his son’s Grade 2 class must self-isolate for 14 days, even though the youngster himself was among those who tested negative.

The weekend’s testing blitz at Thorncliffe Park Public School — the first Toronto District School Board (TDSB) location selected for the voluntary testing pilot announced last week — saw 14 classes affected and sent home for two weeks. However, the rest of the school will remain open, according to direction from Toronto Public Health.

Nadaf is rolling with it, saying he believes teachers and staff have been trying their best to maintain health and safety precautions and protocols.

“What can we do? This is going on everywhere in the world,” he said. “They try their best, but at the same time they cannot prevent it completely.”

Testing asymptomatic students and staff is currently being offered at designated schools in Toronto, Peel and York regions and Ottawa — four Ontario regions with a high number of active COVID-19 cases.

Thorncliffe Park Public School was the first Toronto District School Board location selected to participate in a new voluntary asymptomatic testing program at schools in four COVID hot spots in Ontario. The testing found 19 positive cases, and 14 classes were sent home to self-isolate. (CBC)

The goal is to improve tracking of the coronavirus and prevent transmission within schools, as well as to inform future public health decisions. While parents and health experts seem to be applauding the pilot, some are also highlighting shortcomings in how it’s being rolled out.

Over the weekend, testing also began in Ottawa at Manordale Public School, part of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. Amber Mammoletti, an occasional teacher working at two schools this fall, dropped by on Sunday to be tested with her son, Flynn.

“I think there’s people walking around not realizing they have it — no symptoms — so it’s just better to keep everyone safe: Get tested if you can and see what happens,” she said.

WATCH | How testing helped Cornell University become a model of COVID-19 prevention:

At the start of the school year, Cornell University implemented a strategy of regular testing and robust contact tracing on campus. The plan was expensive, but it’s prevented any major COVID-19 outbreaks at the New York institution. 8:19

School boards are working with local public health authorities to determine which schools to target over the next four weeks, but the expectation is that new positives will undoubtedly emerge, TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said.

“The 19 cases we’ve learned about over the weekend [at Thorncliffe Park PS] as a result of the testing is a concern, but it’s not unexpected,” he said Monday.

“While this information is concerning, it really is the information that our public health officials need to know, because it gives them a better snapshot of how many of those asymptomatic people are positive cases of COVID.”

Despite the batch of positive cases arising from this first weekend, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce reiterated his assertion that “99.9 per cent of Ontario students are COVID-free” during a press briefing on Monday afternoon.

Acknowledging that “we still have work to do” in tracking COVID-19 cases in communities, he characterized the new testing initiative as an extension of the existing safety measures his ministry had announced.

“The fact that hundreds of children, students and staff have gotten tested [at Thorncliffe Park PS] in conjunction with the local public health unit I think underscores that the plan in place is … working hard to mitigate any further spread: identifying COVID cases, isolating them or moving them from the school, so we don’t have spreaders within the school.” 

‘Canaries in the coal mine’

A targeted campaign of testing in schools — which in most neighbourhoods are considered trusted, known places — is a welcome tool that adds to the barometer of what’s happening in the communities they’re located in, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician and assistant professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.

“Parents who may not be encouraged to go get tested in their local communities will readily take their kids to the school, which is a place they know,” he said.

“Things like this are going to be canaries in the coal mine. You kind of get a better sense of what’s happening in the community by doing these local testing strategies.”

Manordale Public School in Ottawa was also among the schools selected for the pilot project. Students and staff lined up on Sunday for testing. (CBC)

He added the caveat, however, that the type of test being used will likely cause more chaos for families and schools.

For the pilot, Ontario is using PCR testing, which detects the genetic material of a virus. Although considered the gold standard, it’s also so sensitive it would “pick up kids who are infectious, as well as kids who were infectious two, four, six weeks ago,” Chagla said.

He suggested that they could have chosen rapid antigen tests, which flag active infections by identifying proteins on the surface of infectious virus particles.

The rapid antigen tests may offer a more precise picture “of who is really a threat to the community versus who had COVID six weeks ago, where they’re not really a threat,” Chagla said.

WATCH | Nova Scotia offers rapid COVID-19 tests in Halifax for asymptomatic cases:

Health officials in Nova Scotia offered rapid COVID-19 testing in Halifax to reduce the virus’s spread in the province by catching asymptomatic cases. 2:01

Though Toronto parent Jessica Lyons welcomes the introduction of asymptomatic testing, she said it comes months late and should be offered more widely.

“This is desperately needed,” said the mother of two school-aged children and an organizer with the Ontario Parent Action Network.

“Much more testing in schools — to make it accessible, to make it easy for parents and families and students to do — is really essential. So we support this pilot, obviously, but we think that it should have come … weeks and weeks ago, and it needs to be expanded.”

PCR testing being used in the pilot project is considered the gold standard, but it’s also so sensitive it would ‘pick up kids who are infectious, as well as kids who were infectious two, four, six weeks ago,’ said Dr. Zain Chagla. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Back in Thorncliffe Park, among the Toronto communities hardest hit by COVID-19 this year, parents in the neighbourhood expressed concern about the new positive cases found through the testing initiative. But they’re also adamant about one thing: their schools staying open.

Remote learning last spring was “really hard for kids. We’ve seen the mental stress on our child and other kids,” said Osamah Aldhad, father of a second grader who he said really missed being at school.

“When we were kids, you know, we used to run away from school,” Aldhad noted.

“Now they’re actually really wanting to go to school, which is really important for them.”

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