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COVID-19 likely spread by building ventilation, say Canadian researchers working on an HVAC fix – SaltWire Network

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The outbreak of COVID-19 at a restaurant in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou was a puzzle.

The suspected index patient was a visitor from the coronavirus’s epicentre in Wuhan. But the eight other customers who later tested positive were not sitting close enough for droplet transmission, and most of the patrons and staff avoided infection altogether.

A team of local scientists eventually came to an eye-opening conclusion about the episode: tiny particles of virus had hitched a ride on currents created by the eatery’s air-conditioning.

For a group of civil engineers at the University of Alberta, the finding was no surprise. In their world, they say, it’s well known that building ventilation systems are efficient discriminators of virus and other pathogens, and believe the COVID-19 bug is no exception.

Aided by a $440,000 federal-government grant , they’re now working on ways that buildings could change their HVAC set-ups to curb the risk of infection, what the researchers call a “non-pharmaceutical” intervention against the disease.

We want to save lives, let’s cut right to the chase

“We want to save lives, let’s cut right to the chase,” said Prof. Brian Fleck, part of the project. “There are so many, many, many buildings … This effects absolutely everybody. Billions of people. If we are able to cut down the transmission rate by a per cent, that’s a lot of people.”

The engineers’ belief in the importance of building ventilation as a transmitter of the COVID-19 virus is not universally held.

The World Health Organization and other public-health bodies , citing the science to date, say the pathogen is spread almost entirely by droplets, heavier particles emitted mostly when infected people cough or sneeze, and which fall down within a short distance. Hence the two-metre rule for social distancing.

“The HVAC systems in most non-medical buildings play only a small role in infectious disease transmission, including COVID-19,” argued the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers last month.

But Chinese and Australian air-quality experts, citing in part the experience with SARS, another coronavirus, argued in a paper earlier this month that as droplets from an infected person start to evaporate, the resulting smaller particles can indeed become airborne.

They point to evidence that passengers confined to their cabins on cruise ships like the Diamond Princess were infected through the vessels’ air ducts.

“It is highly likely that the SARS-CoV-2 virus also spreads by air,” they conclude, urging “all possible” action in response, including modifications to ventilation systems. “We predict that … failure to immediately recognize and acknowledge the importance of airborne transmission and to take adequate actions against it will result in additional cases.”

Then there was the Guangzhou restaurant case, detailed in a U.S. Centers for Disease Control online journal recently. Researchers concluded flow from an air conditioner moved over three tables, carrying virus from the infected patron at the middle one to the far table, then back to the diners closest to the air conditioner.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) engineers have long known that tiny particles of pathogen can be carried in the air that is circulated, heated and cooled in modern buildings, said Fleck. He pointed to Legionnaires disease, a bacterial pneumonia first traced to a hotel’s air-conditioning system.

The particle can stay airborne long enough to go all the way through the system and then pop out in somebody else’s office

“This has been on people’s radar for quite a while,” he said. “Somebody on a different floor sneezes …The particle can stay airborne long enough to go all the way through the system and then pop out in somebody else’s office.”

There are various ways that risk can be lessened, including use of filters that catch a greater number of those particles, and drawing more fresh air into a system. It also is likely that higher levels of humidity – a factor that only some Canadian buildings can adjust – will help kill off the virus, said Fleck.

But each of those changes carries a cost. Adding more fresh air can require additional heat or air conditioning. Heavier filters means more energy is needed to push the air through them. And more humidity can lead to mould, he noted.

“This will make for difficult decision making.”

Funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research, the University of Alberta project is led by engineering professor Lexuan Zhong and also involves pediatrics professor Lisa Hartling. It consists of three phases: systematically reviewing literature on air circulation and viruses, determining what strategies would be effective and then carrying out a detailed audit of all the buildings on the Edmonton campus to create a real-world model of what should be done.

The team hopes to have solid results by the summer of 2021, said Fleck.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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Nova Scotia court ruling orders province to better protect endangered species – CTV News

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HALIFAX —
The Nova Scotia government has failed to meet “certain statutory duties” to protect species at risk says a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge, who also ordered the province’s minister of lands and forestry to fulfil his obligations under the Endangered Species Act.

In a ruling issued Friday, Justice Christa Brothers says the public record has shown a “chronic and systemic failure” to implement action required under the act.

“The minister and the department must uphold the law, all the more so when their duties are as plain as they are in this case,” Brothers wrote. “If they conduct themselves unlawfully without good reason, the court must hold them to account.”

The judge quoted from the 1971 Dr. Seuss book “The Lorax” in the preamble to her 58-page ruling: “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Brothers also cited a 2016 report by the provincial auditor general that criticized department inaction, a followup report by the department on the auditor’s recommendations in 2018, and the 2018 Lahey Report on forestry practices to back her conclusion.

The ruling is the result of a judicial review application by the Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists, the Blomidon Naturalists Society, the Halifax Field Naturalists and wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft that was heard last fall.

The groups argued that Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin has failed to meet requirements under the act, including requirements to devise and implement recovery plans for species at risk, create recovery teams and identify core habitats.

They cited six animal and plant species as examples — the mainland moose, Canada warbler, eastern wood pewee, wood turtle, ram’s head lady’s slipper and black ash.

“Nature won,” Bancroft said of the court ruling in an interview Monday. “The question is whether they (politicians) will actually do anything or not.”

Bancroft said he believes nature has been compromised over the years on many fronts because of an “industrial agenda” within the department, particularly when it comes to forestry practices.

“At least we got to the bottom of the species at risk issue effectively in law, so I’m grateful to the lawyers and Judge Brothers for that.”

Brothers noted that in the case of the Canada warbler, which was listed as endangered in 2013, the minister had one year to appoint a recovery team under the act.

But she said a team wasn’t appointed until March 2019, shortly after the naturalist groups filed for judicial review and “some five years after the time frame contemplated by the Endangered Species Act.”

Brothers said little action also occurred when it came to the ram’s head lady’s slipper, a plant listed as endangered in 2007.

“The minister neither appointed a recovery team nor prepared a plan in 2008,” she wrote. “According to the record, a draft recovery plan was created in 2009. There is nothing in either the record or submissions to explain why this plan was never finalized.”

Brothers said a plants recovery team was appointed in May 2019 that included the lady slipper and a recovery plan is pending.

“What of the 11 years that elapsed between the designation of the species and the appointment of the team?” the ruling asks.

The judge also said lawyers for the province had cited “several somewhat vague suggestions” of limited departmental resources as justification for the delay.

“There is no apparent support in the record for the claim that institutional restraints, such as lack of resources, are at fault for this failure to observe statutory requirements,” she said.

During two days of hearings last September the lawyer for the naturalist groups, James Simpson, argued that the language in the act, with its use of the word “shall”, creates an imperative for the department to enforce the existing law.

Brothers agreed in her ruling. “The minister has no discretion to avoid this duty,” she wrote.

In an email, Lands and Forestry Department spokeswoman Lisa Jarrett said there’s no word yet on a potential appeal of the ruling.

“The province has just received the ruling and is currently reviewing it to determine next steps,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2020.

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Nova Scotia researchers to evaluate treatments for moderate, severe COVID-19 – The Telegram

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A Nova Scotia study will look into the effectiveness of treatments for hospital patients suffering from moderate to severe COVID-19. 

The study, called CO-VIC for COVID victory, will involve about 600 patients from Nova Scotia Health Authority sites across the province, an NSHA news release said Monday. 

The study, which the authority is doing in conjunction with Dalhousie University, will test out potential therapies and their impact on COVID-19 symptoms. 

“When additional cutting-edge therapies become available, they will also be assessed,” the release said. “Personalized measurements of immune response will help develop future therapies and predict when and how severe COVID-19 happens.”

The work, which is being led by infectious disease clinician and researcher Dr. Lisa Barrett, aims to advance our understanding of how the immune system responds to COVID and help develop future treatments and second-wave vaccines.

 “We need the best knowledge of treatments and immunity, to save lives now and in the future as we continue to fight COVID-19.”

– CO-VIC study leader Dr. Lisa Barrett

CO-VIC is partially funded by the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Health Research Coalition.

 “As COVID-19 related deaths increase in the older population, in the young who didn’t ever expect to be ill, and in health care workers, our research community feels the overwhelming urgency to protect Nova Scotians with research that tests treatments, predicts disease, and promotes understanding of immunity,” Barrett said in the release.

 “We need the best knowledge of treatments and immunity, to save lives now and in the future as we continue to fight COVID-19.”

The NSHA called the treatment study an integral part of Nova Scotia’s pandemic response. Compared with other provinces, Nova Scotia’s population includes a high proportion of vulnerable people who are older, have underlying respiratory conditions or are immunosuppressed.

“These are all people at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease and this work may aid in protecting our population.”

Most Nova Scotians will be eligible to take part at hospitals outside traditional research facilities to ensure fair access to research and potential therapies, the release said. 

“While data will be gathered from Nova Scotians, for Nova Scotians, the study is designed to mirror larger international trials to promote the comparison of global data. This will allow the research team to leverage international information so it can be applied here in Nova Scotia.”

For more information, visit the study website

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Nova Scotia reports one new case of COVID-19, bringing total to 1057 – Winnipeg Free Press

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HALIFAX – Nova Scotia is reporting one new case of COVID-19 bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the province to 1,057.

Health officials say there is one long-term care home in the province with active cases of the virus.

Northwood in Halifax currently has 10 residents and four staff active cases.

Six people are currently in hospital, with two of those patients in intensive care.

To date, Nova Scotia has registered 42,426 negative test results and 60 deaths.

Officials say 984 people have now recovered from the illness.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2020.

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