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COVID-19 Update: AHS reports problems with booking website as Pfizer, Moderna vaccines open to people born in 1947 | Workers blast ‘patchwork’ rollout of vaccine – Calgary Herald

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Watch this page throughout the day for updates on COVID-19 in Calgary

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With news on COVID-19 happening rapidly, we’ve created this page to bring you our latest stories and information on the outbreak in and around Calgary.


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My COVID Story: How have you been impacted by coronavirus?

Postmedia is looking to speak with people who may have been impacted by COVID-19 here in Alberta.  Have you undergone a travel-related quarantine? Have you received your vaccine, and if so did you feel any side effects? Have you changed your life for the better because of the pandemic? Send us an email at reply@calgaryherald.com to tell us your experience, or send us a message via this form.

Read our ongoing coverage of personal stories arising from the pandemic.



Calgary pharmacies offering COVID-19 vaccine

This map shows all 48 Calgary pharmacies that are offering the COVID-19 vaccine. Appointments are still necessary and can be booked by contacting the participating pharmacies. Details on eligibility and booking can be found here.


Expanded Alberta vaccine rollout hits sign-up snags

Pharmacist Alison Davison prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Shoppers Drug Mart on 17th Avenue S.W. in Calgary on Friday, March 5, 2021.
Pharmacist Alison Davison prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Shoppers Drug Mart on 17th Avenue S.W. in Calgary on Friday, March 5, 2021. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Some Albertans seeking to book an appointment Monday amid an expanded COVID-19 vaccination program hit roadblocks, according to Alberta Health Services.

The glitches arose as the province launched phase 2A of its vaccination program that allows those born between 1947 and 1956 and First Nations, Inuit and Metis born in 1971 and before to book their immunization appointments starting at 8 a.m. Monday.

“The AHS website is experiencing intermittent issues. The Covid-19 immunization booking tool launch this morning is being delayed as a result,” the AHS tweeted Monday morning.

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Mass vaccination site to open at Telus Convention Centre

The Telus Convention Centre in downtown Calgary.
The Telus Convention Centre in downtown Calgary. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

A large-scale, easily accessible COVID-19 vaccination site will open at the Telus Convention Centre on April 5, Alberta Health Services said in a statement this morning.

The City of Calgary will provide free parking at the site, with bookings to open later in March.

The addition of the convention centre will bring the total number of AHS immunization sites in the Calgary zone to 25.

The convention centre location will operate between eight and 16 hours, seven days a week, for those eligible and with pre-booked vaccination appointments. Hours of operation will be based on vaccine supply.

Last week AHS announced that the Genesis Centre in northeast Calgary is open for vaccinations, capable of administering 60 doses per hour.

Eligible Albertans must book their vaccinations through the AHS online booking site or by calling Health Link at 811. There are no drop-ins allowed.

More to come…


Regular booster shots are the future in battle with COVID-19 virus, says British health official

Crys Harse receives her first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine by pharmacy manager Hemin Patel at the Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacy on 17th Avenue S.W. in Calgary on March 5, 2021.
Crys Harse receives her first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine by pharmacy manager Hemin Patel at the Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacy on 17th Avenue S.W. in Calgary on March 5, 2021. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Regular booster vaccines against the novel coronavirus will be needed because of mutations that make it more transmissible and better able to evade human immunity, the head of Britain’s effort to sequence the virus’s genomes told Reuters.

The novel coronavirus, which has killed 2.65 million people globally since it emerged in China in late 2019, mutates around once every two weeks, slower than influenza or HIV, but enough to require tweaks to vaccines.

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“We have to appreciate that we were always going to have to have booster doses; immunity to coronavirus doesn’t last forever,” Sharon Peacock said.

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COVID-19 one year later: Yoga studio owner faces mounting bills — and an $87,000 lawsuit

Dana Blonde, owner of Yoga Shala, stands outside her location in northwest Calgary. The COVID-19 pandemic has been rough on her business and she is in an ongoing fight with her landlord.
Dana Blonde, owner of Yoga Shala, stands outside her location in northwest Calgary. The COVID-19 pandemic has been rough on her business and she is in an ongoing fight with her landlord. Photo by Gavin Young/Postmedia

On March 16, 2020, one day before the Alberta government declared a state of public emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic, Dana Blonde shut down — she thought temporarily — the inner-city yoga studio she had run for 17 years.

Almost one year later, on March 3, 2021, she was sued by her landlord for $87,000 in unpaid rent.

The two events together book-end what has been the most stressful year in the 50-year-old Calgary woman’s life. Like many small business owners, Blonde has spent the last 12 months trying desperately to stay afloat — and has been dealt one gut punch after another.

“It’s mind-blowing to me that it’s been a year,” Blonde said, of the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. “I’m a very resilient person. I haven’t cried this whole time. But when I got this statement (of claim) from the landlord, all day long I was trying not to cry. It’s just like being kicked in the knees at the worst time ever.”

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Green shoots of hope for a pandemic-free summer in Canada, but leaders urge caution

People line up outside of a Shoppers Drug Mart in Toronto for their COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday. Experts say the vaccine offers hope for a quicker return to normal life.
People line up outside of a Shoppers Drug Mart in Toronto for their COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday. Experts say the vaccine offers hope for a quicker return to normal life. Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post

The warmer weather is arriving, daylight saving time returned Sunday and the exasperatingly slow vaccine rollout in Canada is sputtering to life.

While acknowledging there are good reasons for optimism, and an end to the year-long COVID-19 pandemic, the overarching messaging from Canada’s leaders hasn’t budged in a meaningful way from earlier scripts.

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On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam encouraged Canadians to “keep to a steady and cautious pace.”

“Racing towards the finish line could cost us what we’ve gained,” said Tam, while Trudeau stuck to his “by end of September” timeline for having all adult Canadians who want it vaccinated.

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Alberta detects first cases of Brazil variant, prepares to expand vaccine eligibility

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta

Alberta has detected its first two cases of the highly contagious COVID-19 variant that was identified in Brazil, P.1, on Sunday as the province prepares to once again expand vaccine eligibility.

The two cases of the P.1 strain have been linked to travel and are both located in the Calgary zone, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, on her Twitter account Sunday. The two are already isolating and their close contacts are being offered testing twice.

This is the third variant strain to be detected in Alberta, though P.1 has been located in other provinces, including Ontario and B.C.

“I know any new variant cases can create anxiety but remember we are working hard to prevent their spread. These variants are spread by close contact and measures that protect you from other strains — distancing, masking, washing hands — will also protect you from this variant,” said Hinshaw on Twitter.

The province also reported another 63 cases of the B.1.1.7 strain that was first identified in the U.K. and one case of the B.1.351 variant discovered in South Africa.

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East Coasters proud of COVID record, but some worry over heavy cost to mental health

A swab is taken at a COVID-19 testing site on the Dalhousie University campus in Halifax on Nov. 25, 2020.
A swab is taken at a COVID-19 testing site on the Dalhousie University campus in Halifax on Nov. 25, 2020. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Atlantic Canada’s political leaders have touted the region as an example to the world after the novel coronavirus was repeatedly beaten back by a population that dutifully followed orders to isolate and physically distance.

Yet, a year after the first cases, the side-effects of declining mental health and damaged livelihoods remain costs that some psychologists and entrepreneurs say haven’t been fully recognized. And as residents reflect on the year past, their reactions vary from pride to sadness, as they recall both lives saved and the lasting damage many have endured.

“We’ve learned through this that Atlantic Canadians tend to respect authority and government a lot more than other regions,” said Donald Savoie, author of multiple books on the East Coast’s economy and politics.

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Sunday

Africa Centre food bank to stay open after community support

Africa Centre volunteers work to create hampers for the Africa Diaspora Food Bank.
Africa Centre volunteers work to create hampers for the Africa Diaspora Food Bank. Photo by Supplied by the Africa Centre

An Alberta food bank that’s been providing hampers to racialized groups through the COVID-19 pandemic will remain open after seeing significant community support in recent days.

The Africa Diaspora Food Bank, run by Black-led organizations in Alberta, launched last spring after the start of the pandemic to provide more than 100 culturally specific hampers to families in need each week.

Earlier this week, organizers said they were at risk of closing their doors due to a lack of funding.

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But a recent surge of donations means the group can keep distributing food packages through to the start of the fall.

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Sunday

AstraZeneca finds no evidence of increased blood clot risk from vaccine

A medical worker prepares a dose of AstraZeneca “Covishield” coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine produced by Serum Institute of India at Municipal Gymnasium in Linares, Mexico on Feb. 17, 2021.
A medical worker prepares a dose of AstraZeneca “Covishield” coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine produced by Serum Institute of India at Municipal Gymnasium in Linares, Mexico on Feb. 17, 2021. Photo by Daniel Becerril /REUTERS

AstraZeneca Plc said on Sunday a review of safety data of people vaccinated with its COVID-19 vaccine has shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

AstraZeneca’s review, which covered more than 17 million people vaccinated in the United Kingdom and European Union, comes after health authorities in some countries suspended the use of its vaccine over clotting issues.

“A careful review of all available safety data of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and UK with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia, in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country,” the company said.

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Sunday

‘Patchwork quilt’ approach to COVID-19 vaccine rollout frustrates worker groups

A pharmacist prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Shoppers Drug Mart on 17th Avenue S.W. on March 5, 2021.
A pharmacist prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Shoppers Drug Mart on 17th Avenue S.W. on March 5, 2021. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

The rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations across the country is frustrating several groups of workers who identify as front-line employees and want to be bumped up in the queue.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization makes recommendations for the use of vaccines and groups that should be prioritized, but each province has the responsibility for health care.

“It is frustrating,” said Shelley Morse, president of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, in Wolfville, N.S.

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“We know that (the committee) is calling for prioritization of different working groups. And when they call for people in ‘congregate settings’ to be prioritized that would include teachers and education workers.”

She said the federation’s 300,000 members who work in classrooms are at risk and should be included in the second phase of vaccinations across Canada.

Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and the Northwest Territories are including teachers in that phase, Morse said, but not other jurisdictions.

She said the federal and provincial governments need to sit down and agree to a national list.

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Sunday

GraceLife Church, charged as entity for COVID-19 violations, still drawing crowds

Hundreds of churchgoers defied Alberta government pandemic health restrictions and flocked to GraceLife Church on Sunday, March 14, 2021.
Hundreds of churchgoers defied Alberta government pandemic health restrictions and flocked to GraceLife Church on Sunday, March 14, 2021. Photo by Larry Wong/Postmedia

Less than a week after it was charged as an entity for breaching COVID-19 public health orders, GraceLife Church held another packed service Sunday morning and authorities did not intervene.

Two RCMP police officers, along with one Alberta Health Services employee, were parked in police cruisers off the church property about 5 km west of the city limits on Hwy 627, prior to the service. They did not enter the church property or engage with churchgoers and left about half an hour after the service began.

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Sunday

‘One of our finer moments:’ Pandemic led to massive scramble to get Canadians home

An aerial view from a drone shows the cruise ship Coral Princess after it docked at Port Miami on April 4, 2020 in Miami, Florida.
An aerial view from a drone shows the cruise ship Coral Princess after it docked at Port Miami on April 4, 2020 in Miami, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Global Affairs headquarters transformed into a travel agency. The department’s emergency response centre, normally staffed by two dozen people, swelled to 600, swallowing up offices, the library and entire floors of the Lester B. Pearson Building in Ottawa.

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When countries began locking down, imposing road closures and checkpoints, there were calls to foreign governments to negotiate landing rights and safe ground passage for desperate passengers.

“Everyone became a consular official, everyone became a travel agent,” recalled then-foreign affairs minister Francois-Philippe Champagne. “I remember texting my counterpart in Peru to open the airspace.”

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Sunday

Experts say Quebecers may be less willing to comply with curfew as days get longer

A police cruiser patrols Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. The Quebec government has imposed a curfew to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
A police cruiser patrols Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. The Quebec government has imposed a curfew to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

MONTREAL — The curfew imposed across Quebec in a bid to quell the spread of COVID-19 is coming under renewed scrutiny as public health experts question whether residents will still be willing to comply with the measure as the days grow longer.

The curfew — which came into effect in early January — has corresponded with a steep decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily in the province.

It also appears to have broad public support, with 70 per cent of Quebecers in favour of the measure, according to a survey released Tuesday by the province’s public health institute.

But that support might decline once the curfew means staying in when it’s still light outside, said Kim Lavoie, the chair of behavioral medicine at the University of Quebec at Montreal.

Read more.


Sunday

More provinces expanding vaccine rollouts as COVID-19 cases rise nationally

Chief public health officer Theresa Tam prepares to give a COVID-19 briefing in Ottawa on Jan. 15, 2021.
Chief public health officer Theresa Tam prepares to give a COVID-19 briefing in Ottawa on Jan. 15, 2021. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Some provinces are expanding their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts amid what Canada’s chief public health officer describes as a recent increase in the number of new cases across the country.

Dr. Theresa Tam says health officials are observing a rise in new infections after several weeks of levelling off.

Tam expressed concern over an increase in cases linked to more contagious virus variants, as well as a higher infection rate in Canadians age 20 to 39, who she described in a statement as more mobile and socially connected.

Her statement adds urgency to the vaccine effort, which is ramping up in several provinces as more doses arrive.

Read more.

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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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