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COVID-19 update: B.C. records 1506 new cases, 10 deaths over weekend – CTV News Vancouver

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VANCOUVER —
As British Columbians enjoyed their first weekend of loosened restrictions, health officials noted another 1,506 cases of COVID-19.

Eight of those were epidemiologically linked, Dr. Bonnie Henry said in a news conference Monday afternoon.

Over the same three-day period, 10 people died of the disease. The province’s death toll has now reached 1,407.

The latest update brings B.C.’s total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic to 88,373.

Of those, 4,987 cases are considered active, with 269 being treated in hospital. The provincial health officer said 76 are in intensive care units across B.C.

More than 9,000 people are under active health monitoring following exposure to a known COVID case.

Henry said 81,890 people, or 92.7 per cent of those diagnosed, are considered to have recovered, meaning they are past the period during which they are contagious.

The province is currently dealing with several outbreaks in health-care facilities, including the latest, which are at the University of British Columbia Hospital and Vancouver General Hospital. 

There are six active outbreaks in long-term care, but currently none in assisted living. Another eight outbreaks are being managed in acute care in B.C.

The only community outbreak Henry mentioned was at a Langley glass factory, which was reported over the weekend. 

Another figure health officials are monitoring closely is the number of variant cases in B.C. In her latest update, the province’s top doctor said 163 cases have been “identified retrospectively” to be variants of concern.

She said this brings the total to 880 known cases of VOCs, 195 of which are still active.

The vast majority, 818, have been diagnosed with the variant often associated with the U.K., known as B.1.1.7, and most of the cases are in the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal Health regions.

Henry’s latest news conference came days after her decision to loosen some of the province’s restrictions. Last week, she announced residents who’d long been told not to socialize with people outside their household can now meet in groups of as many as 10 people, provided they stay outside.

It is not yet known what impact, if any, this change in restrictions will have, as any cases due to exposure over the weekend would not yet have been diagnosed.

“From the start of our COVID-19 pandemic, our provincial response has changed and adapted as we’ve learned – as we’ve learned about the virus, as we’ve learned about the tools that we have available to us, where the risks are the greatest,” Henry said.

“And this will continue to be the case, as we learn more about the variants, about how they’re transmitted, about what is required to manage the ever-evolving challenges of this pandemic.”

As B.C. prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of the provincial state of emergency, Henry reflected on where things were at this time in 2020, and where things are now.

Calling it “an exciting day for all of us,” Henry said B.C.’s mass vaccination clinics for seniors and Elders began Monday

“It’s the start of what is going to be ramped up quickly over the next coming weeks and months to be that everybody in British Columbia has access to one of our safe and effective vaccines.”

As of Monday’s update, 409,103 doses have been given across B.C. Of those, 87,059 are second doses.

The expansion of the vaccine rollout has also led to some people attempting to take advantage of seniors, Henry said, acknowledging a recent scam reported in Metro Vancouver

Police warned residents of West Vancouver last week of scammers claiming they’d come to would-be patients’ homes to give them the shot. The fraudsters then ask for personal information including home addresses and credit card numbers, officers said.

Henry reminded seniors in Monday’s update that health officials will never ask for any credit card information or any payment associated with the vaccine.

Her advice with these calls is to hang up.

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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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