A new study of one of Alberta’s first COVID-19 superspreader events — a bonspiel last March attended by doctors from across Western Canada — suggests that most of the transmission occurred off the ice as curlers gathered to socialize and dine at buffet and banquet tables.
On March 11, 2020, the same day COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, medical professionals gathered at Edmonton’s Granite Club to hit the ice for four days of competition.
The virus moved unseen from curler to curler, eventually infecting at least 40 of the 73 attendees. Many brought the virus home, infecting their families, their work colleagues and, in some cases, even exposing their patients to the virus.
The tournament, the 63rd Annual Western Canadian Medical Bonspiel, became linked to a cluster of cases across the country and raised questions about the efficacy of public health restrictions adopted during the early days of the pandemic.
Some of the doctors who attended have now published research on themselves in an attempt to better understand how the virus proliferated so quickly.
The peer-reviewed report was published Monday in CMAJ Open, an online open-access medical journal.
‘Something to be learned from this’
Dr. Kelly Burak, the study’s lead author and one of the curlers who got infected, said it was important for the researchers to dissect what happened.
The study reinforces the need for public health measures, including masking, physical distancing and limiting the size of social gatherings, during future waves of COVID-19 in Canada, Burak told CBC News on Tuesday.
“The cases just started going up, up, up and the epidemiologist in me woke up and said, ‘You know what, we have to study this,” Burak said.
“There is something to be learned from this.'”
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Three days after the bonspiel ended, the first case was confirmed, leading to the isolation of all attendees within 72 hours. Cases were confirmed in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.
In a statement to CBC News on Tuesday, Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said 54 cases were linked to the outbreak, including 35 Albertans. All are recovered.
Burak, a professor of medicine at the University of Calgary, described the weeks that followed as nerve-racking. He said he remains grateful that no one died or required hospitalization.
“We had to do something positive with it,” he said. “And studying it and sharing the experiences was one of the things that we do [to] make something good come out of something that was otherwise regrettable.”
All 73 curlers — 55 of them were active health-care workers — took part in the study. Their symptoms, travel history, laboratory tests and close contacts were carefully tracked through telephone interviews.
‘Hindsight is 20/20’
Dr. Christopher Fung, an Edmonton-based physician who co-authored the study, is hopeful the research will serve as a caution to Albertans.
Both he and his wife, Dr. Daisy Fung, fell ill after the tournament.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” he said. “We were following every guideline. We were changing things almost on the hour at times with respect to what we could and couldn’t do.
“It just shows that, you know, even when following the guidelines, as recommended, transmission can certainly still happen.”
Burak said the study highlights how quickly the virus can spread. The study found the median time from the beginning of the bonspiel to the onset of symptoms was six days.
On March 19, Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported the first case linked to the bonspiel — a Saskatchewan doctor who had attended the event.
At the time, Hinshaw said the person believed to have introduced COVID-19 to the event was another Saskatchewan player who had returned from a trip to Las Vegas.
By March 21, health officials had already linked 13 cases to the bonspiel.
“With these transmission clusters, it tends to be groups of people that are indoors that are not wearing a mask in close proximity with others,” Burak said.
When the curling event began, Alberta had only 24 confirmed cases of COVID-19. No community spread had been documented in the province at that point.
Precautions at the time were limited. Health regulations allowed for events up to 250 attendees.
Attendees did not wear masks. Physical distancing was not enforced. But hand sanitizer was supplied, players refrained from shaking hands, and the curling rocks were washed regularly.
Of the 73 curlers at the event, 40 later tested positive. Another 14 developed symptoms and were considered probable cases.
In all, 54 attendees were confirmed or probable cases, for an overall “attack rate” of 74 per cent. Attack rate measures the proportion of those who became ill after a specified exposure.
Infection spread to family, colleagues, patients
Serology testing was also done, showing that, of the 40 confirmed cases, 30 had antibodies suggesting they had been exposed to the virus. Of the 14 probable cases, seven also had positive serology results.
A lack of understanding of the virus at the time also contributed to the danger, Burak said.
Ten bonspiel participants identified that they had mild symptoms during the event, but none had symptoms consistent with the clinical case definition being used at the time by public health authorities.
For instance, loss of taste and smell was reported in 39 of the cases — a symptom that had not yet been confirmed by public health officials.
The study found widespread evidence of secondary transmission.
Forty bonspiel participants reported having meetings or seeing patients before entering isolation, and six reported being aware of a co-worker or patient subsequently testing positive for COVID-19, the study found.
Participants reported that 35 family members developed symptoms; 12 later tested positive for COVID-19. Only three of the infected family members had been at the bonspiel.
A ‘natural experiment’
Seventeen of the 18 teams that participated in the bonspiel had at least one confirmed case.
The only team to avoid infection had skipped all social events, further suggesting that social gatherings and meals served as the biggest sources of infection.
Burak described that team’s decision to abstain from social events as a “natural experiment.”
“That team was being extra cautious because of COVID, and it proved to be the right thing to do.”
The study was published the same day that Alberta eased some restrictions on indoor dining and recreation.
Burak said the study reinforces the importance of following health guidelines and leaves him anxious about the newly relaxed restrictions.
“I’m concerned about the variants,” he said. “Although there’s only a small number of variants that have been reported so far in Alberta, we know that they’re more infectious.
“Eleven months ago, we didn’t have community transmission of the strain of COVID that infected our cohort of curlers. It was all thought to be related to travel and went quickly after that.”
What caused Alta.'s fireball Monday? U of A scientists solve 'incredible mystery' – CTV Edmonton
We’re learning more about the fireball so many Albertans saw streak across the dark sky early Monday morning.
Thanks to the University of Alberta’s fireball monitoring network, scientists are now able to say that bright streak was a small piece of a comet that burned up in Earth’s atmosphere.
According to the U of A’s Faculty of Science, Western Canada’s most advanced fireball monitoring network also helped in determining the trajectory and velocity of the meteor, as well as its origin.
“This chunk was largely made of dust and ice, burning up immediately without leaving anything to find on the ground, but instead giving us a spectacular flash,” Patrick Hill, from U of A’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, said in a news release.
That flash was seen throughout Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan at 6:23 a.m. Monday, due to the unusually high altitude of the fireball.
Normally a rocky object will burn up between 15 to 20 kilometres above the ground after entering the atmosphere, but U of A scientists say Monday’s fireball happened at an altitude of 46 kilometres.
That’s how so many people, and cameras, were able to see the natural light show.
“All meteoroids – objects that become meteors once they enter Earth’s atmosphere – enter at the same altitude and then start to burn up with friction,” explained Hill. “Sturdier, rocky meteoroids can sometimes survive to make it to the ground, but because this was going so fast and was made of weaker material, it flashed out much higher in the atmosphere and was visible from much farther away.”
U of A scientists believe the final point on its trajectory was 120 kilometres north of Edmonton.
They say the small piece of comet debris, likely only tens of centimteres across in size, travelled at a rate of more than 220,000 kilometres an hour before entering Earth’s atmosphere.
“This incredible speed and the orbit of the fireball tell us that the object came at us from way out at the edge of the solar system, telling us it was a comet, rather than a relatively slower rock coming from the asteroid belt,” Chris Herd, curator of the UAlberta Meteorite Collection and professor in the Faculty of Science, said in a news release.
“Comets are made up of dust and ice and are weaker than rocky objects, and hitting our atmosphere would have been like hitting a brick wall for something travelling at this speed,” Herd added.
The team from the U of A used dark-sky images from the Hesje Observatory at the Augustana Miquelon Lake Research Station and at Lakeland College’s observation station in Vermilion to make their calculations.
Unlike the Buzzard Coulee meteorite from November 2008, which produced a similar fireball effect, there most likely won’t be anything remaining to find on the ground.
Still, Herd and Hill are pleased with their learnings.
“This is an incredible mystery to have solved,” said Herd. “We’re thrilled that we caught it on two of our cameras, which could give everyone who saw this amazing fireball a solution.”
Take a look around Mars with Perseverance rover's HD photo panorama – Global News
The space agency released the panorama footage on Wednesday, a few days after it successfully landed its Perseverance rover in the Jezero Crater on Mars.
“The newly released panorama reveals the crater rim and cliff face of an ancient river delta in the distance,” NASA said in a news release.
It also reveals the scene around the rover in extremely high detail, so that you can actually see the rivets on the vehicle and the pores in individual Martian rocks.
The interactive footage is a bit like Google Maps on Mars. You can swipe, drag or zoom the camera to take a look at the full 360-degree field of view around Perseverance, thanks to 142 high-definition photos that have been stitched together.
Click on the image below to explore the panorama footage from Mars.
Perseverance captured the photos with its Mastcam-Z camera over the weekend. The high-definition camera can pick out details as small as 3 to 5 millimetres at close range, and between 2 to 3 metres across on the mountainous horizon, according to NASA.
Richmond company goes to Mars
NASA says the view from Perseverance is similar to what it has seen at past landing sites.
“We’re nestled right in a sweet spot, where you can see different features similar in many ways to features found by Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity at their landing sites,” said Jim Bell, NASA’s principal investigator for the camera, in the news release.
NASA researchers have already started picking out interesting sights from the Martian surface, including a rock formation that appears to have been carved by the merciless Martian wind.
The rover’s primary mission is to search for signs of ancient life on Mars, and to eventually send samples of the Martian surface back to Earth for analysis.
One of the first steps in that mission is to scan the crater’s surface for rocks that are worthy of closer inspection.
The crater was once a lake filled with liquid water, but that water disappeared about three billion years ago.
Significance of NASA’s historic landing on Mars
Scientists hope that some forms of microbial life might have lived in that ancient sea, and that their microscopic remains can be found in the rock and soil on the surface today.
The rover will eventually collect several samples, package them up and leave them at designated retrieval points, where a future mission will one day retrieve them and fly them back to Earth.
NASA will also scan the photos for a flat spot where it can launch the rover’s miniature helicopter.
All those efforts start with reviewing the same panorama photos that NASA has now released to the public.
That means you can join scientists in scanning the photos for interesting details on the distant Martian surface.
You probably won’t spot any fossilized aliens laying around — but who says you can’t at least try?
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Mats Zuccarello with a Goal vs. Colorado Avalanche – Yahoo Canada Sports
(Athletes Unlimited – image credit) Brie King enjoys three main passions: volleyball, church and music. “Everything I do for the church is because I want to. It’s giving back for me. Volleyball is my total passion. I love volleyball so much. And music has just been this incredible gift that has really just naturally come easy,” King said. King, 23, of Langley, B.C., is the lone Canadian set to compete in the Athletes Unlimited volleyball season that begins on Saturday. CBCSports.ca has live coverage of select games beginning Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A member of the senior national indoor volleyball team, King played collegiately at Trinity Western in her hometown before skipping her senior season to turn pro in Germany. Now, she’ll compete in the inaugural AU volleyball campaign. The pro women’s sports league launched last summer with softball and will introduce a lacrosse league in July. At the same time, King is continuing to lead Zoom services for the church she and husband Jeremy began during the pandemic. If that wasn’t enough, as a musician and singer she has an album set to be released early in the summer. “I feel like I have to be so wild into volleyball, especially with the format. It’s like a really heavy game and not a lot of off-time. … I thought about buying a guitar or a small little keyboard while I’m here just to have some fun, but who knows?,” King said. Athletes Unlimited employs a different format than the typical North American pro league: players switch teams every week for the six-week duration, with individual points earned and subtracted for things like aces and errors. Points are also earned for winning individual sets and overall matches. Those matches are played in three sets up to 25 points, with the winner of the match the team who scored the most. “They’ve really made it clear [that] a team wins and the games, matches, those all account for a lot more than the individual points. And I think it’s a really accurate reflection, honestly, of what the sport is,” King said. King, No. 26, goes up for a block during a practice. King arrived in Dallas, where the entire season will be played, in early February. After a three-day hotel-room quarantine, she began practice along the 43 other athletes in attendance, including six Olympians. Canada’s women’s indoor volleyball team failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, but King says all eyes are on Paris 2024. She’ll begin her season on a team with Brazilian Olympian Sheilla Castro and Dominican counterpart Bethania De La Cruz. “The experience to play with these players that I’ve grown up watching and learning from, it feels like once in a lifetime. I really can’t believe it. And in a lot of ways, we’re peers in the sense that we’re teammates and we’re working together to achieve the same goal. But I feel like I’m getting so much better as a player and a human by being around such high-level experience,” she said. Proximity to home is key King, a second-round pick in the AU draft, said there’s already been interest from teammates and competitors in joining her Sunday services. She’s already seen the difference even an online congregation can make in our socially distanced lives. “I think that’s been the most beautiful part is just seeing people not have their circumstances change, but be able to change where their heart and mind is at,” she said. Proximity to family became increasingly important to King during the pandemic. She had an offer to play professionally in Turkey, but when a Canadian coach called her with the Athletes Unlimited opportunity, its location was the biggest draw. “It kind of feels like the U.S. and Canada together on the same team in terms of international volleyball. And it’s kind of a dream of every young girl in the U.S. and Canada to get to play closer to home,” King said. Players are paid relative to their final place in the standings. AU matches 50 per cent of that salary to be donated to charities of that individual’s choice. They also receive behind-the-scenes training from a league advisory board that includes NBA MVP Kevin Durant, softball great Jessica Mendoza, Hockey Hall of Famer Angela Ruggiero, World Cup champion Abby Wambach and tennis star Caroline Wozniacki. Those workshops include brand development, financial management and more, all in an effort to make the athletes the focus of the fledgling league. Despite an active church and a budding music career, for the next six weeks King’s main focus will return to her profession. “When I think about when this is done, I’m so excited to feel like I just gained a ton of knowledge and got a lot better at volleyball.”
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