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Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

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OTTAWA —
For the last four months, Canada’s public health experts have been racing to stop the spread of COVID-19 by trying to figure out how everyone is getting it, and whom they may have given it to.

But even the best efforts have left doctors stymied about the source of more than one-third of this country’s known COVID-19 infections. Not knowing where cases come from makes outbreaks that much harder to stamp out.

Now medical researchers and supercomputers are turning genetics labs into virus detective agencies, looking first to find the novel coronavirus itself within blood samples from thousands of infected patients, and then comparing all of those isolated viruses to each other looking for places they differ.

Every close match will draw a line from patient to patient, ultimately painting a picture of how the virus spread.

“This is the big effort over the next four weeks,” said Andrew McArthur, director of the biomedical discovery and commercialization program at McMaster University.

“What’s going to come out of there pretty soon is a glimpse of what just happened, how did it move around the province, how did it move between provinces or how big was Pearson (airport) in the early days of the airport being open.”

Knowing how the virus spread will show where there were weaknesses in public health measures early on, said McArthur. Being able to keep divining genetic codes from samples will mean when there are flare-ups of cases, they can be quickly compared to each other to see if they’re all related or are coming from multiple sources.

It means, for example, a long-term care centre should be able to quickly know if its 10 new cases are because one case spread widely or arose from multiple carriers coming into the facility.

“That’s a very different infection-control problem,” said McArthur.

It also means that maybe, just maybe, the second COVID-19 wave most think is coming won’t be as bad, or as hard to control, as the first, because the sources can be isolated very quickly.

“A second wave is likely,” McArthur said. “But we’ve never spent this kind of money and effort before, either, so maybe we’ll beat it.”

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003.

This genetic mapping is constantly on the look-out for mutations. Thus far, SARS-CoV-2, the official name for the virus that causes COVID-19, has not mutated as quickly as many others do. Influenza, for instance, changes so much over a year the vaccine has to be retooled every summer to keep up.

But there are enough subtle changes still happening among the 28,000 individual markers that make up a genome for SARS-CoV-2 that cases can be traced backward and linked to the ones that came before. McArthur said it takes a lot of data storage, a lot of high-capacity computer analysis, and a lot of money, to run the comparisons among them all.

The federal government put $40 million on the table in April for genetic research on COVID-19. Half is to keep tabs on the virus as it spreads, look for any changes it undergoes, and map its pathway across the country. The other half is to look at the genetic structures of the patients who get infected, trying to answer the puzzling question of why some people die and others have symptoms so mild they never even know they are sick.

Genome Canada is administering the project, with six regional genomics agencies overseeing the work locally and labs like McArthur’s doing the testing and analysis. The funding is intended to create genetic maps from 150,000 patients. Canada thus far has had about 108,000 positive cases, and the expectation is that almost every one of them will be gene-mapped.

The results will be loaded into a global site comparing all known infections of COVID-19, but also be analyzed for national and regional reports.

In New York, genetic sequencing was used to figure out that COVID-19 in Manhattan wasn’t coming from China and Iran as imagined, but from Europe. In Canada, it is suspected that much of the virus came into this country from travellers returning from the United States in early March. But the work is only now beginning to confirm that belief.

McArthur estimates the first data will be available for Ontario in about four weeks, but warns it will take many more months to complete all of the tests. His lab sequenced 600 samples on Wednesday alone.

Overall, McArthur expects the genetics project to last for two years.

 

Source:- CTV News

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Alberta to provide COVID-19 update Wednesday afternoon – Global News

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health will provide an update on the province’s number of new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus Wednesday afternoon.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw will provide the update at 3:30 p.m.

The news conference will be streamed live in this article.

Read more:
85 additional cases of COVID-19 in Alberta Tuesday, over half of them recorded in the Edmonton zone

On Tuesday, the province saw a slight decrease in active cases, with 85 people testing positive for COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 1,004, 84 less than the day before.

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Of those active cases, 64 people were in hospital with the virus and 14 people were receiving treatment in intensive care.

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Since Alberta’s first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus back in March, as of Aug. 11, Alberta has recorded 11,772, of those, 10,552 Albertans have recovered.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Four new COVID-19 cases in Waterloo Region on Wednesday – KitchenerToday.com

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Region of Waterloo Public Health reported four new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday morning.

Two are due to community transmission, while the other pair are tied to travel.

So far this week, there have been 12 new cases, and a total of 1,410 since March.

The number of active cases increased by three to 25, with two of those cases currently receiving treatment in hospital.

One more case has also been resolved, improving that total to 1,263.

A total of 119 local deaths have been linked to the virus, but there have been no additional deaths reported since July 17.

Meantime, an outbreak remains active at A.R. Goudie long-term care – a resident tested positive, but no more residents or staff have since it was first declared on August 3.

Here’s the provincial COVID-19 breakdown for Wednesday:

  • 40,289 total cases (95 new)
  • 49 people are being treated in hospital
  • 36,590 resolved cases
  • 2,787 deaths (one new)

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Cape Breton's Route 19 brewery closed indefinitely after customer failed to self-isolate – Global News

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A brewery in Inverness, N.S., says it’s closing until further notice after a customer visited the restaurant on Sunday while failing to self-isolate after travelling to the province.

The Nova Scotia government still requires anyone travelling from outside of the four Atlantic provinces to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival as a precautionary measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Read more:
Nova Scotia reports no new coronavirus cases on Tuesday

Stefan Gagliardi, chief beer officer at the Route 19 Brewing Tap and Grill, told Global News on Wednesday that the brewery will remain closed as a precautionary measure.

“We found out (someone failed to self-isolate) through one of our employees who overheard a conversation elsewhere later on Sunday, and they brought it up to us,” he said over the phone.

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RCMP investigated and confirmed to Global News that they have charged a 38-year-old woman from British Columbia under the province’s Health Protection Act, which carries a $1,000 fine.






2:14
Nova Scotians who work away from home frustrated, confused by self-isolation rules


Nova Scotians who work away from home frustrated, confused by self-isolation rules

Gagliardi said that the Nova Scotia Health Authority has told staff and visitors to Route 19 on Sunday to monitor for symptoms and to go to the 811 website for further direction if symptoms develop.

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The brewery was told it didn’t need to close as it was not a confirmed case of coronavirus, but it still left workers feeling uncertain.

It doesn’t feel good. It’s not a good feeling because our staff didn’t feel safe,” he said.

“As a business and, you know, our staff together, we decided we weren’t willing to take that risk.”

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The facility was thoroughly sanitized on Monday morning but the restaurant will remain closed until further notice.

READ MORE: Coronavirus took their lives. Here’s how their families will remember them

The closure will affect about 30 people including, kitchen and cleaning crews, bartenders, waiters and waitresses, Gagliardi said.

He says that people should follow the health recommendations set out by the province.

“It just affects us in a way that feels a little bit unfair because everybody is trying to do their best,” he said.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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