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How businesses and schools are dealing with airborne COVID-19 and preparing for a winter indoors –



On a sunny Friday in October, the 9Round fitness club in midtown Toronto was as busy as it could be, according to local rules.

Masked clients kicked, punched and jabbed at nine individual boxing-style workout stations, each spaced apart by more than 2 metres. The stations were wiped down with disinfectant after each use. Guests who arrived at the open door were asked to wait outside until a station opened up and an employee was able to screen them for COVID-19.

“Where I’m coming from, as a business owner, it’s in our best interest to do everything we can,” said Brian Castillo, who heads up the gym. “We have to bet our livelihoods on the precautions that we take to ensure that we can operate.”

It’s a complicated dance, and one made more so by concerns that COVID-19 could spread more easily indoors, especially in places where people might be singing, shouting or exercising.

Scientists initially believed the virus spreads primarily through heavy droplets from a sneeze or a cough, which quickly fall to the ground, but newer research shows airborne transmission also exists.

Bioaerosols researcher Caroline Duchaine of Université Laval talks about the importance of good building ventilation to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 0:35

After the interview with Castillo, most of Toronto’s fitness centres were closed as the city returned to Ontario’s Stage 2 pandemic regulations. Castillo’s club is a provincial sports organization training facility, and as a result it has remained open in a limited way under the organization’s guidance.

  • THE NATIONAL | Watch the feature about concerns over indoor air quality, Sunday Nov. 8 on The National at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network and 10 p.m. local time on your CBC television station. You can also catch The National online on CBC Gem.

Concerns about airborne transmission of COVID-19 have been on Castillo’s mind for months. As studies emerged showing how the virus could spread in poorly ventilated spaces, Castillo upgraded his HVAC system and had a UVA filter added to help clean the air inside the gym. He said the changes cost him several hundred dollars.

Exactly how well such measures help protect against COVID-19 transmission is still unknown. But Castillo says he must make the effort.

“I’d rather go above and beyond and ensure that we’re doing the appropriate things, than [feel] overconfident [and] maybe slacking a bit,” he said.

According to bioaerosols researcher Caroline Duchaine of Université Laval, in indoor spaces, “ventilation has to be addressed as a major part of the infection control [measures].”

Caroline Duchaine, who studies bioaerosols at the Institut universitaire de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Québec, said viral particles can ‘accumulate in the surrounding environment of the infected person’ in poorly ventilated spaces and could potentially infect someone else. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

Duchaine and her team in Quebec City have taken air samples in the hospital rooms of COVID-19 patients in order to study how the coronavirus spreads in the air. In poorly ventilated spaces, Duchaine said, viral particles can “accumulate in the surrounding environment of the infected person” and could potentially infect someone else, even beyond a distance of 2 metres.

She said there is “more and more evidence that says that the major outbreaks and the super-spreading events that happened so far happened indoors in poorly ventilated spaces.”

Duchaine was part of an international group of 239 scientists who wrote to the World Health Organization (WHO) in July, urging the agency to recognize that the virus can spread through the air. Since then, the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have acknowledged that airborne transmission of COVID-19 is possible.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) followed suit this week, saying COVID-19 spreads through large droplets as well as “smaller droplets, sometimes called aerosols, which linger in the air under some circumstances.”

Even before the update, PHAC’s official guidelines encouraged people to avoid poorly ventilated environments.

Schools, where interactions inside enclosed spaces are necessary, have spent months trying to sort out indoor air quality issues.

St. Michael’s College School, a boys’ private school in Toronto, has taken precautions such as masks, screening measures, physical distancing, and new hand washing stations. It has also updated its ventilation system.

St. Michael’s College School principal James McKinnon outlines why his institution has invested in HEPA filters, as well as ultraviolet light units for every classroom and workspace in the building, to address concerns around COVID-19. 0:22

“We’ve added units that are HEPA filters, as well as ultraviolet light units that have been added to every classroom and workspace in the building,” said principal James McKinnon.

“My understanding of the units is that there’s a 99 per cent kill rate for bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19. So the standard is quite high,” he added.

McKinnon didn’t provide a total cost for the upgrade, but said the measures were necessary in today’s environment.

“We know the value of trying to keep schools open. So, we’ll do what we can to make that happen,” he said.

The Toronto Public School Board was given $6.9 million by the province to improve air quality in its schools this year. For some older facilities without mechanical ventilation systems that could be updated, the board has looked to air purification systems, like HEPA filters, as a supplement.

Donated air purification units were delivered to older public schools in Toronto on Oct. 13 to help improve classroom air quality. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

In October, hundreds of air purifying units were donated to the board and distributed to 37 older schools in communities that are most at risk of COVID-19 spread.

Canada’s updated public health guidelines suggest people, “maximize ventilation by ensuring that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are in good working order.”

HVAC consultant Matt MacAvelia, of Advantage Airtech in Pickering, Ont., said there is a range of actions building managers can consider taking to improve their indoor air quality, from small upgrades that don’t cost much, to full overhauls that can cost thousands of dollars.

The most cost-effective plan, he said, is to look at existing systems and see “if you can do something there to improve what you already have.”

Matt MacAvelia of Advantage Airtech in Pickering, Ont., said improving air quality in a building can range from small upgrades that don’t cost much, to full overhauls that can cost thousands of dollars. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

Indoor air quality, he said, was an issue on the “back burner” pre-pandemic, with more people concerned about the efficiency and cost effectiveness of their systems. But “with everything going on, I do kind of feel like the tide may be changing,” he said.

He added that he has been contacted by a lot of facilities — from condos, to schools, to a call centre — looking for more information about how to best update their HVAC systems in light of COVID-19. Though there is a lot of interest, MacAvelia said businesses he has spoken to are sometimes hesitant to act on big overhauls without any official guidance from a governing body.

“We need some clarity there, because that’s going to help people manage their buildings properly.”

In the meantime, according to Duchaine, there is a simple solution for buildings with poorer ventilation that can’t easily make upgrades. Similar to the latest advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada, she suggests building managers consider cracking open some windows — even in winter, when possible.

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COVID-19 kills 11 more B.C. residents, as hospitalizations return to record level – North Shore News



While the number of serious cases of COVID-19 in B.C. remains high, with a record 338 people in hospital – 13 more than yesterday – the number of those people in intensive care units fell by four overnight, to 76.

Deaths continue to mount, with 11 more individuals succumbing to the virus overnight, making the death toll 492, since the first COVID-19-related death in the province on March 9.

There were 711 new cases identified, for a total of 36,132 since the first case in B.C. was detected on January 28. 

“Currently, 10,957 people are under active public health monitoring as a result of identified exposure to known cases and 25,658 people who tested positive have recovered,” provincial health officer Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a joint statement. 

They broke the newly identified cases down by health region, as follows: 
• 143 in Vancouver Coastal Health;
• 427 in Fraser Health;
• 10 in Island Health;
• 81 in Interior Health; and
• 50 in Northern Health.

While Fraser Health remains the hot spot in the province for infections, all regions are battling outbreaks. Northern Health’s 50 new infections is a high number for that remote region, and more than double the 23 cases that were identified yesterday. 

Two new outbreaks at health care facilities are at Peace Arch Hospital Foundation Lodge in Surrey, and at Richmond Hospital in Richmond.

The outbreak at Youville Residence in Vancouver is over.

Dix yesterday made clear that despite the high number of people in hospital, scheduled surgeries are being done.

Scheduled surgeries are sometimes referred to as “elective” or “non-urgent” surgeries, although no one elects to have surgery if it is not necessary. 

Since the B.C. government restarted these surgeries on May 18, there have been:
• 49,100 completed in Fraser Health;
• 32,919 completed in Interior Health;
• 10,458 completed in Northern Health;
• 42,516 completed in Vancouver Coastal Health;
• 37,543 completed in Island Health; and
• 7,266 completed in the Provincial Health Services Authority.

“There have been some questions about acute care capacity in recent days,” Dix. said. “In terms of our base bed capacity, it’s at 87.8%.”

When Dix added what he called “surge beds,” which would be extra beds added to the system, the province’s hospitals are now at 70.6% capacity. 

“That’s the level of beds that are occupied overall in hospitals,” he said. “Just to put that in context, last year at this time, [bed occupancy] was at 103.5% of base-bed capacity.”

Dix said ICU base-bed capacity is at 76%, although when new beds that have been added are included, ICU wards across the province are at 54.6% capacity. 

Dix has noted that what is needed in addition to beds is staff, and that this is one of the stresses in the system. 

There are now nine hospitals in the province with active outbreaks:
• University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George.
• West Coast General Hospital in Port Alberni;
• Saanich Peninsula Hospital in Saanichton;
• Burnaby Hospital in Burnaby;
• Langley Memorial Hospital in Langley;
• Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver;
• Richmond Hospital in Richmond;
• Ridge Meadows Hospital in Maple Ridge; and
• Surrey Memorial Hospital in Surrey.

In total, there are 56 seniors’ living facilities that have active outbreaks, and below is a full breakdown by health region.

There are 14 active outbreaks at seniors’ facilities in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, and they include:
• Arbutus Care Centre in Vancouver;
• Banfield Pavilion, in Vancouver;
• Revera Capilano Care Centre in West Vancouver;
• Columbus Residence in Vancouver;
• German Canadian Care Home in Vancouver;
• Lakeview Care Centre in Vancouver;
• Little Mountain Place in Vancouver;
• Renfrew Care Centre in Vancouver;
• Royal Ascot Care Centre in Vancouver;
• Royal Arch Masonic Home long-term care facility in Vancouver;
• St. Judes Anglican Home in Vancouver;
• Three Links Care Centre long-term care facility in Vancouver;
• Villa Cathay Care Home in Vancouver; and
• Windermere Care Centre in Vancouver.

The 35 outbreaks at seniors’ facilities in the ​Fraser Health region now include:
• Agassiz Seniors Community in Agassiz;
• Agecare Harmony Court Estates in Burnaby;
• Agecare Court Estates in Burnaby;
• Al Hogg Pavilion in White Rock;
• Amenida Seniors Community in Surrey;
• Amica White Rock in White Rock;
• Baillie House long-term care home in Maple Ridge;
• Belvedere Care Centre in Coquitlam;
• CareLife Fleetwood in Surrey;
• Chartwell Langley Gardens in Langley;
• Fellburn Care Centre long-term care facility in Burnaby;
• Finnish Manor in Burnaby;
• Fleetwood Villa Retirement Residence in Surrey;
• Fort Langley Seniors Community in Fort Langley;
• George Derby Centre in Burnaby;
• Good Samaritan Delta View Care Centre 2 long-term care facility in Delta;
• Harrison Pointe retirement home in Langley;
• Harrison at Elim Village in Surrey;
• Hawthorne Seniors Care Community long-term care in Port Coquitlam;
• Hawthorne Seniors Care Community assisted living in Port Coquitlam;
• Hollyrood Manor long-term care home in Maple Ridge;
• Jackman Manor in Langley Township;
• Laurel Place long-term care facility in Surrey;
• Menno Home in Abbotsford;
• Morgan Place Care Society in Surrey;
• Northcrest Care Centre in Delta;
• Peace Arch Hospital Foundation Lodge in Surrey;
• PICS Assisted Living in Surrey;
• Queen’s Park Care Centre in New Westminster;
• Sunset Manor in Chilliwack;
• Tabor Home in Abbotsford;
• The Residence at Clayton Heights in Surrey;
• The Residence in Mission;
• Valley Haven Care Home in Chilliwack; and
• White Rock Senior Village in White Rock.

There are three outbreaks at seniors’ homes in Northern Health:
• North Peace Seniors Housing Society buildings in Fort St. John;
• Rotary Manor Dawson Creek in Dawson Creek; and
• Gateway House long-term care home in Prince George.

Two outbreaks are at seniors’ living facilities in the Island Health region: Tsawaayuss-Rainbow Gardens in Port Alberni and Veterans Memorial Lodge at Broadmead in Victoria.

The Interior Health region has two seniors’ facility outbreaks, at Mountainview Village in Kelowna and Sun Pointe Village in Kelowna.


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Manitoba extends state of emergency by 30 days – CTV News Winnipeg



The provincial government announced on Friday it would be extending Manitoba’s state of emergency by another 30 days.

The extension will take place on Sunday, December 6 at 4 p.m.

“Our province is constantly adapting to this evolving situation and taking the necessary steps to help flatten the curve and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities and our health-care system,” said Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler in a news release. “Manitobans need to work together to protect their families, friends and themselves.”

Manitoba first entered a state of emergency on March 20. Since then, the province has extended it eight times.

The news comes after Chief Provincial Public Health Office Dr. Brent Roussin announced another 320 new cases of COVID-19 and nine new deaths.

So far, 18,069 Manitobans have been infected with COVID-19—9,172 cases are considered active, leaving 8,535 people listed as recovered, although this figure could be higher due to a backlog in data entry.  

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B.C.'s top doctor says be festive but with your own household to avoid COVID-19 – Times Colonist



VICTORIA — British Columbia’s top doctor and the health minister are urging the public to slow the spread of COVID-19 this weekend by limiting any festive gatherings to immediate households.

Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix say 711 new infections have been recorded in the province and 11 more people have died, for a total of 492 fatalities.

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They say in a joint statement that B.C. is continuing to see a significant surge in community transmission so all public health orders must be followed as more than 36,000 people have tested positive for the virus.

Henry has said it’s important to remain vigilant in containing the virus for the next few months and that everyone in the province who wants to be vaccinated could be immunized by September.

Nearly 11,000 people who have been identified as being exposed to the virus are being monitored and 25,658 people who tested positive have recovered.

The latest public health orders have meant the cancellation of adult indoor and outdoor team sports, though children can continue participating in local games without spectators.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2020.

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