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'I get that you are scared': Community spread of COVID-19 threatens Atlantic bubble – Pincher Creek Echo

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Atlantic Canada has been celebrated as North America’s COVID marvel for having, as the New York Times wrote recently, ‘almost extinguished the virus’

People walk on Spring Garden Road in Halifax, on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. Travel is no longer the primary cause of all cases in Nova Scotia, a worrisome turn of events.

Tim Krochak/Bloomberg

Where’s the leak in the bubble?

After pulling up its drawbridges to beat COVID-19, infections in the East Coast are edging up. While the case counts are still remarkably small by comparison to the rest of Canada, Nova Scotia officials are warning that community spread of COVID has begun, meaning cases of unknown origin.

“I understand this is very stressful and I get that you are scared,” Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said this week after confirming two school-based cases.

But the virus isn’t just entering schools, as officials fully expected it would and prepared for — cases are “quickly creeping into a number of our neighbourhoods,” McNeil said. And public health is struggling to trace a number of them.

In September, the province had just three confirmed new cases; in October, 21. Three new cases were reported Wednesday, bringing November’s total so far to 45 — a trajectory, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said, “that we can’t continue to follow.”

New Brunswick reported nine new cases Wednesday, bringing the number of active cases to 40, with no one hospitalized. Prince Edward Island added three new cases, and Newfoundland and Labrador, two.

By comparison, Ontario reported 1,417 new cases, and 32 more deaths Wednesday.

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Still, the uptick in Nova Scotia has nerves frayed. Strang warned against “unsubstantiated rumours” after two students tested positive. He urged that students from the affected schools not be excluded from community events and sports. “Please, we need to be kind and careful how we treat each other and don’t add to people’s fear and anxiety.”

Travel is no longer the primary cause of all cases in Nova Scotia, a worrisome turn of events. In seven cases “we can’t identify a source that is directly related to travel,” Strang said. The school cases are linked to adults who contracted COVID-19 from a workplace.

Atlantic Canada has been celebrated as North America’s COVID marvel for having, as the New York Times wrote last month, “almost extinguished the virus.” The four Atlantic provinces moved swiftly when the SARS-CoV-2 virus reached its shores, walling themselves in, tightening borders and setting up checkpoints at points of entry. In July, premiers created a travel bubble, waiving the 14-day quarantine rule for East Coast residents travelling between the four provinces.

The aggressive game plan cost 171,000 jobs and a forecasted $1.7 billion drop in tourism, but the region rebounded faster than the rest of the country, Reuters reported. According to a Reuters poll, three of four Atlantic economies are expected to fare better than Canada as a whole this year.

It was important to act swiftly and gain an upper hand over the virus, Dalhousie University epidemiologist Susan Kirkland said in a September interview with the National Post, “because once you start to have daily cases that are coming in fast and furiously, especially in smaller provinces like Nova Scotia and the Atlantic region, we just don’t have the capacity to keep up.”

“We’re at a new level,” Kirkland said when reached Wednesday. For the longest time, Manitoba was in a similar state, with very low levels of COVID-19, she said. “And all of a sudden, it’s skyrocketed very quickly and increased exponentially.”

“We’re not at the point yet where things are moving so quickly that we can’t get a handle on it again,” said Kirkland. “It means being extremely vigilant over the next little while.”

There are certainly no plans to open the bubble, and a stern McNeil told reporters he would promptly shut the economy down again, in sections, if needed.

Maritimers have been remarkably good at doing the things that they’ve been asked to do in terms of distancing and masking. Kirkland said. Effective Friday, masks or face coverings will be mandatory in all indoor and public spaces in Prince Edward Island. Nova Scotia brought in similar mandatory masking in July. New Brunswick’s mask rule took effect in October.

“The issue we’re up against now is that we really have to reduce the number of contacts that we have,” Kirkland said, particularly social gatherings in households.

With this week’s positive vaccine news, “I think that people are understanding that the winter is going to be difficult, but also there is some hope on the horizon,” Kirkland said.

• Email: skirkey@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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COVID-19 patients transferred to Vancouver Island to ease stress on northern ICUs – Toronto Star

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The increasing number of people with severe COVID-19 symptoms is stressing ICU capacities in the north and patients have been transferred to other regions to ensure adequate critical care services can continue to be provided in Northern Health, said a spokesperson.

“We are seeing increased need for hospitalizations and patients needing critical care,” said Eryn Collins, Northern Health media relations manager.

On Dec. 4, there were 39 people with COVID-19 listed in Northern Health, with 11 of those patients in critical care. Almost 70 per cent of the total 101 hospitalizations in Northern Health have taken place in the last 34 days.

“We still have capacity to provide critical care in our northern system,” said Eryn Collins. “But we’re also seeing an increase in that level of need, so we’re accessing that capacity elsewhere in the province.”

Recently, two patients diagnosed with COVID-19 were transferred to a Vancouver Island hospital.

“It’s very important in some of our regional hospitals, such as Mills Memorial, that we ensure there is adequate ICU capacity in case of other circumstances that occur,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix on Dec. 3. “For example, the potential – especially this time of year – of a major accident on the highway.”

According to the Ministry of Health, as of Nov. 30, 17 of the 41 ICU and critical care-type beds in Northern Health were vacant and an additional 23 ‘surge’ beds could be deployed, if necessary.

Northern Health has the fewest beds of all the health authorities but it also has the smallest population.

“The capacity and occupancy varies, not just for us, but for every health region in the province,” said Collins.

The ministry’s latest count indicated two of five beds were unoccupied in Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace; three of four ICU beds were vacant in Fort St. John; eight of 23 beds were vacant at University Hospital of Northern BC in Prince George, and four of 9 beds were open throughout the rest of the north. There were also 100 ventilators across the region, according to Northern Health.

“Where appropriate, patients are moved,” Dix said. “Sometimes from the north to Vancouver Island or Metro Vancouver.”

The ability to transfer patients across health authorities is an essential aspect of the government’s pandemic response plan released in March by Dix, Deputy Health Minister Stephen Brown and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

“It was made clear at that time that this was the potential that we would be looking at if we started to see a certain trajectory of COVID activity and hospitalizations,” said Collins. “And we are, along with the rest of the province, seeing those increases.”

About 56 per cent of the people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the north (and in B.C.) had done so since Oct. 31. Provincially, almost 50 per cent of all hospitalizations have taken place in the last month or so.

As of Dec. 4, in Northern Health, 978 people had tested positive, while 36,132 people had been diagnosed provincially.

Despite the added pressure of COVID-19 patients on the healthcare system, the province continues to have 76 per cent occupancy rate in its critical care beds. When surge beds are included in the ICU count, the occupancy rate drops to less than 65 per cent, said Dix.

The province-wide pandemic strategy outlined how the healthcare system would maintain 17 COVID-19 care sites and ensure adequate capacity under a range of potential pandemic scenarios. The plan revealed the number of acute care beds, ICU-type beds, ventilators, and additional surge beds that could be deployed to meet evolving healthcare demands across B.C. during the pandemic.

“We are using, as is the rest of the province, the capacity that is in the provincial healthcare system… to make sure that we can continue to care for everyone’s needs, not just COVID-related,” said Collins.

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Patients are commonly transported to other regions for specialized treatment, such as cardiac care in Vancouver or other reasons not to do with COVID-19, Collins said.

“That’s something that happens all the time in health care,” said Dix. “What you are seeing is the public health care system working as it should in a pandemic.”

Fran@thegoatnews.ca / @FranYanor

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Why some say Canada needs to do more to protect essential workers until COVID-19 vaccine arrives – CBC.ca

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As Canadians await the rollout of the first round of COVID-19 vaccines, experts say Canada needs to double down on protecting essential workers most at risk of exposure to the coronavirus in the coming months. 

Canada will only have a limited supply of vaccines to start, with just 3 million expected to be vaccinated in the first few months of 2021, but the news of COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon could not come at a more critical time.

Over 400,000 Canadians have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began and the situation in our hardest-hit provinces shows no signs of slowing down. 

The percentage of COVID-19 tests across the country that have come back positive during the past week has skyrocketed to 7.4 per cent — up from 1.4 per cent in mid-September and 4.7 per cent in early November. A rising positivity rate can signal that cases are being missed and more people could unwittingly be spreading the virus.

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but we still have to get through the tunnel to get there,” said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont.  

“You also don’t want to be in a situation where you have a raging fire that’s going on and when you’re trying to roll out a vaccine, you’re doing it in a setting where the hospital is overwhelmed and health-care workers are getting sick.”

While much of the focus on public health messaging throughout the pandemic has been focused on individual actions, experts say Canada isn’t doing enough to protect those most in need of support in the coming months. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Alberta positivity rate tops 10 per cent

Of all the COVID hotspots, Alberta has the biggest fire to put out at the moment, and this week asked the federal government and the Red Cross to supply field hospitals to help offset the strain COVID-19 is having on the health-care system.

There, the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive hit an astonishing 10.5 per cent on Friday.

COVID-19 cases in Alberta are growing at such an explosive rate they’ve even outpaced Ontario, a province with 10 million more people, for the first time in the pandemic — with cases in Edmonton alone totalling more than those in Toronto and Peel Region combined

“If you think this is a hoax, talk to my friend in the ICU, fighting for his life,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said during a Facebook livestream Thursday.

“If you’re thinking of going to an anti-mask rally this weekend, how about instead send me an email, call me all the names you want, send me a letter, organize an online rally.” 

Yet while much of the focus on public health messaging throughout the pandemic has been focused on individual actions, experts say Canada isn’t doing enough to protect those most in need of support in the coming months. 

Ontario, Quebec see surge in workplace outbreaks

While elderly Canadians are most at risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19, totalling close to 90 per cent of all deaths, essential workers on the front lines are facing a worsening situation.

For the first time in the pandemic, active outbreaks in workplaces in Canada’s biggest provinces have outpaced those in long-term care facilities — accounting for 30 per cent of the outbreaks in Ontario and 40 per cent in Quebec, as first reported by The Globe and Mail

While limited information is available on exactly where the spread of COVID-19 is occurring, Ontario’s ministry of health said in a statement to CBC News the hardest-hit industries include construction, manufacturing, mining, warehousing and transportation.  

WATCH | Essential workers talk about being on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic

Essential workers — from grocery store employees to truck drivers — talk about their experiences on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic share how it has affected them and why they do it. 11:43

Because of the disproportionate risk of exposure they face, the union for workers in food retail, manufacturing, long-term care, home care and security said Friday that frontline workers should also be among the first recipients of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Workplaces are a big deal,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University. 

“There are people that need to go to work, unfortunately, for us to support society, and again we have to be willing and able to give them at least some measures of safety in their workplace.”

Paid sick leave key to stopping spread of COVID-19

Chakrabarti says one area that could help address rising transmission rates in workplaces is more paid sick leave for those who are unable to miss work due to COVID-19. 

Unlike policing people’s contacts in their own homes, it’s a problem policy could tackle, he said.

“Workplaces are things that are really important because you can only do so much to keep things safe.” 

If people are going to decide between putting food on their table … or going into isolation … they’re going to show up to work sick.– Dr. Zain Chagla

Chakrabarti says mask wearing and physical distancing aren’t always possible in certain situations in workplaces, especially those that involve workers in close quarters indoors — as evidenced by outbreaks in meatpacking plants, warehouses, and mines.

“Many people are financially unstable and they’re scared because if they do have to go off work, they’ll end up losing income,” he said. Undocumented workers may also be hesitant to speak up about symptoms for fear of being deported

“So you have a lot of these kinds of factors that I think are barriers for people getting tested.”

Chagla says more targeted education, oversight and internal audits to control COVID-19 transmission are needed in high-risk workplaces, in order to ensure compliance and accountability. 

“There’s certainly tons of essential workplaces that will continue to have issues unless people actually intervene and do this type of stuff,” he said. 

Last month, the federal government created Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit to give up to $1,000 of support to workers with COVID-19 over two weeks, but Chagla said more could be done. 

“You have to incentivize people to get tested,” Chagla said. “If people are going to decide between putting food on their table and paying their rent, going to work or going into isolation … they’re going to show up to work sick.”

Isolating, outreach better than ‘finger wagging’

Chakrabarti says another way to protect essential workers is through the creation of more dedicated isolation facilities for those recovering from COVID-19. 

“One big place that amplification is happening is in large families,” he said. “So if you have a place for people to have their meals covered and they can isolate away from their family, that’s going to really help to reduce amplification of the cases that we’re seeing in workplaces.” 

Chakrabarti says the “condescension and finger wagging” in public health messaging across the country against individual actions isn’t always effective — especially nine months into the pandemic.

“Community outreach often helps,” said Chakrabati, who is also a member of a recently formed South Asian task force to connect with and inform people in Peel Region.

“I think that a lot of the focus right now is on people. ‘Hey, you stay home, stay home, stop partying,’ that kind of stuff. Whereas we don’t hear a lot of what’s happening in these workplaces.” 

“This is going to be a problem throughout the entire pandemic,” said Chagla. “Because they have to stay open.” 

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Facebook Bans Debunked Claims About COVID-19 Vaccines – Prairie Public Broadcasting

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Facebook is banning claims about COVID-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts, as governments prepare to roll out the first vaccinations against the virus.

That includes posts that make false claims about how safe and effective the vaccines are, and about their ingredients and side effects.

“For example, we will remove false claims that COVID-19 vaccines contain microchips, or anything else that isn’t on the official vaccine ingredient list,” Facebook’s head of health, Kang-Xing Jin, said in a blog post. “We will also remove conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines that we know today are false: like specific populations are being used without their consent to test the vaccine’s safety.”

The new ban is an expansion of Facebook’s rules against misinformation about the coronavirus that could lead to imminent physical harm. The company said it removed 12 million such posts from Facebook and Instagram between March and October.

The approach to COVID-19 vaccines is a departure from Facebook’s general approach to vaccine misinformation. The company has made false claims about other vaccines less visible on its platform but stopped short of removing them. In October, it banned anti-vaccination ads.

Facebook said it was extending the policy because COVID-19 vaccines will soon be rolled out around the world. The U.K. became the first country to approve a vaccine this week, with the first doses expected to be available next week. Regulators in the U.S. are expected to approve vaccines before the end of the year.

On Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company would show users “authoritative information” about vaccines. It’s adding a section to its coronavirus information center — a section of its site that promotes credible sources — with details about how vaccines are tested and approved.

YouTube, owned by Google, and TikTok also have said they will remove false claims about COVID-19 vaccines.

Despite efforts by Facebook and other platforms to curb the spread of hoaxes and conspiracy theories, misinformation about the pandemic has spread widely on social media this year.

Editor’s note: Facebook, Google and TikTok are among NPR’s financial supporters.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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