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Meet the experts trying to change the way we communicate about COVID-19 –



Keeping up with Canada’s COVID-19 public health information can feel like a full-time job. 

Ever-changing daily case numbers, countless news conferences, conflicting advice from officials and constantly updated guidelines can be overwhelming at the best of times.

So a group of experts has stepped up in an attempt to help with information overload by explaining the coronavirus in a clear and concise way that connects with a younger audience.

And they’re hoping that the powers that be are watching — and learning.

“We need to meet people where they are at,” said Dr. Naheed Dosani, a physician and health-justice advocate in Toronto. “We need to think about what works for them.”

Social media ‘lost opportunity’ with health officials

More than 45 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 cases have occurred in those under the age of 40, and Dosani said the best way to connect with that demographic is through social media, something he called a “lost opportunity” with politicians and public health officials.

“Most people under 40 get their information nowadays not from a press conference in the middle of the day and typically not from traditional media sources,” he said. “They’re often using social media platforms to engage and collect information.” 

Dosani, a palliative care doctor, began using platforms like TikTok and Instagram in January to reach a younger audience and share information in an effort to destigmatize the topic of death.

WATCH | Doctor makes TikTok videos to reach young people about COVID-19:

CBC News Network’s Natasha Fatah speaks with Dr. Naheed Dosani, Palliative care physician and health justice advocate 8:01

“I was blown away by the response,” he said, adding that he gained hundreds of thousands of views and connected with people all over the world. “And then COVID-19 happened.” 

That’s when Dosani shifted from focusing on palliative care to cutting through the noise in the pandemic. 

His short, informative videos use popular music and simple visuals to highlight the benefits of physical distancing, break down the updates and guidelines from public health officials and assess the effectiveness of infection-control strategies. 

“People were really interested in the message. It was reaching them, and it was effective and it’s been quite a journey,” Dosani said. 

“I actually created a TikTok  to convince people of why public health messaging needs to be on TikTok and Instagram and then posted it on Twitter, and that video has actually gone viral. It kind of proves the point, doesn’t it?”

Samanta Krishnapillai, an “equity-oriented health scientist” in Markham, Ont., started the On COVID-19 Project after months of feeling frustrated about how “ineffective” public health communication strategies were in reaching younger Canadians.

“This isn’t a new problem, but during a global pandemic, it definitely should have been at the forefront of every pandemic plan,” she said. “To put it plainly, you can’t say we’re all in this together but not engage all of us in the solution.” 

Krishnapillai, who has a masters of health information science from Western University in London, Ont., said the reason she thinks those under 40 may be tuning out public health messaging isn’t because they don’t care but because they don’t have the capacity to retain it.

“There is a lot of discussion around pandemic fatigue, inconsistent messaging from officials and general uncertainty with regards to the virus that is often blamed,” she said.

“As health communicators, our job is to help build that capacity by finding Canadians where they are, breaking down credible information in engaging and easy-to-understand snippets and approaching it with respect for each individual.” 

The grassroots, youth-led and volunteer-based project, which launched over the summer, doesn’t yet have a huge following but has dozens of contributors, and more than 500 people have applied to join, which, Krishnapillai said, proves “young people want to do more.” 

Samantha Yammine, a neuroscientist with a PhD from the University of Toronto, has amassed close to 100,000 followers online with the similar goal of clearing up the muddy communication waters.

“There absolutely is a gap in public health communications on social media platforms,” she said. “So I’m trying to address that.”

Samantha Yammine, a neuroscientist and science communicator, uses social media to educate her almost 100,000 followers about science and COVID-19. (Michael Barker)

Yammine, a full-time science communicator in Toronto who also goes by the moniker “Science Sam,” has been communicating science information through social media for the past few years but noticed that those in her network were feeling stressed, scared and overwhelmed when the pandemic began. 

“So I pivoted my platform to start sharing some of the science behind the COVID headlines we were seeing and explain things in a friendly, critical and informed point of view to make things a little bit easier to manage,” she said. 

“I really believe in empowering people with scientific information and making science accessible, so that everyone can make the best decisions for them.” 

Yammine said that “social media is a beast” that may be underestimated by public health officials and politicians. But she said it should never be a one-person job and instead should draw on a variety of different voices to connect with people.

“It’s really unrealistic to expect one person to appeal to everyone, and that’s why a big thing I advocate for is for having a diversity of people communicating,” she said. 

“Not everyone’s going to relate to me, not everyone’s going to relate to [Canada’s chief public health officer] Dr. Theresa Tam, and we can’t ask individuals to represent science for everyone.” 

One way to get the message out widely is by leveraging those who already have a huge online following, such as celebrities and social media influencers, Yammine said.

“Who has time in a pandemic to create an entire following?” she said. 

“What’s unique about social media is we cultivate relationships with the people who follow us, we trust one another, we know one another, we know how to communicate to our followers, and so we absolutely need to be leveraging popular creators.”

Yammine said recruiting communicators from diverse backgrounds with different communication styles could also help politicians and public health officials reach more Canadians from different demographics during the pandemic.

“We need a whole science communication squad to be getting these messages out in their own ways,” she said. 

“We need all of them if we’re going to reach all Canadians.”

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St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto declares COVID-19 outbreak among ER staff – Toronto Star



TORONTO – Another hospital in downtown Toronto has declared an outbreak of COVID-19 among its staff.

Unity Health says there are five active coronavirus cases among emergency room staff at St. Michael’s Hospital.

In a statement Tuesday evening, the health network says “no patient cases have been identified to date” and the risk of patient exposure is low.

However, it recommends anyone who visited the ER at St. Michael’s within the last two weeks to self-monitor.

The hospital is one of four in Toronto that have declared COVID-19 outbreaks in recent days.

The others are St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Toronto Western Hospital and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2020.

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CDC redefines what counts as close contact for coronavirus, adds short encounters – Global News



U.S. health officials Wednesday redefined what counts as close contact with someone with COVID-19 to include briefer but repeated encounters.

For months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said close contact meant spending a solid 15 minutes within six feet of someone who tested positive for coronavirus. On Wednesday, the CDC changed it to a total of 15 minutes or more — so shorter but repeated contacts that add up to 15 minutes over a 24-hour period now count.

The CDC advises anyone who has been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient to quarantine for two weeks.

Read more:
Coronavirus vaccine may not be initially recommended for kids, U.S. CDC says

The change may prompt health departments to do contact tracing in cases where an exposure might previously have been considered too brief, said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert.

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It also serves notice that the coronavirus can spread more easily than many people realize, he added.

The definition change was triggered by a report on that case of a 20-year-old Vermont correctional officer, who was diagnosed with a coronavirus infection in August. The guard, who wore a mask and goggles, had multiple brief encounters with six transferred prisoners before test results showed they were positive. At times, the prisoners wore masks, but there were encounters in cell doorways or in a recreational room where prisoners did not have them on, the report said.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: COVID-19 vaccine unlikely before late 2021, CDC director says'

Coronavirus: COVID-19 vaccine unlikely before late 2021, CDC director says

Coronavirus: COVID-19 vaccine unlikely before late 2021, CDC director says

An investigation that reviewed video footage concluded the guard’s brief interactions totalled 17 minutes during an 8-hour shift.

The report didn’t identify the prison but Vermont officials have said that in late July, six inmates tested positive when they arrived at the Marble Valley Correctional Facility in Rutland.

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In a statement, CDC officials said the case highlights again the importance of wearing masks to prevent transmission, and that the agency’s guidance can change as new information comes in.

Read more:
White House blocks new coronavirus vaccine guidelines that would delay approval

“As we get more data and understand this COVID we’re going to continue to incorporate that in our recommendations,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said at a press conference in Atlanta.

The CDC also says close contact can include hugging and kissing, sharing eating or drinking utensils with someone infected, and providing home care to someone who is sick. Someone sneezing or coughing on you also counts.

The risk of spread is considered to be lower outdoors, but the CDC guidance update “makes scientific sense,” said Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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New Brunswick reports fourth COVID-19 death, 6 new cases – CTV News Atlantic



New Brunswick reported its fourth COVID-19-related death, as well as six new cases in the Campbellton region (Zone 5), on Wednesday.

Public Health confirms that an individual between the ages of 70 and 79 died Wednesday in Zone 5 (Campbellton region) as a result of underlying complications, including COVID-19.

“The loss of another person in our province related to COVID-19 is not news we ever want to have to share,” said New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs in a news release. “I, along with all New Brunswickers, send sincere condolences to the family and friends of this individual, as well as to everyone who continues to be impacted by the recent outbreaks.”

“I ask all New Brunswick to join me in extending our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of the deceased,” added Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health. “It has been difficult to witness the unfolding outbreak in the Campbellton-Restigouche region.”

In addition to the death, New Brunswick is reporting six new cases of COVID-19, all in the Campbellton region. The individuals are all self-isolating and the cases are under investigation.

The new cases involve:

  • One individual under the age of 19
  • One individual in their 30s
  • Two people in their 40s
  • One individual in their 50s
  • One individual in their 60s

Nine previously reported cases are now considered recovered, dropping the total number of active cases in the province to 92, with 57 of those reported in the Campbellton area (Zone 5).


The number of confirmed cases in New Brunswick is 319 and 223 cases are considered recovered, leaving 92 active cases in the province. There have been four deaths in the province.

Five patients are hospitalized, with one in an intensive care unit.

As of Tuesday, 94,322 COVID-19 tests have been conducted.

The number of cases are broken down by New Brunswick’s seven health zones:

  • Zone 1 – Moncton region: 93 confirmed cases (33 active cases)
  • Zone 2 – Saint John region: 32 confirmed cases (1 active case)
  • Zone 3 – Fredericton region: 60 confirmed cases (1 active case)
  • Zone 4 – Edmundston region: 8 confirmed cases
  • Zone 5 – Campbellton region: 120 confirmed cases (57 active cases)
  • Zone 6 – Bathurst region: 3 confirmed cases
  • Zone 7 – Miramichi region: 3 confirmed cases


Dalhousie Regional High School is reporting its second positive case of COVID-19 in just over a week. 

The school confirmed the case in a letter to parents on Tuesday. 

The case is not connected to the first positive case at the school, which was first confirmed on Oct. 12.


Both Zone 1 (Moncton region) and Zone 5 in New Brunswick remained in the orange phase Wednesday, but it is anticipated that Zone 1 will return to the yellow phase this week.

There are 33 active cases in Zone 1, but Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, has said the novel coronavirus appears to be contained, and, if current trends continue, the Moncton region will return to the yellow phase this Friday. 

Zone 5 will remain at the orange level, however. 


New Brunswick’s online dashboard includes information about vehicle traffic attempting to enter the province.

On Tuesday, 1,807 personal and 1,530 commercial vehicles attempted to cross the border into the province.

Of the vehicles attempting to cross the border, 29 were refused entry, for a refusal rate of 0.9 per cent.  

This is a developing story, more to come.

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