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Minimizing surge in COVID-19 cases ‘a real mistake,’ experts say – Global News



Infectious disease specialists say a recent surge in COVID-19 cases that surpasses a spike last spring must not be shrugged off as merely a byproduct of increased testing.

“I think minimizing right now is a real mistake,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger of the University of Alberta.

“People are not wanting to believe that this is a thing, because I think they don’t want to return to the state that we were living in earlier in the year. That’s a dangerous path to take and we should be much more precautionary right now.”

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Alberta records highest daily COVID-19 case count; Edmonton sees new voluntary restrictions

The Canadian Press compiled data posted publicly in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec over one week ending April 21 and another ending Oct. 6 to get a sense of how the two case surges compare.

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Daily cases in Alberta were two per cent higher in the most recent period compared with the April week. Ontario’s were 13 per cent higher, Quebec’s were 14 per cent higher and B.C.’s cases were more than triple the mid-to-low, double-digit numbers it experienced in April.

Alberta, an early leader in increased testing, took nearly four times as many swabs during the October week than it did in the April one. B.C’s daily testing grew eightfold, while Ontario and Quebec did about 4 1/2 times as many weekly swabs during the fall week than they did in the spring.

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The positivity rate — the percentage of tests that come back positive — in all four provinces has dropped markedly between the spring and fall surges.

Quebec and Ontario don’t officially post historical positivity rates, so The Canadian Press divided the total number of weekly tests by the total number of weekly cases. It’s an imperfect estimate as often there is a lag between when tests are done and cases are recorded by public health.

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Quebec, which averaged around 6,300 daily tests and 930 new cases during the April week, had a positivity rate during that period of about 15 per cent.

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In the more recent week, when Quebec had five consecutive days with new cases in the quadruple digits, its positivity rate sat at roughly four per cent.

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Ontario, which is dealing with a hefty backlog of swabs waiting to be analyzed, posted an official daily positivity rate of two per cent for Oct. 7, down from the roughly six per cent range it had in mid-April.

Alberta’s positivity rate dropped to one per cent from nearly five per cent and B.C.’s fell to 1.3 per cent from four per cent.

Coronavirus: Ontario health officials say intervention needed, but not yet at province-wide level

Coronavirus: Ontario health officials say intervention needed, but not yet at province-wide level

Experts say the lower positivity rates now shouldn’t provide comfort.

Early testing was largely limited to people with a handful of specific symptoms and those who came into close contact with them. Tests are now available to a much broader portion of the population and many more mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic cases are being found.

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“The threshold for what we consider high on per-cent positivity probably should be considered different now than it was in the spring,” said Saxinger.

Dr. Craig Jenne, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Calgary, noted that testing among people with no suspected exposure or symptoms in Alberta over the summer unearthed very few new cases. The province has since tightened its asymptomatic testing criteria, limiting it to those at higher risk or with upcoming travel.

“We are still screening asymptomatic people, but these are people we have a reason to believe were exposed and that seems to capture most of the cases in the community,” he said.

Click to play video 'Alberta to move away from asymptomatic testing'

Alberta to move away from asymptomatic testing

Alberta to move away from asymptomatic testing

Jenne reminded that numbers we’re seeing today reflect viral transmission that happened 10 to 14 days ago.

“So we have to always be reacting to what is coming down the pipe and not necessarily what’s happening today.”

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In recent weeks, testing has been relatively stable while cases have trended up.

“There’s been a definite increase in the number of people who are infected. It isn’t just because they’re testing more,” said Dr. Ameeta Singh, an infectious diseases specialist at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital and the University of Alberta.

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Hospitalization trends are a lagging indicator that experts are eyeing with concern.

In Ontario, for instance, hospitalizations began creeping into the triple digits about two weeks ago and as of Friday, there were 225 people hospitalized.

“Definitely that’s when we start to become a bit more alarmed,” said Singh.

“That’s kind of the tip of the iceberg. It tells you that there’s way more community transmission than you might expect.”

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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Tim Hortons struggling with no sign of customers returning to morning commute – Financial Post



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Comparable sales at Tim Hortons fell by more than 40 per cent when the stay-at-home orders started in March. By May, those declines were around 25 per cent. Though they improved to “the negative mid-teens” by the end of July, that forward progress appears to have stalled this fall.

Servers at Tim Hortons wear masks while serving drive-thru customers. Photo by Veronica Henri/Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

In the third quarter, which ended on Sept. 30, comparable sales were down by 13.7 per cent in Canada, and 12.5 per cent globally.

Bernstein senior research analyst Sara Senatore said in a note to investors on Tuesday that the comparable sales decline at Tim Hortons was in line with consensus expectations.

RBI’s Fulton said the company was “definitely seeing the impact of a very changed morning routine in Canada. Our drive-thru business is up double digits. Our delivery business is exploding. Those are all good things. But the reality is, we still have a large majority of the country that’s not going to work in the morning.”

We’re going to be really well positioned when normal routines return

Duncan Fulton

Despite the trouble at breakfast, Fulton said the back-to-basics strategy was still in full swing, pointing to changes to Tim Hortons’ breakfast sandwiches, which include new English muffins, biscuits and “crispier” bacon.

“We’re going to be really well positioned when normal routines return,” he said.

RBI, which also owns Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, also announced a plan to upgrade more than 10,000 drive-thrus at Tim Hortons and Burger King locations by 2022.

The drive-thrus have become a major asset for restaurants during the pandemic, and are responsible for up to 90 per cent of sales at some Tim Hortons locations, Fulton said.

Among the planned changes are digitized menu boards that will eventually be able to provide personalized offers to customers enrolled in a particular chain’s loyalty program.

Improving drive-thrus was one of the key tenets of the 2020 back-to-basics plan, after drive-thru response times had been slowed by the onslaught of lunch experiments in previous years.

Fulton noted the chain has toned down its experiments — known as limited time offers — this year to around 25, down from roughly 70 last year.

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Threat to democracy? Tech CEOs in hot seat over liability shield – Al Jazeera English



Let the grilling begin.

The CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet Inc are set to testify virtually before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Wednesday over whether to repeal a section of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that shields them from legal liability over content that users post on their platforms.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Alphabet’s Sundar Pichai are landing in the hot seat less than a week before the US presidential election, which has been rife with reports of online interference and disinformation. Republican lawmakers have also accused the social media platforms of suppressing conservative viewpoints.

Here’s what you need to know about the law that shields the tech giants – and the role it plays in freedom of speech and expression online.

Sooo … what’s this law and who wants to change it?

The law in question is the Communications Decency Act of 1996, but it’s one section of it – Section 230 to be precise – that some Republican and Democratic lawmakers would like to change.

What is it about Section 230 that’s so controversial?

That section states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

Okay, what does that mean in plain English?

It means that social media giants can’t be held legally responsible for objectionable words, photos or videos that people post to their platforms.

And what does that mean in practice?

In practice, it means for example that Yelp can’t be sued by a restaurant that a disgruntled diner accused of having rats in a review, or that Twitter isn’t responsible for the tweet in which someone erroneously claimed to be the person who discovered Mars.

So absolutely anything goes? No matter how awful?

There are exceptions to what’s protected – such as posts that violate criminal laws around child pornography, for example, or copyright and intellectual property statutes.

So why did lawmakers give social media a free pass when the law was passed?

They didn’t. Social media didn’t exist when the law was passed in 1996. But bloggers did. The law was written largely to shield internet service providers from bloggers, and, in turn, bloggers from the people who comment on their sites or write guest posts.

I was born in 1996. I grew up, so why hasn’t the law?

Because technology evolves at a much faster rate than the law. When Twitter and Facebook came on the scene in the early 2000s, Section 230 extended to them as well. Of course, the amount of user-generated content online has grown exponentially since 1996, because even your parents are on Facebook now.

So why bother with testimony? Why not just change the law?

Because not everyone agrees it needs to be changed.

The non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation says that Section 230 “creates a broad protection that has allowed innovation and free speech online to flourish”. And tech companies argue that they can’t possibly police billions of posts by users around the world without curtailing some users’ freedoms.

How does Section 230 protect free speech? 

Those who want to keep the section intact argue that if big tech companies can be held legally responsible for every tweet, post and review that users write on their sites, they could choose to limit what users could publish on their platforms – which would be tantamount to censorship.

Section 230 also gives smaller websites the ability to post different viewpoints without risking being sued, say supporters.

But isn’t curbing free speech bad for democracy?

It is. But free speech is also exploited for nefarious purposes.  US intelligence agencies claim foreign governments including those of Russia, China and Iran have been actively using social media to spread disinformation and stoke fear during the 2020 US presidential election. And that is, well, bad for democracy.

But don’t the social media giants have people policing content?

Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s Google, which also owns video platform YouTube, have teams of people dedicated to taking down offensive content, like hate speech.

But critics argue that self-policing, especially where democratically-damaging disinformation is concerned, just isn’t cutting it.

For example…?

Recently, Twitter and Facebook came under scrutiny for taking down a New York Post story based on unverified emails that claimed that US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, agreed to introduce his father to a Ukrainian energy executive while he was in the White House.

Twitter’s chief Jack Dorsey later said it was “wrong” to block URLs to the Post’s story without explaining to users why it had been done.

Did the story die?

The story actually ended up being widely shared after US President Donald Trump accused the platforms of “trying to protect Biden” when Twitter prevented users from sharing the story and Facebook attempted to limit its reach.

According to an Axios analysis of data from NewsWhip, a site that tracks stories’ engagement, the New York Post story received 2.59 million likes, comments and shares – more than double the next biggest story about either Trump or Biden that week. So neither outlet succeeded in containing its spread.

So what does Trump think of Section 230?

On May 28, Trump issued an executive order that attempted to limit the protections big tech companies enjoy under Section 230, which they immediately challenged in court. Trump’s executive order accused online platforms of “engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse” and censoring conservative voices.

And Biden?

Biden argued Section 230 “should be revoked” in an interview with The New York Times in January, saying that Facebook “is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false, and we should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy.”

Wow. Is it just political interference we’re worried about here?

Public health is also a concern. The secretary-general of the World Health Organization warned in September that “rumours, untruths and disinformation” spread by social media are hindering the global fight against COVID-19.

A rumour that drinking highly concentrated alcohol called methanol could kill the coronavirus, for example, was linked to the deaths of 800 people and the hospitalisations of 5,876 over the first three months of 2020, according to a study published earlier this month in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Is this the only beef that lawmakers have with big tech?

Hardly. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have accused tech giants of monopolising the market – driving wages down in the tech industry and stifling innovation.

And while many users view these platforms as “free” because they don’t charge a fee, it’s users’ data – and the ability to sell that data or make money off of its insights – that keeps them in business, raising privacy concerns.

So what happens next? 

Attempts to repeal Section 230 are among several ongoing battles that Alphabet Inc faces after the US Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against the company, accusing it of using Google’s search engine dominance to quash competition and thwart innovation.

Zuckerberg and Dorsey are also due back before Congress on November 17 to specifically face questions over their handling of the New York Post story about Hunter Biden after Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee accused them of censoring conservative viewpoints.

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Jack Ma Becomes Richer Than Walmart Heirs With Mega Ant IPO – Yahoo Canada Finance



The Canadian Press

Fitting finale: Dodgers win title, lose Turner to COVID-19

ARLINGTON, Texas — No dogpile, no champagne and a mask on nearly every face — the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrated their first World Series title since 1988 in a manner no one could have imagined prior to the coronavirus pandemic.They started the party without Justin Turner, too, after their red-headed star received a positive COVID-19 test in the middle of their clinching victory.Turner was removed from Los Angeles’ 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6 on Tuesday night after registering Major League Baseball’s first positive test in 59 days and wasn’t initially on the field as the Dodgers enjoyed the spoils of a title earned during a most unusual season.He returned about an hour after the game, hugging longtime teammate Clayton Kershaw and sitting front-and-centre for a team photo next to manager Dave Roberts with his mask pulled down under his bushy beard.“Thanks to everyone reaching out!,” Turner said on Twitter. “I feel great, no symptoms at all. Just experienced every emotion you can possibly imagine. Can’t believe I couldn’t be out there to celebrate with my guys! So proud of this team & unbelievably happy for the City of LA.”Major League Baseball insulated post-season teams in neutral-site bubbles after travelling them across the country during a shortened 60-game season. Turner was the first player since the playoffs began to be flagged for the coronavirus.MLB received Turner’s Monday sample from the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Utah in the bottom of the second inning, when lab president Dr. Daniel Eichner called deputy commissioner Dan Halem, who was in New York, a person familiar with the call said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because details were not released.Eichner told Halem the result was inconclusive. MLB receives many inconclusive results, so Halem told Eichner to run Tuesday’s pregame sample from Turner. That result came back positive in the sixth inning, the person said.Halem called Chris Young, MLB’s senior vice-president of baseball operations, who was in Manfred’s box at Globe Life Field, then called Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. Friedman notified the dugout or clubhouse, and Turner was removed from the game after the seventh inning.The 35-year-old Turner has been a staple in the Dodgers’ lineup for seven of their eight consecutive NL West titles. A late-blooming slugger who helped reshape the game by succeeding with an upper-cut swing, Turner is LA’s career leader with 12 post-season home runs, including a pair in this Series, in which he hit .364 and also played stellar defence.“It’s gut-wrenching,” World Series MVP Corey Seager said. “If I could switch places with him right now, I would. That’s just not right.”Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed Turner’s positive test moments after presenting the World Series trophy to Los Angeles — a jarring reminder of all that’s been different in this season where the perennially favoured Dodgers finally broke through.Mookie Betts, who came to the Dodgers to make a World Series difference, had a mad dash to home plate in the sixth inning to put Los Angeles over the top.The end of a frustrating championship drought for LA — and perhaps just the start for Betts and the Dodgers, whose seventh World Series title was their sixth since leaving Brooklyn to the West Coast in 1958.“I had a crazy feeling that came to fruition,” Roberts said. “It’s just a special group of players, organization, all that we’ve kind of overcome.”Betts bolted from third for the go-ahead run on Seager’s infield grounder, then led off the eighth with a punctuating homer.“It was absolutely phenomenal. This team was incredible,” said Seager, also the NLCS MVP who had franchise records with his eight homers and 20 RBIs this post-season. “We never stopped. We were ready to go as soon as the bell was called. Once it did, we kept rolling. You can’t say enough about what we did this season.”Kershaw was warming in the bullpen when Julio Urías struck out Willy Adames to end it and ran alongside teammates to celebrate in the infield, later joined by family who had been in the bubble with them in North Texas.Players were handed face masks as they gathered, although many of their embraces came mask-free even after Turner’s positive test.The Dodgers had played 5,014 regular season games and were in their 114th post-season game since Orel Hershiser struck out Oakland’s Tony Phillips for the final out of the World Series in 1988, the same year Kershaw — the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner who won Games 1 and 5 of this Series — was born in nearby Dallas.Los Angeles had come up short in the World Series twice in the previous three years. Betts was on the other side two years ago and homered in the clinching Game 5 for the Boston Red Sox, who before this season traded the 2018 AL MVP to the Dodgers. They later gave him a $365 million, 12-year deal that goes until he turns 40 in 2032.Betts’ 3.2-second sprint was just enough to beat the throw by first baseman Ji-Man Choi, pushing Los Angeles ahead 2-1 moments after Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled ace left-hander Blake Snell despite a dominant performance over 5 1/3 innings.“I’m not exactly sure why,” Betts said when asked about the move. “I’m not going to ask any questions. He was pitching a great game.”Snell struck out nine — including the first time all season that Betts, Seager and Turner each struck out in their first two at-bats. But the 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner didn’t see the top three batters in the Dodgers lineup a third time.“The only motive was the lineup the Dodgers feature is as potent as any team in the league,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Mookie coming around for the third time through, I value that. I totally respect and understand the questions that come with it. They’re not easy decisions.”The Dodgers leadoff hitter had a .531 OPS against lefties this season, compared to 1.061 versus right-handers.Randy Arozarena, the powerful Tampa Bay rookie, extended his post-season record with his 10th homer in the first off rookie right-hander Tony Gonsolin, the first of seven Dodgers pitchers. The Rays never got another runner past second base as LA’s bullpen gave reliever-reliant Tampa Bay a taste of its own medicine while allowing only two hits and no walks over 7 1/3 innings.About 2 1/2 weeks after the Lakers won the NBA title while finishing their season in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, the Dodgers gave Los Angeles another championship in this year when the novel coronavirus pandemic has delayed, shortened and moved around sports seasons.The MLB season didn’t start until late July and was abbreviated for the shortest regular season since 1878. And the expanded post-season, with 16 teams making it instead of 10, almost went the full distance.It ended when Urías got the last two out Tampa Bay batters on called third strikes — the 15th and 16 Ks by the Rays, with catcher Austin Barnes stuffing the last pitch in his back pocket. Along with the 11 strikeouts by the Dodgers, it was the most combined strikeouts in a nine-inning World Series game.Chants of “M-V-P!, M-V-P!” broke out when Betts hit his double in the sixth off reliever Nick Anderson, who allowed runs in seven consecutive relief appearances, the longest streak in MLB post-season history.Those chants got even louder — even with the a limited crowd of 11,437 — when Betts went deep on an 0-2 pitch by hard-throwing right-hander Pete Fairbanks.There were plenty of fans in Dodgers blue at the new $1.2 billion home of the Texas Rangers, the stadium with the retractable roof where they played 16 games over three weeks. And the roof was closed for the final one, with misty conditions and a game-time temperature of 39 degrees outside.Los Angeles was home team for the final game of the season, like in the 2017 World Series when the Houston Astros won Game 7 at Dodger Stadium, and two years ago against the Red Sox.“This year has been crazy, but no matter what, we’ll look back on this and we’re World Series champs. To get to say that and get to be part of that, it’s so special no matter what,” Kershaw said. “The only thing that may have made it better would be to be at Dodger Stadium.”___AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.___More AP MLB: and Hawkins, The Associated Press

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