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Nova Scotia reports no new cases of COVID-19 for first time since March – Brandon Sun

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HALIFAX – Nova Scotia increased its social gathering limit on Friday as the province reported no new cases of COVID-19 for the first time since its initial infections were identified in mid-March.

Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health, called the development a “significant and encouraging milestone” in a province that has seen a continuing downward trend in new cases over recent weeks.

It kept the total number of confirmed cases at 1,055, including 978 people who have recovered from the virus. Eight people are currently in hospital and three of them are in intensive care.

“It hasn’t been easy but we are seeing positive results,” said Strang.

Nova Scotia announced more details of a reopening plan set for next Friday, even as neighbouring New Brunswick put the brakes on expanding the current phase of its plan. That province is dealing with a growing cluster of new cases in the Campbellton area, allegedly caused by a health-care worker who returned from Quebec and didn’t self-isolate.

Strang was asked about what lessons Nova Scotia could take from the Campbellton outbreak.

“The message in that is really about the importance of self-isolation when you cross borders,” he said. “What it shows us is the importance of very closely monitoring our borders. We need to be very thoughtful and careful about how we lift those border restrictions.”

Premier Stephen McNeil announced a new gathering limit of 10 people effective immediately — a doubling from a limit of five that was imposed when health restrictions were put in place in late March.

Physical distancing of two metres would still be required, except among members of the same household or family “bubble.” The limit is the same indoors and outdoors, with exceptions for outdoor weddings and funeral services which can have 15 people.

Strang clarified that when it comes to weddings, that limit of 15 would have to include photographers and caterers if that’s what couples wanted in their ceremonies.

He said the gathering limit also applies to arts and culture activities such as theatre performances and dance recitals, faith gatherings, and sports and physical activity. Businesses such as theatres, concerts, festivals and sporting activities would also have to adhere to the 10-person limit.

“We are watching our epidemiology and will consider expanding the way people can have close social interaction when we see how this first stage in the reopening is going,” said Strang. “It’s very important that we don’t introduce too much risk of COVID-19 at any one time and we have the capacity to monitor the effect of any steps.”

McNeil said that private campgrounds would also be allowed to open, but would only operate at 50 per cent capacity and must ensure public health protocols are followed, including adequate distancing between campsites.

Provincial campgrounds are scheduled to open June 15 at reduced capacity to ensure a minimum of six metres between individual sites.

The latest measures came two days after McNeil announced that most businesses required to close under a public health order in late March would be allowed to open next Friday, provided they are ready with a plan that follows physical distancing protocols.

The list of businesses includes bars and restaurant dining rooms, hair salons, barber shops, gyms and yoga studios, among others.

Some health providers would also be allowed to reopen, including dentistry, optometry, chiropractic and physiotherapy offices. Veterinary services can also operate along with some unregulated professions, such as massage therapy, podiatry and naturopathy.

Earlier Friday, the province announced it would add 23 new long-term care beds because of a need resulting from some facilities slowing or stopping admissions during the pandemic.

It said it is entering into an agreement with Shannex RLC Ltd. to convert a floor at the Caritas Residence, a private assisted-living home in Bedford, N.S., into nursing home beds.

Residents would be able to move into the facility in early June and will be tested for the virus before being admitted.

According to the government, there are 132-long term care facilities in Nova Scotia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2020.

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COVID-19 in Ottawa: From April spike to June plank – CTV News Ottawa

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OTTAWA —
Data suggest the COVID-19 pandemic curve has flattened in Ottawa and the gradual reopening of businesses has not yet had an impact.

Ottawa’s COVID-19 case count rose steadily in June, but at a much slower pace than previous months. By the latter half of the month, as the economic reopening began to take hold, daily reports of new cases were in the low single digits.

Here is a look at how the pandemic has progressed in Ottawa, 16 weeks since it began.

Cases spike in April

The first case of COVID-19 in Ottawa was confirmed on March 11. The total case count rose slowly during the latter half of March, but quickly ramped up in April. 1,178 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Ottawa during the month of April and 73 people died.

Each day, the number of active cases rose, as new, laboratory-confirmed cases outpaced the number of recoveries. By the end of April, there were 673 known active cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa, according to data from Ottawa Public Health.

Since the end of April, the rise in the total number of cases has slowed and more people began to recover.

May saw the curve’s direction change, but it was also a tragic month for many families in the city.

Curve flattens in May at great cost

Between May 1 and May 31, Ottawa saw an increase in new cases of roughly half the rate seen in April, with 590 new confirmed infections. During that same month, the number of resolved cases jumped dramatically. At the start of May, 805 COVID-19 cases in Ottawa were considered resolved; by May 31, that number doubled to 1,610.

May, however, was also the deadliest month for the disease in Ottawa since the pandemic began, with 168 deaths, many of them in the city’s long-term care homes.

Many of the deadliest outbreaks in long-term care homes began in April, but lasted through the month of May. 

Curve plateaus in June

If April was the pandemic’s spike, then May was the hammer that would flatten the curve in June.

According to data from Ottawa Public Health, June has been a plank month. The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths has still been increasing, but at only a fraction of the pace seen in April and May.

There were 132 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 between June 1 and June 30, with 19 new deaths.

Active cases continued to fall to a low of 40, though data from June 30 showed a slight increase in the number of active cases, from 40 to 46.

Recoveries continued to increase, but the rate of recovery was also much slower. OPH reported 175 new resolved cases in June, as opposed to 805 in May.

Many of the deadliest outbreaks at long-term care homes officially came to an end in June. Ottawa’s deadliest outbreak, at Carlingview Manor, was officially declared over on June 18. The outbreak claimed 60 lives in the home. The outbreak at Madonna Care Community, where 47 residents and two workers died, ended June 8.

By the end of June, only two outbreaks remained active.

The data suggest fewer people are contracting the virus, accounting for the slower rate of not only new cases, but recoveries as well. The testing figures provided by Ottawa Public Health show that testing remains strong and fewer positive cases are being returned.

At the start of June, as many as three per cent of all tests came back positive. By the end of the month, that number had dropped to 0.3 per cent.

Laboratories returned more than 19,000 test results between June 1 and June 28, for an average of 680 tests per day.

COVID-19 testing in Ottawa in June

However, OPH notes that those who did contract the virus in June were still getting it from the community, and not from a close contact or institutional outbreak.

According to the data, two-fifths of all new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ottawa in June are believed to be the result of community spread.

COVID-19 Community Spread in Ottawa in June

The rate of hospitalizations also fell in June. At the start of the month, 39 people were in hospital with COVID-19 complications. By the end of the month, there were two, with one in intensive care.

Full details can be seen at Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 Dashboard page, which is updated daily.

COVID-19 Hospitalizations in Ottawa in June

Holding the line in July

Ottawa’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches, says Ottawa has done well to flatten the curve of COVID-19, but the risk of a second wave is real.

“We are seeing second waves emerge in other parts of the world and, while we are fortunately in a much better position here in Ottawa at this point, we are also at risk of a second wave,” Dr. Etches said in a statement on June 29. “We can watch other countries and communities to learn about what works to control COVID19 and adapt approaches to what is appropriate for our city.”

A recent outbreak at a Kingston, Ont. nail salon has led to 30 cases in that city. None of the affected individuals have been hospitalized, but it shows how easily one case can turn into dozens. Recently lifted lockdowns in some parts of the U.S. have been reinstated as cases continue to surge south of the border.

With 40 per cent of all new cases in Ottawa linked to community transmission, Dr. Etches said all of these figures are based only on what has been confirmed by laboratories.

“Currently case numbers are steady, outbreaks are decreasing and we are maximizing testing and contact tracing capacity. This is good news, but the positive case numbers you see updated on our website every day are still just a fraction of the infections truly present in the community,” Dr. Etches said.

“The risk of an increase in COVID19 cases and outbreaks is real. Modelling data shows that a decline of just twenty per cent in public control measures could lead to a second wave. Our actions influence whether a second wave occurs and its severity. Ottawa residents have already shown that they are capable of doing what needs to be done to keep the virus at a manageable level.”

The next step for Ottawa could be a mandatory mask order. Those rules are already in place in Kingston and set to go into effect in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit’s jurisdiction. The City of Toronto also recently passed a by-law making masks mandatory in indoor public spaces starting July 7.

Dr. Etches said she is “seriously considering” a similar mask order, and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he would not be opposed.

The Ontario government is currently discussing how to move regions into the third stage of its reopening framework. Health Minister Christine Elliott said she is waiting for another week’s worth of data before going ahead.

Stage 3 would allow the size of public gatherings to increase and all workplaces to open, according to provincial guidelines.

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Why some people don't want to take a COVID-19 test – The Conversation AU

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Last week, outgoing chief medical officer Brendan Murphy announced all returned travellers would be tested for COVID-19 before and after quarantine.

Some were surprised testing was not already required. Others were outraged some 30% of returned travellers in hotel quarantine in Victoria had declined to be tested.

This week, Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said more than 900 people in two Melbourne “hotspots” had declined door-to-door testing.

Again, there was outrage. People refusing COVID-19 tests were labelled selfish and rude.

A positive test result, together with contact tracing, gives public health authorities important information about the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, in a community.

So why might people at higher risk of a positive result be reluctant testers? And what can we do to improve testing rates?

The many reasons why

Reluctance to be tested for COVID-19 is not unique to returned travellers in hotel quarantine or people living in “hotspot” suburbs.

In the week ending June 28, FluTracking, a voluntary online surveillance system, reported only 46% of people with a fever and cough had gone for a COVID-19 test.

That can be for a variety of reasons.

A medical test result is not a neutral piece of information. People may refuse medical testing (if they have symptoms) or screening (if no symptoms) of any type because they want to avoid the consequences of a positive result.

Alternatively, they might want to avoid the perceived burden of the test procedure itself.

Reasons may relate to potentially losing money or work

Many reasons for avoiding testing are likely to be structural: a casualised workforce means fewer workers with sick leave and a higher burden associated with having to isolate while waiting for test results. After a COVID-19 test in NSW, for instance, this can take 24-72 hours.

Then there’s the issue of precarious work. If people can’t attend work, either waiting at home for test results or recovering from sickness, they may lose their job altogether.




Read more:
If we want workers to stay home when sick, we need paid leave for casuals


In the case of hotel quarantine, a positive result on day ten will mean a longer stay in isolation. Hotel quarantine is not an easy experience for many, particularly if quarantining alone.

An extension of time at a point where the end is in sight may be a very difficult proposition to stomach, such that avoiding testing is a preferable option.

Another structural issue is whether governments have done enough to reach linguistically diverse communities with public health advice, which Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton recently admitted may be an issue.

Through no fault of their own, may people who don’t speak English as a first language, in Victoria or elsewhere, may not be getting COVID-19 health advice about symptoms, isolation or testing many of us take for granted.




Read more:
Multilingual Australia is missing out on vital COVID-19 information. No wonder local councils and businesses are stepping in


People might fear the procedure or live with past traumas

Reasons may be personal and include fear of the test procedure itself (or fear it will hurt their children), distrust in government or public health systems, and worry about the extent of public health department scrutiny a positive result will bring.

Not everyone is comfortable with door-to-door testing.
James Ross/AAP Image

People may also feel unprepared and cautious in the case of door-knocking testing campaigns.

We can’t dismiss these concerns as paranoid. Fears of invasive procedures are associated with past trauma, such as sexual abuse.

People who have experienced discrimination and marginalisation may also be less likely to trust governments and health systems.

COVID-19 can also lead to social stigma, including blame and ostracism, even after recovery.

As with any health-related decision, people usually consider, consciously or not, whether benefits outweigh harms. If the benefit of a test is assumed to be low, particularly if symptoms are light or absent, the balance may tip to harms related to discomfort, lost income or diminished freedoms.

Should we force people to get tested?

Although federal and state laws can compel certain people to undergo testing under limited circumstances, acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly said it was “a last resort”.

Forcing a person to undergo a test contravenes that person’s right to bodily integrity. This is the right to make decisions about what happens to your own body, without outside coercion.

It also involves medical personnel having to override their professional responsibility to obtain voluntary and informed consent.

Some states have indicated they will introduce punishments for refusing testing. They include an extension of hotel quarantine and the potential for fines for people not willing to participate in community testing.




Read more:
Lockdown returns: how far can coronavirus measures go before they infringe on human rights?


Forced testing will backfire

We don’t think forced testing is the way to go. A heavy-handed approach can create an antagonistic and mistrustful relationship with public health institutions.

The current situation is not the only infectious disease emergency we will face. Removing barriers to participating in public health activities, in the immediate and long term, will enable people to comply with and help build trusted institutions. This is likely to create an enduring public good.

Victoria is trying to make testing easier. It is offering a test that takes a saliva sample rather than a nasal swab, which is widely perceived to be unpleasant.




Read more:
Explainer: what’s the new coronavirus saliva test, and how does it work?


This may encourage parents to have their children tested. The test is less sensitive, however, so the gains in increased uptake may be lost in a larger number of false negatives (people who have the virus but test negative).

Ultimately, we need to understand why people refuse testing, and to refine public health approaches to testing that support individuals to make decisions in the public interest.

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Wall Street Shifts Bets to Big Pharma as COVID-19 Vaccine Race Progresses – The New York Times

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(Reuters) – Wall Street is moving some bets on COVID-19 vaccines to large pharmaceutical companies with robust manufacturing capabilities, signaling that a love affair with small biotech firms might be ending after the sector’s best quarter in almost 20 years.

Early signs of the shift came Wednesday, when positive data for one of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine candidates sent shares of the large U.S. drugmaker up more than 3%. Shares of its partner on the vaccine, Germany’s BioNTech SE, have been flat on the data.

Although the news had little effect on shares of Pfizer’s large rivals in the vaccine race, smaller peers Moderna Inc and Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc, both of which have previously shown promising COVID-19 data of their own, ended down more than 4% and 25%, respectively. Inovio partially rebounded Thursday.

For the week so far, shares of bigger players in the vaccine race, such as Johnson & Johnson and Merck, have also outperformed Inovio and Moderna.

Some of the selling was likely driven by end-of-quarter profit-taking, locking in dizzying gains in an otherwise turbulent market. Moderna and Inovio shares have risen nearly 200 percent and 540 percent in the year-to-date, respectively, greatly eclipsing gains for large pharmaceutical companies.

Analysts say investors are changing their strategy to focus on companies that can make, as well as discover, a vaccine and that the risk reward profile for some biotechs is less favorable after their stunning gains so far this year.

“I would certainly say success by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, or Johnson & Johnson could make it more challenging for smaller companies, given size and scale and manufacturing capability,” said Vamil Divan, a biotechnology analyst at Mizuho.

Smaller biotechnology companies with promising COVID-19 vaccines pose a special challenge for investors, said Justin Onuekwusi, a portfolio manager at Legal & General Group Plc.

Because of their limited manufacturing capabilities, investors in those stocks are effectively betting that the company or its drug will be bought by larger companies, he said.

“In smaller cap stocks like biotech, it all tends to be quite binary so fundamental or detailed analysis don’t always work,” Onuekwusi said.

Medical manufacturers have never faced a challenge like that of producing a global COVID-19 vaccine.

Companies including Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have said they each aim to produce as many as 1 billion doses by the end of 2021.

There are more than 17 vaccine candidates being tested on humans in a frantic global race to end a pandemic that has infected 10 million people and killed more than half a million. Drugmakers have released early stage human trial data for five vaccine candidates so far.

Bernstein Research analyst Vincent Chen said COVID-19 vaccines could generate in excess of $10 billion in annual revenue, but many investors are struggling to determine their value.

“In the near term, they are not going make a ton of money on” the vaccines, said Evan Seigerman, an analyst at Credit Suisse. “The initial round of vaccines are going to be given away or sold at cost. Where people will start making money is if COVID-19 vaccine becomes something like the flu shot and people need to constantly protect against it.”

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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