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Ontario schools will be forced to close again as spread of COVID-19 variant increases, infectious disease expert says – CTV Toronto

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TORONTO —
An infectious disease expert says he believes schools in Ontario will be forced to shut down once again to slow the surge of COVID-19 variant cases in the province.

Dr. Colin Furness, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, made the prediction on Friday, a day after Ontario released updated modelling data, which suggested that the province could see as many as 8,000 COVID-19 cases per day by April, largely fueled by the spread of the more contagious variants of the disease.

“We know from the European experience that the kinds of control measures that we use are effective against the variants, we just need to maybe ramp it up a bit,” Furness said while speaking to Newstalk 1010 Friday. “I would expect us to need to have to close schools as an important measure, once the variants really pick up steam, and I’m expecting that to happen in the middle of April.”

On Thursday, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table presented new COVID-19 modelling data, which concluded that variants of the disease could potentially bring on a third wave of infection in the province.

The table said that the behavior of residents over the next few weeks would be “critical” in determining the quality of Ontario’s summer.

“Our ability to control the rate of spread will determine whether we return to normal, or we face a third wave,” Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, the co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said during the modelling update.

In February, Furness predicted that the spread of COVID-19 variants would trigger an “ugly” third wave of the pandemic around April that could send Ontario into a third lockdown.

There are currently 1,081 confirmed cases of variants of concern in Ontario, including the U.K., South African, and Brazilian variant.

On Friday, Furness underscored that while he hopes his prediction is wrong, he said it appears the trends of variant spread in Ontario will make the eventual closure of schools inevitable.

“The good news is, the weather is getting warmer and vaccinations are really ramping up. So, as dire as this looks, I think it’s also going to be fairly short lived. And so I really do want people to feel concerned, but also positive,” he said.

Students in Ontario have been forced to navigate COVID-19 through a mixture of in-person and remote learning since last March when the pandemic was first declared.

Most recently, the Ministry of Education announced in February that it would be postponing March Break for students and teachers from March 15 to the week of April 12 to limit community transmission of COVID-19.

In response to Furness’s prediction, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said that its priority is to keep schools open and safe.

“Following the best public health advice, we have strengthened our screening, testing, and masking requirements to maintain the safety of students and staff from variants of concern,” Caitlin Clark told CTV News Toronto in an email.

“As we have done throughout this pandemic, we will continue to follow the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.” 

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FDA vote expected on Johnson & Johnson vaccine booster shots – CNN

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13 more die of COVID-19 in B.C. as 667 new cases confirmed – CBC.ca

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British Columbia announced 667 new cases of COVID-19 and 13 more deaths on Friday, the most deaths in one day since Feb. 3.

In a written statement, the provincial government said there are currently 5,128 active cases of people infected with the novel coronavirus in B.C.

A total of 367 people are in hospital, with 152 in intensive care.

Overall hospitalizations, which typically lag behind spikes and dips in new cases, are up by 1.9 per cent from last Friday, when 360 people were in hospital with the disease and about 27 per cent from a month ago when 288 people were in hospital.

The number of patients in intensive care is up by about 11 per cent from 137 a week ago and by the same percentage from a month ago when 137 people were also in the ICU.

The provincial death toll from COVID-19 is now 2,055 lives lost out of 196,433 confirmed cases to date.

As of Friday, 89 per cent of those 12 and older in B.C. have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 83 per cent a second dose.

So far, eight million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, including 3.8 million second doses.

There are a total of 19 active outbreaks in assisted living, long-term and acute care. There has been one new outbreak at GR Baker Memorial Hospital in Quesnel. The outbreak at Good Samaritan Delta View Care Centre has been declared over.

The acute care hospitals currently affected by COVID outbreaks are Mission Memorial Hospital, University Hospital of Northern B.C., GR Baker Memorial Hospital, and Tofino General Hospital. 

More than 90 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and three people have died as a result of an outbreak at a care home in Burnaby, and officials say the death toll is expected to grow. 

The majority of cases at the Willingdon Care Centre are among residents, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. Health Minister Adrian Dix said Thursday he expects the number of deaths will rise to 10 over the next several days due to a delay in data reporting.

New northern restrictions

More restrictions for the northern part of the province came into effect Thursday at midnight and will last until at least Nov. 19 in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the region.

Restrictions in the region now include limiting indoor and outdoor gatherings to fully vaccinated people only, capping the number of people who can gather in any setting, moving worship services online, cutting off alcohol sales earlier at night and mandating masks and safety plans at organized events.

Health officials are strongly recommending people stay in their community unless it is essential for work or medical reasons. 

Restrictions are also in place in the Interior Health region and communities in the eastern Fraser Valley.

Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry continues to reiterate the importance of immunization to reduce the risk of illness and death due to COVID-19.

From Oct. 7 to 13, people who were not fully vaccinated accounted for 68.3 per cent of cases and from Sept. 30 to Oct. 13, they accounted for 76.3 per cent of hospitalizations, according to the province. 

Anyone who has not yet received a shot is encouraged to do so immediately. Appointments can be made online through the Get Vaccinated portal, by calling 1-833-838-2323, or in-person at any Service B.C. location. 

People can also be immunized at walk-in clinics throughout the province.

B.C. health officials are awaiting a federal review of COVID-19 vaccines for five- to 11-year-olds and are encouraging families to register their children now as they anticipate doses being available for this group by early November.

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U.S. border town welcomes back fully vaccinated B.C. visitors, but travel hurdles remain – CBC.ca

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Businesses in northern Washington state are welcoming back Canadian customers once the United States reopens its land borders, but a B.C. mayor says travellers may face hurdles.

The U.S. is allowing fully vaccinated travellers from Canada to enter the United States by air, land and ferry for non-essential travel starting Nov. 8.

Those entering the U.S. at a land border will be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or attest to their vaccination status upon request by a border agent. Land travellers do not need to show a negative COVID-19 test, a requirement for air travellers. 

Karen Frisbie, Chamber of Commerce president in Oroville, Wash. — a town of more than 19,000 residents bordering Osoyoos in B.C.’s South Okanagan — says her community has been quiet without Canadians travelling south to shop during the pandemic.

“We definitely miss our Canadian neighbours and look forward to having them back,” Frisbie said Friday to host Chris Walker on CBC’s Daybreak South.

Many border towns in Washington state struggled due to COVID-19 restrictions preventing Canadians from travelling across the border. The city of Blaine, for instance, said last August their finances were hit hard after several months without Canadian visitors.

Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff says she can feel the happiness of Canadians who know they’ll be able to visit Oroville.

“A lot of the people in Osoyoos love to go to Oroville — they have their special places [and] restaurants [in Oroville], and they love to go down there for American milk and cheese and beer, and gas sometimes,” McKortoff said on Daybreak South.

But the mayor also strikes a cautious note.

“You still need a PCR test to come back to Canada,” she said, referring to a type of molecular testing. Molecular COVID-19 tests involve methods such a nose swab, or providing a saliva sample.

“You’re not going to go down there for a day, and [you] have to worry about having a PCR test in order to get back through the border.”

Canada still requires arriving travellers to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their entry to Canada, regardless of their point of entry — but labs could take more than 72 hours to issue a test result.

“We need to wait until all of those things have been solved a little bit better before people will even take the chance to go across,” McKortoff said.

LISTEN |  Karen Frisbie and Sue McKortoff share their hopes and concerns about U.S. border reopening to Canadians:

Daybreak South5:24What will opening the U.S. border to Canadians mean to border communities? We go to Oroville, Washington and Osoyoos to hear more about the impacts on those cities.

What will opening the U.S. border to Canadians mean to border communities? We go to Oroville, Washington and Osoyoos to hear more about the impacts on those cities. 5:24

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