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Ontario's enhanced vaccine certificate system not accessible to marginalized people, advocates say – CBC.ca

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Advocates say Ontario’s enhanced COVID-19 vaccine certificate system is not accessible for marginalized groups.

The new system, announced on Friday, assumes people have smartphones, computers, printers, internet access, a data plan and the ability to navigate the provincial website, the advocates told CBC News on Saturday.

According to representatives of three organizations, the Ontario government failed to consider the needs of people with disabilities, including those who are cognitively impaired, have mobility issues or are legally blind, as well as seniors on a fixed income, low-income people and unhoused people.

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said the government didn’t properly test its enhanced system to ensure it met accessibility requirements. Lepofsky, who is completely blind, is a visiting professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School. The alliance is a disability consumer advocacy group.

“Yet again, unfortunately, the Ford government has shown that accessibility for people with disabilities, during COVID and more generally, is just not a priority for them,” Lepofsky said on Saturday.

Lepofsky said he found the announcement, website and news release all to be confusing because he thought there would an app for individuals that people could load onto their phones that would show their COVID-19 vaccine certificates. However, the app, Verify Ontario, turns out to be for businesses. 

The app for businesses also doesn’t accommodate the need for medical exemptions, he added.

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, says the Ford government has again ‘shown that accessibility for people with disabilities, during COVID and more generally, is just not a priority for them.’ (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

Then, when Lepofsky began to fill out the fields required on the provincial COVID-19 vaccination portal, he found he had to ask his wife to read the number on the back of his green health card. She had to use a magnifying glass because the colour contrast is not good and the print is smaller on the back than on the front, he said.

Lepofsky said making provincial public health requirements, such as vaccine certificates, accessible is not difficult, but there has to be a commitment to doing so.

“Ultimately, there is a failure to take into account the needs of people who are not smartphone-owning, internet-connected, tech-savvy, sighted, not disabled people,” he said.

“It just creates a two-class society,” he added. “There are people with various disabilities who live independently and want to live independently, and they deserve the same access that people without disabilities are being given.”

Ford announced new enhanced system on Friday

On Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that Ontarians who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 can start downloading new QR codes this week, which officials say will allow for faster entry into settings that require proof of vaccination.

The enhanced system officially takes effect Oct. 22, but Ontarians can get their new scannable vaccine certificates before then, and businesses can already start using a new app to scan those codes.

Premier Doug Ford said on Friday that Ontarians who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 can start downloading new QR codes this week. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

On Friday, residents whose birthdays fall between January and April were able to download the enhanced vaccination certificate through the province’s COVID-19 website. On Saturday, those born between May and August could download it, while on Sunday, those born between September and December will have their chance.

Seniors face obstacles to download certificates, group says

Elizabeth Macnab, executive director of the Ontario Society of Senior Citizens Organizations, said the government should have consulted with seniors advocacy groups and the provincial Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility before launching the enhanced vaccine certificate system. 

Macnab noted that at least 20 per cent of Ontario’s population is over 65, but the people who designed the software are likely in their 40, 30s or 20s. “There’s a really deep divide in the understanding of technology and the intuitiveness as well, how to use it, how to access it and so on,” Macnab said.

“When you are an older person, it becomes an affordability issue in terms of technology,” Macnab said. “It becomes the basic necessities. The high cost of gas. I can’t drive to the grocery store, can’t socialize, let alone buy the technology too.”

Mobility and cognitive impairment also pose challenges. “If you’re a person with a mobility issue, you’re in a walker and you’re wandering around. Your hands are full. You’ve got to pull all of this stuff out. It’s a lot easier for somebody without the challenges of mobility level and cognitive impairment.” 

Angie Peters, president and CEO of the Yonge Street Mission, says the process is complicated for unhoused young people or young people without stable housing because their contact information can change constantly. (CBC)

Angie Peters, president and CEO of the Yonge Street Mission, said unhoused young people or young people without stable housing do not always have income, leaving them without access to technology. The process is complicated because their contact information can change constantly.

“There are periods of time where they don’t have a phone, so if they had it loaded on a device, and they no longer have that device, now they don’t have it and they have to get it again,” Peters said.

Province says it knows access to technology is issue

Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for the Ontario Health Ministry, said in an email on Saturday that the government has worked to make the process accessible for all Ontarians.

“We understand that not everyone has access to technology, which is why we have worked to make vaccine certificates as accessible as possible,” Hilkene said.

Those who are unable to download the certificate themselves can contact the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre to have it mailed or emailed to them. The centre can be reached at 1-833-943-3900 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

She said people who do not have an Ontario health card can contact their public health unit to have their identity verified and get a COVID ID, which is a unique number assigned by a public health unit for the purpose of obtaining a copy of a vaccine certificate.

The province says people can print a copy of their enhanced vaccine certificate by visiting a local library, going to a ServiceOntario location, or asking a trusted friend or organization.

Enhanced certificates are not mandatory and Ontarians can continue using their current vaccine receipt if they wish.

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Good morning, Greater Sudbury! Here are a few stories to start your day – Sudbury.com

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Good morning, Greater Sudbury! Here are a few stories to start your day on this Saturday morning.

Rising case counts see Public Health Sudbury reinstate work-from-home rule as of Monday

Saying local COVID-19 case rates remain “unacceptably high,” Public Health Sudbury & Districts is reinstating work-from-home requirements as of Monday. Continued high COVID-19 case rates mean that the Public Health Sudbury & Districts area is among the top three most affected jurisdictions in Ontario, said a press release issued Friday. Local protective measures, including a reinstatement of capacity limits first issued on Nov. 8, have suppressed rapid growth in cases; however, case rates remain unacceptably high, threatening health and the health system, in-person learning, and local transition to a “reopened” community, said the health unit. PHSD said it is announcing “a measured and responsible approach to the current situation.” The medical officer of health is reinstating work-from-home requirements, revoked by the province on July 15, issuing strong recommendations for COVID-19 protections to area schools, businesses, and organizations, and enacting stricter measures for the follow up of contacts of cases of COVID-19. “We have carefully reviewed recent data and consulted with the province’s chief medical officer of health,” said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Medical Officer of Health with Public Health Sudbury & Districts. “Although school-based cases and household spread are currently driving our continued high case counts, cases continue to be reported among young adults, social settings, and workplaces. It is hard to find a setting that is not impacted. “With the widespread circulation of the virus in our community, our response also needs to be widespread, reducing mobility and face-to-face interactions overall. This is the purpose of the work-from-home Instructions. Further, every sector needs to do their part, voluntarily at this time, to pave the path to lower case rates and re-opening.” You can read the full Letter of Instruction here.

Read the full story here.

Variant prompts ban on travellers from southern Africa

Canada has banned visitors from southern Africa after the discovery of a new variant of concern in the region. The new variant, deemed Omicron, first emerged in South Africa and coincided with a steep rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in that region in recent weeks, according to the World Health Organization. The ban will apply to foreign nationals who transited through a list of seven countries in the last 14 days, including South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Namibia and eSwatini. Global Affairs is also issuing an advisory to discourage non-essential travel to South Africa and neighbouring countries. “We know very little about this variant right now,” Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said at a briefing Friday. The mutations that have been detected show the potential for greater transmissibility, she said, and she won’t be surprised to see cases crop up in Canada. “This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO wrote in a statement Friday. “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other (variants of concern.)”

Read the full story here.

Sudbury leads Ontario in opioid death rates, but Ford’s more interested in a GTA road, Bigger says

When it comes to Greater Sudbury’s homelessness and opioid crises, neither Premier Doug Ford nor Health Minister Christine Elliott are picking up the phone. This, Mayor Brian Bigger said, has him feeling “ghosted.” “He refuses to talk and his ministers refuse to respond or provide funding that we need in our community,” he said. “This is really a sad state when there is no response.” Earlier this week, Bigger penned an open letter to the premier in which he requests the province’s support and affirms that he’s available to discuss matters at any time. “This is about the City of Greater Sudbury having the highest per-capita (opioid) death rate in the province … and not even getting the courtesy of a callback from the minister of health,” he told Sudbury.com. It’s not as though there isn’t any money available, Bigger said, noting that the province managed to find $6 billion to spend on Highway 413 in the Greater Toronto Area. “That’s just not acceptable,” he said, adding that the city has been pushing for the province’s help for the past two years. 

Read the full story here.

Sudbury names new economic development lead

Sudbury has a new economic development lead. Meredith Armstrong, who has had a long tenure with the city, moved into the role of director of economic development, effective Nov. 19. She replaces Brett Williamson, who has left the position for a new opportunity outside the organization. “With her unique achievements and her well-established relationship with the Greater Sudbury Development Corporation (GSDC) board, Ms. Armstrong embodies all the qualities needed to continue to support the work of the GSDC board in her new role as director,” said Lisa Demmer, GSDC board chair, in a Nov. 25 news release. “I want to thank Mr. Williamson for his efforts and dedication as we worked together to position Greater Sudbury for ongoing economic recovery and success amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. I wish him all the best in the future.”

Read the full story here.

Salvation Army Christmas Kettles now in place around Sudbury

Salvation Army volunteers are back beside their kettles, and this year offering a chance to “tap” your donation to keep everyone safe.  The kettles are in place across Sudbury and will be until December 10, and this year feature $5, $10, and $20 “taps” so that you can use your debit card, credit card or Google/Apple pay features to donate to the Salvation Army. The kettles will also be in place for cash donations at locations across Sudbury. Donations go to the Salvation Army food bank, and to fill out their annual Christmas Hampers. This year, they have 600 families signed up to receive a hamper filled with the makings of a Christmas dinner, including a turkey, as well as toys for any children. Their fundraising goal this year is $220,000 to cover the community’s needs. All of the money will stay in and be used to help people in Sudbury. They are still in desperate need of volunteers, however. Lyn Mullen of the Salvation Army told Sudbury.com that each year, there are 1,000 volunteer shifts to fill. “That’s a two hour shift, five times a day, at six locations until December,” said Mullen. “All the money stays in Sudbury and is used for all our family services, which includes our food bank and our Christmas hampers.” If you would like to volunteer and are double vaccinated, you can contact the Salvation Army at their email address, sudburykettlecampaign@gmail.com, or at 705-673-5893 ext. 203.

Read the full story here.

Ontario still in fourth virus wave, likely to continue through winter, top doc says

Ontario’s rising COVID-19 infection curve is a continuation of the fourth wave that started earlier in September, and not the start of a fifth wave, the province’s top doctor said Thursday as he warned that the upward trend would continue. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore said case counts never got back to a low level despite a slight dip before steadily increasing again in late October. “We never declared the fourth wave over, this is simply a continuance,” Moore told reporters. “Sadly, all modelling would predict this would slowly, steadily rise and increase over the coming months, including January and February.” He said higher case counts were anticipated as people moved indoors in the cold weather, and asked people to remain cautious until the weather warms up in the spring and more people become eligible for third vaccine doses to protect against the “formidable foe” of COVID-19. “It just continues to want to spread and it won’t slow down again until we get outdoors in the springtime,” he said. “We do have a time period over the next four months that we’ll have to continue to be very, very vigilant.”

Read the full story here.

Winter weather will stick around this weekend

Expect a sunny day for your Saturday with winds of 15 km/h and a high of -9. That wind will mean a wind chill of -20 this morning and -12 this afternoon. The UV index today is one, or low. Tonight, expect increasing cloudiness and a low of -11. For Sunday, expect cloudy skies and slightly warmer temperatures. The afternoon temperature is expected to hit -6, with a 60-per-cent chance of flurries. Sunday night, the clouds will stick around and there is a 30-per-cent chance of flurries and a low of -10.

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COVID-19 vaccine for kids: CHEO clinic kicks off this weekend – CTV News Ottawa

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OTTAWA —
The push to quickly get jabs into young arms continues as kids in the capital rolled up their sleeves for their first COVID-19 vaccine.

Ottawa Public Health says about 1,200 doses were administered to children aged five to 11 on Friday, the first day of the city’s paediatric vaccination campaign.

This weekend is the start of CHEO’s vaccination clinic through the Kids Come First health team. That’s where Tracy Schulz’s son, Aiden, is getting his shot.

“They phone me Thursday and the appointment’s Sunday,” said Schulz. “It’s happening pretty quickly and I’m pretty excited about that.”

Aiden is a little less excited.

“I just don’t like the feeling of something going into my body,” said the nine-year-old, who is afraid of needles.”

CHEO says its clinic is aimed at easing some of those anxieties.

“The way our clinic is different is we offer more time and space per vaccination appointment and we have resources and support that focus on providing the child with the best experience, a really positive experience,” said Stephanie Carter, the director of ambulatory care at CHEO.

Carter says paediatric experts and people from the autism team will be on hand—including CHEO’s therapeutic clown, Molly.

The CHEO website states the clinic is geared toward children who are immunocompromised, individuals with autism or anxiety, and those who have a condition that makes its challenged to be vaccinated in the community.

Running Saturday and Sunday, the clinic has capacity for 300 kids a day.

Appointments can be booked by preregistering on CHEO’s website.

“We’re hoping that the smaller environment’s a little bit more intimate,” said Schulz. “They’re used to dealing with kids and that will make a difference.”

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No new Covid-19 cases reported in Northwest Territories – Cabin Radio

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The NWT on Friday reported no new cases of Covid-19, only the third day of reporting to come back blank since the territory’s latest Delta-variant outbreak began in mid-August.

The active case count across the territory dropped from 42 to 35. Twenty-eight are in Tuktoyaktuk – which now has a rabies warning to contend with – while four are in Yellowknife and one each in Inuvik, Norman Wells, and Hay River.

There was no change to the number of hospitalizations, intensive care admissions, or deaths.

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Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Friday dubbed the globe’s latest variant of concern Omicron.

Omicron, identified in South Africa, has a large number of mutations. Early evidence suggests it could be significantly more transmissible than Delta and present an increased reinfection risk.

However, the amount of evidence related to Omicron is low. The variant was only identified last week and the number of cases studied to date numbers in the low dozens.

Some countries, including Canada, moved swiftly on Friday to impose travel restrictions on South Africa and neighbouring nations.

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Canada currently has no direct flights to or from the affected region, but nevertheless banned the entry of all foreign nationals who have travelled through South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, or Eswatini in the past 14 days.

Some observers criticized the rush to travel bans, arguing South Africa was in effect being punished for operating a particularly effective variant surveillance program.

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