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Province reports 30 new COVID cases; four Maple Leaf workers among 18 in Brandon – Winnipeg Free Press

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Manitoba’s chief public health officer cut short his vacation Thursday to deliver the bad news of 30 new COVID-19 cases, including a cluster of 18 in Brandon.

The large number of cases in Manitoba’s second-largest city are linked to a person who travelled from Eastern Canada and didn’t strictly follow self-isolation guidelines, Dr. Brent Roussin said.

“The person was to have self-isolated and it wasn’t done perfectly and we saw transmission occur,” he said. “Self-isolation isn’t only staying home, it’s also limiting your contact with other people in the home,” he added, without providing more details.

Eleven other cases were reported in the province’s Southern Health region. One new case was reported in Winnipeg.

It was the highest single-day coronavirus count in the province since April 2, when 40 cases were reported.

“Today’s case numbers are a reminder that COVID 19 is not done with us — that we still need to take… fundamental precautions,” Roussin said.

Four of the new cases in Brandon are people employed at the Maple Leaf Foods Inc. hog processing plant, reported Local 832 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents them.

The union wants the plant shut down, at least until Monday. An estimated 76 plant workers have been tested thus far.

<img src="https://media.winnipegfreepress.com/images/NEP8455172.jpg" alt="Four of the new cases in Brandon are people employed at the Maple Leaf Foods Inc. hog processing plant, reported Local 832 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents them. (Bruce Bumstead / Brandon Sun files)

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Four of the new cases in Brandon are people employed at the Maple Leaf Foods Inc. hog processing plant, reported Local 832 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents them. (Bruce Bumstead / Brandon Sun files)

“We strongly believe that the most prudent action is to cease production until more test results come back and we have a better sense of the trend,” Local 832 president Jeff Traeger said in a letter Thursday to provincial Health Minister Cameron Friesen.

However, the province decided against a shutdown of the facility, which employs 2,300 workers.

“We’re not seeing evidence of transmission occurring in the workplace,” said Roussin, who wouldn’t provide any details about the tested employees.

“The industry itself has gone above and beyond what public health has recommended.”

Friesen told reporters that a decision to protect workers’ safety, such as closing the plant, will be based on evidence and accurate information that’s verified by public health officials.

Maple Leaf says it’s taking precautions and has no plan to cease production. The company says the workers appear to have contracted the virus in the community.

“We will continue to operate our Brandon plant as long as we believe we can provide an environment that will protect the safety of our people while working,” the company said in an email to the Free Press Thursday.

“Given our daily health screening, temperature monitoring, social distancing and the personal protective equipment all team members wear while at work, we feel confident that our plant environment is safe.”

Health officials said Thursday that 10 Manitobans were hospitalized with COVID-19, five of them in intensive care. There are 118 active cases. The total infected so far in the province since the pandemic began is now 474. With the newly identified infections, the five-day test positivity rate rose to 0.90 per cent.

<img src="https://media.winnipegfreepress.com/images/NEP8457305.jpg" alt="The province decided against a shutdown of the Maple Leaf Foods Inc. hog processing plant in Brandon, which employs 2,300 workers. (Tim Smith / The Brandon Sun)

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The province decided against a shutdown of the Maple Leaf Foods Inc. hog processing plant in Brandon, which employs 2,300 workers. (Tim Smith / The Brandon Sun)

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the government should be providing more precise information about the location of COVID-19 cases and whether they are tied to specific workplaces.

While the province says there is no evidence that the coronavirus is being spread at Maple Leaf, the fact remains that “more and more employees are falling sick at that plant,” he said. Both he and and Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont supported the UFCW’s call Thursday for a temporary closure.

The government’s reluctance to name institutions where infections have occurred (unless it needs the public’s help to trace contacts) may become “a big concern” once school season arrives, Kinew said.

Parents will want to know if there are cases linked to their child’s school or daycare, he said. “Right now, it seems as though you’ll only be notified if there was a close contact (to your child).”

Lamont said close attention must be paid to the Maple Leaf plant because most of the large COVID-19 outbreaks in North America have been tied to either meat-packing plants or personal-care homes.

Age breakdown of latest COVID-19 cases

Click to Expand

Among the 30 new COVID-19 cases announced by the province on Thursday, four were children aged nine and younger — two from Brandon and two from the Southern Health region.

Four other young people, aged 10 to 19, were also identified in the latest group of infections — three from Brandon in the Prairie Mountain Health region and one in Southern Health.

Of the 30 new cases, six are people aged 60 and older, including one man in his 80s.

Among the rest, six cases were people in their 20s, six were in their 30s and four in their 40s. None who were infected was in their 50s.

If the plant itself isn’t the source of the virus spread, the focus should nonetheless be on its workforce, many of whom are likely living in cramped quarters, he said.

“There needs to be a full screen of all the employees,” he said.

Maple Leaf said its plants have “transformed” how they operate through social distancing, with “plexiglass separators on production lines where possible, marks on floors to control movement in certain directions and efforts to decrease density, like staggered shifts and additional break space.”

After learning of the positive test results, Maple Leaf implemented a COVID-19 response plan and asked several other “team members” to self-quarantine. The company notified employees, the Canada Food Inspection Agency and the union, a spokesperson said.

“After a careful and detailed review of the circumstances around the cases, it appears very likely that the team members contracted COVID-19 in the community,” the spokesperson said, adding the company is in contact with the four infected employees, who are all recovering at home.

But it took just a few positive cases at other food processing plants in Canada and the U.S. to turn quickly into major outbreaks that resulted deaths, the union president said.

“We’re trying to prevent a disaster,” said Traeger.

Chart showing daily cumulative counts and status of positive COVID-19 cases

Some workers have said they’re scared of catching the virus on the job, and Traeger expects to see the rate of absenteeism rise until their fears are allayed.

Three of the workers who tested positive worked in the same auxiliary department — not the slaughterhouse or on the production line. None of the four who’ve tested positive are being paid, contrary to what Traeger said the union was told earlier by a Maple Leaf manager.

“The company is not paying a salary to people who have COVID-19 or are self-isolating,” he said.

Traeger said he can see why the company isn’t acting quickly to close the Brandon plant that kills up to 18,000 hogs a day. It provides the pork to Maple Leaf’s processing facilities across Canada, and closing it could cripple other plants.

“That’s a lot of revenue,” he said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

Read full biography

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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Tesla's "battery day" Could Be Bad News For Cobalt Miners – OilPrice.com

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Tesla currently uses the nickel-cobalt-aluminum cathode chemistry, which has a low cobalt content of about 5%, for their cars produced outside China.

The company also embraces the Responsible Minerals Initiative (RMI) to identify red flags such as child labour in their cobalt sourcing.

A reportedly signed deal between Tesla and Glencore (LON: GLEN) in June has cast doubts on the company’s statement that it’s close to eliminating cobalt from its batteries altogether.

The contract would involve supplies of 6,000 tonnes of cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo for Tesla’s new Shanghai factory.  

There are rumours about a wider cell design, which would bring down the cost of making batteries. That would be a critical development, given that they are the main cause of EVs’ hefty price tag.

Musk, 49, said earlier this year that the event would “blow your mind” and has been adding to the hype over the weekend by tweeting the upcoming announcement “it’s big” and “insane”, with “many exciting things to be unveiled.”

Analysts at Citigroup said that with Tesla having roughly 30% of the pure battery electric vehicle (BEV) market this year, its innovations in battery performance and chemistry have “significant implications for EV metal demand” and so Battery Day “could impact sentiment towards battery metals demand.”

Related: What’s Next For Gold?

Goldman Sachs believes the focus on Tuesday will be on “production capacity expansion, battery cost and new technology trends.”

Even if Tesla is not ready to transition to an entirely new type of battery, updates in the chemistry of its existing cells could also offer extra longevity, with high hopes the coveted “million-mile battery” will be unveiled.

Volkswagen’s own battery day earlier this month predicted 300 gigawatt-hours of batteries will be needed in 2025.

Over the last three years, Tesla has mass-manufactured batteries for its cars and energy storage products at its Gigafactory in Nevada with its partner Panasonic.

It has also begun sourcing cells from Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL) and LG, and making battery packs for the made-in-China (MIC) version of its Model 3 sedans. 

Not so near-future news

Most of Tesla’s announcements have related to finding ways drive down production costs, increase the lifetime and charging speed of their batteries, and make sure the metals used in the making of its EVs are ethically sourced.

The carmaker events often cause short-term stock volatility, but what Musk shows at these presentations doesn’t always result in a working product within the announced timeline. 

In October 2016, the South African-born billionaire showed off different styles of roof tiles with solar cells that weren’t actually functional. The event helped Tesla score shareholder approval for a $2.6 billion acquisition of debt-saddled SolarCity.

So far, the carmaker has not produced or installed solar glass roof tiles in a significant volume.

A year later, Tesla unveiled its new Roadster vehicle prototype, “the fastest production car ever made”, which should have been available this year. Last May, however, Musk listed several other tasks Tesla would need to achieve first, suggesting it may not arrive until after next year.

Tesla’s “Autonomy Day”, held in April 2019, was all about self-driving cars or “robotaxis” being available in the second quarter of 2020. They have yet to pass all safety tests needed before beginning mass production. “All the things I said we would do them, we did it,” Musk said at the event. “Only criticism— and it’s a fair one — is sometimes I’m not on time. But I get it done and the Tesla team gets it done.”

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Canada's housing market moderately vulnerable, CMHC says in first quarterly report since COVID-19 began – CBC.ca

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Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. says there was some evidence of overvaluation in Canada’s housing market this spring amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Crown corporation says in cities such as Victoria, Moncton and Halifax, there was a widening gap between the selling price of houses and the price economists would expect, based on population growth, disposable income, mortgage rates and employment.

That data comes from the agency’s housing market assessment, which gives the housing market a grade based on whether homebuilding and rising prices could ultimately affect the stability of the economy.

CMHC says there was a “moderate degree of vulnerability” in the housing market as of the end of June, the same grade the market received in February.

The preliminary report shows the slowdown during the height of COVID-19 lockdown measures, but doesn’t include the record-setting home sales in July and August — nor does the data reflect the ending of government income supports and mortgage payment deferrals.

CMHC economist Bob Dugan says that — despite giving the housing market a steady grade this summer — CMHC still expects a severe decline in home sales and in new construction to come as the economy recovers from the pandemic.

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Sentinel teacher mulling WorkSafe claim over COVID-19 exposure – North Shore News

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A teacher at Sentinel Secondary in West Vancouver is considering filing a WorkSafe claim after contracting COVID-19 – most likely from a student – reportedly without being warned that she was potentially a close contact by health authorities.

Over half a dozen students from Sentinel and that teacher are now in isolation after a Grade 12 student in their class tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

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According to West Vancouver Teachers Association president Renee Willock, the teacher was not told to self-isolate by health authorities doing contact tracing on the student – only students sitting closest to that person were told to stay home.

But two days later, the teacher started to develop symptoms and has since tested positive for the virus, said Willock.

Willock said the situation has left teachers concerned that there hasn’t been enough transparency and notification around COVID-19 exposures in schools.

That only some students in the classroom were told to stay home isn’t how teachers thought the cohort system would work, said Willock.

“It’s difficult because the protocols have been changing almost daily,” she said.

If the teacher decides to file a claim, it would likely be the first claim connected to COVID-19 in schools as a workplace issue, said Willock.

A Grade 12 student at the school who spoke to the North Shore News Monday said some of his friends who are in that class and still attending school with a substitute teacher are wondering why they haven’t been told to self-isolate.

“None of the other students in that class have necessarily been told why it’s ok for them to stay in,” he said, noting the physical constraints of the classroom mean students don’t have large spaces between them.

“They’ve heard nothing.”

Teachers and parents were first made aware of the COVID-19 exposure when Principal Michael Finch sent an email notice on the weekend, stating, “We have been made aware that a member of our school community has tested positive for COVID-19.”

Since then, however, there have been few details provided by either the West Vancouver School District or Vancouver Coastal Health.

That’s left teachers stressed and confused, said Willock.

Willock said it’s also concerning that the school has not been listed on Vancouver Coastal Health’s web page of school exposures.

“I know this is inaccurate,” said Willock.

Nine students at Collingwood School, a private school in West Vancouver, are also self-isolating this week after being exposed to a student with the virus at the school last week.

“This is a standard measure that is taken to ensure that there is no ongoing transmission in the school and does not mean that they are sick,” wrote Head of School Lisa Evans in a letter to parents.

Collingwood was also not on a school exposure list from Vancouver Coastal Health – which had not listed any schools in the region on Monday – including Mulgrave private school in West Vancouver where a group of Grade 9 students and their teachers spent 14 days in

Isolation earlier this month after a student in the group tested positive for COVID-19.

In contrast, the Fraser Health Authority listed 14 schools in the Surrey School District with COVID-19 exposures on Monday.

According to information posted on the website, an “exposure” is defined as when a single person with a lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 attended school during their infectious period.

Henry said Monday that all school exposures were supposed to be posted.

Henry also told reporters that even if they are in the same classroom as someone who has tested positive for the virus, most students won’t be considered close contacts. “If you’re sitting at a desk and you’re not close to them, you’ve not had close contact with them,” she said.

“And unless we start to see transmission within the classroom, it would be very unlikely that an entire classroom would have to self isolate.”

Henry said when people have been potentially exposed to the virus at school “I absolutely am sure that my colleagues and VCH are following up with the individuals who were exposed.”

In some cases, a teacher or student may have become infected with the virus through family or other social contacts but haven’t been in the school during their infectious period, said Henry.

Vancouver Coastal Health did not respond to several requests for comment on the school exposures at Sentinel and Collingwood.

She said so far most of the school exposures have been adults in the school setting.

This week health authorities also changed the list of symptoms that would require children to stay home from school, taking several of those – like a runny nose – off the list. That’s because a runny nose by itself is much less likely to be a symptom of COVID-19, especially among children, said Henry. A fever or cough – by themselves or in combination with other symptoms are much more likely to be a symptom of the virus.

 

 

 

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