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Public health urges people to stick to their own household, but there could be relief for those living alone – CBC.ca

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Stephanie Belding felt “a sense of loss” when Toronto Public Health urged people last Monday to limit contact with others to within their own household.

Like so many others, Belding enjoyed a brief reprieve from isolation when the COVID-19 curve flattened during the summer and public health restrictions eased. The 49-year-old actor and trainer lives alone in a downtown apartment, but over the last couple of months there were plenty of opportunities to meet up with friends outside, where the risk of coronavirus transmission is considered lower.  

But as COVID-19 cases, particularly in Ontario and Quebec, surged in recent weeks to alarming levels not seen since the spring, public health officials have been trying to reduce as much person-to-person contact as possible, while keeping schools open and avoiding another full lockdown. 

“The concept of the bubble, or the social circle, no longer reflects the circumstances in which we live,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, in a news briefing on Sept. 28.

“Fighting COVID-19 demands we limit contact with people we don’t live with.”

De Villa said that it’s essential to stay two metres away from anyone outside a person’s household. 

More than a quarter of Canadians — and almost one-third of Torontonians — lives alone, according to the most recent data available from Statistics Canada. For many of them, retreating from in-person contact with friends and family and going back to a social life dominated by Zoom calls is a particularly daunting prospect. 

“[There’s a] sense of ‘Oof, here we go again,'” Belding said.

But it appears that Toronto Public Health has taken notice of the hardship the spring lockdown had on people who were alone in isolation and is prepared to make exceptions. 

“I recommend that individuals only leave their homes for essential activities, such as work, education, fitness, health-care appointments, and to purchase food, with flexibility for up to two individuals from outside their household to provide social support if an individual lives alone,” de Villa wrote in a letter dated Friday to Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams. 

The Ontario government also made reference to people living alone in a news release issued on Friday but was much less specific.

“Individuals who live alone may consider having close contact with another household,” the release said. 

WATCH | COVID-19 surge prompts new restrictions:

Ontario and Quebec introduced a number of stricter public health measures this week after record numbers of coronavirus cases in the provinces. 6:30

The Quebec government has provided more specific guidance. According to its coronavirus information web page, visitors from other households are prohibited in areas with the highest “red zone” alert level, including Montreal and Quebec. However, the web page lists an exception to allow “a single visitor from another address for single individuals,” adding that “it is recommended to always have the same person in order to limit social contact.”

That’s exactly what Belding in Toronto has been doing for the last few months. Knowing there are many high-risk seniors in her apartment complex, she’s formed a bubble with just one friend, who also lives alone in the same building and shares the same conscientious attitude toward COVID-19 prevention. 

“It allows us to have kind of a sense of normalcy, of communication. I cook a lot so we can share meals, or we’ll watch stuff together,” she said. 

“Just knowing that I have someone in my immediate vicinity that I can kind of have a relationship that isn’t six feet away and masked [is helpful].”

Over the seven months of the pandemic, Friday was the first time Noah Witenoff, who lives on his own in Toronto, had heard any public health guidance acknowledging the unique challenges faced by those living alone.  

“When you say a household, and you’re the household, the thought of not being with other people for an extended period of time or an indefinite amount of time is overwhelming,” the 42-year-old food stylist said. 

‘Unprecedented’ challenge

COVID-19 presents an “unprecedented” challenge that highlights how much people need contact with others in a crisis, said Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus. 

“The natural response we have to stress or threat or grief or any of these negative emotional states is to connect with another human being. And given the choice, we connect with them … physically,” he said. 

Normally, with large-scale traumatic events, “you see this pulling together of the community and … in the pre-COVID days, you know, physically being together,” Joordens said.

“COVID has kind of pulled that away from us. And especially people who would be living alone when we’re in these sort of isolation situations.”

Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus, says it’s critical for people living on their own to keep in mind that even when they are physically alone during the COVID-19 isolation period, they can prevent themselves from being psychologically alone. (University of Toronto)

Crucial to have alternatives

In addition to any limited in-person contact that public health agencies might endorse, it’s vital for people living alone to find other ways to stay connected — whether it’s through video calls, the telephone or other creative outlets, such as making a music playlist for a friend that brings back happy memories, Joordens said. 

“To just say, ‘I am physically alone, but I will not be psychologically alone during this period,’ I think that is absolutely critical,” he said. 

Witenoff got through the spring lockdown period by organizing virtual events for friends who were in a similar situation, he said, including Wednesday night Zoom chats and online movie nights. 

But purely online contact isn’t enough for long periods of time, he said.

After the concept of social bubbles was introduced — where a small group of people could hang out together without physical distancing provided they stayed exclusive to that group — he formed a bubble with a couple of friends.

Noah Witenoff, 42, says he organized Zoom meetings for people who were, like him, living alone during the spring lockdown. (Noah Witenoff)

It’s important, he said, “for people who live alone to be able to merge with … another household or another person who lives alone,” Witenoff said. 

“I don’t think I could do another full lockdown by myself.” 

Although it appears that Toronto public health guidelines will likely allow Belding to continue to visit with her neighbour in person, she’s prepared to be isolated again. 

Her friend plans to visit her family in British Columbia during the holidays for several weeks and would then quarantine when she returns. 

“It means [it’s] me and my cat,” she said. “It means lots of Zoom and FaceTime and chatting on balconies or distanced outside stuff. But being very alone in the space.”

Tips for people living alone

  • “This is a time for social approaching,” even if it’s from a physical distance, said psychology professor Joordens. Get back in touch with family or friends you haven’t talked to for a while. Think of new people to contact who might be in the same situation as you and appreciate the connection.
  • If video chats have become tiresome or you’re not feeling connected, try the “old-fashioned telephone,” Joordens said. Phone conversations often require more attention and listening than Zoom chats. 
  • Make appointments to talk to someone regularly. Make it clear it doesn’t matter if you don’t have anything in particular to talk about — you can even watch TV and talk about it. 
  • Music can be a great way to boost your mood — and someone else’s. Make a playlist that takes someone back to a fun time in their life or includes tunes they want to belt out. 
  • If you have a hobby you love, such as cooking or baking, consider posting a video of your activity and build an online community, Joordens said.   
  • Remember the basics for both physical and mental well-being: keeping a routine, eating well, sleeping well and exercising. 
  • It’s normal not to feel OK sometimes. But if you are in distress, reach out to a friend or family member. Click here for a list of other places to get help.

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As spread slows slightly, OPH wants Ottawans to fine tune their physical distancing – CBC.ca

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While the rate of COVID-19 transmission in Ottawa has declined over the last two weeks, Ottawa Public Health is calling on residents to take further measures — albeit small ones — to combat the respiratory virus.

At a virtual news conference on Tuesday, Dr. Vera Etches, the medical officer of health with Ottawa Public Health (OPH), said the virus takes advantage of moments where people let their guard down. Despite the messages about the importance of physical distancing, wearing masks and hand hygiene, Etches said there are situations where people seem to forget themselves. 

What’s more, these are often situations where government enforcement doesn’t have jurisdiction — such as in private homes where mandatory mask bylaws don’t apply or at gatherings small enough to be permitted under provincial regulations. Etches referred to these situations as “blind spots.”

“One blind spot is gathering with extended family and larger friend circles and thinking that the risk of COVID-19 isn’t there,” she said. “Another one is socializing before or after a team sport.”

Close contact with people outside your household always poses a risk of transmission, said Etches, no matter who you are.

“People don’t think of these settings like carpooling or meeting up with extended family in the same way they might in terms of going to a gym or going to a bar. So we’re just trying to expand people’s risk assessment.”

Lunch at work often a problem 

One of the most common opportunities for COVID-19 transmission is during lunch breaks between colleagues, said Etches.

Coworkers may spend the entire work day safely distancing and wearing a mask, only to sit together and remove their mask to sip coffee or eat lunch, and inadvertently spread the virus. 

“Employees having lunch together seems to come up over and over,” she said. “Whether it’s in a health-care setting or a school or a workplace … it is what gives the virus an opportunity to spread.”

Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health, says Ottawa’s numbers are dropping, though people are still gathering with extended family or socializing before and after team sports. 0:52

Etches said “it’s no one’s fault,” reiterating the virus is often present before people feel sick.

One simple solution is if people have to remove their masks to eat lunch, they ensure they stay at least two metres away from others, she said. 

Case numbers in Ottawa improving

While much of September and October was overshadowed by a rise of the second wave, Etches said on Tuesday, there are signs to be hopeful about.

“I want to say congratulations to the people of Ottawa. There are some encouraging indications that we’re having some success,” she said.

Etches said local health officials are still working on their recommendations for the province as to whether they think Ottawa is ready to relax measures.

The province’s Stage 2 modified measures in Ottawa went into effect Oct. 10 and are set to expire by next month. Health Minister Christine Elliott would not say whether the Ottawa will be allowed to transition to Stage 3 or whether the increased restrictions, on things like indoor dining or gyms, will continue.

As Halloween approaches, Etches still recommends families cancel trick-or-treating and parties and opt for virtual celebrations and walks with household members only to see neighbourhood decorations. 

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Early COVID-19 vaccines 'likely to be imperfect': U.K. Vaccine Taskforce chair – Toronto Sun

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U.K. Vaccine Taskforce Chair Kate Bingham said on Tuesday that the first generation of COVID-19 vaccines “is likely to be imperfect” and that they “might not work for everyone.”

“However, we do not know that we will ever have a vaccine at all. It is important to guard against complacency and over-optimism,” Bingham wrote in a piece published in The Lancet medical journal.

“The first generation of vaccines is likely to be imperfect, and we should be prepared that they might not prevent infection but rather reduce symptoms, and, even then, might not work for everyone or for long,” she added.

Bingham wrote that the Vaccine Taskforce recognizes that “many, and possibly all, of these vaccines could fail,” adding the focus has been on vaccines that are expected to elicit immune responses in the population older than 65 years.

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She said that the global manufacturing capacity for vaccines is vastly inadequate for the billions of doses that are needed and that the United Kingdom’s manufacturing capability to date has been “equally scarce.”

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Coronavirus: First COVID vaccines 'likely to be imperfect' and 'might not prevent infection', says taskforce boss – Sky News

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The chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce has said the first generation of COVID-19 vaccines “is likely to be imperfect” and that they “might not work for everyone”.

Writing in The Lancet, Kate Bingham said no vaccine in the history of medicine “has been as eagerly anticipated” and that “vaccination is widely regarded as the only true exit strategy from the pandemic that is currently spreading globally”.

But she cautioned against over-optimism and that any vaccine might not work for everyone, or for very long.

“We do not know that we will ever have a vaccine at all,” she wrote. “It is important to guard against complacency and over-optimism.

“The first generation of vaccines is likely to be imperfect, and we should be prepared that they might not prevent infection but rather reduce symptoms, and, even then, might not work for everyone or for long.”

The Vaccine Taskforce was created by Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor. It was set up under the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in May 2020, and Ms Bingham reports directly to the prime minister.

In her Lancet article she said that the “strategy has been to build a diverse portfolio across different formats to give the UK the greatest chance of providing a safe and effective vaccine, recognising that many, and possibly all, of these vaccines could fail”.

More from Covid-19

Ms Bingham’s article came as a review of coronavirus vaccine research called for a standardised approach to assessing the effectiveness of all potential COVID-19 inoculations.

Publishing their conclusions in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, researchers from the University of Oxford said a meaningful comparison of different candidates is required to ensure only the most effective vaccines are deployed.

Dr Susanne Hodgson, of the University of Oxford, who is the lead author of the review, said: “It is unlikely that we will see a single vaccine winner in the race against Covid-19.

“Different technologies will bring distinct advantages that are relevant in different situations, and additionally, there will probably be challenges with manufacturing and supplying a single vaccine at the scale required, at least initially.

“Taking a standardised approach to measuring the success of vaccines in clinical trials will be important for making meaningful comparisons, so that the most effective candidates can be taken forward for wider use.”

There are more than 200 vaccine candidates in development around the world, with 44 in clinical trials.

Of the 44, nine are in the phase three stage of clinical evaluation and are being given to thousands of people to confirm safety and effectiveness.

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