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Remote Canadian communities locking down, banning outsiders as COVID-19 spreads – CHEK

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OTTAWA – The latest wave of COVID-19 is bringing health-care resources in some remote communities in Canada to the breaking point as case numbers explode.

Record-breaking cases have been documented across much of southern Canada in recent days, and while many hospitals are reporting smaller numbers of critically-ill patients than in previous waves, they are struggling with a higher absentee rate because health workers are getting sick in much higher numbers.

Those strains are exacerbated in remote communities where access to health care is already quite limited.

Bearskin Lake First Nation, a fly-in only community in northern Ontario, declared a state of emergency on Dec. 30 when 43 residents tested positive for the virus. By Sunday, 169 people had confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, more than 40 per cent of the total population.

“That’s a crisis,” Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Derek Fox said in an interview.

Bearskin Lake has no hospital and is usually served by a nursing station with two nurses. An emergency evacuation would take more than three hours for a plane to get in and out from Sioux Lookout or Thunder Bay, and that’s only if weather permits it to land.

A federal rapid response team with three primary care nurses, a paramedic and two environmental health officers landed in Bearskin Lake on Dec. 30, bringing more testing capacity with them. Two public health nurses were sent by the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority as well.

Fox said it’s not enough for a community that has no hospital and no capacity to even determine how sick any of the infected residents are.

“The federal government and the provincial government need to acknowledge this is a crisis,” Fox said. “They’re not treating this like a crisis. They’re waiting to see what happens.”

He said about a dozen of the 49 communities in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation have confirmed COVID-19 cases right now, including the 169 in Bearskin Lake, and roughly 80 more in 11 other First Nations.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu spoke with Fox by phone Sunday and said Ottawa is there to help.

“I reiterated that we’ll be there for them, to support them, and that they just need to kind of keep telling us what they need and we’ll work really hard to make sure those resources are in place,” she said.

On Sunday, Hajdu said $483,000 had been approved to help Bearskin Lake with food security, personal protective equipment, funding for local community COVID workers, and supplies like wood cutting and collection.

She said when so many people are sick, and homes are only heated with wood stoves, even ensuring there is wood to burn is a challenge.

Outbreaks in remote communities are also affecting Nunavut, northern Quebec and Labrador.

Nunavut confirmed another 22 cases of COVID-19 Sunday, bringing the total to 196 in just 10 days.

That’s more than one-fifth of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the territory since the pandemic began almost two years ago, and the territory’s chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson says it is putting immense strain on health care.

“Please remain patient and kind, as there will be continued delays,” he said in a statement issued Sunday.

“Please stay home as much as possible and please don’t take any unnecessary chances.”

Nunavut is discouraging all non-essential travel within the territory and has banned non-essential travel to and from several communities, including Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Arviat, Igloolik and Pangnirtung.

Travel bans are also in place now in Nunavik in northern Quebec until mid-January, with only critical or essential travel allowed into or out of the region’s 14 villages.

The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services reported 33 new cases of COVID-19 in the week leading up to Christmas, and 131 between Dec. 27 and Dec. 31.

“The situation is serious,” the health board warned in a statement to the community on New Year’s Eve.

On Labrador’s remote northern coast, where COVID-19 showed up for the first time last week, leaders are pleading with residents to be cautious and imposing tight travel restrictions into local communities.

Innu Nation Deputy Grand Chief Mary Ann Nui said in a Facebook post Sunday that the inability to get confirmed test results quickly is adding to the stress.

The community of Natuashish locked itself down eight days ago after exposures to potential cases on flights into the town and a bar at Trapper’s Cabin, just before Christmas. Nui said the presumptive cases still haven’t been confirmed.

“Living in the northern area takes longer I guess, but it shouldn’t be like that,” Nui wrote.

Ten cases in Nain, one of five fly-in Inuit communities in the Nunatsiavut region of Labrador, were found through rapid tests but confirmation with PCR testing came slowly because of a lack of supplies.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Health Minister said tests were being deployed to the region, but said the uptick in demand couldn’t have been predicted.

Nui said the local health region should have been more prepared.

Newfoundland and Labrador was one of several provinces recording drastic spikes in COVID-19 case counts on Sunday, logging 466 new infections and toppling a single-day record set just 24 hours earlier.

Nova Scotia also marked a new one-day peak on Sunday, recording 1,184 cases and eclipsing the 1,000 daily case mark for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. The province reported 1,893 new infections over the past two days.

A two-day count from Prince Edward Island came in at 137. Public health officials on the Island say the total number of infections has nearly tripled over the past two weeks.

Ontario’s daily tally fell short of Saturday’s record high, but still came in at 16,714.

Quebec, meanwhile, logged 15,845 new infections on Sunday.

Mia Rabson/The Canadian Press

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U of G to close public COVID-19 vaccine clinic due to high vaccination rates and availability – GuelphToday

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NEWS RELEASE
UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH
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The public COVID-19 vaccination clinic on the University of Guelph campus will close Jan. 21 due to high vaccination rates and greater vaccine availability within the Guelph community.

Since opening Jan. 4, about 9,000 people received vaccine doses at the campus clinic.

“I am delighted and inspired by the enthusiasm and spirit of collaboration that was displayed, once again, by our University and greater Guelph community,” said U of G president Dr. Charlotte Yates.

“People came together under tight time constraints and challenging circumstances to organize and operate our second successful campus vaccination clinic, with many of our faculty, staff and students volunteering their time and expertise. Vaccination is the best way to protect people from the most serious negative health effects of COVID-19, and I am so proud the University was able to help make a difference.”

Run in partnership with Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health and the Guelph Family Health Team, the clinic was established as part of a community-wide effort to boost vaccination rates and help stem the current pandemic wave.

Held in the W.F. Mitchell gym of the Athletics Centre, the clinic initially saw 1,200 vaccination appointments a day. That number had dwindled to fewer than 100 by late this week, said Christine Zulauf, catering manager with Hospitality Services.

She said the clinic attracted visitors from across the region.

“It’s been a really unique experience to play a role and help get all of these vaccines into the community,” said Zulauf. “Hopefully, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we won’t have to do it again. I’m glad the University was able to help out.”

About 55 volunteers, including staff, faculty and community members, helped direct clinic visitors into and out of the facility. They contributed almost 1,000 volunteer hours in all this month; on average, about 16 volunteers were on hand at the clinic each day.

Many of those volunteers had also helped with the first campus vaccination clinic held for almost five months in 2021. More than 80,000 vaccinations were administered during that earlier five-month clinic.

“It was really wonderful that so many volunteers came back to help us this time around,” said Zulauf.

COVID-19 vaccinations will continue to be offered to faculty, staff and students on campus through Student Health Services.

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'Very nice spring, very nice summer': Omicron will bring us closer to normal, experts say – National Post

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‘We need to lay out a strategy and a plan towards moving back toward something that is nearer normality’

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Anna Bershteyn says there are absolutely no guarantees, of course, but if asked to read the tea leaves, she sees “a very nice spring, a very nice summer, where people can let loose,” see others and not worry so much about COVID-19 .

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It’s just a hope, “but if I had to make a guess, I would say that what Omicron will probably give us is a period of respite,” said Bershteyn, an assistant professor in the department of population health at New York University Grossman School of Medicine. Immunity gained through vaccination, infection or a combination of the two, could move populations closer to controllable levels of COVID, she and other scientists said. The hope is that the virus “sort of vaccinates itself” — that a milder strain gives us immunity to a later, potentially more severe one.

While hospital and ICU numbers are rising nationally, Omicron infections may have peaked and the country could be on a downward slope, federal health officials said Friday.

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COVID is here to stay. SARS-CoV-2 will continue to live in the human population, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer said. While we must prepare for more potential unusual variants, “we do need to lay out a strategy and a plan towards moving back toward something that is nearer normality,” Tam said . In England, mandatory masking in public spaces and vaccine passports will be dropped beginning next week, while Spain is moving toward treating SARS-CoV-2 much like seasonal flu.

Many questions linger: It’s not clear how long immunity to Omicron will last, whether we could see a second wave, or whether infection with a milder stain will indeed provide immunity against whichever Greek letter-named version of SARS-CoV-2 comes next. The virus has already proven whip smart — scientists didn’t see heavily mutated Omicron coming — and it’s still evolving.

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“The big game changer is indeed the moment when nearly everybody will have had some sort of immunity,” Dr. Peter Juni, of Ontario’s COVID-19 science table  recently told a COVID research consortium . “I can’t guarantee endemicity relatively soon, but I can guarantee we can move much closer to endemicity after the Omicron wave.”

Here’s what we know about where we are now and where we need to go.

Rapid rise, rapid descent?

“Our modelling suggests that we are at the peak around now, with some provinces (Ontario and Quebec, which experienced Omicron earliest) just past the peak and others just behind it,” said Caroline Colijn, an associate professor of mathematics at Simon Fraser University and COVID-19 modeller.

In Ontario, the rate of hospitalizations and intensive care admissions is slowing. Restaurants and gyms will reopen starting Jan. 31, with all remaining restrictions to go by mid-March, Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday. British Columbia is seeing a slowing in transmission rate. “That’s partly the end of the holidays, but I think it partly is  a lot  of people have COVID right now,” said Colijn and that’s having a dampening effect. More people are isolating “or cancelling things if they hear five of their friends have COVID.” That, combined with a shorter course of infections, can drive a speedy decline, she said.

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Our modelling suggests that we are at the peak around now

But Canada might also have a more rounded peak, or double peaks, because of the timing with schools and universities reopening and the lifting of restrictions, Colijn said. “We may not see the very rapid decline that has been seen in South Africa, for example.”

Official case counts are almost irrelevant, with testing systems so overwhelmed. “But it’s important if the number of actual infections happening starts to go down quickly, because that’s going to decrease the burden on everybody — fewer people sick, fewer people in hospital, fewer workplace closures, fewer schools affected,” Colijn said.

Why not just get infected and get it over with?

Famed cardiologist and author Dr. Eric Topol isn’t thrilled with the “Omicron will ultimately find just about everybody,” messaging. “Let’s not invite an unpredictable virus that can cause long COVID,” or secondary attacks, where people who may not be particularly at risk of a bad infection themselves unwittingly pass the virus to someone who can wind up very sick,” Topol said, during a recent University of California, San Francisco Department of Medicine Grand Rounds Q&A. 

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In Australia, “COVID chasers” are hoping to time infections when it’s less inconvenient to isolate. Their thinking runs the lines of, “It’s going to happen anyway, I want to live my life, I’m sick of trying to avoid COVID and it’s likely to be mild in someone like me.”

It’s not a terribly brilliant idea, Topol, founder and director of Scripps Research Translational Institute, and other scientists said. Omicron can cause severe disease. It’s not uniformly mild. With hospitals grappling with shortages of staff and COVID-19 drugs, people who do end up in hospital risk ending up with less-than-optimal care, Juni said. And while it will take months before it’s known whether Omicron can cause long COVID, the phenomenon typically follows mild infections.

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  1. FILE PHOTO: A respiratory therapist and six nurses prone a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient inside the intensive care unit of Humber River Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada April 19, 2021.

    Dr. David Jacobs: Omicron has filled up my hospital, but the panic from the Delta wave is gone

  2. Despite some claims, the numbers do indicate that among the elderly, unvaccinated people are much more apt to be made badly sick by the virus.

    What hospitalization data really say about COVID-19 vaccines

  3. A new study found that vaccinated couples were no less likely to conceive than unvaccinated ones.

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Vaccines are still the best shot at making COVID manageable

The vaccines are still holding their own against severe disease with Omicron, and a third dose boosts immunity even higher. Still, demand for third doses appears to be slowing, and while Pfizer has said it should have a vaccine that targets Omicron specifically by March, Topol and others said what’s needed is a universal, “pan” coronavirus vaccine that would protect against all variants and make it harder for the virus to mutate its way around. Omicron proved that SARS-CoV-2 can take huge leaps in evolution, “and get all these mutations all in one jump,” Bershteyn said. “You really can’t place Omicron on the family tree of variants that we’ve seen before. It sort of came out of nowhere, and as far as I can tell there’s no biological rule that says that it couldn’t do this again  and  be very contagious and very deadly at the same time.”

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“The unvaccinated who do not have a boost to their immunity from vaccine are likely to become susceptible again to whatever variant comes next,” she said, and regulatory discussions should be happening now, including, would manufacturers have to do a full clinical trial of a new vaccine, or a small, short trial, looking at the antibody response? How long to monitor for safety? A vaccine against Omicron is three months away. If a more dangerous variant emerged, “we couldn’t wait three months. You’d have to completely lock down everything. It’s just not feasible.”

What’s the endgame?

“Waning immunity and the emergence of new variants will shape the long-term burden and dynamics of COVID-19,” Colijn and colleagues wrote in a pre-print.

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“If we can get another infection in a couple of months, that’s not a good thing for where this virus settles out,” Colijn said. “But if we’re well protected for a year, that’s pretty good news. And what that means is that (COVID) will decline to hopefully pretty low levels and stay at those levels.”

But endemic doesn’t mean “not a problem,” she said. “It just means that it’s stable — it’s not having this huge wave that goes through the population.”

Waning immunity and the emergence of new variants will shape the long-term burden and dynamics of COVID-19

She doesn’t think there’s pressure on the virus to get more severe. Transmission is where the virus is having “its reproductive opportunities. We have the high transmissibility without it carrying along a really high severity. So, hopefully, we don’t get the big, bad new variant,” Colijn said.

Hospitalizations will never be reduced to zero. “There are always going to be frail vulnerable people who succumb to this virus,” McMaster University infectious diseases specialist Dr. Martha Fulford said in an earlier interview. Once past this hump, and with more protection because of boosters, more immunity from infections and more effective treatments, a broader conversation will be needed about the risks posed by COVID and the risks that exist from locking down “forever and a day,” she said.

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Change to shorter isolation period part of managing COVID 19 in B.C.: top doctor – Vancouver Sun

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Dr. Bonnie Henry says unvaccinated adults who test positive are at risk of having longer-lasting and more severe illness and must isolate for 10 days but those who are vaccinated should isolate for five days.

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s top doctor says the current wave of COVID-19 is causing less severe illness and that calls for a shift to shorter periods of isolation in order to minimize societal disruptions.

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Dr. Bonnie Henry says unvaccinated adults who test positive are at risk of having longer-lasting and more severe illness and must isolate for 10 days but those who are vaccinated should isolate for five days.

She says children are at much lower risk of severe illness and are able to clear an infection faster, so five days’ isolation is also suitable for them, with mounting evidence showing they need to interact with others as part of their social development.

Henry says testing is not needed for most people who have symptoms and are likely to have a mild illness but those who are immunocompromised and over 70 could end up with more serious illness and likely need a test.

She says vaccination remains the best protection for everyone, especially for vulnerable groups, but anyone with symptoms should stay home until they feel better, the same as with other respiratory illnesses like the flu.

Henry says COVID-19 is far from being an endemic illness so restrictions that are in place are needed to prevent more hospitalizations, though those numbers have been declining.

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