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Staff and students from Fellowes High School tested for COVID-19 following school closure – The Sudbury Star

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Sign in front of Fellowes High School on Bell Street in Pembroke.

Anthony Dixon / jpg, PM

Close to 150 people – staff and students from Fellowes High School – underwent testing for COVID-19 today.

On Wednesday, the Renfrew County District Health Unit (RCDHU) ordered the Pembroke high school close until further notice after three staff members tested positive for the virus. An outbreak was declared at the school following the first two positive results. A special testing clinic was held Thursday where the health unit expected to test between 50 and 60 Fellowes staff members and approximately 90 students from the three classes directly impacted by the outbreak. Once the results are known, the RCDHU will be reporting on a daily basis, according to Dr. Robert Cushman, acting medical officer of health for the RCDHU.

Fellowes is the first school in the Province of Ontario to be closed since schools reopened earlier this month. Cushman said while it was a difficult to be the first to shut down a school, it was necessary to limit the spread of the virus. He would not set a timeline for when the school will reopen as the situation will be assessed on a day-to-day basis.

He said following the first two positive cases, the feeling was that the contacts were limited to a small area of the school and number of students, but concerns were raised when the third positive test result came in because that individual had contact with three classrooms in the school.


Dr. Robert Cushman, acting medical officer of health, Renfrew County and District Health Unit

Ashley Fraser /

Postmedia

“With that result we decided that we had to catch up if not get in front of this, rather than the virus get out and infect the entire school,” Cushman said during a telephone interview Thursday afternoon.  “It was an effort to minimize the harm so far and get the evidence we needed to assess the situation and decide how to go forward.”

He said what came out during contact tracing was the staff members at the school was much more vigilant when it came to distancing and wearing masks with the students that it they were with each other. It is felt that the virus may have made its way into the school when staff members returned prior to Labour Day, Cushman noted.

“These three people, I feel sorry for them because they all had other conditions which they blame,” he said. “It’s bad luck we had three people had other problems or so they thought and they tested positive. The message is if you’ve got a symptom it’s COVID until proven otherwise.”

“For us, sometimes we’ll never know where index case came from, but our goal and our mission is to minimize further spread,” the doctor added. “It is one thing to look back and speculate but another to get on this and limit the spread to the best of our ability.

Cushman is hopeful that this recent uptick in cases in Renfrew County and district will serve as a wake-up call for residents of Renfrew County that everyone must pull up their socks and some must get with the program and take the necessary precautions related to the virus.

“Most of us have been doing our best but now we have COVID fatigue and we have to pull up our socks especially as we move toward winter and if we want to keep the schools open and the economy going,” Cushman said.

These three cases bring the total of positive COVID-19 cases to 41 in Renfrew County and district. There are currently seven people self-isolating with the virus, including the three staff members. There have been eight positive cases since Sept. 1 and with more positive results related to Fellowes anticipated, September could to be the worst month for cases since March, which saw 13 positive cases.

He sees this as the second wave of the virus and people must act now to limit the spread.

“It is only the public and its behaviours that can contain this disease to limit its spread,” Cushman said. “Once it gets to cases and contact tracing we are on the defensive so we health-care professionals are the defence, but it’s the public that is the offence. It’s really important that people pay attention to the precautionary measures – the hand washing, the masking and distancing.”

He also strongly suggests that people download the COVID Alert app which can assist the health unit with contact tracing. He also encouraged people to reassess their personal bubbles and limit close contacts with those outside their bubble.

Other keys to limiting the spread of COVID-19 remain physical distancing, wearing a mask when it isn’t possible and practising good hand hygiene, including using hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available.

TPeplinskie@postmedia.com

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Canada plots course to fully vaccinated return to gatherings in fall

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Canada on Friday said there would be a gradual return to a world with indoor sports and family gatherings as more people get vaccinated, but it did not go as far as the United States in telling people they could eventually ditch their masks.

Canada has administered one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to just over half its adult population, and the country may be over the worst of its current third wave of infections, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said.

On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places, guidance the agency said will allow life to begin to return to normal.

On Friday, Canada‘s public health agency offered guidelines to the 10 provinces, which are responsible for public health restrictions.

The agency says once 75% of Canadians have had a single dose and 20% are fully vaccinated, some restrictions can be relaxed to allow small, outdoor gatherings with family and friends, camping, and picnics.

Once 75% of those eligible are fully vaccinated in the fall, indoor sports and family gatherings can be allowed again.

“I think masks might be the last layer of that multi-layer protection that we’ll advise people to remove,” Tam told reporters, noting that in Canada colder temperatures meant people would start spending more time indoors in the fall.

“We are taking a bit of a different approach to the United States,” she added. While in most of Canada masks are not required outdoors, they are mandatory indoors.

Less than 4% of Canada‘s adult population has been fully vaccinated compared to more than 36% of Americans.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has promised that everyone who wants to can be fully vaccinated by September, this week spoke of a “one-dose summer” and a “two-dose fall” without explaining what that might look like.

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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Delayed 2nd Pfizer/BioNTech shot boosts antibodies in elderly; COVID-19 obesity risk higher for men

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The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Delaying second Pfizer/BioNTech dose boosts antibodies in elderly

Delaying the second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine beyond the originally recommended three-week gap used by the companies in clinical trials appears to induce a stronger antibody response in the elderly, UK researchers found. Shortly after the vaccine became available, UK health officials advised that the second dose should be given 12 weeks after the first to allow more people to get protected by a first dose early on. In a new paper seen by Reuters and expected to appear on medRxiv on Friday ahead of peer review, researchers found that among 175 people ages 80 to 99, those who got their second dose at 12 weeks had antibody responses that were 3.5 times higher than those who got it after three weeks. Antibodies are only one part of the immune system, and vaccines also generate T cells that fight infections. The peak T cell responses were higher in the group with a three-week interval between doses, and the authors cautioned against drawing conclusions on how protected individuals were based on which dosing schedule they received. (https://reut.rs/3wjPK9B)

Impact of obesity on COVID-19 risks may be greater in men

The known increased risk of severe COVID-19 and death linked to obesity may be even more pronounced for men than women, new data suggest. Researchers studied 3,530 hospitalized COVID-19 patients with an average age of 65, including 1,469 who were obese. In men, moderate obesity was associated with a significantly higher risk of developing severe disease, needing mechanical breathing assistance and dying from COVID-19. (The threshold for moderate obesity is a body mass index (BMI) of 35. In an 5-foot, five-inch tall (1.65 m) adult, that would correspond to a weight of 210 pounds (95 kg). In women, however, only a BMI of 40 or higher, indicating severe obesity, was linked with the increased risks. In a report published in European Journal of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, the researchers note that while obesity is known to be linked with body-wide inflammation, patients’ levels of inflammatory proteins did not appear to explain the association between obesity and severe illness. For now, they conclude, “particular attention should be paid” to protecting patients with obesity from the coronavirus, “with priority to vaccination access, remote work, telemedicine, and other measures given the higher risk of adverse outcomes once they are diagnosed with COVID-19.” (https://bit.ly/3eO6GiA)

COVID-19 testing rates low among symptomatic Americans

Sick Americans appear to be passing up opportunities to get tested for coronavirus and thus are likely unknowingly spreading the infection throughout their communities, new research shows. Among 37,000 adults across the United States who participated in a smartphone app survey between March and October 2020, nearly 2,700 reported at least one episode of fever and chills. But according to a report published in JAMA Network Open, only a small fraction reported receiving a COVID-19 test result within seven days of the onset of illness. At first, as tests became more accessible, the numbers improved. In early April 2020, less than 10% of survey participants reporting illness with fever received test results within a week. By late July, that proportion had increased to 24.1%. Throughout the summer and fall, as tests became easier to find, the number of sick participants who reported getting tested remained flat. By late October, only 26% reported receiving a test result within a week of febrile illness. “It’s shocking to me that when people have a fever they’re still not getting tested,” said coauthor Dr. Mark Pletcher of the University of California, San Francisco. “Tests are easy to come by. People might have coronavirus, might be spreading it to their friends and neighbors, and they’re not getting tested.” (https://bit.ly/2QUyMzf)

Open  in an external browser for a Reuters graphic on vaccines in development.

 

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid, Alistair Smout and Ronnie Cohen; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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U.S. CDC says Fully vaccinated people can remove their masks in most places

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday advised that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks outdoors and can avoid wearing them indoors in most places, updated guidance the agency said will allow life to begin to return to normal.

The CDC, which hopes the guidance will prod more Americans to get vaccinated, also said fully immunized people will not need to physically distance in most places.

The turnaround came just 16 days since CDC issued revised guidance that left many restrictions in place for vaccinated people. The agency came under fire in March for initially discouraging immunized grandparents to fly to visit loved ones.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the new guidance was based on a sharp reduction in cases, expansion of vaccines to younger people and vaccine efficacy against coronavirus variants.

“We followed the science here,” Walensky.

President Joe Biden emerged at the White House for remarks without a mask. “I think it’s a great milestone, a great day,” he said.

“If you’re fully vaccinated and can take your mask off, you’ve earned the right to do something that Americans are known for all around the world: greeting others with a smile,” he said, flashing a brief smile himself.

Biden earlier shed his mask during a meeting with lawmakers, Republican Senator Shelly Moore Capito told reporters. Some journalists at the White House also removed their masks.

The CDC had faced criticism, even from public health officials, that it has been too cautious in its guidance. Critics have said people need to see more benefit of getting vaccinated in terms of returning to normal activities.

“In the past couple of weeks, we have seen additional data to show these vaccines work in the real world, they stand up to the variants, and vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus,” the agency said in a news release.

It added, “We needed to take the time to review the full body of evidence to get this right, and that’s how we came to this decision.”

‘NEED A REWARD’

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said he supports the new guidance that many had been calling for.

“People in state health departments and infectious disease doctors have been saying this for some time because they’re so impressed with the effectiveness of the vaccine, and also, they have the feeling that people who are vaccinated need a reward,” he said.

Republican Senator Susan Collins called the guidance “overdue.”

“If people find they cannot do anything differently after a vaccine, they will not see the benefit in getting vaccinated,” she said.

The revised guidance is a major step toward returning to pre-pandemic life, but the agency still recommends vaccinated people wear masks on planes and trains, and at airports, transit hubs, mass transit and places like hospitals and doctor’s offices.

Officials in several states said they would immediately review existing mask requirements.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association said the announcement creates ambiguity because it fails to fully align with state and local orders.

“It is critical for customers to remember the CDC announcement is guidance and that many state and local jurisdictions still have mask mandates in place that retailers must follow.”

Supermarket chain Kroger Co said it would keep its mask requirements in place “at this time.”

Target Corp said it will continue requiring coronavirus safety measures in all stores, including masks and social distancing, while it reviews the guidance.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million retail and grocery workers, called the new guidelines “confusing,” adding it “fails to consider how it will impact essential workers who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks.”

The U.S. government last month extended mask requirements across transportation networks through Sept. 13. The Transportation Security Administration said it would “work closely with the CDC to evaluate the need for these directives.” Walensky said CDC will soon issued updated transit guidance.

The new guidance says vaccinated Americans can resume all travel, do not need to quarantine after international trips and do not need to be tested for COVID-19 if exposed to someone who is COVID-19 positive but asymptomatic.

However, Americans still face some international travel restrictions, including non-essential trips to Canada.

Masks became a political issue in the United States with then-President Donald Trump resisting mandating face coverings while President Joe Biden embraced masks and mandated them for transit hubs. Some U.S. states issued aggressive mask mandates while others declined or dropped them months ago.

The CDC said fully vaccinated people should still wear masks where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, and abide by rules and regulations set by local businesses and workplaces.

In late April, the CDC said fully vaccinated people can safely engage in outdoor activities like walking and hiking without masks, but recommended their continued use in public spaces where they are required.

Immune-compromised individuals should consult doctors before shedding masks, and those who are not vaccinated should continue wearing them, Walensky said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Nandita Bose in Washington, Richa Naidu, Lisa P. Baertlein and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)

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