The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada (all times Eastern):
Ontario has set a new single-day high for new COVID-19 cases in the province.
The latest figures show 1,588 new cases of the virus over the past 24 hours, along with 21 new deaths.
Today’s numbers come a week after the previous one-day record of 1,581 cases set last Saturday.
Soaring case numbers prompted Premier Doug Ford to move the hot spots of Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region into the lockdown phase of the province’s COVID-19 management strategy effective Monday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2020.
The Canadian Press
CDC shortens quarantine recommendation for U.S., raising questions in Canada – CBC.ca
The recommended quarantine time for close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case is being reduced by up to a week in the United States, but while some of Canada’s health experts say a similar approach could be useful here, others aren’t so sure.
The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Wednesday it had shortened the recommended length of quarantine after exposure from 14 days to 10 — or seven days with a negative test result.
Health Canada was still recommending a 14-day quarantine period as of Wednesday, but Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University in Hamilton, says cutting that time in half would be beneficial.
“It would be super important for the sake of incentivizing people to actually quarantine after exposure,” he said.
“And there’s a lot of different things that could theoretically open up — getting health-care workers back to work, getting kids back to school — a lot of ways where this could ease the burden of potential exposure in society.”
The CDC had previously said the incubation period for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could extend to 14 days, but the organization now says most people become infectious and develop symptoms between four and five days after exposure.
Chagla says the 14-day window was likely inspired from SARS data, where the incubation period was longer.
While isolation and quarantine are sometimes used interchangeably, Chagla says there’s a difference in the terms. Isolation is for those who have tested positive, while quarantine is for people who may or may not actually have the virus, like close contacts of positive cases or those travelling into Canada. Isolation recommendations for positive cases vary, but are typically 10 days after symptom onset.
Typical course of infection
Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, says a change in quarantine guidance reflects our evolving understanding of COVID-19.
“If you’re exposed, it takes a couple days for you to become infectious, so [seven to 10 days] should be enough to tell whether you’ve got the virus,” Tuite said. “But of course, that’s assuming your experience is reflective of the typical course of infection.”
The key to the CDC’s new guidance for Tuite is having the option to end quarantine at seven days with a negative test result. She suspects that’s in place to stop people who have the virus but no symptoms from ending the quarantine period too early.
A positive test at Day 7 would mean that person should continue to isolate, Tuite said, while a negative result would mean they could safely end quarantine, knowing enough time has passed since exposure to confidently assume they won’t still get sick.
Testing capacity challenges
Dr. Don Sheppard, the founder and director of the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity (MI4), says the CDC’s plan makes sense scientifically, but there would be logistical issues in testing every COVID contact in Canada who wanted to end their quarantine at Day 7.
“It’s impossible to do that,” he said. “It’s either 14 days of proper isolation, or it’s seven days with a negative test, and right now our system cannot offer seven days plus testing to the public at large.”
WATCH | Could the 14-day isolation period be shorter? (At 01:18:45):
Testing capacity does exist in certain situations, Sheppard said, like for health-care workers and other front-line staff that need a quicker quarantine to get back to work. He cautioned, however, that taking a test on Day 7 still means isolating for an extra day or two while awaiting results.
Quarantine also needs to be done solo in order to work, Sheppard added, warning that the CDC guidance isn’t meant as a loophole for holiday gatherings if your family isolates together for seven days before an event.
Supports for people to quarantine
He used an example of military recruits in the U.S. who were told to quarantine for 14 days before reporting to camp. A handful of positive tests (0.9 per cent) were caught upon arrival, suggesting true quarantine hadn’t been followed.
Those recruits were sent home while the rest underwent another group quarantine. When tested again two weeks later, the positivity rate had grown to 1.3 per cent.
“Why? Because there were people incubating and they turned positive. And those people infected others in their groups,” Sheppard said.
“So if you don’t do strict, single-person isolation, you don’t actually break the cycle of transmission, you just pass it around in your group.”
Tuite says that further illustrates the usefulness of a shortened quarantine period.
A mother with young children, or someone who shares a small apartment with another person will find it harder to properly quarantine for longer periods, she said, as will someone who can’t afford to take a full two weeks off work.
“It really comes down to having the means to do it,” she said. “Can you survive for two weeks if you’re not getting income? Can you isolate in a household with multiple people?
“We need to have support in place so that people can quarantine, and that doesn’t change whether it’s for a week or 14 days. But it becomes much more challenging when it’s for longer periods.”
Alberta asks federal government, Red Cross for field hospitals as COVID spreads – CBC.ca
As COVID-19 cases soar in Alberta and hospital capacity is stretched, the province has reached out to the federal government and the Canadian Red Cross for help, CBC News has learned.
A federal source with direct knowledge of the situation says Alberta has asked the federal government and the Red Cross to supply field hospitals to help offset the strain COVID-19 is having on the health-care system.
The source said Alberta would likely receive at least four field hospitals — two from the Red Cross and another two from the federal government. The source, speaking on condition of confidentiality, said there was no request for human resources to staff the hospitals and no request for support from the military.
The source said a formal request has still not been sent by the province, but officials have been discussing in detail the level of support Alberta could receive.
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu is scheduled to speak with Alberta Health Minster Tyler Shandro on Wednesday to discuss the requests and what other supports Ottawa can offer the province during the pandemic.
A provincial government official confirmed to CBC News that a request had been made for field hospital help, but said the request represented contingency planning only at this point.
The official said Alberta Health Services is gathering resources and materials it may need, but there is no plan yet to staff or construct the hospitals.
An official from Public Safety Canada said they have not received any requests for field hospitals from any other provinces or territories.
Alberta continues to set new daily COVID-19 infection records and leads the country in the number of active cases per capita. It has also sometimes led the country in total active cases. For example, on Tuesday, there were 16,628 active cases in Alberta, compared to 14,524 in Ontario — a province with more than three times as many people.
On Tuesday, the province reported 1,307 new cases and a test positivity rate of 8.4 per cent. Alberta has reported more than 1,000 cases each day for nearly two weeks.
There were 479 people in hospital and 97 in ICUs on Tuesday, but the province will update those numbers on Wednesday afternoon at a news conference to be attended by both Premier Jason Kenney and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
- CBC News will carry that news conference live here at 3:30 p.m. MT/5:30 p.m. ET.
The last time Kenney appeared at a COVID-19 update was on Nov. 24 when he introduced new restrictions on social gatherings, among other measures, in an attempt to stem the rising tide of cases while continuing to focus on the province’s economic health.
He said those restrictions would be revisited on Dec. 15 and stricter measures could be imposed if cases continue to rise.
Critics have called those measures insufficient.
Since then, doctors have warned of overburdened hospitals and ICUs and the province has taken the step of double-bunking some patients in ICU rooms as part of its plans to deal with a surge.
On Nov. 27, Alberta Health Services sent a memo to staff asking them to conserve oxygen supplies as demand increases.
What does the Pfizer vaccine approval in the U.K. mean for Canada? – CTV News
Following news that the United Kingdom has authorized a COVID-19 vaccine for use, questions are emerging about what the new approval could mean for other countries looking to secure a vaccine candidate in the race against the novel coronavirus.
Britain gave the green light to the COVID-19 vaccine candidate from American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech on Wednesday and expects to start its first vaccinations in the country within days.
Canada’s Minister of Health Patty Hajdu took to Twitter on Wednesday to say that the U.K.’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine is “encouraging” and that Health Canada will complete its review of the candidate “soon.” She did not provide further details.
“Making sure a COVID-19 vaccine is safe before approving it is Health Canada’s priority, and when a vaccine is ready, Canada will be ready,” Hajdu tweeted.
Chief medical advisor at Health Canada Dr. Supriya Sharma said at a public briefing on Nov. 26 that Canada plans to make a decision on the Pfizer vaccine around the same time that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency do.
Those decisions are expected to be made sometime in December, with FDA having set a meeting on Dec. 10 during which they will make a final call on the vaccine.
However, Health Canada has its own approval processes, designed to ensure vaccines are safe and effective.
Sharma said Canada’s review of Pfizer’s vaccine, which began on Oct.3, is the most advanced out of the current candidates, but still ongoing.
“While significant time and resources are being devoted to expediting the scientific review of COVID-19 vaccines, the decision on whether they will be authorized will ultimately depend on assessment of the data, including the complete information from clinical trials, which is still coming in,” Sharma said.
Sharma said Canada “will only authorize a vaccine if its benefits clearly outweigh its risks.”
“While we are working hard to give Canadians access to COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible, we will not compromise our safety, efficacy and quality standards. Protecting the health and safety of Canadians is our top priority,” Sharma said.
While Pfizer’s vaccine may be furthest ahead in Canada’s review process, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Janssen’s vaccine candidates have also been submitted to Health Canada for approval.
Pfizer announced in November that results of clinical trials that showed its COVID-19 vaccine was 95 per cent effective and offered “significant protection” for older people. However, the candidate needs to be kept at -70 C during transportation and storage to remain effective, posing logistical problems.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday that news of Britain’s approving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is “exciting.” He expects other vaccine candidates to be approved in Western countries in the coming weeks.
Sharkawy said the approval adds to the “sense of optimism” around a successful coronavirus vaccine.
“If the data has been looked at very carefully by one regulatory body, like the MHRA in the U.K., then certainly the FDA and Health Canada should be able to do the same thing,” Sharkawy said
“I would be surprised if Health Canada did not follow suit with approval very, very soon,” he added.
However, in a statement to CTV News, Pfizer Canada said on Wednesday that “an approval in one jurisdiction does not equate to an approval in another.”
Despite being approved in the U.K., infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch says Pfizer’s vaccine candidate won’t land on Canadian soil anytime sooner.
Bogoch told CTV News Channel on Wednesday that regulatory bodies are “working at different paces” and said the U.K.’s approval does not mean that Health Canada should rush its own decision.
“I really hope that they do their job in a very fair manner without any external pressure, and I really hope that it doesn’t push them to do their job faster,” Bogoch said. “If it’s a day, a week, a couple of weeks longer, [that’s] fine, as long as they do a thorough job and ensure that Canadians get access to safe vaccines that are effective.”
Bogoch explained that Health Canada not only has to look at the data from a vaccine’s clinical trials, but the agency also has to consider the manufacturing process of that vaccine.
Bogoch said it is likely that Health Canada will approve the Pfizer vaccine in the “coming weeks.” However, once the vaccine arrives in Canada, Bogoch said the country needs to have programs already in place to ensure the shots are immediately rolled out.
“It’s not quite clear when the vaccine will land on our doorstep but when it does, we better work really, really hard right now to sort out how we’re going to ship this,” Bogoch said, adding that Pfizer’s temperature requirements do pose a challenge.
“This is that one where it requires [-70 C] freezing, so the logistics of getting this around the country are hard. I hope that process is underway because we might get access to this sooner than we think,” he said.
Canada has secured access to a total of 414 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from different sources including 76 million from Pfizer, but just four million of those are expected to land in the country by the end of March.
Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said on Nov. 26 that while there will be early prioritization of who gets vaccinated based on the limited initial supply, Canada will have enough doses to “provide access to every Canadian who wants one in 2021.”
However, Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of medicine, says he is concerned that vaccine access may be limited throughout the next year if a proper rollout plan is not in place.
Bowman told CTV News Channel on Wednesday that there is “a lot of confusion and ambiguity” as to when provincial health authorities will have a COVID-19 vaccine so inoculations can begin.
Bowman’s remarks come on the heels of weeks of moving targets and changes in messaging from federal and provincial officials about Canada’s vaccine standing and timelines.
“So many of the people in Canada and the provinces, if they’re going to be prepared for this they do need dates and they do need numbers. How do you prepare without that?” Bowman said.
While he acknowledges that administering a vaccine nationally “isn’t easy,” he said there needs to be more transparency from government officials about current rollout plans to ensure that Canadians aren’t hesitant to get vaccinated once they can.
“We really, really need to build trust with Canadians right now so that when the vaccine is available that people are trusting of that,” Bowman said.
Speaking virtually at the Canadian Immunization Conference, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada’s vaccine rollout requires a “complex response” since the country has invested in a range of vaccine candidates that all have their own needs.
Tam said on Wednesday that Canada has ordered 126 freezers with various temperature capabilities for the vaccine, many of which she says have already been delivered.
She acknowledged that it is “very important” to be transparent with Canadians about the status of vaccine candidates and their subsequential rollout.
“It is important for all of us to get knowledgeable about the process of development and that the regulatory process is rigorous and that we would only provide vaccines that have gone through safety evaluations and efficacy evaluations,” Tam said.
Tam said the federal government will be using “behavioural insights” and other strategies such as sharing testimonials and using social media influencers to help address misinformation and “boost vaccine confidence among the population.”
However, Tam maintained that Canada will only approve a COVID-19 vaccine after thorough reviews are completed.
“We still have to look at the clinical trial results in depth. These initial vaccine candidates have reported good efficacy and provide hope for a new way forward in not just this pandemic, but for future,” Tam said.
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