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The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Feb. 18 – CBC.ca

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Pedestrians engage in a snowball fight in the middle of Times Square in Manhattan on Thursday. New York City was among the places in the northeastern U.S. to get hit with a second blast of wintry weather in less than a week. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

COVID-19 vaccine deliveries back on track following significant delays, federal officials say

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading Canada’s vaccine logistics, said Thursday that deliveries of COVID-19 vaccine from the two approved suppliers — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — are back on track following weeks of reduced shipments.

Fortin said 403,650 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Canada this week, the largest single delivery since shipments began in December. In addition, he said both companies are on track to meet their targets by delivering a total of six million doses by the end of March — four million from Pfizer and two million from Moderna.

“We’re now coming out of this period of limited supplies. It’s an abundance of supplies for spring and summer, where we can have a significant scaling-up of immunization plans in provinces,” Fortin said.

The updated timeline provided by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) shows millions more doses arriving between now and September than previously anticipated. It projects that Canada should have enough doses from Pfizer and Moderna to fully vaccinate 14.5 million people by the end of June, and 42 million by the end of September.

The federal government has come under intense pressure from opposition politicians and other critics in recent weeks as the country’s vaccine rollout slowed. Pfizer began reducing shipments in January as it retooled its plant in Puurs, Belgium, to expand manufacturing capacity. Moderna also has cut its shipments in recent weeks.

The delays have caused Canada to fall behind dozens of other countries in measurements of doses administered by population, according to a global vaccine tracking database maintained by University of Oxford researchers.

That said, countries like Australia and Japan are among dozens of countries that have yet to inoculate any of their citizens, with the World Health Organization saying earlier this month that about 10 countries were accounting for about 75 per cent of all doses given, a situation UN secretary general Antonio Guterres on Wednesday characterized as “wildly uneven and unfair.”

Public health experts have warned that a significant disparity in vaccination schedules around the world could allow for new, potentially harmful variants to form in countries where inoculation efforts have not reached a sizeable percentage of the population.

From The National

Israel is leading the world with its COVID-19 vaccine rollout and it’s already seeing results, but the campaign has been met with some hesitant demographics and criticism for not vaccinating Palestinians. 6:05

IN BRIEF

COVID-19 testing to begin in remote Inuit coastal community in N.L. after presumptive case

COVID-19 testing began Thursday and will continue Friday in the small Labrador coastal community of Makkovik, the Nunatsiavut government says, as part of the public health response to a presumptive positive case of the virus in the Inuit town.

Anyone can get a test, even if they have not travelled and do not have any symptoms of COVID-19, officials said.

“Today and tomorrow will be very busy, hard days,” Gerald Asivak, the minister of health and social development, told CBC Radio’s Labrador Morning on Thursday. “We’re going to ensure that we meet our standards, with the province, Dr. Fitzgerald, around what needs to be done,” he said, referring to Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer of health.

In winter, Makkovik — with a population of 400 or so — is accessible only by air or snowmobile. As the COVID-19 response has ramped up, the community has been effectively cut off from the outside world, with all regular flights in and out suspended, save for medical emergencies. As a result, even just a few cases would be of great concern.

“If you have to go to St. John’s for medical reasons, it’s a pretty serious situation for a person’s health. So I’m just urging people to show compassion for the individual in question here,” said Barry Andersen, the mayor of the small community.

On a positive note, the transmission potential could be lessened in light of the fact that 74 per cent of eligible adults in Makkovik have been vaccinated for COVID-19, receiving both doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Read more about the situation

Kenney defends Alta. vaccine rollout plan as critics call for more details

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is defending his government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the face of criticism that virtually no details have been shared regarding its distribution plan.

Kenney said Wednesday that he doesn’t see the need for a big rush. He said the province will lay out its priority lists for the next phases of the vaccine distribution program “pretty soon” after studying what other provinces are doing.

“The problem now is supply, we effectively ran out of supply for all intents and purposes in mid-January. So, that is our primary focus. I will say, when it comes to the subsequent phases, a lot of this is quite fluid,” he said.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi weighed in on Tuesday, saying he believes — despite all of the province’s talk about supply issues and Ottawa’s failure to solve them — that the bigger problem could be effective distribution.

“In other words, before we know it we’re going to have more supply than we have ability to put in peoples’ arms,” he said. “So, our goal needs to be to solve that problem now before it happens and make sure we are ready to do massive vaccinations as soon as supply is available.”

Rick Lundy, who’s with the group Open Arms Patient Advocacy, says the lack of information is frustrating.

“You almost question whether they do have a plan or they’re making it up on the fly,” he said.

But University of Calgary infectious disease physician Dr. Daniel Gregson says large venues like stadiums could be set up relatively quickly if Alberta received a big influx of vaccine.

“I think we could get it up and running as quickly as possible and you’d see a large group of people vaccinated over two to four weeks, kind of thing,” he said.

Alberta Health told CBC News it will confirm the next steps of the vaccine rollout in the next few days, following confirmation that vaccine deliveries for the province have been arranged through March.

Read more about the situation

Quebec feeling comfortable with decision to delay 2nd vaccine dose

The Quebec government confirmed in mid-January that it would delay the second of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccines for up to 90 days in order to get more doses into more arms early on, an approach that hasn’t been undertaken in every jurisdiction.

Based on preliminary figures just compiled by the Comité sur l’immunisation du Québec (CIQ), the approach appears to have worked. The data shows the vaccines to be 80 per cent effective after 14 days in younger vaccinated populations and after three weeks among the residents of long-term care facilities, who tend to be much older and sicker.

Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have issued protocols on administering a second dose at a precise interval — 21 and 28 days, respectively. That’s also the basis on which the vaccines were approved by Health Canada.

But Quebec’s early numbers, which the CIQ said align with results observed in British Columbia and Israel — as well as affirmative statements by the World Health Organization and U.S. infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci — seem to show that the interval period can be stretched out even a couple of weeks and still be effective.

The issue has come into play given the unpredictability of vaccine supply for Canada and some other countries early in the inoculation drive.

Dr. Gaston De Serres of the Insitut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ), who sits on the CIQ and co-authored the study made public Thursday, says it was never much of a gamble given the drug companies’ published clinical results and the existing scholarship on immune responses from vaccines.

“It wasn’t a very big bet, with everything we know about how vaccines work. We know that’s how it is. Why would these vaccines be so different?” asked De Serres.

Dr. Nicholas Brousseau, an INSPQ researcher and the chair of the CIQ, said that nothing in the data suggests first-dose immunity weakens with time, and that future research could show the preventive benefits of large-scale one-dose vaccination are even higher than its clinical effectiveness. “It’s very good news,” he said.

But provincial health experts are warning against complacency — a second shot is still vital for the two approved vaccines — and the rise of variant strains could prompt a re-think of the current strategy.

Read more about the issue 

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.

THE SCIENCE

B.C. researchers working to develop breath test for COVID-19

Researchers in B.C. are working to develop a breath test for COVID-19 that if successful, could provide results in less than one minute.

The test could theoretically be rolled out in the community — at airports, schools, arenas and other venues, said Dr. Renelle Myers, an interventional respirologist at Vancouver General Hospital and B.C. Cancer Research Centre who is leading the team developing the test at Vancouver Coastal Health.

The researchers are working to identify the specific volatile organic compounds in breath that could indicate whether the coronavirus is present, said Myers. Once they identify them, they’ll be able to test for only those compounds by running breath samples through a machine similar to the ones used at airports to scan for bomb or drug residue and have results within 30 seconds or up to a minute, she said.

“When you exhale, your breath actually contains over 1,000 volatile organic compounds, and those represent the endpoints of different metabolic pathways in our body,” explained Myers. “And they can represent a state of health or state of disease.”

As with many scientific researchers, the pandemic caused a shift in priority, as the team had been studying breath samples for their potential use in diagnosing lung cancer.

Dr. Chris Carlsten, division head of respiratory medicine at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, says the researchers will need to validate their results on several fronts. For example, it’s conceivable a breath test could pick up other respiratory viruses such as influenza instead of COVID-19, and the test would need to be able to detect even mild cases for it to have widespread applicability.

David Evans, a professor in the department of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, says the researchers are using sound science to detect the compounds, and if they’re successful, the technology could be valuable. But he said that there’s “a big hill to climb before it becomes a widely adopted method.”

AND FINALLY…

Why a Canadian in the U.K. signed up to be a volunteer vaccinator

Natasia Kalajdziovski is a Canadian PhD student living in the U.K. who has just finished her training to become a volunteer vaccinator. She says she wanted to help with the rollout after experiencing a ‘horrific’ case of COVID-19 last year. (Chantal Da Silva/CBC News)

Natasia Kalajdziovski hasn’t been home to Canada in over two years, but her pandemic experience has inspired her to help out where she is right now.

The PhD student in Britain was persuaded it was the right thing to do after contracting the virus early in the pandemic.

“I had COVID right at the beginning of the pandemic in March of last year [and] did not have a good time of it,” she told CBC’s As It Happens.

“Honestly, I would do anything in my power to prevent anyone else from going through the same thing,” she said. “I’ve [also] donated plasma.”

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson celebrated a “significant milestone” in the country’s efforts to eliminate COVID-19 as more than 15 million people received their first shot of a vaccine.

From Kalajdziovski’s standpoint, the government’s approach of getting as many first doses into arms instead of waiting for certain segments of the population to get two shots appears to be paying off.

“We’re now in our third lockdown. It’s been a bleak 10 months in a lot of ways, but the vaccination part of that, at least, is finally this wondrous light that we’re able to see in the moment,” she said.

And now the Toronto native wants to help out there, too. She just finished her training as a volunteer vaccinator.

“I think I’ll feel quite emotional when I do my first vaccination, which I am looking forward to,” she said.

Read more from the CBC Radio interview

Find out more about COVID-19

For full coverage of how your province or territory is responding to COVID-19, visit your local CBC News site.

To get this newsletter daily as an email, subscribe here.

See the answers to COVID-19 questions asked by CBC viewers and readers.

Still looking for more information on the pandemic? Reach out to us at covid@cbc.ca if you have any questions.

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How the pandemic could create the flexible workplaces parents need – CBC.ca

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For Tendai Dongo, the stress and anxiety was just too much at times. A project manager at a digital education company based in Calgary, she has spent much of the pandemic balancing her job with the needs of her young daughters.

With her husband’s insurance job requiring him to be out of the house frequently, the majority of the child-care responsibilities fell to her.

Everything came to a head in December. 

“I felt that I had to quit,” said Tendai Dongo, who works at Xpan Interactive Ltd. “I had to choose … a full-time career or my mental health.”

The mother of two girls aged five and eight years old told her employer that working full-time from home while parenting was causing her a lot of stress and anxiety.

“I was just going to throw in the towel. I did not have any other opportunity out there waiting for me,” said Dongo. 

But the chaos of watching employees juggle school closures, virtual learning, quarantines and their jobs could lead to more empathetic workplaces. Some companies, including Dongo’s, are thinking creatively about how to build more flexible work arrangements for their employees.

A year into the pandemic, parents are feeling the effects of being tugged in all directions — particularly women. 

An online survey of 1,001 working Canadians conducted between Feb. 9 and 15 by ADP Canada and Leger found half of working mothers (50 per cent) reported experiencing high stress levels due to balancing child-care obligations and work, compared to 40 per cent of working fathers.

Data released by Statistics Canada also shows pandemic job losses are disproportionately affecting women. In January, for example, the employment decline for woman was more than double that of men, with 73,000 fewer women working that month compared to 33,500 fewer men.

The numbers also showed the decline in employment was pronounced among mothers whose youngest child was between the ages of six and 12. Their employment rate fell 2.9 percentage points, compared to a drop of 0.9 percentage points for all working adults.

‘It’s really, really impossibly hard’

For Danielle Ellenor, working a full-time job as an account associate for a printing company that offered little flexibility while she was home with her young children was too overwhelming. 

“It takes a huge toll on your mental health, on your kid’s mental health,” said Ellenor, an Ottawa mother of two girls aged six and seven. “It’s really, really impossibly hard.”

Her partner has been working from home too, but his management job in software sales has him in virtual meetings most of the day. 

Ottawa mother of two Danielle Ellenor quit her job in December for a more flexible career. (Mathieu Thériault/CBC)

In December, knowing that more school closures were coming, Ellenor left the company she had been with for almost 10 years to focus on her kids and transition to a more flexible career in real estate. 

“It’s a gamble that I decided to make,” said Ellenor.

There’s concern that many other women may drop out of the workforce permanently.

‘We could lose an entire class of future leaders’

McKinsey & Company conducted an online survey of more than 40,000 workers across Canada and the United States between June and August 2020.

The survey found that one in four women were contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce.

“We would lose an entire class of future leaders and in some cases existing leaders, because it spans all the way to the highest levels of organizations,” said Alexis Krivkovich, a senior partner at the global consulting firm.

But amidst the crisis comes opportunity, she said. Some companies are finding creative ways to retain their employees, such as flexible time-off schedules, re-imagining performance management and thinking differently about working hours.

“We need more of that creative thinking now to make sure that the one in four women who are saying, ‘I’m not sure I can make it through this moment’ come out the other side,” Krivkovich said.

Letting employees chart their own paths

Vancouver-based software company Bananatag has embraced flexibility during the pandemic by coming up with a “choose your own adventure” schedule for its 130 employees.

“We are quite flexible on location, preferred work style, preferred hours,” said Agata Zasada, vice-president of people and culture at Bananatag. 

Agata Zasada, vice-president of people and culture at Vancouver-based Bananatag, says the company’s ‘choose your own adventure’ schedule has kept all of their staff employed over the course of the pandemic (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

With about 50 per cent of their workforce made up of women and many parents on staff, the company wanted to remove a level of uncertainty for all of its employees.

“We haven’t lost anyone through the pandemic due to not being able to be flexible enough,” said Zasada.

Post-pandemic Bananatag will continue to let employees choose their own schedules. The company also plans to become even more flexible by entertaining the idea of job sharing and becoming more project-based.

Tendai Dongo of Airdrie, Alta., scaled back to part-time work because she was so overwhelmed by the demands of her job and her children during the coronavirus pandemic. 1:04

Carly Holm, founder and CEO of Holm & Company, a human resources company, is hopeful that some good will come out of this challenging year.

“We’ve proven that we can be flexible and still be successful and be productive and that nine-to-five is irrelevant,” said Holm. “It is completely arbitrary and doesn’t work for a lot of people.”

Holm’s firm offers HR services for small to medium-sized businesses. She says results of her client’s employee engagement surveys show that employees are happier when given flexibility, and that companies offering it are performing better.

“The companies that encourage that and have kind of that flexible, remote work, they’re going to be the ones that are going to retain the people, retain women,” said Holm. 

COVID … has catapulted institutional mindsets around flexible work into the future– Jennifer Hargreaves, founder of Tellent

When Dongo, the project manager in Calgary, told her boss she couldn’t mentally handle being a full-time employee and a mother right now, her workplace took action.

Instead of letting her quit, Xpan Interactive came up with a solution that she says is working well. 

The company dropped her workload from eight clients to one and reduced her to part-time flexible hours. She now works when she wants and when she can.  

Dongo’s salary has also been reduced. She admits she and her husband have had to start dipping into their savings, but she appreciates that her company came up with a solution that allows her to stay in the workforce. 

“I still have that sense of purpose that I am still continuing in my career,” said Dongo. 

Creating your own flexibility

Since 2016, Jennifer Hargreaves has been an advocate for more flexibility and has successfully placed women in flexible higher paying jobs through her virtual networking platform. 

“One of the benefits … of COVID is that it has catapulted institutional mindsets around flexible work into the future,” said Hargreaves, founder of Tellent, a network that provides women with access to flexible job opportunities.

Jennifer Hargreaves, founder of networking platform Tellent, says the need for flexible work among her members has skyrocketed. (Submitted by Jennifer Hargreaves)

Among her 10,000 members, she says the need for flexible work has skyrocketed.

The first step in finding that flexible job, according to Hargreaves, starts with your current employer. She encourages women to approach their companies, as Dongo did, to see if they can draw up new arrangements.

“There’s no better time like right now to negotiate what you want because everything’s up in the air,” Hargreaves said. “Employers are starting from scratch and they’re trying to figure out what this looks like as well.”

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New COVID-19 cases in Ontario spike above 1600 as stay-at-home order lifts in Toronto, Peel Region – CTV Toronto

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TORONTO —
COVID-19 infections in Ontario have spiked to levels unseen since early February but the province says Monday’s case count is higher than expected due to a “data catch-up process” related to its case and contact management system.

The province said it recorded 1,631 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours. The last time Ontario saw case numbers that high was on Feb. 5 when 1,670 infections were logged.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said in an email that they weren’t aware of the data issue prior to the release of Monday’s report.

“Apologies for not raising this sooner,” the spokesperson said. “As you know, we try to get this info to you in advance of posting the numbers but weren’t aware of the issue until just now.”

This brings Ontario’s lab-confirmed COVID-19 case total to 309,927, including 291,834 recoveries and 7,077 deaths.

Health officials said that 10 of those deaths were recorded in the previous day.

As well, with only 38,063 tests processed in the last 24-hour period, Ontario’s COVID-19 positivity rate stands at 3.4 per cent, the province said.

Monday’s report shows that Ontario’s seven-day average for number of COVID-19 cases reported is 1,155. A week ago today, that number was 1,098. 

Where are the new COVID-19 cases?

Most of the new cases reported Monday were found in Toronto, Peel Region and York Region.

According to the province, Toronto logged 570 new infections, while Peel and York regions recorded 322 and 119 cases, respectively.

As of today, Toronto and Peel Region have returned to the province’s colour-coded reopening framework and are currently operating in the grey-lockdown level.

This means that non-essential businesses like retail stores can once again open their doors, with strict capacity limits in place.

Gyms, personal care services and indoor and outdoor restaurant dining remain off limits within the grey zone.

York Region entered the framework on Feb. 22 and is currently operating in the red-control zone, which is one step down from the grey-lockdown level.

There are currently 626 patients in hospital with COVID-19, though that number is typically lower on Mondays due to a delay in reporting. Of those patients, 282 are in an intensive care unit and 184 are breathing on a ventilator.  

Number of COVID-19 variant infections climbs

The province says that since yesterday, 68 more infections of a COVID-19 variant of concern have been confirmed in Ontario.

Of those, 51 are of the strain known as B.1.1.7 (UK variant), pushing the total number for that variant to 879.

Another eight cases of B.1.351 (South African variant) were also confirmed, which brings the case count for that variant to 39.

Nine more infections of P.1 (Brazilian variant) were added bringing the total for that variant to 17. 

Update on COVID-19 vaccinations

Since vaccinations began in December, the province says it has administered nearly 1,000,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine across Ontario.

Of the 912,486 total doses administered, 273,676 people have received both their first and second doses and are considered to be fully vaccinated against the virus.

At least 21,882 shots went into arms in the last 24 hours, the province said. 

Backstory:

The numbers used in this story are found in the Ontario Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any city or region may differ slightly from what is reported by the province, because local units report figures at different times.

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Ontario reports 1,631 new coronavirus cases; 10 more deaths – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Ontario reported another 1,631 cases of COVID-19 on Monday along with 10 deaths the highest daily tally of cases in more than a month.

It’s the highest count of cases reported in Ontario since Feb. 5, when there were 1,670 cases reported.

During that time, most schools were still closed and the entire province was under a stay-at-home order that formally expired in Toronto, Peel and North Bay at midnight last night.

The province reported 1,299 new cases on Sunday, 990 more cases on Saturday and 1,250 new cases on Friday.

Across the GTA, Toronto reported 568 cases, the highest daily total that city has seen since Feb. 5, while Peel Region reported 322 new cases, the highest daily total the region has disclosed since Feb. 2.

York Region reported 119 new cases on Monday, while Durham Region reported 68 new cases, Halton reported 51 and Hamilton reported 22.

Provincial labs processed 38,063 tests in the past 24 hours, generating a positivity rate of at least 3.4 per cent.

None of the ten deaths reported on Monday occurred in the long-term care system.

There are now 11,016 active cases of novel coronavirus infection across the province, up from 10,570 one week ago.

A total of 7,077 people are known to have died from COVID-19, while 291,800 people have made a full recovery from illness.

The seven-day rolling average of daily cases rose to 1,155 on Monday, up from 1,069 on Sunday.

Meanwhile, hospitalizations stayed relatively flat when compared to Sunday.

The Ministry of Health says there were 626 people in hospital on Monday, up 20 from Sunday.

Of those, 282 were in intensive care and 184 were breathing with the help of a ventilator.

Public Health Ontario confirmed an additional 63 cases of coronavirus variants of concern in the past 24 hours, bringing the total confirmed through whole genomic sequencing in the province to 935.

There are also several thousand additional positive specimens that screened positive for a variant of concern but were awaiting full confirmation, local public health units said.

Public Health Ontario said that between 35 and 40 per cent of all positive samples were screening positive for a variant of concern late last week.

The province said it administered another 21,000 doses of approved coronavirus vaccines on Sunday, bringing the total number of shots administered to 912,486.

More than 273,000 people have now completed the full two-dose inoculation.

The numbers used in this story are found in the Ontario Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any city or region may differ slightly from what is reported by the province, because local units report figures at different times.

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