Provinces try to increase COVID-19 testing as lineups grow in some places
Some provinces are scrambling to increase testing capacity as coronavirus infections spike across Canada and lineups at COVID-19 testing sites see a significant influx of people.
In London, Ont., a long line of cars was seen waiting outside the city’s only open assessment centre on Sunday. Some were families getting checked because they wanted to ensure they were beginning the school year free of COVID-19, especially as their social bubbles were about to expand with the addition of their kids’ classmates. Others said they were getting tested as a precaution as the university school year gets underway.
Testing issues have also been reported in St. John’s, with local mother Flora Salvo saying she spent four days on the phone trying to book a COVID-19 test and that the reservation system needs to be revamped. She said the painfully slow process of getting tested — from her first call to when she received a negative result last Saturday — stretched over a full week.
In Ottawa, health authorities are hiring more staff and training them so that an assessment centre can accept patients over 12 hours per day, seven days a week — four more hours per day than it is normally open. And in B.C., the province was already expanding its COVID-19 testing capacity from 8,000 to 20,000 people a day. Adrian Dix said in August that the increase should help B.C. meet greater demand for testing as the province heads into the cold and flu season.
Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said Tuesday that the government is currently working closely with provincial microbiology labs to enhance test processing capacity. Tam told reporters that the current national capacity is “beyond 60,000 [tests per day]” at the national level. She said Canada needs to “augment the portfolio of testing capabilities in Canada” to include new technology like rapid saliva tests.
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Canadian support for keeping U.S. border closed remains strong, survey suggests
Canadians’ support for keeping the border closed to Americans remains strong, despite a decline in new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and a decimated tourism industry, CBC’s Sophia Harris reports. A new poll by Research Co. found that out of 1,000 Canadians surveyed online at the end of August, a whopping 90 per cent agreed with the current Canada-U.S. border closure to non-essential traffic.
The survey comes at a time when several Canadian border cities are suffering economic losses because of the absence of U.S. tourists. Nevertheless, they’re maintaining their support for the border closure to help stop the spread of COVID-19 from the country with the world’s highest number of cases and deaths.
Global health specialist Steven Hoffman suggested that even with a decline in case numbers, many Canadians will continue to support the border closure because of concerns that politics is influencing the U.S. response to the virus. “It really starts to raise questions among people as to whether the response is being designed in a way to maximize its effectiveness, or is it being designed in a way to maximize or to influence the outcome of a forthcoming election,” said Hoffman, a professor of global health, law and political science at Toronto’s York University.
Toronto hospital employee feels ‘worthless’ after error forces 200 workers to return pandemic pay
A Toronto hospital employee says she feels the sacrifices she and her colleagues have made during the pandemic aren’t being valued after learning some of them have to give back the pandemic pay they were issued. The University Health Network (UHN) says about 200 physician secretaries and administrative assistants were “inadvertently” given pandemic pay ranging from $100 to $1,500 and averaging $700. The network has asked all affected employees to pay back the money.
CBC Toronto spoke with one UHN secretary who says the issue has upset colleagues in her department, leading to low morale during an already stressful time during the pandemic. “It makes you feel that coming in [to the hospital] and putting everyone at risk close to you, hoping you don’t get it, it makes you feel worthless,” she said. CBC News has agreed not to identify the employee.
UHN apologized to employees for the error and the upset it has caused. In a statement from spokesperson Gillian Howard, the health network says in an effort to ease the burden, employees will have up to March 31, 2021, to repay the money. Howard says the approximately 200 physician secretaries and administrative assistants were never supposed to receive the money because they are not eligible under provincial guidelines.
Now’s no time for complacency, COVID-19 ‘long-hauler’ warns
An Ottawa woman who survived COVID-19 has a simple message for other families, especially as the city and other regions experience a resurgence of COVID-19: Don’t become complacent. “Don’t think it’s over. That’s my biggest thing, is that people are just getting super complacent,” Brianne Quarrell told CBC News. “Being in the ICU, having that tube shoved down your throat, don’t think that’s a really pleasant feeling. It’s not a pleasant place to be by yourself. It’s horrible.”
Quarrell, 40, is what doctors call a COVID-19 “long-hauler.” She first tested positive on March 30, when her husband dropped her off at the ER after she became short of breath. She didn’t test negative until 79 days later, on June 17. Quarrell still feels the effects of the disease, even now. Her sense of taste and smell hasn’t returned, her hair is falling out and she’s constantly short of breath.
And yet, she fears the health messaging around the pandemic isn’t getting through to people. “I’ve gone to stores, people are wearing their masks under their nose. What’s that going to do?” she said. “Stay vigilant. It’s not gone. There’s no vaccine. There’s no sign it’s slowing down.”
Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data from Canada and around the world.
Hospitalizations steady despite rising COVID-19 cases. But this could change quickly, experts say
Canada’s relatively stable hospitalization data should not provide too much comfort amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases, infectious diseases experts told CBC News. Cases of the coronavirus have begun to surge in Canada, as daily new infections for the entire country are now at over 600, compared to nearly 400 cases a day this time last month. But hospitalizations are still below 300, compared to a peak of over 2,000 in April.
Lower hospitalization rates support data that indicates a younger age group is bearing the brunt of new infections, Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, told CBC News. As a spike in cases is only becoming apparent in the last week or so — and it takes time for someone to show symptoms of COVID-19 — increased hospitalizations of younger people may become more visible if new infections within this demographic continue in the coming weeks, she said. “We saw something similar in the spring where we started to see an increase in cases and then in a week or two, we started seeing an increase in hospitalizations and then increases in ICU occupancy and then mortality,” she said.
Tuite said it may take time for hospitalization data to be reflected in official public health records, which is why it’s important to watch for a rise in hospitalizations, as it would be an indication to reimpose lockdown restrictions. “The challenge is you want to respond quickly if you start seeing increases in hospitalizations, because you don’t want to be back at the point where we were in March,” she said.
While it’s encouraging that Canada isn’t yet seeing the level of hospitalizations that was occurring in the spring, evidence from other countries shows that that could change quickly, said Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist and associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. “I would point to someplace like Florida … where they had fairly sustained higher transmission in younger age groups, and then it started to spill over into more vulnerable populations in six to eight weeks,” she said.
World Series to be played entirely in Arlington, Texas, as MLB moves to bubbles for post-season
The World Series will be played entirely at the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark in Arlington, Texas, as part of a bubble agreement between Major League Baseball and the players’ association, The Associated Press reports. It’s the first time the sport’s championship will be played entirely at one site since 1944.
As part of an agreement finalized Tuesday, the Division Series, League Championship Series and World Series will be part of a bubble designed to minimize exposure to the coronavirus, which decimated the regular season and limited it to a 60-game schedule for each club. The World Series will begin Oct. 20 at Globe Life Park in Arlington, a retractable roof stadium with artificial turf that opened this year adjacent to the Rangers’ old ballpark. The American League Championship Series will be at San Diego’s Petco Park, and the National League at Globe Life Park.
“In the view of our infectious disease experts, the biggest risk of exposure for players and staff is contact with family members and friends who have been exposed to COVID-19 in their communities,” deputy commissioner Dan Halem wrote in a memo sent to teams Monday night. “Nearly all of the positive test results that have been reported for players and staff in the last month can be traced back to contact with an infected family member, domestic partner or friend outside of club facilities.” Halem said MLB and the players’ association were in the process of finalizing details of the agreement, which provides for players to be tested daily during the post-season.
Doug Ford calls on Health Canada to focus on reviewing rapid COVID-19 antigen tests – Global News
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has called on Health Canada to focus on reviewing rapid COVID-19 antigen tests in the hope that one will be approved and used to alleviate the surging testing demand in the province.
“That should be their number one priority,” Ford said.
“I know Health Canada is doing a great job. They’re extremely, extremely busy but this should be the number one priority.”
Ford made the remarks during a rare Saturday press conference in which he announced that new gathering restrictions would be expanded to the entire province amid a spike in coronavirus cases.
Antigen tests aren’t as accurate as the tests currently used in Ontario, which require processing in a lab, but could deliver results in minutes.
“Is it one hundred per cent? No, but it sure is a lot better than having hours of lineups outside the testing centres. It’s absolutely critical. Health Canada please focus on this,” Ford said.
There have been hours-long waits at some of the province’s 148 assessment centres in recent days.
Ford has already said he will be releasing a plan to open up COVID-19 testing for asymptomatic individuals at pharmacies in a bid to help with the recent spike in demand.
Health Minister Christine Elliott also said Saturday that eight assessment centres across Toronto, Peel Region, and Ottawa have increased capacity. Elliott said additionally, seven pop-up testing sites have launched in the regions and more are coming.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said she understands that Health Canada is currently reviewing six antigen tests and added that they’re “a lot easier” than the current testing kits but can be less accurate.
Meanwhile, NDP Deputy Leader Sara Singh said in a statement Saturday that the “Ford government was not prepared for this spike in cases, and they should have been.”
Singh cited the long lineups at testing centres as an example.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program – CBC.ca
Migrant workers and advocates called for a “just recovery” from the COVID-19 pandemic during a digital rally on Saturday based out of Vancouver.
The pandemic has shown how heavily Canada relies on migrant and undocumented workers to perform essential jobs, said Chit Arma, who chairs the Migrant Workers Centre’s board of directors in Vancouver.
“The pandemic has also exposed the extent to which these essential workers do not enjoy essential rights, and the long-standing systemic problems with the temporary foreign work program that puts workers in an extremely precarious position,” she said during the video conference.
The rally is part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign led by the Migrant Workers Centre.
The campaign calls on the federal government to create a new permanent residency program for all essential migrant and undocumented workers, and to allow the workers to apply for an open-work permit while waiting for their applications to process.
No one at the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada could immediately be reached for comment.
On July 31, the federal government announced $58.6 million in funding that it said would boost protections for temporary foreign workers and address COVID-19 outbreaks on farms.
Of that, $35 million was earmarked to improve health and safety on farms and in employee living quarters to prevent the spread of COVID-19. About $7.4 million would support the workers, including $6 million for direct outreach delivered through migrant support organizations, the government said.
‘Recognizes precarious status’
The government also said it was working to develop mandatory requirements to improve living conditions in employer-provided accommodations.
In August, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced a temporary measure to provide a pathway to permanent residency for asylum claimants working in health-care during the pandemic.
Under the measure, the front-line workers would be able to apply for permanent residency if they met certain criteria, including having made an asylum claim before March 13 and having been issued a work permit after their claim.
“This approach recognizes those with precarious immigration status who are filling an urgent need and putting their own lives at risk to care for others in Canada,” the government said in a news release.
Natalie Drolet, executive director of the Migrant Workers Centre, said the measure excludes other front-line workers like grocery store clerks, truckers and care workers.
“While this is a positive step, it leaves too many migrant workers and undocumented workers behind who have also been on the front lines in the pandemic,” Drolet said.
Migrants and undocumented workers play key roles as health-care workers, grocery store clerks, cleaners, care workers, truckers and agricultural workers, Arma said.
More than 1,300 migrant workers in Ontario alone have been infected with COVID-19, she said. Three have died, including one undocumented worker, she said.
‘Fear of being removed’
Arma came to Canada in 2005 to work as a caregiver. Her temporary status in Canada gave her stress and anxiety, she said.
“I had papers, I had documents, and yet I had that fear of being removed, a fear of speaking up because I might be deported,” she said.
“I can imagine how undocumented workers are experiencing even worse because of the lack of documents they have.”
Maria Cano arrived to work as a caregiver in 2017 through the temporary foreign worker program. She said the experience showed how disempowering the experience could be, even before the pandemic struck.
Cano worked for four different families and moved to three different cities in her first few years. They expected her to work long hours without compensation, she said.
“When I spoke up, I lost my job,” she said. “That entire process was very stressful and financially draining.”
She finally found a “nice Canadian family” who treated her with respect and sponsored her but said others shouldn’t hope for the same luck — they should be protected with recognized rights instead.
“The COVID-19 pandemic makes it more difficult and stressful for all the undocumented and migrant workers in Canada,” she said.
Beginning Dec. 15, the B.C. government will require employers wishing to hire foreign workers through federal programs to register with the province.
The government said in a news release Saturday that the measures would ensure the workers are paid for the hours they work, have accurate job descriptions and ensure their rights and safety are protected on the job.
Vancouver theatre company among first in Canada to relaunch during COVID-19
It’s been about six months since anyone has taken in a show put on by Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre Company, but that’s about to change.
The venue will be among the first in the country to resume live performances, when it launches a one-actor play under strict new COVID-19 protocols on Thursday.
“It is a huge step towards normalcy, I have had people say to me, ‘All I need is to see a show, and I can’t wait to come and see something,’” said actor Ali Watson, who will play all 16 parts in No Child, which premieres Sept. 24.
In order to allow for more performances, the play has been double-cast, with Watson and actor Celia Aloma starring in alternating shows — each with their own stage managers and crews.
“I think its a really excellent distraction from COVID-19, especially because it’s not about COVID-19, which everything you see online and in person is about that,” Watson said.
The Arts Club and virtually all live performance venues were forced to close their doors in March, when the province issued an order against gatherings of more than 50 people.
The venue usually puts in 18 shows a year for about a quarter-million spectators, according to artistic director Ashlie Corcoran.
The pandemic forced them to cancel 25 scheduled shows, including performances well into 2021.
“It’s been a long, hard six months of being dark,” she said.
“To use our brains to start planning and building and creating instead of cancelling, it’s very much buoyed our spirits.”
Starting with No Child, which focuses on the efforts of a drama teacher in an inner-city New York school, the Arts Club is rolling out three one-actor plays.
Audience members will need to sign a declaration of health before entering. There will be no queueing up before the show, bathroom capacity will be limited, masks will be mandatory, and exiting the theatre will be controlled to ensure physical distancing.
The audience will also be capped at 50 people in a theatre that normally seats 300.
“Doing theatre for audiences of 50 will not economically sustain us, but we do feel it’s very important to be connecting, both with artists … and with the audience,” said Corcoran.
The Arts Club relies on ticket sales for about 80 per cent of its revenue, and Corcoran said it’s managed to survive so far through donations over the summer.
Darrel Dunlop, president of IATSE local 118, which represents workers in the live performance sector, said the pandemic has been devastating to his members.
With CERB ending, he’s worried about a “brain drain” of skilled workers into industries.
“A lot of the people, they’ve had to start looking for jobs in another sector,” he said.
But Dunlop is cautiously optimistic, citing creative ways productions have been finding to reopen safely under new pandemic protocols with smaller casts, crews and audiences.
“They’re actually going to be doing multiple shows in a day, and they’re actually going to be doing that with separate crews,” he said, meaning if someone becomes ill another crew can always sub in.
“Until there’s a time when you can actually put a full audience in, it will be different, the experience will be different. … We have to be patient and we have to be willing to accept the change.”
Source: – Global News
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