Back to school in a pandemic comes with additional stressors for some immigrant and refugee families
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has filled the start of the 2020 school year with more apprehension than usual. But for refugees and new immigrants to Canada who are trying to navigate an unfamiliar school system in addition to the new rules, it’s been especially tough, writes CBC’s Roshini Nair.
Port Moody, B.C.’s Lama Alrakad came to Canada from Syria two years ago. She said her son Limar, 9, is feeling especially isolated after spending six months away from school. “He became so shy. I started to be very worried about his mental health,” said Alrakad, who has decided to send her son back to in-class instruction after much consideration. She also worried her son would forget English and otherwise fall behind the longer he stayed at home. Alrakad said she tried to help her son with online assignments, but it was tough. “We don’t want him to be behind all of [his school friends].”
Alrakad’s story is not unusual. Staff at the Pacific Immigrant Resources Society, a Vancouver-based non-profit that helps vulnerable immigrant and refugee women, said they have increased their outreach and support programs to coincide with the start of the school year. Patricia Lomelli, a child-care co-ordinator with the non-profit, said while immigrants and refugees represent a broad category of people, some newcomers to Canada are struggling to understand the school system, let alone make decisions related to the pandemic.
It’s further complicated by the fact that many newcomers are working in essential sector roles — in health care, as front-line staff — and need to keep working in order to make ends meet. Lomelli said many families are juggling financial obligations to meet basic needs and “now with the school year approaching, they don’t know what to do.” Language and digital literacy are other barriers, said Valerie Lai, who also works at the non-profit. “They don’t understand the English. And even if they understand what [an email] says, they don’t understand what it means, what the options are because it’s not in their own language,” Lai said, adding some families don’t have the resources to choose online schooling. “They are putting their trust in the public school system.”
Both the Vancouver and Surrey school districts have case workers and staff dedicated to help transition newly arrived families into the school system, but the pandemic has forced some changes and adjustments. Candy Marvel-Metcalfe, a school settlement worker in Surrey, said since everything has to be done online, tasks that took 20 minutes can take more than an hour during the pandemic. “A lot of families I work with … come from refugee camps and so they have never learned computer skills,” she said. “There are families that are still struggling to adapt to these new changes.”
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CRA says CERB payments will be deposited by the weekend
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) said claimants can expect to see their Canada emergency response benefits (CERB) deposited before the weekend, after many people online reported not receiving their payments earlier this week as expected. Many who rely on the $2,000 monthly benefit to cover food, rent and bills have been expressing anxiety and frustration on social media over being forced to wait longer to see the money deposited in their accounts. Many also have said they haven’t been able to get clear answers from the CRA about the delays.
A spokesman for the CRA said the agency was being “overly cautious” in making sure payments are going to eligible recipients because of recent cyber attacks. The agency said the payments are expected to be deposited later today or Friday. The CRA shut down its online services last month after confirming it had been hit by two cyberattacks that compromised thousands of accounts linked to its services. Earlier today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blamed processing “hiccups” for the fact that many Canadians were reporting delays in receiving their CERB payments — but the CRA said that there were in fact no glitches or hiccups. Many CERB claimants applied for the monthly benefit Monday and were expecting the deposit within one or two days, as has been the delivery pattern in past months.
Last month, the federal government announced it was extending the CERB by one more month and revamping employment insurance (EI) to allow more people to receive financial assistance during the pandemic. Those changes, aimed at helping Canadians through the transition as the economy gradually reopens, are expected to cost $37 billion. The changes include making the EI system more flexible on the number of work hours required for a claim, making it easier for people to qualify for a one-year period.
U.S. CDC tells states to prepare for COVID-19 vaccine distribution as soon as late October
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has asked state public health officials to prepare to distribute a potential coronavirus vaccine to high-risk groups as soon as late October, according to documents published by the agency. The timing has taken on political importance as U.S. President Donald Trump seeks re-election on Nov. 3, after committing billions of federal dollars to develop vaccines for COVID-19, which has killed more than 186,000 people in the United States.
Pfizer said on Thursday it should know by the end of October whether a COVID-19 vaccine it is developing with German partner BioNTech SE is safe and effective. The U.S. drugmaker said it will seek approval immediately if trial results are positive. It has already manufactured hundreds of thousands of doses. Top U.S. infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Thursday having a vaccine ready by the end of October is possible, but he was not counting on it. “These are all guesstimates,” Fauci told CNN, when asked about Pfizer’s comments, adding that most experts project a vaccine will be ready by November or December. “It is conceivable that you can have it by October, though I don’t think that that’s likely.”
The CDC “provided states with certain planning assumptions as they work on state-specific plans for vaccine distribution, including possibly having limited quantities of vaccines in October and November,” an agency spokesperson told Reuters. The vaccines would be made available free of cost first to high-risk groups including health-care workers, national security personnel, and nursing home residents and staff, the agency said in the documents. Regulators around the world have repeatedly insisted that development speed will not compromise vaccine safety, as faster results would stem from conducting parallel trials that are usually done in sequence. Such reassurances have not convinced everyone that political pressure will not play a role.
Parents in Quebec court today to fight for wider access to online learning
Quebec Superior Court Justice Frédéric Bachand listened to lawyer Julius Grey argue this morning in favour of an injunction that would allow parents to keep their children home from school and learning remotely, even if they don’t qualify for a medical exemption. In Quebec, unlike in Ontario this year, school attendance is mandatory. The province has established narrow criteria for who is qualified for an exemption and can receive distance learning. A group of parents is hoping to convince the judge to order the province to loosen those rules.
If granted, the injunction would likely be in place until a court can rule on their associated lawsuit, which argues Quebec is violating the charter rights of parents by forcing them to send their children to school despite the risks of the pandemic. “It’s clearly something that is irreparable and harmful and needs to be decided right away,” Grey told the judge, highlighting the urgency of the matter given that school started in the province last week. He argued that the guidelines allowing for a medical exemption issued by the government are not precise when it comes to family members who could possibly be affected should a child return to school. Grey also cited two key Supreme Court cases — R. v. Morgentaler and Carter v. Canada — that establish medical decisions as inherently individual decisions in support of his argument.
A lawyer with Quebec’s attorney general, Stéphanie Garon, argued against the injunction, saying the government had taken adequate precautions and the distance-learning measures adopted in the spring were a temporary measure. “The return-to-school protocol announced by the government was robust,” she said, noting it included the wearing of masks, frequent handwashing and more. Garon also said the quality of learning for the most vulnerable students will suffer if the injunction is granted. Parents also have the option of home-schooling their children, which does not require an exemption, and other parents whose children don’t qualify for the exemption have opted to keep them at home anyway.
What you need to know about getting a flu shot amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Canadians are about to face yet another challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic: the arrival of flu season. Hoping to avoid what some have termed a “twindemic” — an influx of people becoming ill as influenza and the new coronavirus circulate at the same time — health experts say it’s more important than ever to get the flu shot, writes CBC’s Nicole Ireland.
“If you haven’t received the vaccine in previous years, this is the year to get it,” said Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an infectious disease expert specializing in influenza and emerging respiratory illnesses at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. Anticipating an increased demand for the flu shot, the provinces and territories have collectively ordered 22 per cent more doses of the vaccine (13.7 million) compared to the amount ordered by the same time last year (11.2 million), according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. “This is the highest order ever placed in Canada for seasonal influenza vaccine,” the agency said in an email to CBC News.
No, the flu shot won’t protect you from COVID-19, but experts say it’s important to protect yourself from influenza for several reasons. Flu often takes an enormous toll on the health-care system, so it’s vital that people do what they can to reduce their chances of getting it. Otherwise, hospitals and health-care facilities could become overwhelmed if they need to treat both flu and COVID-19 patients. There is an “overlap” in the people who are at especially high risk of critical illness from influenza and from COVID-19, Skowronski said, including seniors and people with underlying health conditions.
Getting a flu vaccine could also help reduce “unnecessary testing” for COVID-19, Skowronski said, because several symptoms of both illnesses are similar. In addition, it’s not known whether people will become infected with influenza and COVID-19 at the same time — and what the consequences of that combination could be, said Dr. Jacob Rosenberg, a pediatrician in Woodbridge, Ont. At this point, children don’t appear to be highly susceptible to COVID-19, Rosenberg said, but they’re at high risk for flu. It’s not clear what would happen if they contracted both. “It is super important for every child over six months of age to get the flu vaccine,” he said.
Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain concludes Summer of Beethoven with Symphony No. 9 — and you can watch
Montreal’s Orchestre Métropolitain is concluding its Summer of Beethoven series in emphatic form Friday with a video stream of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on Deutsche Grammophon’s new DG Stage online platform. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts his physically distanced orchestra, chorus and soloists at Montreal’s Bourgie Hall in a performance recorded earlier this summer.
Initial plans for the Summer of Beethoven series did not include the Ninth Symphony, with its famous choral Ode to Joy. “It was not the moment for something joyful, when the world was going through a crisis,” Nézet-Séguin said in a promotional video. But as they recorded the other eight symphonies in the cycle, they realized the Ninth would give people hope.
To enable physical distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the seating was removed from Bourgie Hall, with musicians and singers performing not only onstage, but also throughout the parterre and balcony of the downtown Montreal concert hall. The performance costs $15.33 to stream and will be available for 48 hours.
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Alberta reports 153 new COVID-19 cases, no additional deaths – Edmonton Journal
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Edmonton Public Schools reported another student at Vimy Ridge Academy tested positive, bringing the total to seven. About seven other students and two staff members have to self-isolate.
Vimy, along with Centre High, Highlands School and Austin O’Brien remain on the province’s watch list for having more than five cases. The province is also watching 10 other schools that have reported from two to four cases.
These include Ross Sheppard High School, Holy Trinity, Parkview, McNally, Ecole Pere-Lacombe, Waverly, Riverbend, Harry Ainlay, Bishop Savaryn and Louis St. Laurent.
Alberta Health Services considers a school to have an outbreak when there are two or more cases at one site within 14 days.
Meanwhile, Loblaws reported two staff members testing positive at Shoppers Drug Mart stores at Woodview Drive and Falsbridge Drive. The company said the employee at the Woodview location last worked on Sept. 23 while the Falsbridge location employee last worked on Sept. 19.
A total of 105,358 cases of COVID-19 and 9,254 fatalities have been reported across the country, according to the Canadian Press. More than 6.9 million tests have been run.
Globally, there are more than 31 million cases and more than 973,600 deaths from COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday a second wave of COVID-19 has not hit Alberta despite the prime minister’s declaration on Wednesday of its arrival in the country’s four biggest provinces.
Drugmaker Novavax begins late-stage vaccine trial in U.K. – CTV News
U.S.-based Novavax has begun a late stage trial of its potential COVID-19 vaccine in the United Kingdom because the high-level of the coronavirus circulating in the country is likely to produce quick results, the pharmaceutical company said.
Novavax plans to test the effectiveness of its vaccine in a trial involving 10,000 people between the ages of 18 and 84, according to a statement issued late Thursday. At least 25% of the subjects will be over the age of 65, and 400 participants will also receive a licensed flu vaccine.
The trial is being conducted in partnership with the U.K. government’s Vaccine Taskforce, which was created in April to help speed the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“With a high level of SARS-CoV-2 transmission observed and expected to continue in the U.K., we are optimistic that this pivotal phase 3 clinical trial will enrol quickly and provide a near-term view of (the vaccine’s) efficacy,” Dr. Gregory M. Glenn, head of research and development for Novavax, said in the statement.
The announcement comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the U.K. The government reported 6,634 new positive test results on Thursday — the U.K.’s highest daily number since the pandemic began. Britain has the deadliest outbreak in Europe, with nearly 42,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.
Drugmakers are rushing to develop COVID-19 vaccines with the backing of governments desperate to find a way of easing restrictions that have hammered the world economy.
The U.K. has already agreed to buy 60 million doses of the Novavax vaccine to ensure it can be distributed as quickly as possible if it is approved by regulators.
The government said Friday that participants in the Novavax trial will be drawn from the 250,000 people who have volunteered to take part in COVID-19 vaccine testing through the National Health Service’s Vaccine Registry.
“Finding a safe and effective vaccine that works for the majority of the U.K. population is the best way to tackle this devastating disease,” said Kate Bingham, chair of the government’s Vaccines Taskforce. “Whilst social distancing, testing and other measures can help reduce the impact of coronavirus, the only long-term solution to beating it will be finding a vaccine.”
Novavax also pledged to publish details of its vaccine testing protocol “to enhance information-sharing during the worldwide pandemic.”
Drugmakers are under pressure to release more information about the progress of their vaccine trials — information they normally wouldn’t release until the trials are complete — to increase public confidence in their work.
Several other big pharmaceutical firms, including AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer, have already released the protocols for their trials.
Demand for sports equipment and home gyms booms as Canadians prepare for pandemic winter – CBC.ca
Canadians in need of sports equipment and fitness gear to stay healthy and have fun during a pandemic winter have learned a valuable lesson: Shop early to avoid disappointment.
“People saw what happened with kiddie pools and fitness equipment in the spring,” said Gillian Montgomery, who co-owns Skiis and Biikes, a sporting goods chain with three locations in southern Ontario. Her stores are already unusually busy.
“Normally we don’t have interest in winter products until we see the snow and even until Christmas, but this year we’ve had maybe 30 calls just since September about getting cross-country skiing equipment.”
At Calgary’s Abom Ski & Board, owner Randy Ahl already has a “big, long” waiting list for entry-level cross-country ski packages that haven’t even arrived at the store yet.
Wait lists already growing
“Whether it’s a couple or a family, they’re saying, ‘We want a phone call when those things come in,'” said Ahl, who has already outfitted entire families with boots, poles and skis that he does have in stock. “I consider over $2,000 to be a fairly big purchase, and that’s happened already more than a dozen times.”
People who plan to exercise indoors are prepping as well.
Drew Berner has installed a home gym in his Toronto garage.
I fully intend to be out there all winter long,” said the father of three-year-old twins. “My garage is detached, but it is insulated, and I’m going to get a little space heater.”
Early in the pandemic with gyms locked down, health-conscious Canadians made alternate arrangements, following along with exercise instructors on YouTube, joining classes held in parks, or buying exercise gear to use at home.
But many retailers were unable to satisfy demand for sporting goods and fitness equipment. Canadian Tire experienced triple-digit growth in the category.
“Consumer demand far exceeded both historical demand and available inventory,” the company said in a statement to CBC News.
A sense of urgency
When Berner tried to find a set of weights, an exercise bike and a rowing machine for his garage gym, he found most were already sold out. Only by persisting was he able to get what he needed. He spent $3,000 on a mix of new and second-hand equipment.
“That involved everything from having alerts set on Kijiji … to having email alerts from stores so I would be notified as soon as they had things I wanted in stock,” said Berner, noting that he had to act fast before another buyer scooped them up.
Now, as cases of COVID-19 surge across Canada, national fitness chains such as GoodLife Fitness and F45 Training remain open — with limited capacity. Even so, some gym members are unwilling to return to an environment where people breathe heavily and sweat. And the market for used goods is again red hot.
The most popular search terms on online seller Kijiji are still dumbbells, ellipticals and exercise bikes, said company’s manager of community relations, Kent Sikstrom.
Second-hand Peloton Bikes have more than doubled since this time last year, while inquiries about elliptical machines are up 39 per cent and treadmills inquiries are up 15 per cent.
“Probably in the next couple of weeks we may see snow shoes, cross-country skis, sleds, and snowboard begin to create a new trend for the season,” said Sikstrom.
eBay Canada, which sells both new and used goods, is also reporting significant increases. Stair machines are up 230 per cent from this time last year, while treadmills sales are up 280 per cent, according to the head of the Canadian operation, Rob Bigler.
Gear not essential
“We’ve been super busy,” said Bigler. “It’s a great time to sell that treadmill that’s been sitting in your basement, maybe being used to hang up laundry.”
But Samantha Monpetit-Huynh, a fitness coach and trainer in Toronto, pointed out that a lot of gear isn’t essential to stay active and healthy.
“People forget your body is probably the best piece of equipment you’ve got,” she said. “You don’t need all this stuff — you just need to move and you need to do it regularly. More than once a week.”
Monpetit-Huynh said it’s possible to use laundry detergent bottles or soup cans as weights, and go for walks or runs. However, she recently invested $3,000 in a brand-new Peloton exercise bicycle that allows her to join spinning classes remotely.
“I love going to the gym, but I thought, ‘You know what? I should get something because if we get a second wave I want to be prepared.'”
Berner said for him, there’s more to it than fitness.
“Exercise is crucial for my mental health,” he said. “I notice even if I go for a couple of days without exercise my mood starts to drop.”
Other Canadians who feel the same and haven’t yet made a plan would be well advised to start considering their options — or risk getting left out in the cold during a long pandemic winter.
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