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U of G receives $230,000 for COVID-19 vaccine research – GuelphToday

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The following article was provided by University of Guelph News Services.

University of Guelph researchers have received $230,000 to develop potential COVID-19 vaccines under the province’s Ontario Together investment to advance research to combat the pandemic.

Pathobiology professor Byram Bridle said he believes the team’s vaccine platform – adapted from U of G research into vaccines as cancer therapies — will be a leading candidate among the roughly 120 Canadian projects currently racing to develop an effective vaccine against the pandemic virus.

“We have been focused on cancer for years, but this collaboration shows the flexibility of the technology we have at Guelph,” he said. “We can rapidly apply cancer technology and move it over to infectious disease.”

The team received a one-year, $230,000 grant this week in COVID-19 rapid research funding from the Ontario government to test four vaccines already developed in university labs. Nearly a dozen researchers are involved, including Bridle and co-principal investigators Sarah Wootton and Leo Susta, also faculty members in the Department of Pathobiology.

All three researchers’ labs have been approved for critical research status, allowing them to conduct studies while observing pandemic safety protocols.

Following immunological and safety testing at U of G, the researchers expect to share their top two vaccine candidates in about eight months with collaborators led by Darwyn Kobasa, head of respiratory virus pathogenesis and therapeutics at the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg, for efficacy testing.

Bridle said he hopes to see a viable vaccine based on the technology ready for Health Canada approval in 2021.

Their vaccines target a protein found on the surface of the coronavirus. After ferrying the protein into mice using a common adenovirus and an avian virus that normally infects chickens, they will measure immune responses in two ways.

They plan to look for levels of specific antibodies that recognize the protein and prevent the virus from entering lung cells. For any virus that does get past the body’s defences, they will also monitor production of T cells that normally fight off infection.

Out of four potential vaccines, they plan to send the top two candidates to the NML for further testing. The team will work with Health Canada to ensure “fast tracking” for any potential vaccine to be released to the public.

Bridle said Canadian researchers are working on an estimated 120 vaccines for the coronavirus. He said he’s confident the U of G approach will be among the top candidates.

The technology uses a proven testing platform of viruses already used to develop cancer vaccines. By using live vectors to deliver the vaccine directly into cells, he said, the approach ensures an appropriate immune response. Other approaches using a killed virus may be developed more quickly, he said, but many of those vaccines will fail to trigger the body’s proper immune response.

Bridle, Wootton and Susta have collaborated on using viruses in cancer therapy, including one of the viruses that they are now testing for a possible coronavirus vaccine.

He said that unlike other “one-off” approaches to developing a COVID-19 vaccine, the team’s platforms can be adapted to develop vaccines for future versions of a coronavirus. That means future vaccines might be made more quickly and cheaply, giving Canada a foundation for subsequent vaccine development.

“With these vaccine vectors, we designed them to be ‘plug and play.’ You can put any gene into the vectors within two weeks. It could be a target protein in a cancer cell, but it could just as easily be a protein on a virus.”

“I would like to congratulate Byram Bridle and the whole team at the University of Guelph on receiving this project approval through the COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund,” said Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris. “The Ontario government is committed to supporting our world-class researchers and institutions in their fight against the current global pandemic.”

Malcolm Campbell, vice-president (research), said, “This very foresighted, incredibly smart support from our provincial government is outstanding.”

By combining three U of G research teams, he said, the project “will in turn power discoveries and fuel innovations aimed at creating a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the virus underpinning the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, our government’s intelligent investment will ensure that this University of Guelph research will address the challenges of this pandemic, as well as any coronavirus diseases that may emerge in the future.”

Overall, the province has committed $20 million through its COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund – part of the Ontario Together fund — for research to help combat the pandemic.

The team has also received support from the Department of Pathobiology, the Ontario Veterinary College and the University’s COVID-19 Research Development and Catalyst Fund.

Noting that the team brings together experts in viral immunology, virology and pathology, Bridle said the group responded rapidly to the provincial government’s call for research proposals. “We have a strong history of working on developing cancer vaccines. As soon as the call came out for COVID-19 vaccines, we realized we have potential vaccination strategies.”

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'It's out there': Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph issues warning after discovery of bat with rabies west of Orangeville – Orangeville Banner

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‘It’s out there’: Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph issues warning after discovery of bat with rabies west of Orangeville | Orangeville.com


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Eastern zone sees 1st new COVID-19 case in over 3 weeks; 993 people recovered in N.S. – CTV News

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HALIFAX —
As Nova Scotians count down the days until the province reopens, Premier Stephen McNeil is thanking them for working hard to follow protocols and flatten the curve.

“We haven’t had a lot of good news in this province in the last few months, but when I wake up and see the low numbers and feel the level of relief and gratitude, knowing what all of you have been doing to keep Nova Scotians safe,” said McNeil during a news conference on Wednesday.

“We have said all along that we are in this together and you have proven that every day.”

Most businesses that were forced to close at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March can reopen on Friday.

The premier is reassuring Nova Scotians that COVID-19 testing will continue and immediate action will be taken if there is a spike in cases.

“I know many of you are nervous but we have to get our economy moving again. We are taking it slow, we are reducing capacity, protocols will be in place, and we need everyone to follow them. I believe we all understand the importance of self-distancing and wearing a mask,” said McNeil.

“What’s really important is for all of you to support your local businesses. They need you and they want to welcome you back. So think local, buy local, support local. That makes us Nova Scotia strong and Nova Scotia proud.”

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, says every sector that was closed down under the public health order has submitted their reopening plans. However, not all of them have had final approval.

“There are a few that are in the final stages. I have a number of emails and plans that I have to approve later today, but we are in a place that everybody has a plan at least somewhere in the process. The majority have already been sent back and approved,” said Strang.

Customer experience will be different

When businesses reopen, Strang says the customer experience will be different and expectations should be adjusted accordingly.

“Whether you are going to a restaurant, whether you are going to a hair salon, whether you continue to go shopping, your experience will look different,” said Strang.

“Certainly in restaurants we know you can expect tables to be further apart, so that they can maintain that six-foot social distancing. There are other public health measures that support better handwashing, controlling how people move around in a restaurant or a bar space, and limitations on the type of activities that can happen in terms of entertainment and dancing.”

Bubble rules still apply

Strang also clarified that, at this time, they are not ready to have people from multiple households come together at a single table at a restaurant.

“The physical distancing requirements and the rules around household bubbles and family household bubbles haven’t changed and they pertain to restaurants and bars, like everywhere else,” said Strang.

“While people may be at tables in up to groups of 10, unless they can be separated by six feet while they are at that single table, which is not likely, they have to be people from the same household or household bubble.”

Public health is working with business and community partners to create environments that support public health requirements.

“At the end of the day, there is an obligation and a need for all Nova Scotians to participate and follow those public health requirements that are being put in place in all our public spaces and retail and business places,” said Strang.

“One of the critical things is that, people need to understand that if you are not feeling well, then it is not the time to go out. You may have COVID-19. If you meet any of the symptoms, if you are not sure, do the 811 online assessment, but if you are not feeling well it is critically important that you not go out and potentially expose others to COVID-19.”

Canada Emergency Response Benefit

When the pandemic hit, the federal government introduced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), designed to help people who lost income due to COVID-19. The program is available until Oct. 3 and provides successful applicants with $2,000 a month for up to four months.

As businesses prepare to reopen in Nova Scotia, one of the challenges presented is the reality that some employees who receive CERB are making more to stay home than go to work.

“I strongly encourage all Nova Scotians to take the opportunity to go back to work. While it may have a short-term impact, your hard work and effort in the business you are working with will determine the long-term future of that business and, quite frankly, your long-term employment,” said McNeil.

“Let’s not look at this in the short term, let’s look at this in the long term. Every business needs its employees to go back to work to help with the viability and that means that that business will be there for years to come, not just for a few months when we know that CERB program is going to run out.”

Public schools

With businesses reopening on June 5, and daycares not far behind, many Nova Scotians are wondering about the status of public schools.

“We haven’t started a conversation yet about public schools. It’s coming very soon,” said Strang.

“I know we’ve got some meetings coming up in the next couple of weeks. Understanding that we are very busy focusing on getting to Friday and then we are focusing on working on our daycares who are coming soon, so we haven’t had a detailed conversation yet about schools, but we need to get there.”

New case in eastern zone

For the first time in over three weeks, a new case of COVID-19 has been identified in Nova Scotia’s eastern zone.

The province last reported a new case of the virus in the eastern zone on May 10.  The eastern zone now has 52 cases of COVID-19.

Strang said Wednesday that the person who tested positive had travelled outside of Nova Scotia.

“Fortunately, this individual followed public health protocol and was in self-isolation from the time they returned to the province, and had minimal exposure at the time they may have been infectious,” said Strang.

The province isn’t reporting any additional cases, or deaths, at this time.

The QEII Health Sciences Centre’s microbiology lab completed 639 Nova Scotia tests on Tuesday.

To date, Nova Scotia has 43,340 negative test results, 1,058 positive COVID-19 test results and 60 deaths.

Fifty-three of the deaths have been at Halifax’s Northwood long-term care home, which has seen the most significant outbreak in the province.

A Halifax law firm is proposing a class-action lawsuit against the facility, claiming normal standards of care weren’t met to protect against infection from COVID-19.

993 people recovered

The province says one more person has recovered from COVID-19, for a total of 993 recoveries.

This would leave five active cases in all of Nova Scotia. However, Northwood is still reporting five active cases involving three residents and two staff members.

During the pandemic, there has been confusion over the number of recovered and active cases reported by the province, which don’t always match up with the numbers reported at Northwood.

Strang has explained that the data from long-term care homes comes from a different data source than the one used by public health and is on a different timeline. As a result, the data doesn’t always reconcile.

Two more people released from hospital

The province says two more people have been released from hospital. There are now three people in hospital, with one patient in the intensive care unit.

The province’s confirmed cases range in age from under 10 to over 90.

Sixty-two per cent of cases are female and 38 per cent are male.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority’s central zone, which contains the Halifax Regional Municipality, has seen the largest number of cases.

The western, central and northern zones are reporting no additional cases at this time.

  • western zone: 54 cases
  • central zone: 907 cases
  • northern zone: 45 cases
  • eastern zone: 52 cases

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 is required to self-isolate at home, away from the public for 14 days.

Anyone who travels outside of Nova Scotia must also self-isolate for two weeks.

The provincial state of emergency, which was first declared on March 22, has been extended to June 14.

COVID-19 symptoms

Last month, the province expanded the list of symptoms for which it is screening.

Anyone who experiences one of the following symptoms is encouraged to take an online test to determine if they should call 811 for further assessment:

  • fever (i.e. chills, sweats)
  • cough or worsening of a previous cough
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • shortness of breath
  • muscle aches
  • sneezing
  • nasal congestion/runny nose
  • hoarse voice
  • diarrhea
  • unusual fatigue
  • loss of sense of smell or taste

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Inside the Halifax high-rise at the centre of a Canadian COVID-19 tragedy – CBC.ca

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Gerald Jackson spent his final days with COVID-19 lying just centimetres from another man’s bed, separated by a curtain in an eighth-floor room. A third man lay about three metres away.

It was not what Darlene Metzler had pictured for her father, the 21-year navy veteran who loved dancing the jive, singing and travelling on cruise ships.

But Jackson, 84, had been diagnosed with dementia and his medical needs were beyond what home care or assisted living could provide. In May 2019, he moved to a triple-bed room inside the Centre building at the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax.

In mid-April Metzler got a call: one of her father’s two roommates had tested positive for COVID-19. The staffer on the phone told Metzler the COVID unit was full; there was no way to separate Jackson from the others.

Gerald Jackson, who was a veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy, died April 28 of COVID-19 at Northwood. (Submitted by Darlene Metzler)

“There was only one way to feel, and that was to prepare for the phone call that said my dad is positive,” she said.

Metzler and her siblings didn’t know that triple rooms existed at Northwood until they learned their father would be placed in one. Now, they place the blame for his death on April 28 on the configuration of the 44-year-old building.

“This was like a hospital room,” Metzler said in an interview. “I challenge somebody to walk in that room and tell me that doesn’t look like institutional living where seniors are being warehoused.”

It is one of many difficult lessons learned at Northwood, where the virus has claimed the lives of 53 residents, making it one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the country and accounting for the bulk of the 60 victims in Nova Scotia.

Some families have called for a public inquiry or a class-action lawsuit to examine the facility’s decisions, particularly around shared rooms.

For its part, Northwood said it’s long been concerned about the issue. For three years, it’s had a plan before the province to make all rooms private — a proposal that continues to sit with Department of Health.

Those tight quarters, combined with a crucial misunderstanding by health officials early on of how the virus could spread asymptomatically, proved fatal.

Jackson, his twin daughters and Jackson’s social worker pose for a photo on his first day at Northwood, May 8, 2019. (Submitted by Charlene Chiddenton)

Northwood bills itself as the largest not-for-profit continuing care organization in Atlantic Canada. It dates back to 1962 and a social movement created to help seniors living in poverty. It cares for some of the most frail and vulnerable people in the province.

Its Halifax facility, located off Gottingen Street near the Macdonald Bridge, is made up of three buildings — the Tower, the Manor and the Centre. Their original purpose was not to warehouse seniors, but standards for such residences were different when they were built.

Today, single rooms with ensuite washrooms, grouped around a central living room or kitchen area are preferred — not a possibility in most of Northwood’s downtown campus.

Of the three buildings, the Centre is the youngest, dating from June 1976. It’s also the building where COVID-19 has raged longest and hardest. It has 297 beds in total. More than half are in double or triple rooms. There are another 188 long-term care beds in the Manor, in both shared and private rooms.

But right now the old arrangements are moot. By late May, Northwood had been able to separate all but 25 of its 485 beds. Some residents have been moved to a hotel.

Space has also opened up for another reason — many who lived at Northwood are now dead.

Northwood has dealt with communicable diseases like influenza and gastroenteritis before, and early in March the facility started taking the same sort of infection control steps for COVID-19. They included cleaning door knobs, handrails and elevator buttons more often, and tracking flu-like symptoms in residents.

On March 12, it restricted visits from families and volunteers who had recently travelled outside Canada. Two days later, it applied the same rule to staff who had travelled internationally and told them to self-isolate. All workers were screened daily for fever and cough.

Then, late in the morning of Sunday, March 15, the province announced its first three cases of COVID-19 and immediately closed long-term care facilities to all visitors. The move was so sudden that some families who had visited Northwood that morning were told not to return later in the day.

At the time, public health officials recommended against healthy people wearing masks. The position was that the virus was only spread by those who were symptomatic, a belief that turned out to be wrong.

Among the COVID-19 victims at Northwood are, from left, Thelma Coward-Ince, 86, Hermance Cormier, 87, and Derrick Carvery, 37. (CBC/Joe Cormier/Joy O’Brien)

In hindsight, Northwood now knows the virus had started spreading and incubating among staff and residents shortly after the no-visitor order was issued.

Northwood CEO Janet Simm said contact tracing later determined an asymptomatic person could have been in the facility as early as mid-March.

It’s even possible they were there before the province declared a state of emergency that closed many businesses and limited social gatherings to no more than five people.

At the time, there were outbreaks in the communities of Enfield and Elmsdale, and in the Prestons-Lake Echo-Lawrencetown area. Simm said contact tracing has shown it’s “very clear” that’s how staff members first became infected.

It is also certain that a significant number — more than 10 — were unaware they had COVID-19 as they worked in different areas of the building.

“It was very, very early on. The symptoms that we’re now screening for are very different than what we were screening for way back in early April,” said Simm. “So those poor staff had no idea that they were putting residents or co-workers at risk.”

On April 5, the first staff person inside Northwood tested positive. The next day, all staff were told to don masks through their shifts — a move that came before the Public Health Agency of Canada issued long-term care guidelines that called for similar measures.

A day later, five residents tested positive, yet only one had any contact with the staff person. It was becoming clear the virus was spreading asymptomatically.

Two wards set aside for COVID-19 patients filled up. Staff soon decided not to shuffle roommates, even if they tested negative. The decision drew sharp criticism from many families but is defended by Simm, who said they quickly learned that even if a roommate of a positive resident had tested negative, chances were they had already caught the virus.

On April 17 and 18, the first three residents died of COVID-19. Dozens of other residents and staff were sick. The facility was no longer able to cope on its own.

The worst weekend

From Toronto, Michele Heath could tell something was wrong. At the beginning of the pandemic the Northwood staff had time every day to set up a video call so Heath and her siblings in Dartmouth, N.S., could chat with their mother, Ruth, a resident of the nursing home.

But that changed as time went on.

It culminated on the evening of April 18, a Saturday, when Heath called the nursing station every quarter of an hour, letting the phone ring until it stopped. No one answered.

“My family and I found that very disconcerting and a clear message that the staff must be run off their feet and just going full out just to try to respond to the needs of the residents,” Heath said.

She does not blame staff and believes they took good care of her mother. But two days later the siblings decided to remove her from Northwood, even though it meant taking on an exhausting schedule of 24-7 care.

By that weekend, so many Northwood workers were sick or self-isolating that staffing at times sunk to just “a couple of people” per 33-bed floor, according to Northwood executive director Josie Ryan. The care workers could not keep up.

But the picture changed dramatically that Monday, when reinforcements from the Nova Scotia Health Authority and other nursing homes began to deploy at Northwood.

Ryan explained that day, the tone of relief clear in her voice, that Northwood now had four staff on every floor, plus an occupational therapy and physical therapy team making sure residents were hydrated and had some social time.

“They may not get a shower but their personal hygiene needs are being met,” Ryan said.

“So it’s been a good day so far this morning.”

With the help of more than 40 extra people, the staffing situation stabilized. That weekend, the first resident had been moved to a 29-bed “recovery unit” set up by the province at a nearby hotel.

Regular swabbing of residents and staff in order to test for the virus continued, with the expectation that more cases would be found. By the end of May, Northwood had recorded 345 cases of COVID-19, nearly 30 per cent of them among staff.

Janet Simm is the CEO of Northwood. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Metzler, the daughter of COVID-19 victim Gerald Jackson, is concerned the province has said little so far about whether Northwood will be able to maintain the new arrangement where most residents have single rooms.

“I think we need to keep the momentum going so that people hear that this isn’t acceptable, that change is required,” she said of shared rooms. “It’s not good for infection control measures. It’s not good for privacy.

“I don’t think it’s good for the staff either. My heart goes out to those wonderful caregivers that work there, that are doing the best they can every day with what they have.”

Heath, whose family made the decision to move their mother out of Northwood on April 20, said her mother was in a “very small” shared room with one other person.

“I think that’s one of the key elements that needs to be examined here,” she said. “What should the physical structures look like? How should they be designed to best ensure, certainly, infection control and prevention, but also to create a home-like environment for individuals? Because really that’s what I think everybody would like to have for their loved ones.”

Heath’s family would like to see a public inquiry examining all of the lessons learned during the pandemic: the size and configuration of rooms, the decisions on testing and communications on when to issue personal protective equipment to staff, the compensation for care workers, and how the virus managed to spread so widely in this one particular facility.

Darlene Metzler is shown outside her Dartmouth, N.S., home. Her father, Gerald Jackson, died of COVID-19 on April 28. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Northwood had a full house in the weeks leading up to the outbreak: 17 people were admitted in March, including 11 transferred from the hospital system and six from the community. There were 16 vacant beds, but none in the most in-demand long-term care.

The facility has been worried about the effects of crowding for years. In 2017, it sought $13 million from the Department of Health to add three floors to the Centre building, a change that would allow all residents a single room.

The board of directors of Northwood had concerns about infection control, and was so worried it considered converting some of its affordable seniors housing units into long-term care beds.

The province did not approve the funding proposal in 2017, nor in 2018 or 2019, when Northwood submitted it again.

At the time, influenza was considered the main problem, but the experience with COVID has put those concerns in a new light.

“Influenza is a really huge issue — not necessarily something that the public is aware of, but in long-term care influenza [and] other types of infections in vulnerable populations is something that we deal with every day,” Simm said.

A sketch Metzler drew of the configuration of her father’s room at Northwood, which he shared with two other men. (Darlene Metzler)

Weeks before the first Nova Scotians tested positive for COVID-19, the local NDP MLA, Lisa Roberts, questioned Health Minister Randy Delorey in the legislature about the proposal.

“I know staff continue their discussions with the facility provider as to opportunities,” Delorey told the House on Feb. 28. “It would be inaccurate to suggest that the submission was not considered; they continue to have discussions with the provider about their proposal.”

Those discussions continue to this day.

Simm said the Department of Health has been “very supportive” of Northwood moving to single rooms, but ultimately the decision on whether residents can keep the private rooms they now have rests with the province.

Both Delorey and Premier Stephen McNeil have said questions about shared rooms will be reviewed once the outbreak is over.

“The work for decisions about the future of what long-term care infrastructure facilities are going to look like, that hasn’t, as part of our review, taken place yet. Our focus has been on our response and the care for individuals,” Delorey said in an interview.

The 29 Northwood residents who have been living in a hotel for weeks must eventually be placed somewhere. There is not enough space at Northwood to give each a single room, so some will be returning to roommates.

Minister of Health Randy Delorey said the wait-list for long-term care has grown by 10 to 12 per cent since the start of the pandemic. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

If Northwood returns to its previous configuration, it won’t be hard to find people to occupy those shared rooms. According to the health minister, the wait-list for long-term care has grown since the pandemic began from about 1,300 people to 1,400 or more.

Delorey also pointed out that Northwood is not the only facility in the province with multiple-occupancy rooms. It’s a feature of many older nursing homes.

The province announced last year the construction or conversion of 162 new long-term care beds, most of them in Cape Breton, and last week said another 23 were coming to the Halifax area. New construction will be to modern standards, but not one of those facilities is ready yet.

Metzler said she worries about a resurgence of the virus, and that flu season is also not far off. She said Northwood residents should not be placed back in shared rooms.

“I get the impact of it backing up the hospital system, for instance, there’s probably patients in a hospital waiting for long-term care beds. So then that’s backing up the hospitals and so on and so forth. I don’t have the answers, but I know what needs to be done.”

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