Why the delta variant is hitting kids hard in the U.S. and how we can prevent that in Canada – CBC.ca
As back-to-school season approaches, many Canadian parents are alarmed by reports of unprecedented cases of COVID-19 among children and teens — as well as increased hospitalizations — in parts of the U.S.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the majority of these illnesses are driven by the delta variant, which it has called “hyper infectious.”
Although the delta variant is on the rise in Canada too, pediatric infectious disease specialists and public health experts say we’re not in the same boat as U.S. hotspots — and that there are measures we can take to avoid getting there.
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What’s happening in the U.S.?
“Right now, things are really bad in the southern and southeastern parts of the United States,” said Dr. David Kimberlin, with the Children’s Hospital of Alabama and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“We have more pediatric cases, more pediatric hospitalizations, more pediatric severe disease cases than we’ve ever had throughout this pandemic,” he said.
“What we’re experiencing is much worse than it was even in the dark days of January and February … during the wintertime surge.”
WATCH | Children hit hard by COVID-19 surge in U.S.:
One reason for that is the dominance of the delta variant, which Kimberlin estimates is about 90 per cent of the COVID-19 cases he’s seeing now.
The other big reason, he said, is “abysmal vaccination rates” in COVID hotspots.
“You put a highly, even much more infectious — hyper-infectious, hyper-transmissible — virus that this delta variant represents into a population that’s … a third vaccinated, you got a recipe for disaster,” said Kimberlin.
“We’re living that disaster right now.”
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a 27.3 per cent rise in the seven-day average for U.S. COVID-19 hospital admissions among children from 0 to 17 years old between the week of July 28 to Aug. 3 and the week of Aug. 4 to Aug. 10.
According to additional CDC data, the highest COVID-19 case rates per 100,000 people are in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.
What’s happening with kids and COVID-19 in Canada?
Right now, experts say Canada isn’t seeing the surge of pediatric cases and hospitalizations that the southern U.S. is experiencing. That includes at one of the country’s largest children’s hospitals.
“SickKids has not seen any increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations or disease severity due to the delta variant,” a spokesperson for Toronto hospital said in an email to CBC News. “Throughout the pandemic, we have monitored COVID-19 trends in other jurisdictions and we continue to do so closely.”
One of the reasons it hasn’t happened, experts say, is Canada’s much higher vaccination rate. According to CBC’s vaccine tracker, 71 per cent of the eligible population — currently anyone 12 years and older — has been fully vaccinated in Canada.
“Vaccination in Canada seems to be less of a political issue and more of a health-related issue — and we are lucky for that,” said Dr. Jeff Pernica, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University in Hamilton.
“We know that two doses of the available mRNA vaccines provides very good protection even against delta,” he said. “And so I do not necessarily think that what’s happening in the United States is going to happen here.”
Does the delta variant make people sicker than other forms of the virus?
The short answer is that experts don’t yet know for sure.
“We know that everybody is more susceptible to the delta variant,” said Dr. Laura Sauvé, chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s infectious diseases committee and an infectious disease specialist at B.C. Children’s Hospital.
“It’s just much more transmissible than previous strains of COVID-19.”
But the question of delta’s “virulence” — meaning whether the illness it causes is more severe — is still not clear.
Several infectious disease specialists say that although there are more pediatric hospitalizations than before in the U.S., that could be due to the fact that delta causes more infections overall. So the same percentage of patients as before could be suffering from serious illness, but there’s a larger total pool of infected children and teens.
Aren’t kids under 12 at particular risk since they can’t get vaccinated?
Yes, experts say — but there are still things we can do to protect them.
The current fourth wave of COVID-19, including the delta variant, is largely infecting people who are unvaccinated, said Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
“Our main unvaccinated population right now in Canada is mostly the kids [who are] less than 12. So that’s a big concern to me,” she said.
Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are currently doing clinical trials to determine whether their vaccines are safe and effective for children under 12. Banerji is hoping results will be available in the coming months.
In the meantime, experts say one of the most important things people can do to protect kids from the delta variant is to get vaccinated themselves.
“Having the adults around them protected by vaccination will help protect kids who are too young to be vaccinated,” said Sauvé.
“That includes … kids over 12 — so high school students, middle school students. But also parents and teachers, and other health-care workers and other education workers.”
In addition, Sauvé said, it’s critical to keep up other public health measures, such as wearing masks indoors, especially where community transmission is high.
Many people dropped those public health measures in the areas of the U.S. now being hard-hit, said Kimberlin.
“[We’ve] … got to go back to the same kinds of things we don’t like — and that’s wearing masks and trying to distance from one another and doing the kinds of things that we were so familiar with in the wintertime and last year,” he said.
Is it still true that kids usually don’t get as sick if they get COVID?
Yes, infectious disease specialists say. There’s nothing to suggest the delta variant has changed that.
“Of all kids who get COVID, probably the majority will have no symptoms at all,” said Sauvé.
“Another significant proportion will have, kind of, mild flu-like symptoms. Like they might feel crummy for a few days, they might have some fever, they might have some cough, and in most cases, that goes away fairly quickly.
“A very, very small proportion of kids with COVID do get sick enough with COVID to be admitted to hospital. But that’s a very tiny proportion.”
Should Canadian kids return to school this fall?
All of the Canadian infectious disease and public health experts CBC News interviewed gave a resounding “yes.”
“It’s really important that we do everything we can to get kids back in school in person,” said Sauvé.
“The mental health and developmental effects of COVID have been the most profound effects of COVID on children, and we’re seeing significant increases in mental health hospitalizations,” she said.
Dr. Lawrence Loh, the medical officer of health for Ontario’s Peel region, agreed that a return to school is vital for kids — with COVID-19 safety precautions in place.
“In general, schools reflect the community transmission that’s occurring,” Loh said. “And we know that one of the best ways to address community transmission is to make sure that everyone is getting vaccinated as much as possible.
“The additional measures that are in place in schools — cohorting, screening, dismissals, masking — those are all going to still be critical.”
Have questions about this story? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments.
Hundreds killed after passenger trains derail in India, officials say
At least 233 people were killed and 900 were injured when two passenger trains collided in India’s Odisha state, a government official said on Saturday, making the rail accident the country’s deadliest in more than a decade.
The death toll from Friday’s crash is expected to increase, state Chief Secretary Pradeep Jena said in a tweet.
He said over 200 ambulances had been called to the scene of the accident in Odisha’s Balasore district and 100 additional doctors, on top of 80 already there, had been mobilized.
Early on Saturday morning, Reuters video footage showed police officials moving bodies covered in white cloths off the railway tracks.
Footage from Friday showed rescuers climbing up the mangled wreck of one of the trains to find survivors, while passengers called for help and sobbed next to the wreckage.
2 express trains collided
The collision occurred at about 7 p.m. local time on Friday when the Howrah Superfast Express, running from Bangalore to Howrah, West Bengal, collided with the Coromandel Express, which runs from Kolkata to Chennai.
Authorities have provided conflicting accounts on which train derailed first to become entangled with the other. The Ministry of Railways said it has initiated an investigation into the crash.
Although Chief Secretary Jena and some media reports have suggested a freight train was also involved in the crash, railway authorities have yet to comment on that possibility.
An extensive search-and-rescue operation has been mounted, involving hundreds of fire department personnel and police officers as well as sniffer dogs. National Disaster Response Force teams were also at the site.
On Friday, hundreds of young people lined up outside a government hospital in Odisha’s Soro to donate blood.
According to Indian Railways, its network facilitates the transportation of more than 13 million people every day. But the state-run monopoly has had a patchy safety record because of aging infrastructure.
Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik declared a day of state mourning on June 3 as a mark of respect to the victims.
Meta to start blocking news content for up to 5% of Canadian Facebook, Instagram users
Meta will soon block some Canadian users of Facebook and Instagram from accessing or posting news content on either platform.
The move, which the social media giant announced in a blog post on Thursday, comes in reaction to the looming passage into law of Bill C-18, the Online News Act.
Facebook has said it will be forced to block news content from its platforms in Canada if the bill becomes law, something that could happen as soon as this month as the bill is currently being considered in the Senate.
Among other stipulations, the bill would require tech giants to pay Canadian media companies for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online.
“As we prepare to comply with the legislation, we are announcing today that we will begin tests on both platforms that will limit some users and publishers from viewing or sharing some news content in Canada,” Meta said.
- Are you a Facebook or Instagram user? Do you use those platforms to share the news? We want to speak to you as part of a story. Email us at email@example.com.
Between one and five per cent of the 24 million Canadians who use Facebook or Instagram will be included in the test, which is set to start soon.
Different content may be blocked for different users on different platforms, said Rachel Curran, the head of public policy for Meta Canada.
“It won’t be a uniform experience, necessarily,” she said. “Some news links won’t be shareable on Facebook, but it might not be that experience on Instagram. It will be a different experience on different surfaces.”
“Throughout the testing period, which will run for several weeks, a small percentage of people in Canada who are enrolled in testing will be notified if they attempt to share news content.”
The test means that a user would not see links to articles or videos from news publishers anywhere in their feed. A user would also be blocked from sharing such content to other people.
News publishers will be able to post news links and content, but some of it will not be viewable in Canada.
Users who will be included in the test will be selected randomly, and will only be made aware that they’re included if they attempt to share news, at which point they will see a notification that they are unable to.
The number of news publishers who will have their content included in the test will not be public and is also randomized, but could include international publishers that operate in Canada. The publishers will be notified if they have been included in the test, Meta says.
News industry decries move
Paul Deegan, the head of News Media Canada, called Meta’s move a “kick in the shins” to Canadians at a time when the value and need for credible information has never been greater.
“Meta’s decision to ‘unfriend’ Canada by denying access to trusted sources of news for some of their users, as wildfires burn and when public safety is at stake is irresponsible and tone deaf,” Deegan told CBC News in an email.
“This hard-nose lobbying tactic is more evidence of the power imbalance that exists between dominant platforms and publishers, which is why parliamentarians need to pass the Online News Act before their summer recess.”
Meta’s move comes on the heels of a similar move by Google earlier this year, when it blocked news results for more than a million Canadians, also in opposition to the bill.
Meta says Bill C-18 is “fundamentally flawed legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms work, the preferences of the people who use them, and the value we provide news publishers.”
Curran told senators pondering the bill in a committee last month that the company objects to being asked to compensate news publishers for their content, when by their calculation they have given news publishers more than 1.9 million clicks in Canada in the past year, “and free marketing worth more than $230 million in estimated value.”
“We will be forced to compensate news publishers for material that they post to drive traffic and drive clicks back to their page and websites where they can then monetize those views and eyeballs either through a paywall or they can place ads against the views that show up on their web page,” she said. “We are being asked to compensate them for an activity that actually benefits them from a monetary perspective.”
Government calls move ‘disappointing’
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez called Meta’s move “disappointing” and said Canadians will not be intimidated by these tactics.
Legacy media and broadcasters have praised the bill, which promises to “enhance fairness” in the digital news marketplace and help bring in more money for shrinking newsrooms. Tech giants including Meta and Google have been blamed in the past for disrupting and dominating the advertising industry, eclipsing smaller, traditional players.
Meta, which is based in Menlo Park, Calif., has taken similar steps in the past. In 2021, it briefly blocked news from its platform in Australia after the country passed legislation that would compel tech companies to pay publishers for using their news stories. It later struck deals with Australian publishers.
Meta also reached a deal with U.K. publishers that year, after similar discussions.
Accountable Tech, a U.S.-based advocacy group pushing for more regulation of technology companies in that country, says the news blackouts in various countries show the lengths that big tech companies will go to in order to sway governments and maintain their profits.
“What we witnessed unfold in Australia, and now in Canada, is Big Tech’s willingness to cripple democracy by withholding news content to a population — chosen at random — as a bargaining chip to stop legislation,” the group’s executive director Nicole Gill said.
“It’s clear that Meta has no interest in acting in good faith or improving the lives of its users and the communities they operate in. There is simply no reason for the U.S. to delay any action on reining them in.”
Meta to test blocking news on Facebook, Instagram in Canada over Bill C-18 – Global News
Meta is preparing to block news for some Canadians on Facebook and Instagram in a temporary test that is expected to last the majority of the month.
The Silicon Valley tech giant is following in the steps of Google, which blocked news links for about five weeks earlier this year for some of its Canadian users in response to a controversial Liberal government bill.
Bill C-18, which is currently being studied in the Senate, will require tech giants to pay publishers for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online.
Meta said it’s prepared to block news permanently on Facebook and Instagram if the bill passes, which the government said could happen this month.
Rachel Curran, head of public policy for Meta Canada, said this first temporary move will affect one to five per cent of its 24 million Canadian users, with the number of those impacted fluctuating throughout the test.
Meta set to block news on Facebook, Instagram from Canadian users
Randomly selected Canadian users will not be able to see or share news content in Canada either on Instagram or Facebook.
She said that could include news links to articles, reels — which are short-form videos — or stories, which are photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours.
However, the experience won’t be the same for every user who is subject to the test.
“It won’t be a uniform experience, necessarily. Some news links won’t be shareable on Facebook, but it might not be that experience on Instagram. It will be a different experience on different surfaces,” Curran said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Trudeau calls Meta’s decision to block news in Canada ‘irresponsible and out of touch’
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in a statement Thursday evening that the fact that Facebook is still refusing to work with Canadians shows how deeply irresponsible the company is.
“When a big tech company, whatever the size is, the amount of money and the powerful lawyers they have, they come here and they tell us, ‘If you don’t do this or that, then I’m pulling the plug,’ — that’s a threat and that is unacceptable,” he said in the statement.
“I never did anything because I was afraid of a threat, and I will never do it.”
Rodriguez added in a tweet that “Canadians will not be intimidated by these tactics.”
Meta said it is picking random news publishers that will be notified that some people in Canada will not be able to see or share their news content throughout the test. They will still be able to access their accounts, pages, businesses suites and advertising.
International news companies such as the New York Times or BBC could also have their content blocked in Canada during the test, if they are randomly selected. However, people outside of Canada will not be affected.
“It’s only going to impact your experience … if you’re in Canada,” Curran said.
Trudeau slams Google for blocking news content from Canadians
Meta is defining news as it’s described in the Liberal government’s online news act.
“The legislation states that news outlets are in scope if they primarily report on, investigate or explain current issues or events of public interests,” said Curran.
Content that doesn’t fall under that definition will not be blocked from Canadians. When Facebook blocked news in Australia in 2021 because of a similar bill, there was widespread concern that trusted sources would be unavailable, while pages that published misinformation flourished.
Curran said affected Canadians will still be able to use their platforms to access information from a variety of sources including government pages, organizations and universities.
“We think all of that is good information. They’re also seeing and sharing things that interest them and entertain them. We would not classify that as misinformation. That’s great information and that will continue to be shared and to be viewable,” Curran said, adding that the company will continue to address misinformation on its site through a global fact-checking program.
Meta’s test is designed to ensure that non-news agencies don’t get caught in the dragnet should they block news permanently.
Google blocks some Canadian news sites from results in protest of Bill C-18
The company said it doesn’t want to accidentally block emergency services, community organizations, politicians or government pages, which happened in Australia.
Legacy media and broadcasters have praised the federal Liberals’ online news bill because it would bring in more money for shrinking newsrooms. Companies such as Meta and Google have been blamed for disrupting and dominating the advertising industry, eclipsing smaller, traditional players.
Curran said removing journalism from Meta’s platforms is a business decision, and the company makes “negligible amounts” of revenue from news content.
The company said less than three per cent of what people see in their Facebook feeds are posts with links to news articles, and many of its users believe that is already “too much” news.
“We’re facing a lot of competitive pressures and competition for user time and attention. We’re also facing some pretty serious economic headwinds, and a macro economic climate that’s a bit uncertain,” Curran said.
“Of course news have value from a social perspective. It’s valuable to our democracy. It just doesn’t have much commercial or economic value to our company.”
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© 2023 The Canadian Press
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