COVID-19: What We Know About the Second Wave as Ontario Faces Criticism for “Slow” and “Confused” Response

COVID-19

From new measures to protections for long-term care homes, we look at how health officials and governments are responding to a second wave of COVID-19. Photo: xijian / E+ via Getty Images

Experts have been sounding the warning about a second wave of COVID-19 well before the first wave had even peaked. With new daily case totals now at the highest we’ve seen during the pandemic, their predictions have — unfortunately — come to pass.

Nov. 25, 2020

Ontario reported an additional 1,373 cases of COVID-19 and 35 more deaths linked to the illness on Wednesday. A report by Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk claims that “delays and conflicts and confusion in decision-making,” in the province’s response to the pandemic led to a greater spread of the coronavirus. “Ontario’s response to COVID-19 in the winter and spring of 2020 was slower and more reactive relative to most other provinces and many other international jurisdictions,” Lysyk said in the 231-page report, tabled in legislature this morning.

In Alberta, new restrictions were announced Tuesday after the province reported 1,115 new cases and 16 additional deaths from the virus. Indoor private social gatherings are temporarily banned, while students in Grade 7 and above will all move to at-home learning. At a press conference Premier Jason Kenney said the measures are necessary “to protect Albertans from the health, social and economic damage that a crushing lockdown would inflict.” As of Tuesday evening, Alberta had 13,349 active cases of COVID-19 — the highest in the country behind Ontario.

British Columbia, meanwhile, recorded a daily high for the province, reporting 941 new cases on Tuesday. Hospitalizations also rose to a record 284. The province added venues that offer gymnastics, dance, martial arts, yoga, pilates, cheerleading, and strength and conditioning to a growing list of suspended activities yesterday. “We need to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our province and that needs to happen now,” read a statement from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix. “That is why we have paused all gatherings, events and indoor group fitness activities.”

Canadian breakthrough:  It’s been reported that Mitacs, a Canadian non-profit that honours home-grown research, has awarded an Alberta scientist for her work on making face masks more effective at blocking viruses. Ilaria Rubino, a recent PhD graduate from the University of Alberta, found that a solution of water and salt — which dries with sharp crystallized points — would catch  and kill coronavirus droplets when used on the first or middle layer of a surgical-like mask. The salt-coated mask may be available commercially as soon as next year.

—Tara Losinski

Nov. 24, 2020

Ontario reported 1,009 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, one day after a record-high increase of 1,589, although a technical issue means numbers were overestimated yesterday and underestimated today. Millions of residents went into a 28-day lockdown Monday in an effort to curb spread of the coronavirus in the provinces most populated regions of Toronto and Peel.

Manitoba also marked a record-high increase Monday, reporting 540 new cases of the respiratory illness. This comes just over a week after the province went into a second lockdown, banning dine-in-eating at restaurants and ordering closed a range of non-essential businesses and places of worship. Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says that restrictions are working, pointing to the fact that the average number of contacts of people who test positive has decreased from seven to about two in the last week. “Certainly the trend is in the right direction,” he said in a press conference Monday.

In Alberta, a lockdown was urged for by 341 physicians Sunday in a letter addressed to Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Chief Medical Officer of Heath Dr. Deena Hinshaw. After reporting 1,549 new cases in her news conference Monday, Hinshaw likened COVID-19 case loads to “a snowball rolling down a hill growing bigger and faster” and confirmed that she was meeting with government officials later that day to discuss new measures to reduce the rising spread.

Meanwhile in Saskatchewan, it was reported Monday that Premier Scott Moe is isolating out of an “abundance of caution” after potential exposure to COVID-19 at a restaurant in Prince Albert on Nov. 15. The province reported 235 new infections on Monday and a record-high 106 hospitalizations, including 19 people in the ICU.

Good news: “Our federal government has contracts for purchasing the most successful candidate vaccines. Canada has a group of vaccines that include all the vaccines that have produced positive results and include other candidate vaccines which we believe will be successful. That is a good thing,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said, speaking in French during a press conference Monday.

—Tara Losinski

Nov. 23, 2020

U.K. drugmaker AstraZeneca said Monday that late- and large-stage trials showed that the COVID-19 vaccine candidate its developing with Oxford University has shown to be “highly effective” in preventing the respiratory illness. “These findings show that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives,” Prof. Andrew Pollard, chief investigator for the trial, said in a statement. “Excitingly, we’ve found that one of our dosing regimens may be around 90 per cent effective.”

The vaccine is one of several Canada has deals in place to purchase. And a review, published by The Lancet last week, found that trial participants over the age 70 were among those to experience a “robust” response to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Ontario reported 1,589 new cases of COVID-19 Monday — the third-straight day of new cases counting more than 1,500. And today marks the beginning of a 28-day lockdown for parts of the province where new cases are concentrated, including Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton.

Meanwhile, the “Atlantic Bubble” has been burst, with Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I. each announcing Monday that all non-essential travel will be suspended for the next two weeks in what’s being called a “circuit break” effort. Up until now, the four Atlantic provinces were open to residents travelling between without having to self-isolate for 14 days, and without filing for a travel exemption.

Alberta on Sunday eclipsed new daily cases in hard-hit Quebec and Ontario, reporting 1,584 new COVID-19 infections. Health officials also reported 319 hospitalizations, with 60 patients in intensive care. With 12,195, the province has more active cases of the respiratory illness than does Quebec, with 11,128, and a little more than 700 behind Ontario, with 12,918.

Neighbouring Saskatchewan reported 236 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday after hitting a record high the day before, with 439 new infections. Premier Scott Moe confirmed Saturday that the province’s 7-day average for new cases had reached 203 — a record amount — and that public health officials will “have more to say early next week” about further restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

In the north, 21 new cases were reported in Nunavut on Sunday, which brings the territory’s total to 130 — more than Yukon and Northwest Territories combined — in just a little more than two weeks after its first cases was confirmed on Nov. 6.

Good news: Quebec reported more COVID-19 recoveries, 1.282, than new cases, 1,164, Monday — a trend recorded for the fourth straight day.

—Tara Losinski

Nov. 20, 2020 – 3 p.m.

With total COVID-19 cases surging over 100,000 in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford today announced that starting Nov. 23, all non-essential businesses and services will once again be closed down in Toronto and Peel Region, two of the hardest hit regions in the country.

“The numbers [of COVID-19 cases] are going through the roof and we have to be diligent,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford in a press conference today. “Further action is required to prevent the worst-case scenario.”

With Toronto reporting 420 new cases today, Ford said that other regions where cases are on the rise — including Durham and Waterloo — will be moved into the Red Zone, which means they are one step away from lockdown.

Starting Monday, the new measures, which will be in effect for 28 days, will mean that cinemas, casinos, gyms, hair salons, clubs, bars, restaurants (indoor and outdoor dining), retail stores (excluding curbside pick-up) will be closed in Toronto and Peel, which includes the cities of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon.

Religious services will be limited to 10 people. Public indoor gatherings have also been banned and outdoor gatherings will be limited to no more than 10 people. Schools and daycare centres will remain open.

Doctor David Williams, Ontario’s chief public health officer, said the government was pleading with people living in the two most affected areas not to travel outside their hotspots. He noted that the government was stopping short of imposing a travel ban. “We’re going to be trusting and confident that people do the right thing,” he said.

Premier Ford, who was celebrating his birthday today, tried to soften the blow for people effected by this latest lockdown, but he didn’t sound very convincing.

“Tough times don’t last but tough people do,” he said thanking everyone for their continued efforts in fighting the virus. “I want to give people hope. We have a vaccine that will be online shortly,” he said, though without much enthusiasm.

Peter Muggeridge

Nov. 20, 2020

Quebec will permit 10-person gatherings for Christmas — from Dec. 24 to 27, Premier François Legault announced Thursday. People can gather with different groups of up to 10 people during those four days. But in exchange for that, Quebecers are being asked to engage in a “moral contract” under which they promise to stay in self-quarantine for a week before and after the party period. The province has also extended the Christmas school break by one week for high school students. Quebec reported 1,207 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 34 additional deaths related to the illness.

Ontario reported 1,418 new cases of COVID-19 today, eight deaths and 518 people hospitalized with the respiratory illness — 142 of which are in intensive care.

Alberta reported its highest daily case count of the pandemic on Thursday, with 1,105 new cases of COVID-19. That brought the number of active cases in the province to 10,382. There were also eight deaths reported yesterday including, for the second day in a row, a man in his 30s.

And active cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations reached new all-time highs in British Columbia on Thursday. The province reported 538 new cases and one death. There are currently 6,929 active cases of the virus in B.C, with 217 people in hospital. Of those, 59 are in intensive care. Restrictions that had been in effect in Vancouver Coast Health and Fraser Health regions are now mandated province-wide, including masks in shops, indoor public areas and elevators. Places of worship are closed for groups and all events and gatherings are banned. There are to be no spectators at any indoor sports game. Travel vacation rentals will not be allowed in Whistler and Tofino, and people are discouraged from travelling for recreational or social reasons.

Restrictions are also being ratcheted up in Manitoba. As of this morning, big box stores will not be allowed to sell non-essential items and beginning tomorrow morning, stores must physically block customers from accessing them. Also, starting this morning, no one is allowed to be in a household they don’t live in unless they’re providing essential service or delivering items. People who live alone are allowed to designate one person they can visit or have visits from. Outdoor gatherings with a maximum of five people are allowed. Not surprisingly, outdoor winter apparel such as jackets and boots area considered essential items.

Good news: Canada made a deal in September to purchase up to 20 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. Yesterday, early results from Phase 3 trials showed that the vaccine candidate is effective and safe, including in people over 70.

Quote of the day: “You have to remember that the family is at the heart of who we are, it’s at the heart of our nation. For me, it’s part of my life — I need to see my family.” –Premier François Legault at a press conference Thursday explaining why Quebec is allowing friends and family to get together over Christmas.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 19, 2020

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine being developed at Oxford University has produced a “robust” response in older people, including those over age 70, according to preliminary results published today in The Lancet. Final results are expected before the end of the year. This is the third COVID-19 vaccine candidate shown to be highly effective against the disease in older people.

Ontario reported 1,210 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday with 361 in Peel, 346 in Toronto and 143 in York Region. There were 28 additional deaths also reported. This is the 14th straight day the province has reported case counts in the quadruple digits.

Toronto’s COVID-19 test positivity rate on Wednesday was 6.2 per cent. The same day New York City closed its schools because the positivity rate there reached 3 per cent. New York officials have said since the summer that school buildings would close if, over a seven-day period, 3 per cent of COVID-19 tests performed citywide came back positive.

On Wednesday, Manitoba public health officials announced 400 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 more deaths. The five-day test positivity rate was 14.2 per cent provincially, and 13.8 per cent in Winnipeg.

British Columbia reported 762 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday — a record increase for the second day in a row. There were 10 deaths also reported. The province is considering extending the December school holiday, as is Quebec which reported 1,179 new cases on Wednesday and 35 additional deaths. Ontario officials on Wednesday said the Christmas break would not be extended.

British Columbia premier John Horgan called on the federal government on Wednesday to establish a Canada-wide approach to discouraging travel between provinces during the pandemic. “The people of Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba need to know that they should stay in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba until we get to a place where we can start distributing a vaccine across the country,” he said in a press conference.

The Canada-U.S land border will remain closed to non-essential and non-commercial travel for at least another month, until Dec. 21. The restrictions have been in place since March and were set to expire on Saturday. Postponements have occurred one month at a time. Meanwhile, Porter Airlines which has many flights to the U.S. and to Atlantic Canada, has announced it will not resume service until Feb. 11, 2021.

Nunavut began a two-week shutdown of schools and non-essential businesses on Wednesday. The territory reported 10 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, bringing its total from 60 to 70. Outdoor and indoor gatherings are limited to five people unless an individual family’s size is greater.

Good news: Ontario’s health minister on Wednesday suggested Canada could start receiving millions of doses of one or more COVID-19 vaccines as soon as January, including four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine between January and March, as well as two million doses of Moderna’s vaccine. Ontario will receive 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 800,000 of the Moderna vaccine. Both require two shots and have shown to be 95 per cent effective.

Quote of the day: “… wondering again if our current inaction on #COVID19 is motivated by not only ageism but sexism. The majority of older adults and those living in #LTC homes are women, and these individuals account for the majority of #COVID19 deaths. —Dr. Nathan Stall, Mt. Sinai Hospital, Toronto

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 18, 2020

Interim results released yesterday from a study conducted by McMaster University of passengers arriving at Toronto’s Pearson Airport showed that 70 per cent of international travellers who have COVID-19 can be identified within 48 hours of arrival by means of rapid testing done the moment they deplane. A very small percentage of travellers tested positive for COVID-19 a full 14 days after arriving, with just under 30 per cent testing positive after seven days.

“Interim results from the border study support a test and reduced quarantine approach such as that being piloted in Calgary,” said Dr. Vivek Goel, co-principal investigator of the study, professor at the University of Toronto and a former CEO of Public Health Ontario. “Testing upon arrival with a follow- up test to catch later positive results could provide a reasonable path forward to help keep borders and the economy open while maintaining public safety.”

Tuesday was a record-breaking day for British Columbia with 717 new COVID-19 cases reported — the highest daily increase ever. There were 11 deaths also reported.

Nunavut’s COVID-19 cases more than doubled, with 34 new infections reported yesterday. There are now 60 active cases in the territory. An additional 26 cases have been confirmed in Arviat, a community of about 2,800 in western Nunavut. That brings the total in Arviat to 46. Arviat confirmed its first case of coronavirus just four days ago, while the territory confirmed its first case Nov. 6.

Alberta reported 773 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and five deaths, while the test positivity rate in neighbouring Manitoba was 13.6, and 13.3 in the city of Winnipeg — more than fivefold the national rate of 2.7 per cent positivity for all people tested. There were 240 people in hospital in the province with the respiratory illness by Tuesday, including 41 in intensive care. Of those hospitalized, 30 were under the age of 50, as were nine of the patients in ICU.

And in Ontario’s long-term care homes, 700 residents are reported to have COVID-19 as of Tuesday and three new deaths were reported yesterday.

Good news: No new deaths have been reported in eight jurisdictions during the 24 hours prior to 7 p.m. Tuesday. These include Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories.

Quote of the day: “The real value of COVIDZero may be the idea to actually take the virus seriously in this country; to prioritize public health, and listen to the better scientists. Because sadly, getting to zero now is too far to reach, or at least so painful it might not be worth it, because we have screwed up so badly already.  —Bruce Arthur, columnist, The Toronto Star

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 17, 2020

Canada’s total COVID-19 case load has surpassed 300,000 less than a month after the country crossed the 200,000-case threshold on Oct. 19. The tally reached 302,192 after British Columbia reported 1,959 cases on Monday afternoon. There are 50,878 active cases in Canada as of Monday evening.

Ontario is reporting 1,249 cases of COVID-19 today, with 569 new cases in Toronto, 256 in Peel and 94 in York Region.

The Canadian Armed Forces are working with the Public Health Agency of Canada to help plan its COVID-19 vaccination strategy and is also preparing to help distribute the shots once they become available, according to the head of a military unit that advises the chief of defence staff. The military “is assisting with the development of a logistics support plan for the rollout of the vaccine,” Maj.-Gen. Trevor Cadieu said Monday.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says the province is “at a critical time.” After announcing 860 new cases on Monday in addition to more than 2,000 cases announced over the weekend, Dr. Deena Hinshaw told reporters that if health restrictions measures put in place on Friday were not enough “we will be absolutely be bringing forward recommendations for additional measures.” There are currently 264 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Alberta, with 57 in intensive care.

Manitoba reported 392 new cases and 10 more deaths on Monday. “Our health-care providers are becoming overwhelmed,” chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said, announcing record-high hospitalization numbers. “We can’t sustain this number of cases in our health-care system.” Meanwhile, all 28 residents of a long-term care home on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba have been infected with the virus, the national’s chief announced Monday. The province continues to see some of the worst rates in the country.

Good news: Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon and Northwest Territories reported no new cases in the 24-hour period prior to 7 p.m. Monday.

Quote of the day: “This is NOT the new normal and pandemics have a beginning, a middle and an end. We are in the middle now; the end will come.” — Dr. David Fisman, Professor of Epidemiology, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Toronto

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 16, 2020

Canada has an agreement to buy 56 million doses of the Moderna candidate vaccine that has shown to be almost 95 per cent effective in a clinical trial involving 30,000 participants, including 7,000 over the age of 65. Two doses of the vaccine are necessary. U.K.-based Moderna said today in announcing the results that its mRNA-1273 vaccine can be kept for 30 days at standard refrigeration temperature and can remain stable at room temperature for up to 12 hours. This makes it easier to distribute than the Pfizer candidate vaccine, which was reported last week to be 90 per cent effective but must stay frozen while stored and distributed. Canada also has an agreement to purchase the Pfizer vaccine. Neither vaccine is expected to be available until spring.

Both vaccines, however, are unique in that they are made without using the actual coronavirus. As CBC noted, “The vaccine contains a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognize the spiked protein on the surface of the virus.” This, of course, also allays fears that anyone could potentially contract COVID-19 through the vaccine.

Today, Ontario reports 1,487 new cases, 10 deaths and another 33,351 tests completed. There are 508 new cases of COVID-19 in Toronto, 392 in Peel Region and 170 in York Region.

Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta all broke their single-day case counts over the weekend, while Manitoba logged its deadliest day of the pandemic, reporting 15 new deaths on Saturday. Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam warns that at this rate, Canada could potentially see 10,000 new daily cases by mid-December. “Fires are burning in so many different areas, and now is the time to get those under control,” she said at a press conference Friday.

Ontario reported a record 1,581 cases and 20 new deaths on Saturday. The number of new cases reported in Ontario dropped to 1,248 on Sunday, but there were 29 deaths — the highest number since June 15, including the deaths of 20 long-term care home residents.

Alberta reported 1,026 new cases on Saturday, the highest daily case increase ever reported, and 991 new cases on Sunday.

Quebec reported 1,447 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, a record-breaking single day increase, including 341 new cases in Montreal, and 1,211 new cases in the province on Sunday.

Saskatchewan had 181 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and two more deaths, including one person in their 20s who died with the disease. The number of new cases announced on Saturday was the highest ever at 308.

Meanwhile, after months of remaining COVID-free, Nunavut reported an additional 10 cases on Sunday — doubling its total in just 48 hours — after announcing its first case of the illness on Nov. 6.

Hundreds of physicians and epidemiologists started #COVIDzero, a Twitter campaign calling for Canadian governments to defeat the disease with a test-trace-and-isolate system and support for those affected by pursuit of the zero-transmission, zero-disease target. The campaign rose to No. 1 in Canada on Twitter on Sunday. “There are many ways that this can be pursued,” suggested Dr. Andrew Morris, infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s University Health Network and professor at the University of Toronto, “but acceptance of various levels of low cases or rates of transmission have proved to lead to repeated waves and where we are today.”

Good news: Although the the number of new cases in Canada is reaching record highs, the number of deaths reported on Saturday (62) was less than a quarter of the number of deaths on April 16, the day when the most deaths (251) from the disease were reported.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 13, 2020

New modelling predicts as many as 6,500 cases of COVID-19 per day in Ontario by mid-December. “Our cases will likely exceed some jurisdictions in Europe that are now under lockdown,” said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown at a press conference at Queen’s Park on Thursday. “The rate of growth in new infections has risen from four per cent over the last seven days to six per cent in the last three days. I don’t believe there’s a way the cases will change without action.” The best case scenario, according to these projections, will see 2,000 daily cases if action is taken to slow growth.

There were 5,474 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Canada on Thursday, a record high, and 1,396 new cases reported in Ontario today.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Johns Hopkins University data shows that the 7-day average of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada, as of Thursday, hit a new high of 4,636 — up nine per cent from the previous day and 47 per cent high than a week ago. And the 14-day average, 39,000, is a record 30 per cent higher than a week ago and 47 per cent higher than 14 days ago.

Alberta reported 816 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, prompting the prohibition of all group fitness, team sports and group performance activities in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and other cities, from today until Nov. 27. The province has the third highest number of active cases in the country, reaching 8,305 by the end of yesterday.

Meanwhile Manitoba reported 474 new cases of the coronavirus and the second day of a record nine deaths on Thursday. The five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate for Manitoba is 11 per cent, and 11.4 per cent in Winnipeg. In a daily press conference chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin urged compliance through the province’s new lockdown, which began Thursday. “It is going to be short-term and we’re going to get through this, but can only get through this together,” said Roussin. “We have clear messages, stay home, socialize only within your household. All of these messages, no matter how difficult they are to hear, is there to save Manitobans lives.”

Good news: Canada has purchased ten doses of potential vaccine for each of its citizens — the most for any country or alliance on a per person basis, according to a report by The Economist.

More good news: Nova Scotia health officials reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, for the first time since Oct. 29.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 12, 2020

Ontario is reporting another record high with 1,575 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Thursday, surpassing 1,500 for the first time. On Wednesday, the new reported case count surpassed 1,400 for the first time. There are 472 new cases in Toronto, 448 in Peel Region, 155 in York Region and 91 in Ottawa.

After consulting its own public health agency and advisors, the province has rejected advice it received from health and medical professionals and set the threshold for the Red/Control level — the strictest level short of a full lockdown — four times higher than those recommended.

Meanwhile, as of Wednesday, 29 residents of a Scarborough, Ont., long-term care home have died since an outbreak of COVID-19 was declared on Oct. 2. Toronto Public Health has confirmed that 92 residents of the facility have tested positive for the respiratory illness since the outbreak was announced.

Manitoba, which begins a second province-wide lockdown today, announced nine new deaths related to COVID-19 on Wednesday — its deadliest day since the start of the pandemic. Two people who died were in their 60s, five were in their 70s and two were in their 80s.

Alberta reported 672 new cases and seven COVID-19 related deaths on Wednesday as the province set a record number of hospitalizations for a sixth straight day. The number of Albertans in hospital due to the coronavirus grew to 217, up from 207 the day before.

And the number of cumulative COVID-19 deaths per one million people is 56 for British Columbia. Only Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island have lower cumulative death rates, according to a Postmedia calculation. Ontario’s cumulative death rate is four times higher than B.C.’s, while Quebec has a rate more than 13 times that of B.C. — on par with the worst jurisdictions in the world such as Spain and Brazil.

In a report released today by Toronto-based human resources firm Morneau Shepell, of 3,000 workers across Canada surveyed from Sept. 28 to Oct. 19, a total of 14 per cent did not agree that the novel coronavirus is a serious public health threat. While 86 per cent did agree that COVID-19 presents a serious threat, six per cent said they do not agree and eight per cent said they were undecided.

Good news: Ottawa accounted for just 27 of Ontario’s 1,426 cases of COVID-19 reported Wednesday. And the city’s known active case count has dropped below 500 for the first time in two months.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 11, 2020

Ontario is reporting another single-day record with 1,426 new cases of COVID-19 recorded Wednesday, up from the 1,388 confirmed on Tuesday and 987 one week ago. The rolling seven-day average of new cases has surged to 1,216, up from 971 at this point last week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday urged premiers and mayors to “please do the right thing, act now to protect public health. I would hope that no leader in our country is easing public health vigilance because they feel pressured not to shut down businesses.”

“To everyone in Toronto, I want to warn you in the plainest possible terms that COVID-19 is out there at levels we have not seen before,” advised the city’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa on Tuesday. “You should assume it is everywhere and that without proper precautions and protections, you are at risk of infection.”

New restrictions were announced for the city, which recorded 384 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, and will take effect Saturday when, per provincial recommendations, Toronto was set to come out of a modified Stage 2. Instead, indoor dining will remain prohibited, meeting and event spaces will remain closed, along with casinos, and bingo halls. Gyms may reopen, but with no indoor group fitness and exercise classes. Religious services, weddings and funerals are limited to 30 per cent capacity with a maximum number of 50.

COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place for Quebec’s 12 red zones until at least Nov. 23, Premier Francois Legault announced Tuesday. Quebec health authorities reported 1,162 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in the province since the start of the pandemic to 117,151. Of them, 10,937 are active. Quebec’s seven-day rolling average now stands at about 1,180 cases per day.

And on Thursday, the province of Manitoba will go into a sweeping lockdown for a month. Non-essential public-facing businesses will shut down and social contacts will be restricted to household members only. Social gatherings will not be permitted. More than 2,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the past week and 109 Manitobans have died from the disease since March.

Good news: The Canadian company behind a COVID-19 vaccine candidate says two doses of their adjuvanted, or boosted vaccine spurred a significant antibody response in 100 per cent of healthy subjects, aged 18 to 55, in an early Phase 1 trial. The drug maker also stated that “there were no severe adverse events reported and reactogenicity events were generally mild to moderate and short in duration.” Quebec-based Medicago hopes to launch the final phase of the clinical trials with around 30,000 subjects in different regions across the globe in early 2021.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 10, 2020

Ontario set a new record high with 1,388 additional cases of COVID-19 reported today, including 520 new cases in Toronto, 395 in Peel Region, 100 in York Region, 72 in Halton Region and 50 in the Niagara Region.

A study of the province’s nursing homes, published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network, found that COVID-19 mortality in facilities with low crowding was less than half of that in those with high crowding. The authors concluded that shared bedrooms and bathrooms in nursing homes are associated with larger and deadlier COVID-19 outbreaks. In Ontario, more than 60 per cent of nursing home residents are housed in shared rooms.

Nova Scotia has introduced strict new rules for people arriving in the province from outside the Atlantic region. With 15 new cases reported in less than a week, Premier Stephen McNeil announced Monday that travellers from outside the region must isolate for 14 days on their own, instead of with family or friends.

Quebec reported 1,169 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and 15 more deaths linked to the disease, bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 6,455 since the beginning of the pandemic — more than half of all deaths related to the respiratory illness reported in Canada, which by Monday had reached 10,564.

Good news: The announcement Monday that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate appears to be 90 per cent effective bodes well for Moderna’s vaccine candidate, which uses similar technology. Moderna has said it could have early results later this month. The Canadian government said in August that it has ordered tens of millions of doses of Moderna’s vaccine as well as tens of millions of doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for delivery in 2021.

Plus, an experimental antibody treatment for COVID-19 approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday was developed by Eli Lilly in partnership with Vancouver biotech company AbCellera Biologics Inc. The COVID-19 drug was cleared by the FDA for people 12 and older with mild or moderate symptoms who do not require hospitalization. It’s a one-time treatment given through an IV. AbCellera Biologics and Eli Lilly have agreed to waive their royalties on the drug in low- and middle-income countries.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 9, 2020

The best news yet: Pfizer Inc. is today reporting that 20 million doses of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine were found to be 90 per cent effective in preventing the virus in large-scale interim trials. Experts suggest that a vaccine that has even a 50 per cent effective-rate would be acceptable. “Today is a great day for science and humanity,” said Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer Chairman and CEO, in a press release issued by the New York-based pharmaceutical company.

The Pfizer vaccine, developed in partnership with German pharma BioNTech, is currently being tested on over 40,000 participants. Besides its promise as an effective prevention against the virus, the early clinical trial data also reveals that it’s safe — “no serious safety concerns have been observed,” reported Pfizer. The development, manufacture and distribution of a safe and effective vaccine is seen as a crucial step in turning the tide in the fight against COVID-19. Pfizer said that after the vaccine achieves “the required safety milestones,” it will be then be submitted for emergency use to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This could happen as early as the third week of November. However, supplies will likely remain limited until drug manufacturing plants are able to scale up production. The company, however, projects that it will be able to “produce globally up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.” The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is one of seven that were ordered by the Canadian government on Aug. 5.

Ontario is reporting 1,242 new cases Monday and 13 more deaths. The seven-day average hit a new high of 1,106 cases a day or 53 cases weekly per 100,000.

On Sunday, news reports announced Saturday’s record-breaking, one day total of 4,248 new cases of COVID-19. That total included new highs in Ontario (1,328 new cases), Quebec (1,399 new cases) and Alberta (919 new cases). Manitoba reported 441 new cases, the second-highest daily total reported since the pandemic began.

Manitoba health minister Cameron Friesen announced a provincial probe Sunday after bodies of eight deceased people were pulled from Maples Personal Care Home in Winnipeg during a 48-hour period last week. The death toll at the for-profit nursing home — one of 19 long-term care facilities in the city with current outbreaks of the disease — has risen to 22, with more than 120 residents and 50 staff infected.

The federally appointed COVID-19 immunity task force will send 48,000 finger-prick blood collection kits to Canadians across the country in the coming months. People receiving the kits will be asked to respond to an online questionnaire and provide blood spots to be checked for antibodies that can indicate whether they have been infected with the coronavirus during the past several months. The data will allow researchers to better estimate how many people may have had COVID-19 in Canada, including those who did not experience symptoms. Survey results may help officials determine the best way to distribute vaccines when they become available.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 6, 2020

Ontario reported 1,003 new cases of COVID-19 Friday. There are 300 new cases in Toronto, 280 in Peel and 125 in York Region. Approximately 41,300 tests were completed.

As of Thursday evening, approximately one-quarter (24.2 per cent) of COVID-19 cases to date in Canada are 60 years old and over.

British Columbia broke the 400 barrier Thursday, reporting a record-breaking 425 new cases of COVID-19.

Manitoba’s COVID-19 caseload continued to climb with 427 new infections reported Thursday. Three people over the age of 70 died after contracting the virus while receiving unrelated care in hospital. Three hospitals in the province have had outbreaks, including the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre. A woman in her 50s also died. Manitoba has had the most new cases per capita of any province in the past 14 days.

A total of 1,370 Canadians are hospitalized with COVID-19 as reported Thursday evening.

Older populations and people at high risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, as well as essential workers, should be at the front of the line to receive the vaccine against COVID-19 when it becomes available, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended this week. It will likely be several months between the first doses of the vaccine being made available and a full rollout to everyone who wants to be immunized. Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam said she is “cautiously optimistic” that a vaccine could be approved for use in Canada by March 2021.

Good News: No new deaths were reported in seven provinces or territories between 7 p.m. Wednesday and 7 p.m. Thursday, including British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, and Northwest Territories.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 5, 2020

Ontario reported another 998 cases and 13 deaths today, with 35,754 completed tests. The seven-day case average set a new record high with 982 cases per day. The seven-day average for deaths is up to a second-wave high of 11 deaths per day

Quebec reported 1,029 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. There are currently 9,466 active cases in the province. Montreal reported 205 new cases.

Air travellers arriving in Canada will soon have to submit their quarantine plans and contact information online before boarding their flights. They’ll have to be prepared to show their receipt to a border officer. Also, anyone who has arrived in Canada by air, land or sea will have to confirm within 48 hours that they’ve arrived at their quarantine destination and must complete a daily symptom self-assessment. The new rules take effect Nov. 21.

Manitoba reported 374 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. There were two more deaths on Wednesday — a woman in her 80s at an LTC home and a woman in her 90s connected to the outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital.

The Public Health Agency of Canada quietly revised its guidelines without notice this week on how COVID-19 spreads, mentioning the risk of transmission from aerosols — or microscopic airborne particles that linger in the air when people cough, sneeze or speak — for the first time. This came weeks after other countries and international health organizations acknowledged the airborne threat of the coronavirus. “The big difference is that ventilation is important — distancing alone is not enough,” said Linsey Marr, one of the world’s top aerosol scientists.

Good News: A Canadian-made rapid test for COVID-19 that requires no refrigeration and provides results in an hour received Health Canada approval this week for use across the country. The rapid test is called Triplelock Test Strips and is made by Precision Biomonitoring in Guelph, Ont.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 4, 2020

Saskatchewan will be making masks mandatory in indoor public spaces in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert, and reducing the allowed size of gatherings across the province. The orders were announced Tuesday and take effect on Friday for 28 days. The maximum allowable gathering size for private gatherings in the home will decrease to 10 from 15. Any event that occurs in a private home or inside other venues, including weddings, religious gatherings and funerals must abide by the 10-person gathering limit.

Ontario today reported 987 new cases of COVID-19 with 319 new cases in Toronto, 299 in Peel, 85 in York Region and 62 in Durham. There were nearly 28,600 tests completed. The province’s seven-day average for number of cases reported now stands at 972, the highest it has ever been.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recommended on Tuesday that Canadians should wear face coverings that are made of three layers including a filter. The nation’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said masks with a filter will help trap small infectious particles. She emphasized that fit is very important. “It has to cover your mouth and nose.”

Good News: As of Tuesday, there are no active cases of COVID-19 in Prince Edward Island and there have been no deaths in the province since the beginning of the pandemic. P.E.I also has the lowest per capita instance of COVID-19 of any province in Canada. The total number of reported cases since the pandemic began is 64 and all have been travel-related.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 3, 2020

Ontario Premier Ford today announced a new tiered regional system for business openings in the province during the pandemic. Restaurants and gyms in Ottawa, Peel and York Region will be able to open Saturday with restrictions on capacity and hours. Toronto will be able to open a week later with restrictions. With the new framework in effect, each of Ontario’s 34 public health units will be placed in one of five categories based on their current COVID-19 trends.

The five categories are prevent, protect, restrict, control, and lockdown. In all scenarios, except a full lockdown, indoor dining and gyms can reopen with modified guidelines in place. Schools and daycares will remain open. Gathering limits remain at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors for private events, while organized events can have 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors, unless the region moves to the control phase.

Earlier today Ontario reported a record 1,050 new cases of COVID-19, with 408 cases in Toronto, 212 in Peel, 86 in Halton and 76 in York region.

Quebec is reporting 871 new Covid-19 infections today and 34 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Health authorities said today the number of people in hospital rose by 27 to 526, and 85 people were in intensive care, a rise of four.

On Monday, 28 new LTC resident cases were reported for a total of 530 resident active cases. There were 11 new staff cases for a total of 329 staff active cases.

The seven-day average number of cases in Ontario as of Monday now sits at an all-time high of 919.

There were 1,120 new cases of COVID-19 reported in British Columbia over the weekend. Health official said 352 cases were recorded from Friday to Saturday, another record-setting 389 cases were reported from Saturday to Sunday and 379 more positive tests were counted from Sunday to Monday.

The previous record for positive tests recorded in a single day was 317. As of Monday, there were 2,945 active cases in B.C., the highest active caseload the province has ever recorded. The previous active caseload record was 2,390.

The number of new cases reported in Canada on Monday was 2,681. There are 30,003 active cases.

Good news: Canadian company Symvivo Corporation says it has begun clinical trials for its oral COVID-19 vaccine. The biotechnology company based in Burnaby, B.C. announced on Monday the enrolment and dosing of the first healthy volunteer in its COVID-19 Phase I clinical trial in Australia. The vaccine can be taken orally as a capsule instead of by injection, and can be stored at room temperature, bypassing cold-chain supply logistics.

More good news: For the first time in almost two weeks, New Brunswick reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. There are now 33 active cases in the province. Monday marks the first day New Brunswick has reported no new cases since Oct. 20.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 2, 2020

 

Ontario reported 948 new cases of COVID-19 today and 977 on Sunday. Meanwhile, Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce tomorrow the loosening of restrictions currently in place for hot spots.

Ottawa Public Health recorded 132 cases of COVID-19 on Sunday. OPH also reported five new deaths. There have now been 328 COVID-19 related deaths in Ottawa since the start of the pandemic.

With 509 LTC resident active COVID-19 cases in Ontario reported on Saturday (an increase of 50 from the previous day) and a case fatality rate of approximately 30 per cent in this population, Mt. Sinai geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall predicts many more deaths will be recorded in the coming days.

Beginning today, international travellers arriving at the Calgary International Airport and at the Coutts border crossing can take a rapid test instead of quarantining for 14 days. They will be required to self-isolate for 24 to 48 hours until they get their results and, if negative, get another test within the next six to seven days and complete daily symptom checks. They’ll also have to remain in Alberta for 14 days. If this pilot project is successful, it will be extended to other airports and border crossings in Canada.

Manitoba reported 312 new cases of COVID-19 and six deaths related to the disease on Sunday. Four people who died were over the age of 80, one was in his 70s and another as in his 50s. Three were LTC residents and two were linked to the outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg. The death toll in the province now sits at 75.

Alberta reported 622 new cases of the virus on Friday — a new daily record — pushing the number of active cases in the province to a record 5,172. Malgorzata Gasperowicz, a developmental biologist at the University of Calgary, predicted the province could see 4,000 daily new cases before Christmas if more measures were not taken, given the province’s current doubling time.

Good News: Per test positivity in most age groups is declining for the first time in a while in Ontario, including for people between the ages of 40 and 80. The rate has not declined in the over 80 age group. The decline is thought to be due to restrictions imposed on October 11.

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 30, 2020

Ontario today is reporting 896 new cases of COVID-19 with 314 new cases in Toronto, 173 in Peel, 115 in York Region and 92 in Ottawa. Also, three workers at Premier Doug Ford’s constituency office in Etobicoke North tested positive for the disease, forcing the office to close today.

Manitoba again was a hotspot Friday, reporting a record-setting single-day increase of Covid-19 cases for the second day in a row, with 480 more people diagnosed with the disease, compared to 193 reported on Thursday.

Bars, restaurants, movie theatres, and concert halls in the Winnipeg area will be closed as of Monday and non-urgent surgeries and endoscopies are cancelled.

And in Quebec, the number of COVID-19 rose above 1,000 again to 1030, the province reported Thursday. There were 25 deaths. However, the number of hospitalizations and ICU patients continues to fall. A total of 509 people are in hospital with COVID-19, a decrease of 17. Among those in hospital, 78 are in intensive care, a drop of 11.

British Columbia reported 234 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday along with one new death, an 80-year-old woman who had attended a small birthday party. Most of those who attended the party ended up testing positive, said Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer. The case emphasizes how many of B.C.’s new infections are directly linked to social gatherings including ones hosted in private homes, said Henry.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has posted a tender notice for logistics service providers to distribute COVID-19 vaccines across the country, including one that has to be kept at minus 80 degrees Celsius. The federal government has secured access to up to 358 million doses of multiple candidate vaccines. The challenge now is getting them by air and road to 38 million Canadians. Interested companies need to be able pick up, store, track and trace and deliver the frozen vaccines. The government intends to award a contract to one or more companies by Nov. 23. Those selected will have to demonstrate their ability to perform the work by Dec. 15.

Good News: At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Ontario health official Dr. Adalsteinn Brown responded to a question about the number of deaths from COVID-19 originally projected in the province. That number ranged from 3,000 to 15,000. There have already been 3,118 deaths as of Thursday evening. Dr. Brown said that, while “this disease … can dramatically turn, and you can have rapid, rapid growth, quite quickly,” he thought the number of deaths from COVID-19 would be “well below the high end of the original estimates.”

Also, St. Michael’s Hospital Dr. Amol Verma told CBC, “Someone who gets COVID-19 today is more likely to survive and have a better outcome than someone who got COVID-19 in the spring.”

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 29, 2020

Ontario today reported 934 confirmed new cases of COVID-19, with 420 cases in Toronto setting a new record.

Ontario’s health officials warned Thursday afternoon at a press conference that the projection for number of cases in the short term is 800 to 1200 cases daily. However, the trajectory is slowing, said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown and although there is still continuing growth in cases, hospitalization and ICU use, the rate of growth is slowing. The exception is the sharper growth rate in LTC homes with 27 deaths reported last week.

As of late Wednesday, 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were linked to a large multi-day wedding in Vaughan ending on Sunday, October 18. York Region Public Health reported the first confirmed case on Monday, Oct. 26.

In the last week 18,939 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Canada, 12 per cent more than the previous week. This brought the total number of reported cases to 225, 229.

Manitoba emerged as the hotspot this week with 169.4 active cases per 100,000 population, compared to 105.3 in Quebec,108.6 in Alberta and 50.8 in Ontario.

On Tuesday, Manitoba set a record single-day increase in COVID-19 cases, with 184 new infections. The province’s ICUs are nearing capacity.

An outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital in Manitoba has spread to three units, resulting in 31 cases, including infections in 22 patients. A long-term care home in Winnipeg, Parkview Place, has had 92 residents infected with the virus, with 19 fatalities and 35 cases still active.

In Ontario, the Toronto Star reported that hundreds of COVID-19 infections may be going undetected each week because far fewer Ontarians are getting tested on the weekend, leaving possibly infected people more time to expose other people, according to University of Toronto professor Dionne Aleman, an expert in pandemic modelling.

Good News: The National Research Council of Canada is investing more than $23 million in six Canadian companies developing COVID-19 vaccines. One company, Providence Therapeutics, has reported that its vaccine produced strong antibody responses that were highly effective at neutralizing the virus. These responses were accompanied by T cell responses, indicating possible long-lasting immunity. The results put Providence Therapeutics on track for human vaccine clinical trials in Canada later this year. Worldwide, there are 42 Covid-19 vaccines already in various stages of human trials. Eleven of these are in large, late-stage trials. More than 100 others are under development. As well, there are currently 32 active clinical trials in Canada related to efforts to stop the virus, according to Health Canada. They include attempts to stop the progression of the disease in the most severely ill patients to experiments with drugs found to be effective against other illnesses.

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 28, 2020

More than 10,000 Canadians have died from COVID-19, a “horrific national tragedy,” said Prime Minister Trudeau yesterday. Less formally, he added, “This sucks. It really, really does.”

More than 90 per cent of the deaths have been reported in Quebec (6,172 deaths) and Ontario (3,103). Those provinces also account for 80 per cent of Canada’s overall cases.

More than 70 per cent of Canada’s deaths have occurred in those aged over 80 — about twice the average of rates in other developed countries.

So far in October, more than 600 COVID-19 fatalities have been reported in Canada compared to 165 in September, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Ontario reported 834 new cases of COVID-19 today, and 5 new deaths due to the virus. Quebec reported 963 new cases and 19 more deaths yesterday. Alberta set another record with 4,738 active cases of COVID-19 reported yesterday, an increase of 261 from the day before. The death toll reached 309.

However, even Canada’s highest-reporting regions are low compared to places south of the border, according to a chart prepared by CTV comparing a 7-day rolling average of cases per million to U.S. states, including the District of Columbia. Quebec had a lower number than all but 9 states. Only 8 states, including New York, had lower numbers than Manitoba and Alberta. Only two states, Vermont and Maine, had lower numbers than Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The Maritime bubble – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island – and Newfoundland and Labrador all had a lower 7-day rolling average of cases per million than any U.S. state, as did Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Good News: Quebec’s RT rate, the rate of transmission, dropped to .96, reported Southlake Regional Health Centre biostatistician Ryan Imgrund today. That means each person with COVID-19 infects less than one other person. An RT rate of less than one, if sustained, leads to a significant reduction in the spread of the disease.

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 27, 2020

Manitoba now has the highest rate in Canada of active COVID-19 cases per million people (1,373 cases) and more than double the rate of Canada as a whole (642). The prairie province is followed by Quebec with 1,080 cases per million and Alberta (830). Ontario has 464 active cases per million while Nova Scotia has the lowest number with six.

British Columbia yesterday restricted gatherings in private homes to no more than immediate household members and six additional people after the province announced a record high 817 new cases over the weekend. There are 2,325 active cases of Covid-19 in B.C.

Quebec has extended its partial lockdown order for another four weeks.

Gyms, bars and most entertainment venues will remain closed until Nov. 23 in the province’s biggest cities. The premier said businesses that refuse to obey lockdown orders will be fined.

Alberta is imposing a mandatory 15-person limit on social gatherings in Edmonton and Calgary. People are advised to wear masks at work and to limit their circles to three cohorts. The province reported 1, 440 new cases from Friday through Sunday.

In the seven days from Oct. 16 through Oct. 22, an average of 1,010 people with Covid-19 were being treated in hospitals each day in Canada and there was an average of 23 Covid-19-related deaths reported each day.

Good news: Ottawa COVID-19 wastewater numbers are coming down. Researchers in Ottawa conduct daily wastewater readings to help track Covid-19 in the community. The wastewater covid-19 increase in mid-July preceded Ottawa’s summer and fall case resurgence.

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 26, 2020

Over the weekend, Ontario reached a new high of new COVID-19 infections, surpassing the 1,000 mark for the first time with 1,042 cases reported on Sunday. That number dropped to 851 cases announced today.

Ontario’s seven-day average for new infections has set a record high with more than 889 cases.

Also over the weekend, Quebec’s total of cases climbed beyond 100,000. Today, the province reported 808 new cases.

Meanwhile, Manitoba on Sunday reported record hospitalizations and ICU rates for COVID-19, with 161 new cases, the third-highest number of new cases.

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in a Canadian dog was reported today in the Niagara Region. Four members of the household tested positive for the virus but are doing well. Experts said the pet had no symptoms and a low viral load. Researchers said there is low risk of dogs passing the virus on to others or becoming seriously ill.

Alberta will begin a pilot rapid testing program on Nov. 2 in partnership with the federal government that could replace the 14-day mandatory quarantine requirement for travellers coming into Canada, reducing the quarantine period to a few days.

Good news: One of the leaders in COVID-19 vaccine development announced that its experimental vaccine produces an immune reaction in elderly people as well as in young people. Also, it triggers lower adverse responses among the elderly. It’s expected that the vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca will be available early in the new year.

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 23, 2020

Canada has hit a new high with 2,786 COVID-19 cases reported today. Of that total, Quebec reported 905 of those cases and Ontario accounted for 826. Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto announced an outbreak of five cases in its surgical unit.

Premier Francois Legault said it’s unlikely that the 28-day partial lockdown imposed Oct. 1 on Montreal and Quebec City would end on Oct. 29 but said he will wait until early next week to make a decision about extending the lockdown.

Two provinces also hit new record high numbers of daily cases for the second straight day. British Columbia reported 274 cases and Alberta had 427. British Columbia and Alberta both broke new daily case records for the second straight day, adding 274 and 427 cases, respectively. B.C.’s Dr. Bonnie Henry blamed social gatherings. “Much of the recent surge that we have seen in new cases in B.C in the last couple of weeks is directly linked to social events,” she said. “These events have caused clusters and outbreaks that have now spilled over into our health-care system.”

Alberta’s top doctor attributed the rise in his province to Thanksgiving socializing.

The U.S. Canada border now remains closed to non-essential travel until at least Nov. 21. This week, Canada was removed from the European Union’s “safe list” but individual members of the Union may choose whether to act on the recommendation. Greece, Portugal and Italy are expected to open to travellers from Canada by the end of October.

Nevertheless, the Government of Canada continues to advise Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel.

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 22, 2020

Quebec remains hardest-hit, recording almost half of Canada’s total COVID-19 cases. The province has reported more than 1,000 new cases for five of the past six days and another region has become a red zone under its COVID-19 alert system. In a press conference Wednesday, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced new restrictions for Mauricie-Centre-du-Québec — halfway between Montreal and Quebec City — where she said there has been a “worrisome increase” in cases. The measures, which include the closing of bars and restaurants, take effect Saturday and match those instituted earlier this month for Greater Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches.

Meanwhile in the west, B.C., with 203, and Alberta, with 406, both reported record single-day increases in COVID-19 cases Wednesday. Alberta also hit a record of active cases, with 3,372 in the province — close to 15 per cent of the country’s total, which was 22, 783 as of Thursday morning.

It was also confirmed Wednesday that Alberta’s Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard has tested positive for COVID-19 and that Premier Jason Kenney is in self-isolation, having attended meetings last week with Allard and three other members of his government. In a statement posted to Twitter Wednesday night, Kenney said he has tested negative but will isolate until Oct. 29, as per public health guidelines.

Oct. 21, 2020

Halloween is just the latest in a year-long line of celebrations put in peril by the pandemic. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Tuesday that he will not be taking his kids out next week.

“Listening to public health officials means that my family will not be going trick-or-treating this year,” he said at a press conference Tuesday.

Trudeau and his family reside in Ottawa — one of Ontario’s four COVID hot spots where public health is recommending families keep festivities at home this Halloween. For the rest of the province, people should go out trick-or-treating only in household groups and the province includes wearing face masks for both those collecting and giving out candy as part of its guidelines.

What was essentially the cancelling of Halloween for parts of Ontario came a week after Canada’s top doctor said that trick-or-treating could go ahead — with precautions. Remarking on the creative ideas she’d seen for giving out candy more safely, “there are ways to actually manage this outdoors.” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam last Tuesday.

Halloween will be a mixed bag across Ontario, but also across the country as each province provides its own guidance. Trudeau urged Canadians to listen to their local health authorities. “I think families will be creative in how they respond to giving their kids as fun a holiday as we can while always listening to public health officials and respecting local guidelines.”

But experts warn that rule-following can be eroded by conflicting messaging. “Public health authorities] have to struggle with the context of local conditions being different and that can result in a variation in recommendation … and that can also result in public health authorities changing their minds as we’ve seen with masks,” Timothy Caulfield, a professor of law at the University of Alberta and Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, said in an interview with CTV Tuesday.

“When you’re frustrated and perhaps have a particular ideological leaning, you are more likely to gravitate to a narrative that fits your personal brand and that’s definitely happening now, you’re seeing that more and more,” he said.

Oct. 20, 2020

It was reported Tuesday that the U.K. will spend £33.6 million ($57.3 million) funding the first human challenge trial of a vaccine for COVID-19.

Unlike Phase 3 clinical trials, during which thousands of volunteers are given an experimental vaccine with a certain percentage expected to be exposed to the virus naturally, researchers will dose participants with a vaccine candidate as well as the virus that causes COVID-19.

Although human challenge trials are considered to be more efficient, requiring less volunteers — as few as 100 — and less time, participants are generally healthy and young (18 to 30), which is not representative of people at higher risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19. And there is still no effective treatment for the respiratory illness should a volunteer need it.

Such a trials are “never undertaken lightly,” said Peter Openshaw, study co-investigator, professor and director of the Human Challenge Consortium. “However, such studies are enormously informative.”

“It is really vital that we move as fast as possible towards getting effective vaccines and other treatments for COVID-19.”

The trial may begin as early as January. After exposure to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, vaccinated volunteers will stay in a biosecure facility at London’s Royal Free Hospital until they are no longer infectious. They will be monitored for a year afterward, with researchers looking for any side effects.

According to the World Health Organization, of the more than 100 vaccines for the novel coronavirus in development around the world, 10 are currently in Phase 3 clinical trials. And as the CBC reports, one of 11 candidates being developed in Canada is now in Phase 1 trials.

A recent survey of 1,539 Canadians by polling and market research firm Leger found that 63 per cent said they intend to get a COVID-19 vaccine once one is approved by Health Canada and is free of charge. The firm also queried 1,000 Americans for the poll, with 47 per cent saying they would get vaccinated.

Oct. 19, 2020

As Canada closes in on 200,000 cases of COVID-19, more of the country adopted stricter public health measures Monday in an effort to curb spread of the novel coronavirus.

In Ontario, York Region joined Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region, moving back into a modified Stage 2 for 28 days. Gyms and movie theatres have been closed as part of the measures and, indoor dining is banned at restaurants and bars while public gatherings have been capped at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. Visits to long-term care homes are also now restricted to essential visitors, including caregivers, at facilities in the York Region to match measures already put in place for the province’s three other hot spots.

Ontario has also officially advised against traditional Halloween celebrations in the four areas now under tighter restrictions. In a statement released Monday, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said: “Given the high transmission of COVID-19 in the modified Stage 2 public health unit regions of Ottawa, Peel, Toronto and York Region, traditional door-to-door trick or treating is not recommended.” He suggested that, instead, people have a candy hunt with members in their own household, and went on to warn families to “not travel outside of their neighbourhood to celebrate Halloween.”

Meanwhile, in Winnipeg and surrounding areas, where the vast majority of Manitoba’s new cases are concentrated, gatherings have been lowered to a maximum of five people for two weeks starting today. Nightclubs, bars, casinos, bingo halls and live entertainment venues have also been closed. Restaurants, however, will stay open but are now limited to 50 per cent capacity and can only seat up to five people at a table.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, as of Sunday there have been a total 198,148 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 9,760 deaths related to the respiratory illness.

Oct. 16, 2020

The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put rec hockey in its crosshairs for potential to be a “superspreader event” for COVID-19.

In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released today, the CDC detailed its review of a mens league game back on June 16 in Tampa, Fla., from which 15 people became ill and 13 tested positive for the novel coronavirus. All but one, an arena staff member, were players, aged 19 to 53, nine from one team and five from the other.

The agency stated that the players did not have other common exposures in the week before the game and, that the “index patient” — the first documented case — started showing symptoms two days after the game.

“The ice rink provides a venue that is likely well suited to COVID-19 transmission as an indoor environment where deep breathing occurs, and persons are in close proximity to one another,” the CDC wrote in its report.

Amateur leagues across Canada have taken measures to limit contact in an effort to curb spread of COVID-19, including the closure of locker rooms, banning of spectators and reducing play to 3-on-3 or 4-on-4. And, as reported, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia would also consider taking play outdoors, if necessary.

In its conclusion, the CDC said: “The indoor space and close contact between players during a hockey game increase infection risk for players and create potential for a superspreader event, especially with ongoing community COVID-19 transmission.”

“Superspreader events, in which one infectious person infects many others, can lead to explosive growth at the beginning of an outbreak and facilitate sustained transmission later in an outbreak.”

Oct. 15, 2020

Demand for the annual flu vaccine is causing long lines and shortages across the country.

According to a report by the CBC, an online reservation system in Montérégie, Que., crashed on Tuesday — the first day residents were able to book an appointment for this year’s flu shot. And in B.C., there are already long wait times being reported as the province’s flu vaccination program gets started.

None the less, health officials are urging people to get inoculated against influenza especially this year in order to avoid what experts are calling a “twindemic” — a convergence of people becoming ill as both influenza and COVID-19 circulate.

Expecting higher demand for the flu shot this year, Health Canada increased its order from 11.2 million last year to 13 million doses this year. There were nearly 49,000 cases of influenza recorded in Canada during the 2018/19 flu season but only four out of 10 Canadians got the 2018/19 vaccine — a dose reported to have prevented 60 per cent of influenza cases.

In response to demand in Nova Scotia, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said: “We’re asking people to be patient.” He assured residents that anytime over the next eight weeks is a good time to get vaccinated, anticipating a rush that normally happens when the shots are first available.

Oct. 14, 2020

Although Quebec, Ontario and Alberta continue to see the largest resurgence of COVID-19, smaller provinces are also starting to see a concerning uptick in cases.

Manitoba reported its third record-breaking day in less than a week, with 124 new cases on Tuesday. The province’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin confirmed that the increase in cases has strained contact tracing efforts. He recommended people reduce their contacts in general and noted that a number of new cases had exposure to others while symptomatic.

“We just cannot succeed in this pandemic if people are out and about when they’re symptomatic,” he said at a daily press conference.

Roussin also said that another lockdown — as we’ve seen in hot spots of Ontario and Quebec — is possible as the province is running out of “targeted tools” to stop the spread of COVID in Winnipeg, where 95 per cent of new cases are located.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick declared a second special-care home outbreak. The facility, in Campbellton, had one of six new cases reported Tuesday, bringing active cases in the province to 82 — the highest number seen in N.B. during the pandemic.

Moncton, where the first special-care outbreak was declared, and Campbellton were put back into a more restrictive Orange Phase Friday past “because of additional potential public exposure to the virus identified through the investigation of existing cases, possible community transmission and reports of low compliance in some higher-risk settings,” Premier Blaine Higgs said.

On Tuesday, P.E.I. — one of four provinces in the Atlantic bubble along with N.B. —  advised islanders to avoid non-essential travel to the Moncton region.

Oct. 13, 2020

As we wait on the edge of our seats for a vaccine, Monday brought news of a set back for one candidate.

Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson has paused all clinical trials of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate. ENSEMBLE, because of an unexplained illness in a study volunteer. “Following our guidelines, the participant’s illness is being reviewed and evaluated by the ENSEMBLE independent Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) as well as our internal clinical and safety physicians,” read a statement from the company.

“Adverse events – illnesses, accidents, etc. – even those that are serious, are an expected part of any clinical study, especially large studies.”

The company did not say what the illness was but made it a point to note that such a development is par for the course. “A study pause, in which recruitment or dosing is paused by the study sponsor, is a standard component of a clinical trial protocol.” Doctors will now work to determine whether it’s a dangerous side effect or a coincidence.

Johnson & Johnson is one of four pharmaceutical companies with which Canada has deals to purchase doses of successful vaccine candidates.

This is the second Phase 3 coronavirus vaccine trial to be paused in the U.S. The American portion of a global clinical trial by British-based AstraZeneca is yet to resume after pausing last month, with the US Food and Drug Administration investigating a neurological complication that arose in a study participant last month.

The Next Best Test

Health Canada has approved two rapid tests from U.S.-based Abbott Laboratories. The first antigen test was given the green light on Oct. 6, it works by detecting the presence of viral proteins and has shown to be effective 93.3 per cent of the time. Although less effective than the PCR test currently in use across the country, it’s touted as easier to administer and less expensive. Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand announced at the same time that the federal government signed an agreement to buy more than 20.5 million of the tests and that they would be distributed to COVID-19 hot spots across the country

That news came a week after Health Canada approved the ID NOW rapid test on Sept. 29, also from Abbott, It can provide results from a nasal swab in as little as 13 minutes. Premier Doug Ford applauded the federal government for its plan to purchase 7.9 million of the tests, saying the move will be “a game changer.” As reported, Air Canada has also ordered 25,000 of the rapid test kits — in partnership with McMaster University, the airline has been testing them with passengers returning from abroad to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

In the Greater Toronto Area increased demand for testing has led to long lines and multi-day result delays. To increase capacity, testing was opened up to symptom-free residents at select Shoppers Drug Mart locations near the end of September. With the province working to clear a backlog, assessment of the pharmacy swabs is being outsourced to a lab in California, according to a report by the CBC.

Long-Term Care Lessons Learned?

As we brace for what’s to come with a second wave, we’ve already had a harsh lesson about what can happen to vulnerable populations. The first wave of the pandemic cut a deadly swath through long-term care facilities across the country, killing more than 7,500 nursing home residents — 80 per cent of all virus-related deaths. The situation got so grim in Quebec and Ontario that the military had to be called in. Premiers of both provinces promised that changes would be put in place to ensure the second wave wasn’t so deadly.

Ontario finally responded with something concrete when on Sept. 28 Doug Ford announced that his government would invest $52.5 million to “recruit, retain and support” Ontario’s front line health care workers and caregivers “to ensure our health care system can meet any surge in demand.”

He followed, the next day stating that visits to long-term residences would be limited to staff, essential visitors and essential caregivers only in regions of the province experiencing a spike in cases. “We can’t let COVID-19 get into these homes,” the premier said at a daily press conference. To that end, Ford added an additional $540 million in funding for long-term care homes to combat the second wave.

The moves were a welcome development but, with the second wave already causing outbreaks in numerous elder care homes, many worry that it was too late.

Targeted Lockdown

On Oct. 10, Ontario put three of its hot spots — Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region — back into a modified Stage 2, for 28 days. The move followed Quebec’s lead with three jurisdictions — Greater Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches, where most of the province’s new COVID cases are concentrated — having entered a second lockdown on Oct. 1, also for 28 days.

Localized lockdown is considered a success in having avoided a major second wave of coronavirus in Australia. Restrictions were slowly lifted in the country’s second most populous state, Victoria, after a strict quarantine was instituted on July 9. Stay-at-home orders were finally lifted in Melbourne on Oct. 26 after 112 days. Victoria is home to about 24 per cent of the country’s population — comparable to Quebec, where about 23 per cent of Canadians reside.

The Bottom Line

A second lockdown could mean the end of many businesses, warned Business Council of Canada CEO Goldy Hyder in an interview with the Financial Post.

“We have to do everything we can to preserve the economic resilience of  this country — for businesses of all sizes,” he said. He added that businesses should be trusted to operate safely through a second wave because, pandemic or no pandemic, “it’s in their self interest to do so.”

Predictions have been dire for one sector hit hard by the pandemic. A survey released at the end of August by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce found that 31 per cent of food service businesses — an industry reported to employ 1.2 million Canadians — say they can only operate with social distancing in place for 90 days. The chamber fears that 60 per cent of restaurants could close permanently by December.

It’s not just the provinces and economists who want to avoid another widespread shutdown through the second wave. “To prevent small clusters from becoming major outbreaks, communities may need to enact short-term closure orders,” the Liberal government said in its recent throne speech.

And since, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his government is targeting new pandemic recovery spending with $10 billion on infrastructure projects over the next three years. “With smart, targeted investments, we can get people back on the job, grow the economy while building a healthy, sustainable future for everyone,” he said.

Short-Term Pain for Long-Term Gain

Addressing the nation in a broadcast after the throne speech, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was confident that doubling down on efforts to flatten the curve would once again pay off, rallying all Canadians to do their part.

“We can’t change today’s numbers or even tomorrow’s, those were already decided by what we did do — or didn’t do two weeks ago. But what we can change is where we are in October and into the winter,” he said.

“It’s all too likely we won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving, but we still have a shot at Christmas. Together, we have the power to get the second wave under control.”

Super Centenarians

The one thing we know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the novel coronavirus is particularly dangerous for older people — especially those with an underlying condition. But according to one scientist, the first wave of COVID-19 yielded this surprising finding — people over a hundred years of age are inexplicably surviving it.

“When people ask me why these people are surviving, I usually answer that it’s probably precisely because they are centenarians,” says geneticist and director of the Human Genome and Stem-Cell Research Center at the University of São Paulo, Mayana Zatz, who is studying the phenomenon. “Apparently, these people have a huge resistance to any challenge coming from the environment, including COVID-19.”

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