B.C. orders nightclubs, banquet halls to close, Canada’s top doctor warns on ‘critical’ two-week period ahead, Ontario pauses all considerations for loosening public health measures

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Yahoo News Canada is committed to providing our readers with the most accurate and recent information on all things coronavirus. We know things change quickly, including some possible information in this story. For the latest on COVID-19, we encourage our readers to consult online resources like Canada’s public health website, World Health Organization, as well as our own Yahoo Canada homepage.

As cases of COVID-19 continue to spread around the world, Canadians seem to be increasingly concerned about their health and safety.

Currently, there are more than 6,00 active cases of COVID-19 in Canada (with more than 131,000 diagnoses so far) and 9,100 deaths. Nearly 90 per cent of the country’s reported COVID-19 cases have recovered.

Check back for the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak in Canada.

For a full archive of the first month of the pandemic, please check our archive of events.

September 8

B.C. imposes new restrictions in bars, nightclubs, banquet halls, restaurants and pubs

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, announced a new order to strengthen restrictions at bars, nightclubs, banquet halls, restaurants and pubs.

Effective Tuesday, all nightclubs and stand-alone banquet halls must close until further notice.

Liquor sales at all bars, pubs and restaurants must stop at 10 p.m. and all venues must close at 11 p.m. If these establishments have full meal service, that can continue beyond 11 p.m., but alcohol cannot be served.

Music or other background sounds in bars, lounges, pubs and restaurants, can be no louder than normal conversations, so patrons don’t have to talk loudly.

Dr. Henry said the province needs to “find the balance” to get through the next few months to a year.

“I use orders as a last resort,” she said. “We do it for things where we know that it will make a difference, where we’ve seen transmission events.”

Dr. Henry also recommended people consider pulling back on the size of their social bubbles, similar to the six people allowed earlier in the year or in restaurants.

When asked if she has concerns about the number of private parities increasing as a result of the new restrictions at bars and nightclubs, Dr. Henry recognized this as an ongoing concern.

“We do know that there has been a move towards private parties,” the provincial health officer said. “It is trying to appeal to people’s better nature but then taking away some of the temptations that have been repeated offenders, in terms of venues where people continue to go.”

Dr. Henry went on to say that she does feel restaurants are “really safe,” for the most part, and are doing a “super job” overall.

‘The reality is, we have to learn to live with COVID’

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said at a press conference on Tuesday that if school districts are able to provide a detailed plan on how physical distancing will be maintained in schools, existing masking rules can be relaxed.

Yesterday, Dr. Hinshaw approved a plan from the Fort Vermilion school division for six schools, which includes only one cohort being in a hallway at a time and staggering class transitions.

With 11 COVID-19 cases identified in 11 different schools in Alberta, the province’s chief medical officer of health stressed it’s important to differentiate between a student who was in a school when they were infectious and an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 but couldn’t have transmitted the virus in the school setting.

Dr. Hinshaw said when cases come up in schools, all students in a classroom are considered close contacts if they were in the shared space.

“The reality is, we have to learn to live with COVID,” she said, adding that students and parents also need to ensure that public health measures are followed outside of school settings.

‘It is just so important to remain vigilant’

At a press conference on Tuesday, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, provided additional details on the province’s “pause” in loosening any restrictions for four weeks.

She revealed some of the measures that were under consideration were increasing the number of people who could play in a sports league, loosening rules around spectators at motor sports, opening steam rooms and saunas, and requests around casinos.

Dr. Yaffe also stressed that the gathering limit of 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors includes the physical distancing requirement, unless you’re coming into contact with someone in your 10 person social circle.

“It is just so important to remain vigilant,” she said. “The virus is out there and we are seeing the numbers creeping up.”

Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health also highlighted that a number of recent cases have been linked to known outbreaks, including churches and weddings. She stressed that although some cases have been linked to schools, it’s important to identify that the virus was not acquired in the school setting in these cases.

Ontario premier concerned about ‘hot areas’ for COVID-19 spread

Deputy Premier of Ontario and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, said the province will be “taking a pause” from loosening any additional restrictions for four weeks.

“The latest trends in numbers have raised some concern, especially as we begin to reopen schools and post-secondary institutions,” Elliott said. “We did not take this decision lightly.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford identified three “hot areas” for COVID-19 spread: Brampton, Ottawa and Toronto.

Ford went on to say more severe punishments are required for people who are not following the COVID-19 rules in place, encouraging people to call the police if they see their neighbours hosting big parties and gatherings.

He added that more work needs to be done to ensure people are adhering to the 14-day quarantine requirement for travellers.

“We have to come down hard on people who are quarantining coming into our country,” Ford said. “It’s a privilege to come into Canada, it’s a privilege to be here in Ontario.

“If you aren’t sitting on your couch, we’re coming after you.”

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, stressed that this is definitely not the time for people to be casual with the public health measures in place, particularly as students go back to school and respiratory virus season approaches.

Dr. Williams also urged people in Ontario to not host or attend large gatherings.

“If you do not know the people and their exposure, you can’t assume that it’s not a problem, it is probably a problem,” he said.

‘Critical’ two-week period ahead for Canada’s COVID-19 situation

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, indicated at a press conference on Tuesday that the next couple of weeks will be “critical” to see the impact back-to-school plans and the long weekend will have on transmission of COVID-19.

She stressed that the increase in the average daily case counts in “concerning” but “it is a reflection of what is happening in the community.” Over the past seven days, the average new cases per day is 545.

“The most difficult part…is the fact that there are private functions and family gatherings where we need to make sure that we support every person in this country to know what to do to minimize the risk,” Dr. Tam said.

When asked about the classification of COVID-19 as a respiratory disease, Canada’s chief public health officer said it is a respiratory virus because human-to-human transmission is most likely through respiratory droplets, but its impact is more widespread.

“Science is evolving in terms of how the virus, once it gets inside your body, can impact your health,” Dr. Tam said. “This virus seems to be able to have an impact on multiple systems in your body, including your cardiovascular system, including your inflammatory response, how your blood vessels may be inflamed, et cetera.”

On Tuesday, The Globe and Mail reported that Canada’s Minister of Health, Patty Hajdu, has ordered an independent review of the pandemic early warning system, the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN). This comes after the outlet reported back in July that that the GPHIN system “went silent” in May 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic spread around the world.

Dr. Tam said Tuesday the system was “never closed” and continued to function, based on her personal knowledge.

“I don’t think there was ever a shut down of the system,” she said. “The review will look at what actually happened to those specific alerts as opposed to the regular daily reports and whether they would have reached…a broader audience.”

Dr. Tam said there was a question about if it is sufficient to sent out the daily report or if there should be an alert, which goes beyond the Canadians context.

Quebec implements a coloured tier system for COVID-19 in the province

The Quebec government has announced a four-tier regional alert and intervention system as the number of daily COVID-19 cases continues to rise in the province.

The green level is the vigilance tier, followed by the early warning yellow level. Orange is the moderate alert level and red is the maximum alert level.

Any movement between these levels will be based on three factors: the epidemiology in the region, the level of transmission and the capacity of the healthcare system.

Quebec’s health minister Christian Dubé said the level in each region will be reviewed each week by public health authorities and discussed on the municipal level as well.

Dubé stressed that COVID-19 is still a significant threat that is spreading within the community, but it is possible for the public to prevent a second wave of the virus by following the public health measures in place.

September 4

‘One metre does offer protection over no distancing’: Alberta’s Dr. Hinshaw weighs in on an adjusted precaution

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, revealed the province is looking at the evidence around different levels of distancing, primarily differentiating between a one-metre and two-metre distance for preventing COVID-19 transmission.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, suggested on Thursday that a one-metre is sufficient in a classroom setting or with people you interact with on an ongoing basis.

“One metre does offer protection over no distancing,” she said at a press conference on Friday. “Increasing the distance adds layers of protection. … We have to pick the number that we think serves the best purpose for the most people.

“We also know that depending on the circumstances, depending on the length of time someone is in the same space, depending on airflow, depending on how sick a person is … even two metres in some instances may not be sufficient.”

In shelters in Alberta in particular, two metres needs to be maintained among individuals who are moving around but a one-metre distance is fine between sleeping matts when individuals are sleeping.

In advance of the long weekend, Dr. Hinshaw urged people in the province to have fun but prioritize safety.

“Close contacts are the largest source of exposure,” she said.

For anyone planning on having a barbecue or small gathering, Dr. Hinshaw recommends that everyone bring their own food and use their own utensils.

Ontario premier defends the province’s top doctor after calls for his resignation

Earlier this week, Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO), called for Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams to resign. She cited that the province needs preventative measures to be implemented faster and criticized his communication skills.

At a press conference on Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford responded to these calls for resignation, saying “it’s so easy to play armchair quarterback and criticize people.”

“I have all the confidence in the world in Dr. Williams,” Ford said. “They’ve been calling for Dr. Williams’ head since the beginning and I take personal offence [to] that.”

“Dr. Williams has worked around the clock, this man doesn’t sleep, he’s out there protecting the people.”

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the province, the Ontario premier said he’s “really concerned” about virus spread in the Peel region, primarily in Brampton.

“I gave the mayor three calls today…I need to talk to you, find out what’s happening out there,” Ford said. “Something is broken when you have three per cent of the population with 40 per cent of the cases.”

Just days away from the resumption of in-person learning in schools, it was reported that about one-third of Toronto elementary students will participate in remote education for the school year.

Ford maintains the provincial government has “thrown everything and the kitchen sink” at opening schools and apologized to students for the “fear mongering on TV” about going back to the classroom.

“I can assure you as premier, I will do everything in my absolute power to protect our kids and our children and our students in this province,” he said.

The questions Canadians should answer before going to an event or gathering

At a press conference on Friday Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, urged the public to ask themselves a series of questions about their risk factors before going to an event or gathering, particularly if they are indoors.

The recommended questions are as follows:

  • Are you at high risk of developing serious complications if you become infected or if you would have to self-isolate, would this seriously disrupt your upcoming plans, priorities and responsibilities?

  • Are there people at high risk of developing serious complications of COVID-19 in your household or in your contact bubble that you could unintentionally infect?

  • Has the host of an event made changes to the location to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19? This includes making it easy to maintain physical distance and requiring face masks.

  • Are you able to adjust your plans at the event or activity? For example, stepping away if it gets crowded, washing your hands or wearing a mask.

“You cannot hold big parties…it’s those kind of settings that have contributed to outbreaks, some of them pretty large,” Dr. Tam said, adding that “vacation behaviours” in advance of the Labour Day long weekend could result in many opportunities to escalate virus spread.

Canada’s chief public health officer urged everyone to keep their social network consistent and as the weather gets cooler, prepare indoor spaces to make it safer for close contacts. If someone is even very mildly symptomatic, they should stay away from others completely and consider getting tested for COVID-19.

To date, about 2.2 million Ontarians have downloaded the COVID Alert app, which Dr. Tam says is “not too bad” in terms of uptake but “we can definitely do better.”

She particularly recommends that younger people download the app because they have been more present in group settings. Dr. Tam highlighted that there has been a case in Ottawa identified as a result of the individuals getting an alert on the app.

September 3

New modelling data from B.C. shows a ‘dramatic increase’ in cases in young people

BC Ministry of Health
BC Ministry of Health

New modelling data from British Columbia shows that a higher number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks have been in younger age groups, with a particularly “dramatic increase” in the 20-year-old to 29-year-old age category.

BC Ministry of Health
BC Ministry of Health

The median age of COVID-19 cases has decreased to 41 after being in the 50s earlier on in the pandemic.

BC Ministry of Health
BC Ministry of Health

Although the most significant growth in cases has occurred in the younger age group, Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, indicated there has also been a smaller increase in slightly older populations.

BC Ministry of Health
BC Ministry of Health

As the pandemic evolved, provincial officials began to loosen restrictions. Exposure locations transitioned, but no setting was completely spared from COVID-19 spread.

Household transmission is still very prevalent, meaning people are bringing the virus into their home. Dr. Henry highlighted that although workplace transmission has occurred, there has not been a lot of transmission from a workplace to the public.

BC Ministry of Health
BC Ministry of Health

She added that workplace spread has been between people who work in the same location but also have the same social connections outside of that setting, or issues with public health measures in the workplace.

Dr. Henry indicated that many of the cases in young people have been linked to restaurants, bars and lounges. Some of the “unnamed setting” data in the modelling reflect the unlinked cases in B.C. communities, which account for less than 20 per cent of all cases at this point.

BC Ministry of Health
BC Ministry of Health

Community transmission has been relatively low in B.C. and spread has been on the lower end of the spectrum in comparison to the rest of Canada.

“This is a testament to the work that we have all done together,” Dr. Henry said.

BC Ministry of Health
BC Ministry of Health

B.C.’s provincial health officer identified that the reproductive number in the province has been “bouncing around,” which is linked to the number of recent exposure events. She stressed this is a “moveable number,” particularly when overall case numbers are fairly low.

“This gives us an ideal of how well we’re doing at stopping those chains of transmission,” Dr. Henry said. “We still have it in our hands, in our actions to bend our curve back down and that is what we need to focus on now.”

“Think about the numbers of contacts that you have. If you know you have more interactions ahead, for example if you’re returning to work, then you need to reduce your contacts in other areas.”

‘We cannot fight COVID in the dark’: Alberta imposes new LTC restrictions

In two weeks, a new order will come into effect in long-term care facilities in Alberta, which will allow operators to adapt restrictions on residents being isolated when they return from being away from the site.

Previously, a measure of time spent out of the facility was used to determine how long a resident needed to be in quarantine when they returned. Any resident that was gone overnight needed to quarantine for 14 days.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said the requirement for quarantine in these circumstances will only apply to “high risk outings,” regardless of the length of time the resident is away from the facility. Volunteers will also be able to return to long-term care facilities.

An example of a high risk outing is a resident going to a family event for a few hours, with many people from various parts of the province, while a lower risk event would be a resident going to a family cabin for the weekend alone.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health also condemned people stigmatizing individuals who have been infected with COVID-19, particularly following a recent outbreak at the Kidanemhret Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Calgary.

“Stigmatizing those with this illness only increases the possibility that fear of this negative attention will keep people from being tested and will drive the virus underground,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “We cannot fight COVID in the dark and no region or group in society is immune from this virus.”

Newfoundland and Labrador launches COVID Alert app

Newfoundland and Labrador is the second province to adopt the federal government’s COVID-19 app, which was initially rolled out in Ontario.

“Launching COVID Alert today for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians means there is an important new tool in the toolbox when it comes to living with COVID-19,” Andrew Furey, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador said in a statement. “A lot of thought and work has gone into its development, and I’d like to thank everyone for their dedication.”

At a press conference on Thursday, Furey revealed he and his family will be downloading the app, while urging people in the province to do the same.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, stressed the adoption of this app will not replace the contact tracing work of public health officials and reminded the public that they cannot neglect the measures in place to prevent transmission of COVID-19.

“What we have to remember is that we’re preparing for the future as well,” Dr. Fitzgerald said. “There may come a time when we’re not in the same fortunate situation that we are [in] right now, and in that case this app will be useful and we’ll have it in place.”

She added that this app could be particularly useful in more crowded, communal spaces like nightclubs and bars, where it may not always be easy to identify who a new COVID-19 patient came into contact with.

Ontario’s top doctor reminds the public to keep social-circle rules in mind when engaging in sexual activity

At a press conference on Thursday, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, added his comments to the statement Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, made Wednesday related to sexual activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Williams said this close contact activity should be done in the context of the social circles measures currently in place in the province.

“You become a member of a cohort or social circle,” he said. “We want that two-metre distancing if you don’t know the person.”

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health added it is important to have knowledge of the individual’s risk factors for the previous two weeks before coming in close contact with anyone.

As COVID-19 cases in Ontario remain above 100 daily, Dr. Williams said he has some concerns, primarily around social events where people decided to be “casual and careless” about the rules, but he’s “glad” the numbers are staying below 150.

Ford, Legault to meet on economic recovery next week

At a press conference on Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said a joint Ontario-Quebec summit to discuss economic recovery will take place on Sept. 8 and Sept. 9 in the Greater Toronto Area.

“I know that with Ontario and Quebec working together…two economic powerhouses collaborating on mutually beneficial economic priorities, we will be unstoppable,” Ford said.

The premier also commented on Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) warning the public that the historic fair may not be able to continue operations. Ford said he would be willing to help save the event, if there is also support from the municipal and federal governments.

“We can all pitch in because it’s critical we keep the CNE going…we can’t let go of the history of the CNE,” the premier said, reminiscing about the 25-cent spaghetti from his youth.

Ford spoke directly to people in the Peel region on Thursday, calling on the public to not hold large gatherings in private backyards without wearing masks.

“You can’t be out there having tons of people over, no face masks, because it just spreads right across the board there,” he said.

September 2

Canada’s top doctor shares guidance on sexual interactions during the pandemic

In a statement released on Wednesday, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, admitted that “sex can be complicated in the time of COVID-19,” particularly when ones sexual partner is not in the same household.

“If you choose to engage in an in-person sexual encounter with someone outside of your household or close contacts bubble, there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk,” the statement reads. “The most important step is to establish a trusting relationship with your sexual partner.”

Dr. Tam outlined a number of rules to follow, which include monitoring yourself for symptoms before engaging in sexual activity, “skipping kissing” and avoiding closeness, and the considering wearing a mask that covers the nose and mouth.

“Current evidence indicates there is a very low likelihood of contracting the novel coronavirus through semen or vaginal fluids,” Dr. Tam said in the statement. “However, even if the people involved do not have symptoms, sexual activity with new partners does increase your risk of getting or passing COVID-19 through close contact, like kissing.”

“Remember as with all social interactions, try to keep your number of close contacts low if possible.”

What is an indeterminate COVID-19 case?

Following the determination that two post-secondary students in Nova Scotia, one at Dalhousie University and another at Acadia University, are probable cases of COVID-19, Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, took the opportunity at a press conference on Wednesday to explain how this inconclusive result can occur.

“We can’t confidently say it’s negative or positive,” Dr. Strang said. “When you start testing a lot of people without symptoms, we know from experience previously with COVID or with other diseases that we are going to start to get more of these indeterminate test results.”

Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health said there are three circumstances where this result occurs. It can happen if someone previously had COVID-19 because for weeks afterwards, even though they are not infectious, they can still have some residual virus in the nose and throat.

It could also mean that the test was conducted very early on in an individual’s infection and the person may not have enough virus to produce full positive result. There can also be issues around a cross-contamination in the lab or a cross reaction from another viral infection.

In this case, it was determined that these two university students are in the very early stages of a COVID-19 infection.

With students set to return to the school classroom on Sept. 8, Dr. Strang stressed that COVID-19 cases are expected to appear in school settings.

“I fully expect we will get cases of COVID-19 in a school,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that the plan has failed, it doesn’t mean that there’s a crisis, it simply means that what we expected to happen has happened.”

The province has established a series of risk levels to evaluate and managing COVID-19 cases in the school system, high, moderate or low risk, which breaks down as follows:

  • An individual is at high risk if they are a close contact, defined as someone who was in close proximity to a COVID-19 case for a prolonged period of time up to 48 hours before symptoms presented. This could be an entire classroom.

  • Someone is at moderate risk if they have maintained two metres from the COVID-19 case and there wasn’t prolonged contact. This could be students and staff in a shared space.

  • An individual is at low risk if they have had “limited or casual contact” with a COVID-19 case. This includes walking past someone in a common area.

Alberta’s top doctor defends distancing measures in schools

The Alberta government announced it will distribute $262 million in federal funding to school authorities. These funds will be transferred in two phases, once in September and again later in the school year.

The provincial government has indicated that it will be distributed based on a per-student model and it must be used to support COVID-19-related costs in five categories, staffing, adapting learning spaces and personal protective equipment, cleaning and safety considerations, support for special needs students, and online learning and teacher training.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, spoke about why a two-metre distance between students in a classroom is not being mandated.

She stressed that where two metres is not possible, “maximum spacing with students not facing each other is an acceptable alternative” and highlighted that even a one-metre spacing “does have benefits” for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“This guidance was developed after many conversations on the benefits and risks of moving to a model, such as “scenario two”, where it would be possible to keep two metres distance between all students in a classroom,” Dr. Hinshaw said.

The province’s “scenario two” model is a situation where classes are split in half, with students spending half the week in a classroom and half the week at home with remote learning.

“This option enables smaller class sizes and wider distancing but it brings other risks and challenges,” Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said. “This includes additional costs of childcare for parents who are working or the possibility that some families may need to rely on grandparents for that half of the week that students are not at school, which could put those older Albertans at risk.”

“In public health, we have the responsibility of making our best recommendations for the overall health of Albertans.”

Dr. Hinshaw also explained that masks are not required in classrooms during instruction because it could interfere with learning and communication, which is “vital” to the classroom environment.

She added that families must choose the level of risk that makes the most sense for their particular situation.

“As a parent, I know that returning to school in person is never without risk, even before COVID,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “When our children leave the house in the morning they must navigate risks of all kinds and COVID-19 is one more among them.”

‘It’s not like they’d be building a remote home learning option from zero’

With less than a week before in-class learning resumes in Manitoba, the province has released online materials for parents, students and teachers to prepare for the first day of school. This information includes a guide for wearing a mask, what parents and guardians should expect from schools and COVID-19 screening questions.

Kelvin Goertzen, Manitoba’s education minister, stressed at a press conference on Wednesday that if a student becomes COVID-19 positive, public health will be looking into where that infection came from. He highlighted that someone who has resumed in-class learning may not have actually acquired the virus in the school setting but health officials will assess if there is a vulnerability in a school or cohort.

In Manitoba, students can resume their education through in-person learning or parents and guardians can choose to homeschool children. A remote learning option is available if a student is immunocompromised or has a documented medical condition that may require them to learn from home.

Goertzen confirmed those are the options that exist at the moment but school divisions have been preparing for other at-home learning scenarios, in the event the COVID-19 situation evolves and more remote options become necessary.

“If we are required to change because the circumstances change, it’s not like they’d be building a remote home learning option from zero,” he said.

Ontario premier continues to call out teachers’ unions in the province

Ontario Premier Doug Ford maintains that the province has consulted with parents and teachers on the back to school plan but called out teachers’ unions for “playing politics.”

“I have an idea, why don’t they try to help out, why don’t they pitch in, why don’t they be positive instead of painting a picture of an apocalypse, the world’s coming to an end,” Ford said at a press conference on Wednesday. “Why don’t they jump in there like the great principals that I’ve talked to, the great teachers that apologize for their behaviour to me.”

The premier also took a shot at Harvey Bischof, president of the OSSTF/FEESO, with Ford saying that Bischof “thinks he’s a doctor.”

“I’ll listen to the [doctors], and the health and science, all day long opposed to some head of the teachers’ union that has his degree in English Literature, as Harvey does,” Ford said.

The premier went on to say that he is particularly concerned about about cases in Toronto and Peel, mostly in people between the ages of 20 and 39.

“When you’re looking at Toronto and Peel, large populations, and again it’s not their fault I want to stress that, but they’re making up 60 per cent of all cases in an entire province,” Ford said. “People ages 20 to 39, the numbers are big there, that’s concerning.”

September 1

‘It’s simply fictitious, it has nothing to do with reality’

At a press conference on Tuesday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said provincial officials “always said that there would be infections in the schools” and asked that school boards ensure they are consulting with provincial health officials to respond to any COVID-19 cases or outbreaks in these settings.

He added that calls for class sizes to be reduced are not realistic, highlighting in particular that the provincial NDP wanted schools to only reopen if class sizes could be reduced to 15.

Kenney said that would require 13,000 new classes, building 800 new schools, and training and certifying 13,000 new teachers at a cost of about $4 billion. The Alberta premier said this is a plan to keep schools shut.

“It’s simply fictitious, it has nothing to do with reality,” Kenney said.

New information on class grouping, music classes in New Brunswick schools

The New Brunswick government provided additional information on classroom groupings in schools.

When in their classroom grouping, or classroom bubble, students in kindergarten to Grade 8 will be able to interact with each other and their teacher without physical distancing. They will be able to share supplies in the classroom but it is still recommended that students have their own materials.

The class groupings, by grade, will be as follows:

  • Kindergarten to Grade 2, as close to 15 as possible

  • Grades 3 to 5, close to 22 students

  • Grades 6 to 8, regular class sizes

Students in Grades 6 through 8 will be required to wear a face mask in common areas and the same measure is “encouraged” for younger students.

Children will also be able to sing and use instruments in schools, but the province requests that these activities take place in outdoor spaces as much as possible. The province also wants students to “sing softly” and increase physical distancing if singing indoors.

Students in Grades 9 to 12 must maintain a physical distance of two metres while in music class. They can share instruments that are cleaned between uses.

What families should do while waiting for COVID-19 test results in P.E.I.

Dr. Heather Morrison, the chief public health officer of Prince Edward Island, clarified what families should do if a child is being tested for COVID-19, particularly when school resumes.

If a student is waiting for a COVID-19 test result, after being symptomatic at home or being sent home from school, a parents or guardian will be expected to care for that child. Other members of the household should take precautions, like wearing a mask and monitoring for symptoms, until the test result comes back negative.

Beginning on Sept. 3, P.E.I. residents will be able to access negative COVID-19 test results online.

Effective Oct. 1, Dr. Morrison hopes to be able to further ease restrictions in the province. This will include gatherings of over 50 people with no limit on the number of cohorts with and an operation plan required for any gathering of over 50 people, personal gatherings and group settings of up to 20 people, and strict physical distancing won’t be required during physical activities.

Social circle rules will remain the same in Ontario

Deputy Premier of Ontario and Minister of Health, Christine Elliott, confirmed at a press conference on Tuesday that while social circles for families will be increasing as students go back to school, the province will not be making any changing to the existing rules for close contact.

Currently, people in Ontario can have a social circle of up to 10 people, meaning 10 people that they can come into contact with without physical distancing.

Elliott highlighted the upcoming influenza season as a contributing factor to not increasing the social circle limit in Ontario.

Ford, Lecce visit school

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and education minister Stephen Lecce spoke about back-to-school plans in the province, sharing that they recently visited the Kensington Community School in Toronto and were impressed by what they saw.

When asked about concerns related to “collapsing” classes in the province, Lecce said he expects class sizes to stabilize in the coming days and stressed that timetabling takes place every year, where schools look at how many children will be enrolled and how many school staff members are required.

He went on to say that the province wants to make sure physical distancing measures are in place in all schools with each institution using additional funds, including the reserve funds, to hire more teachers and look into additional classroom space.

‘Canada and the world cannot wait 10 years for a COVID-19’

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, continues to stress that vaccine development is an important component to move beyond existing COVID-19 restrictions.

“What Canada and the world needs to have the best shot at normalcy is safe and effective vaccines,” Dr. Tam said at a press conference on Tuesday.

She added that usually, it can take more than a decade for a vaccine to be developed, which cannot be the case in this circumstance.

“Canada and the world cannot wait 10 years for a COVID-19 vaccine, by the same token we cannot and will not compromise safety and efficacy,” Dr. Tam said.

Canada’s chief public health officer said a particular threshold has not been identified in terms of the number of people who needed to be vaccinated but cautioned that population immunity seems to be “quite low” globally, so getting enough vaccine uptake will be “quite important.”

Deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, explained that vaccines are never mandatory and a COVID-19 vaccine won’t be either. He stressed that it is more effective to help the public understand the benefit and importance of vaccines, rather than regulating participation.

August 31

‘We all need to be prepared now for whatever challenge may emerge’

Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s provincial health officer, urged people in the province to rethink gatherings in an effort to keep contacts to a minimum, particularly as in-class learning in the province is about to resume.

“No one knows for sure what the fall is going to bring,” Dr. Henry said at a press conference on Monday. “We may see a surge, we may see a surge in influenza, we all need to be prepared now for whatever challenge may emerge.”

She added that staying home when you are not feeling well is one of the most important things to do.

“We learned that we’re going to be living with this virus for a while,” Dr. Henry said. “We found that when we had people getting together in environments where we’re close, face to face…those were environments where this virus passed quickly.”

B.C.’s provincial health officer said families need to evaluate their own personal risks, for example if there is a particularly vulnerable person in their household, and that may require limited after school and weekend activities when children return to school.

Alberta students do not need to be two metres apart during classroom instruction

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, confirmed at a press conference on Monday that students do not need to be two metres apart during in-class instruction, when all the students are seated and are facing in the same direction.

She added that the two-metre distance should be maintained “whenever possible” and when that distance is not possible in these classroom settings, desks should be as far apart as possible.

Students in Grade 4 to Grade 12 and school staff need to wear a face mask in areas outside of the classroom.

As the province continues to see an increase in the daily number of COVID-19 cases, Dr. Hinshaw continues to stress that everyone needs to follow the public health measures in place.

“People are tired of living with COVID, they’re tired of living with restrictions, they want to get on with their lives,” she said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the option of ignoring COVID.”

Quebec manages student isolations

Following the announcement that more than 80 students in Quebec City must now isolate after three cases of COVID-19 were confirmed at two high schools, Christian Dubé, Quebec’s health and social services minister, stressed that it’s transmission in the community that impacts schools.

He explained that the virus is coming from outside the school environment, which is why it’s important for parents to understand that following public health measures in their personal lives is critically important.

Dubé called out the actions of people in a karaoke bar, also in Quebec City, which resulted in at least 20 COVID-19 cases. He said this behaviour, specifically passing the same microphone between people, is completely unacceptable and too risky.

“We need to get back to the discipline we had in the spring,” Quebec Premier François Legault, said. “We don’t want to go back to confinement, we don’t want our hospitals to be overcrowded…we don’t want to close our business and above all, we don’t want to close our schools.”

Physical distancing in schools in ‘an important measure,’ but not the only measure

At a press conference on Monday, Ontario’s top doctors responded to concerns around schools reopening.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, associate chief medical officer of health, urged parents to help prepare their children for the resumption of in-class learning. She said this should include modelling proper health behaviour at home, practising proper hand washing, reviewing how to properly wear a mask and make them more comfortable with wearing one for a longer period of time, practise covering coughs and sneezes, maintaining a safe physical distance from others, and helping children to understand that they can’t go to school if they are sick and should tell school staff if they are feeling unwell at school.

In terms of concerns around class sizes, Dr. Yaffe stressed that physical distancing is “an important measure” but is not the only measure that will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools. She added that cohorting of classrooms is one of the key additional measures that will be in place in Ontario schools to limit transmission of the virus in these environments.

Dr. Yaffe said if there is one confirmed case in a classroom, students and the teacher in that class would be sent home. If there are a number of cases in a school, with links to transmission within the school environment, including between different classes, that may require the closure of a school.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said in order for there to be a closure of all schools across the province, there needs to be widespread transmission in Ontario, similar to March.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health was also asked about Halloween this year. Dr. Williams said the public health measures table is currently trying to determine if regular Halloween activity can occur this year, but there are no recommendations yet.

‘I’m begging now for the teachers’ unions to work with us’

At a press conference on Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford responded to four teachers’ unions filing a labour board complaint over the province’s reopening plan with the belief that it violates workplace safety rules.

“I’m begging now for the teachers’ unions to work with us,” Ford said. “I met so many teachers on the road and almost every single teacher comes up to me, and the first comment out of their mouth, I apologize for the way the union is acting. That says it all.”

The premier went on to say he supports teachers, saying they’re “incredible” and will keep students safe.

He added that Ontarians should prepare for there to be COVID-19 cases identified in school environments but the province and public health authorities are prepared to work with school boards to limit the spread of the virus.

“When there’s a case, because they will be a case as sure as I’m sitting here and everyone knows it, we’re going to react,” Ford said. “We’re going to move in there, it’s going to be like the stormtroopers moving in, making sure everyone’s taken care of, following the proper protocol and procedures.”

“If it really starts taking off I will not hesitate for a second to close these schools down in a blink of an eye.”

‘We need to have many options on the table for Canadians’

Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, and Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, provided additional details of the federal government’s latest agreements to access potential vaccine candidates with Novavax and Johnson and Johnson. Although it is still contingent on Health Canada approvals, the country could begin to receive deliveries in early 2021.

Minister Anand stressed that as each company is undergoing its own stages of clinical trial, it’s important for Canada to have agreements with multiple suppliers.

“We need to have many options on the table for Canadians,” she said at a press conference on Monday, adding that there isn’t a single “silver bullet” solution.

Anand said discussions continue with other vaccine developers, including AstraZeneca, which the government is in the “final stage” of negotiations with at this point.

The public services and procurement minister indicated the production aspect takes place in countries outside of Canada for the possible vaccines mentioned to date but the government is continuing to invest in “the Canadian angle of vaccine production.”

“We need to make sure…that there is a Canadian answer here,” Anand said.

Minister Hajdu stressed on Monday that vaccination is the best way to prevent virus spread but Health Canada will ensure that scientific evidence states that a vaccine is safe and effective before it is administered to Canadians.

She added that no vaccines in Canada are federally mandated and that will be the case for a COVID-19 vaccine as well. Hajdu said Canadians have a responsibility to keep each other safe but there is also an understanding that some people cannot be vaccinated for various health reasons.

“The more Canadians who are vaccinated, the more we can protect vulnerable people,” she said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, also announced that companies will be able to apply for the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) until Oct. 31. This program allows small businesses to access an interest-free $40,000 loan.

Canada signs two new agreements for potential COVID-19 vaccines

The Canadians government has signed two new agreements for potential COVID-19 vaccines with Novavax and Johnson and Johnson.

This is in addition to previously announced deals with Pfizer and Moderna, which in total will now allow Canada to have access to at least 88 million doses, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced at a press conference on Monday.

The vaccines are in Phase 2 and 3 of clinical trials and won’t be fully purchased until they’re approved by Health Canada in safety and efficacy.

“Our government will continue to take the steps needed to make sure Canada gets a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible,” the prime minister said.

The federal government is also investing $126 million to expand the bio-manufacturing facility at the National Research Council (NRC) Royalmount, expected to be operational by mid-2021.

Will the vaccine be mandatory?

When asked if vaccination will be mandatory in Canada when it becomes available, Trudeau said information on the administration of vaccines will come from expert advice in the future.

He added that some believe only one dosage will be necessary, while others believe more than one would be required for each individual.

The prime minister also said it is unfortunate that the China’s CanSino Biologics COVID-19 vaccine will not be shipped to Canada but the federal government is focused on “many other paths.”

August 28

Border restrictions extended until the end of September

Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, announced the federal government is extending existing border restrictions until Sept. 30.

This includes the 14-day quarantine measure for all travellers to the country and the non-essential travel restrictions.

‘Canadians listen a lot more than Americans do’

At a press conference on Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford showed a graph of COVID-19 cases per 100,000, comparing the province to Quebec and U.S. states.

The graph showed that Ontario has the lowest number of cases, followed by Quebec, Michigan and Pennsylvania, with Florida on the opposite end of the spectrum

Ford used this map to also call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to maintain the restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border.

“I love our American friends…but this is the reason prime minister, we can’t open the borders, it’s very simple,” the premier said. “We’re different from the U.S.,…they’re good people down there, just Canadians listen a lot more than Americans do.”

“We can’t take our eye off the ball for a second. This moves like an Australian bushfire, once it starts, it starts moving and it’s hard to control.”

Top health officials comment on isolation periods for COVID-19 cases and quarantine rules for travellers

At a press conference on Friday, Canada’s top doctors commented on Quebec reducing the isolation period for COVID-19 positive individuals from 14 days to 10 days.

The province specifies that 10 days from the onset of symptoms, an individual does not have to be in isolation if they have not had a fever for at least 48 hours and haven’t had any symptoms for at least 24 hours, excluding cough and loss of smell.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, and deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, confirmed this aligns with existing guidelines. Dr. Njoo highlighted that other jurisdictions, for example B.C., have been using this same 10 day infection period, and stressed that some symptoms, like loss of smell, could last longer.

Dr. Tam also commented on Air Canada planning to voluntarily test passengers arriving in Toronto in an attempt to persuade the federal government to put an end to the 14 day quarantine rules for travellers.

She said she is aware of the plan and is “very interested” in the results but stressed that at this point, anyone who takes part in this trial, set to begin after the Labor Day holiday, will still have to quarantine for 14 days.

Dr. Tam said the current quarantine requirement from travellers is proven to work as a public health measure but health officials continue to look at options for reducing more restrictive measures, including adding a testing component.

When asked about the lack of physical distancing on planes, Canada’s chief public health officer said there are very few reports of in-flight spread of COVID-19, but stressed this does not mean it can’t happen, which is why there are layers of protection in place, like mask wearing and limiting movement on the aircraft.

August 27

B.C. reports eight suspected MIS-C in the province

B.C. officials are now reporting eight suspected cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), the post-inflammatory response previously reported in some children who had COVID-19, similar to Kawasaki disease.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said all these children are being considered suspect cases because they did not test positive for COVID-19, there is no known exposure and they do not have antibodies for the virus. All eight children were hospitalized, two were in ICU and all have fully recovered.

BC Centre for Disease Control
BC Centre for Disease Control

The province is now also provide a more granular, regional breakdown of cases in B.C., including cases that were tested or are epidemiologically linked. At this point it does not include the almost 3,000 close contacts of people who have COVID-19 the province is now monitoring.

‘Return to in-school learning is complex ‘

At a press conference on Thursday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, explained why the guidance documents for school reopening do not specify when an entire school would need to be closed.

She stressed that each situation in a school requires a full assessment and it is possible that a social event, or another gathering outside of the school environment sparks COVID-19 spread, but can impact students or school staff.

“It does not necessarily mean that the school environment is unsafe and should be closed,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “Return to in-school learning is complex and a number of factors will inform any school closure decisions.”

“Think of it like a relay race only this is a race where the goal is to drop the baton. If the first runner in a race, in this case the COVID case, doesn’t give the baton to the second runner, in this case the close contact, that second runner, the close contact, can’t pass the baton to a third.”

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health explained that close contacts of a COVID-19, including students, should stay home. She added that if family members can stay distant while at home they do not need to stay home. In the case of children, she recommends that one parent or guardian be assigned the responsibility of caring for that child while others stay as distant as possible.

Dr. Hinshaw defined close contacts as anyone who has been within two metres of a case for a cumulative total of more than 15 minutes in a day, without adequate protection.

‘They’re a terrible example on how to open up’

Ontario Premier Doug Ford took a shot at the U.S. when asked if he has any concerns about schools reopening in the province, with so many cases being linked to American schools.

“The U.S, as much as I love them, they’re a terrible example on how to open up and the cases are being spread all over the place,” Ford said at a press conference on Thursday.

The premier also had a cautionary message for post-secondary students this year, “cool your jets with the partying.”

“I’m just going to speak to the young people. Guys, just don’t go out there,” Ford said. “No parties at the beginning of the week…You can party after.”

At a separate press conference, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said families with younger children will have to evaluate their family’s social circles when children return to the classroom.

He said parents will have to asses their personal situation to determine if they’re satisfied with the protections in place, for example, if they are concerned about the possibility of infecting an older member of their family. Dr .Williams reminded parents that their children have opened their family up to at least one additional circle, the classroom cohort.

With regards to the future of Ontario’s social circle rules, the chief medical officer of health said the province is currently working on possible adjustments. He said if there is a wide policy change, there is still work being done on whether it will be recommended to expand existing circles or if people can participate in multiple social circles.

Quebec reveals plans for childcare services if a second wave of COVID-19 hits

Quebec officials said they will not be shutting down childcare services in the province in the event of a second wave of COVID-19.

The newly released plan from the provincial government explains that if any additional confinement measures have to be implemented in the future, parents will still have the choice to send their children to care services.

Christian Dubé, Minister of Health and Social Services, said the province is working on a plan for potential closing of businesses and service in the future, but stressed that not everything will be confined or halted. He added that it is important to consider which regions are being impacts and the sectors being affected as well.

“We don’t want to say there’s going to be a total confinement,” Dubé said at a press conference on Thursday.

August 26

All B.C. school districts release back-to-school plans

All 60 school districts in B.C. have now posted their plans for the 2020-2021 year.

At a press conference on Wednesday Rob Fleming, the province’s education minister, said each plan has been reviewed, and elementary and middle school students will have in-class learning. Many secondary school students will be in class full-time while others in more populated areas will experience a blend of in-person and online learning.

Fleming said the orientation week for schools will be “critically important” and school boards will be staying in touch with parents as they make their decisions. He said he hopes parents “keep an open mind” and review the plans when deciding how to educate their children this fall.

For parents who are concerned about losing their spot in a particular school if they do not feel comfortable sending their child to in-class learning, the education minister said he supports schools using innovate remote learning options to stay connected with all students.

At the press conference, Fleming was also asked about substitute and support teachers who may be coming in and out of schools for a finite period of time. He said they should maintain physical distance, adding that teachers with shorter-term placements wouldn’t become part of a learning group, while those on longer assignments would.

He highlighted that school officials in the Vancouver have implemented a system where these instructors must stay in a school quadrant for work.

Nova Scotia lifts additional COVID-19 restrictions

The Nova Scotia government announced changes to restrictions in long-term care homes, and before and after school care in the province.

Residents in long-term care homes can leave the facility for medical appointments with family members and there is no longer a cap on the number of people residents can identify as visitors. Adult day programs can resume, including music, painting, exercise, crafts and games.

Before and after school programs can operation with groups of 15 children without maintaining a physical distance of two metres. Each group of 15 must maintain physical distance.

The provincial government also announced it is working with four venues to host larger events of 200 people indoors and 250 outdoors. These venues are Centre 200, Scotiabank Centre, Riverside International Speedway and Scotia Speedworld.

Travel exemption for people with second homes in Newfoundland and Labrador

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health for Newfoundland and Labrador, announced Wednesday that beginning on Monday, Aug. 31, individuals will be able to access second homes in the province.

Anyone who owns a second home or cabin will have to apply for a travel exemption, which will include providing proof of ownership.

The 14-day isolation rule will still be in place.

How Ontario will manage outbreaks in schools

The Ontario government has released a guidance document for operating schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Parents, we know you have a tough choice to make but know that if your child returns to school they will be safe,” Ontario’s Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said at a press conference on Wednesday. “We will continue to respect the choice and authority of parents.”

The province defines an outbreak in a school as two or more COVID-19 cases in students and/or staff that are epidemiologically linked. The cases must have been confirmed within a 14-day period and at least one case “could have reasonably acquired their infection in the school,” including transportation to school and before or after school care.

The local public health unit will help determine if a classroom cohort has to be sent home, or if there needs to be a school closure based, on the scope of the outbreak.

The outbreak will be declared over by the local public health unit at least 14 days after the last case and when there are no symptomatic individuals with tests pending.

When asked why there isn’t a mandatory testing requirement for students in these situation Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, stressed that if a child is feeling unwell they shouldn’t be going into the school environment.

He added that a student will be sent home, with proper parental notification, and they can be screened at that time.

“If they need to get tested…they will get tested,” Dr. Williams said at a press conference on Wednesday. “It may be an ear infection, they may have a history of that, so we want to be sensitive to the fact that children don’t always get sick from COVID.”

“If there’s no COVID circulating in the community, that’s not always your first go-to diagnosis…each case is different, each case needs to be approached separately.”

Federal government invests $2 billion for school safety

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government is investing $2 billion for school safety across Canada.

“Our children must be safe in the classroom, that’s non-negotiable,” Trudeau said at a press conference on Wednesday, adding that education this year will be a challenge like no other.

The federal government is also investing $112 million to support schools in First Nations communities.

These funds will flow to provinces and territories through the newly created Safe Return to Class Fund. The prime minister stressed this investment will be “flexible” to allow each jurisdiction to use the funds for what they need most, from hand sanitizer to remote learning.

“We’ve heard from parents right across the country who are concerned about sending their kids back to school,” Trudeau said. “We fully respect provincial jurisdiction over education,…the provinces will determine the best way to make sure that his money is spent in ways that keep our citizens and kids safe.”

The Ontario government announced the province is receiving $381 million through this investment, which will support the following provincial priorities:

  • $200 million for reopening plan implementation

    • $100 million to complement the health and safety work, including the hiring of custodians, HVAC, improvements, internet connectivity for students and other local needs

    • $30 million for procuring additional personal protective equipment (PPE) for schools

    • $70 million for the temporary hiring of educators, as required

  • $70 million for school transportation

  • $12.5 million for special education and mental health supports enhancement

  • $12.5 million to create up to 125 additional nursing positions in public health units

  • $36 million for remote learning support

The Ontario government is also setting aside $50 million “for any future pandemic learning needs.”

“Ontario’s investments lead the nation in supporting priorities like more cleaning, physical distancing, testing, and hiring of staff to ensure a safe reopening of our schools this September,” Stephen Lecce, Ontario’s Minister of Education said in a statement. “Today’s investment by the federal government complements the already landmark investments made by our government in support of safe and healthy schools in Ontario.”

August 25

Quebec premier concerned about personal data protection with federal COVID Alert app

Quebec Premier François Legault spoke to reporters on Tuesday about the provincial government supporting the federal COVID Alert app.

Legault said “a good part” of Quebecers have concerns about their personal data and do not agree with the tracing app, adding that the opposition parties in the province also do not support the app.

“We have four parties that are, for now, against the application,” Legault said. “We may decide, maybe in six months…to change our mind and then there’s another argument about do we use an application that is made in Ontario, Shopify, or do we want to have one in Quebec, done by Mila.”

“Montreal is one of the best centres in the world for AI. We have to take that into consideration.”

New Brunswick reveals rules for extracurricular school activities

The New Brunswick government has provided additional information about sports and extracurricular activities for students for the 2020-2021 school year.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, stressed that it’s particularly important for children to socialize not just in the classroom setting, but through extracurricular activities as well.

Face masks will not be required for physical education classes and sporting events, and children will be able to use gymnasiums with proper sanitation measures.

Students up to Grade 8 will participate in physical education in their classroom bubble while older grades can do so while maintaining a physical distance of one metre. The same rules apply for intramural sporting activities and change rooms.

Competitive sporting events can occur but will be limited to a particular school district or a small region of New Brunswick. A maximum of 50 spectators will be allowed in outdoor settings, physically distanced, and there can’t be any spectators for indoor events.

School clubs can also resume with physical distancing guidelines but the province is recommending that meetings are virtual whenever possible. More details on music-related extracurricular activities, like choirs, are expected to be released in the “coming weeks.”

‘I think it’s so important that we communicate with the people’

The Ontario government announced it is investing $15.9 million to build a new school and create 88 more child care spaces in Etobicoke, Ont.

“Ensuring our young people have access to modern classrooms and the best education is absolutely critical to helping them get a good start in life,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement. “By building, expanding and renovating our schools, we are creating a learning environment where our students can flourish and chart a path to lifelong success.”

At a press conference on Tuesday, the Ontario premier defended the provincial government’s investment in a back-to-school advertising campaign after being asked if those funds would have been better spent on providing more resources for schools, including hiring more teachers.

Ford was not able to provide a concrete cost for the ad campaign but said there is an “ongoing tally” that will be released “at the end of this.”

“I think it’s so important that we communicate with the people,” the premier said. “Imagine if we didn’t have any ads and no one knew what was going on, that would be terrible.”

Education minister Stephen Lecce echoed the premier’s comments, adding that this is an important step to telling parents how schools will be keeping their children safe.

Ford went on to say he is planning to ask Quebec Premier François Legault why officials in that province will not be asking the public to download the COVID Alert app. Quebec’s government believes their existing contact tracing system is sufficient.

“We need to download this but he might have a good answer,” the Ontario premier said.

Canada’s top doctor concerned about cases in younger groups, COVID-19 info on the internet

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, stressed that over recent weeks Canadians under the age of 40 have made up almost half of new COVID-19 infections, adding that there have been circumstances where younger people have developed serious illness.

She highlighted that as COVID-19 continues to circulate it builds up “a reservoir of the virus” that can spill out into different age groups and people with existing medical conditions.

Dr. Tam also said she has concerns about this being the first pandemic in the age of the internet and social media, and Canadians need to be able to filter out the myths and disinformation in that space, adding that internet companies have a responsibility to assist.

Deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, said the federal government is continuing to evaluate COVID-19 testing advances. He didn’t rule out home tests for the future but said any new testing method would have to be compared to the current “gold standard,” which is the PCR test.

Dr. Njoo added that there is still more to learn about the benefit of testing asymptomatic people and testing a certain population on a regular basis, without there being extensive issues with false-negative test results.

Federal government invest in Indigenous mental health supports

Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, announced at a press conference on Tuesday that the federal government is investing $82.5 million for mental health supports for Indigenous communities during the pandemic.

This additional funding is set to include adapting mental wellness programs to the existing COVID-19 experience, expanding virtual services, and investing in innovative strategies to address substance abuse and harm reduction.

Miller stressed that prior to the pandemic, the demand for counselling and other wellness services was already on an upward trend in Indigenous communities and “sustained, targeted investment in mental wellness” in needed.

August 24

Alberta’s top doctor warns young people that they can spread COVID-19 ‘unknowingly’ and ‘rapidly’

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, called on people in the province to remain diligent with the public health measures in place, particularly as they relate to gatherings.

She said parents may want to considering limiting any gatherings or in-person interaction with seniors, especially when their children return to school.

“[Parents] need to be extra vigilant when considering family gatherings with older relatives,” Dr. Hinshaw said at a press conference on Monday. “While children are less likely to have severe outcomes with this virus, they can pass it on to older family members who are more susceptible to severe outcomes.”

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health also stressed that young people in particular need to maintain their efforts to keep themselves and the rest of the province safe.

“Because of the way the virus is spreading in your age group, you are now more likely to pass on this virus unknowingly and to do so rapidly,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “You must keep your circle of friends small to protect others from the virus.”

She added that experiences in other jurisdictions have indicated that activities like smoking and vaping can lead to more severe outcomes when infected with COVID-19.

‘We need to continue to be on our guard’

Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s provincial health officer, stressed to the people in the province that they need to work to minimize new cases through personal safety measures.

“We need to continue to be on our guard,” Dr. Henry said.

Last week the the B.C. government announced enforcement measures, including $2,000 fines for individuals not following public health rules around gatherings and events. Dr. Henry supported these new enforcement protocols as she has particular concerns about COVID-19 being transmitted repeatedly through private parties and events.

“I think this is an unfortunate but necessary step to make sure that those small number of people who are breaking the rules, despite being warned, despite putting people at risk,…that we have some tools that we can use to support enforcement as well,” B.C.’s provincial health officer said at a press conference on Monday.

Dr. Henry added that while provincial officials monitor community transmission ahead of schools reopening, families need to practice daily assessment for any possible COVID-19 symptoms, stressing that anyone who isn’t feeling well cannot come into school environments.

‘It’s not going to be over in September, October, November’

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said that as the province prepares for back to school, health officials are looking at how the population can cope with having multiple social circles.

“If you’ve been good at monitoring your one circle, how do you do with two, three, four or five circles,” Dr. Williams said at a press conference on Monday. “If you have multiple children, you have multiple cohorts to manage.”

He explained that a family may have one social circle right now but their children can also be in multiple, separate cohorts when school resumes.

Dr. Williams said in the event that someone tests positive for COVID-19, public health will have to determine which cohort the case could have come from, ruling out others.

He added that people in Ontario need to continue to understand and follow the public health measures in place, many of which he believes have become “second nature for most people.”

“It’s not going to be over in September, October, November,” Dr. Williams said. “We’re rolling on well into 2021.”

He also stressed that the long-term impacts of COVID-19 are still largely unknown so people, regardless of age or current health, should be cautious, even if someone’s case is considered mild at the outset.

New masking policy for Manitoba hospitals, more investment for school reopenings

The Manitoba government has mandated that as of Sept. 1, non-medical masks will be mandatory for visitors to hospitals and health centres in the province. This requirement also includes outpatients.

“Wearing masks provides additional protection for people, particularly in indoor spaces where physical distancing is not possible,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, said in a statement. “Wearing masks in hospitals and health centres will ensure we are all doing what we can to protect ourselves and others from this virus.”

The province has also announced that a $100 million Safe Schools fund is being created, which includes $48 million in preparedness savings already set aside and an additional $52 million.

“This additional investment in our education system will support our Restoring Safe Schools plan to help ensure our schools remain a safe, familiar place for our students and staff,” education minister Kelvin Goertzen said in a statement. “We know that our education system needs to be ready to deal with today’s pandemic reality as students and staff return to the classroom, and our government is delivering the financial support to help school divisions meet that need.”

The one-time investment is expected to fund the acquisition of personal protective equipment for students and school staff, enhancing cleaning and sanitization measures, and ensuring substitute teachers and education staff are available.

‘I’m very confident about reopening the schools’

Ontario’s education Minister Stephen Lecce was present for a press conference on Monday and fielded questions about the province’s back to school plan.

“Our request of school boards across the province is of course, to make sure we maximize in-class instruction,” Lecce said. “Meaning that a child is in their classroom, in their seat, led by a teacher.”

Although school boards in Ontario have been able to propose a variety of different in-class versus online synchronous learning breakdowns, Lecce stressed that province is working with school boards to increase that time when students will physically be in the classroom.

He also stressed that the cohort model the Ontario government is using in school will be critical to the safety of students this fall.

“I’m very confident about reopening the schools,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said.

He added that he is watching the case numbers across the province “like a hawk” and highlighted that 75 of the 105 cases reported on Monday were from three regions, Toronto, Ottawa and Peel.

August 21

Stronger COVID-19 enforcement measures in B.C. include $2,000 fines

B.C. is increasing its enforcement of COVID-19 measures in the province with officers now having the ability to issue $2,000 violation tickets for owners or organizers contravening the provincial health order on gatherings and events.

This includes people who host or organize a gathering or event in excess of 50 people, those who are not keeping a list and contact information of everyone who attends an event, or hosting more than five guests gathered in a vacation accommodation, like an Airbnb.

“There is a small minority of selfish individuals across the province who are disregarding the public health measures in place,” Mike Farnworth, the province’s solicitor general and public safety minister said at a press conference on Friday. “There is no excuse to disregard the responsibility we share to keep each other safe in this pandemic.”

These “special constables” (including liquor, cannabis and gaming inspectors, community safety unit inspectors and conservation officers) can also issue $200 violation tickets to people who are not following the direction of police or enforcement officers at events or even at public settings like restaurants. A violation ticket of the same amount can also be given to anyone who is actively encouraging large gatherings or events.

“If you’re ignorant enough and stupid enough to encourage people to attend an event, and not to follow provincial health officer orders, then you’re setting yourself up for a fine,” Farnworth said. “Depending on what you do and how you do it, there may well be the potential of criminal charges that could follow from something like that.”

The province has indicated that if cases are “particularly egregious” or for repeat offenders, police can recommend charges that could lead to judicial penalties of up to $10,000.

He added that a point of major concern are people in B.C. who are having indoor gatherings in private residences, but these enforcement measures also include outdoor gatherings.

“If you’re hosting a large penthouse party, organizing a street gathering or drum circle on the beach, we will be watching,” Farnworth said.

Federal officials work to target young people with COVID-19 messaging

Federal officials are working on better ways to share COVID-19 information with younger Canadians who continue to make up an increasing percentage of virus cases in the country.

This comes after it was revealed that a 19-year-old in Quebec has died from COVID-19.

“If we don’t keep the rates in this population as low as possible even rare, serious outcomes could occur,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer said at a press conference on Friday.

“The loss of a child is a tragedy…my heart is with [the family], as a parent,” Patty Hajdu, Canada’s health minister said. “At the end of the day we also need the full participation of every Canadian in order to keep these rate of infection low.”

Deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, stressed it’s important to share public health measures on COVID-19 on platforms where young people are engaged, including various social media platforms.

“I’m pretty game for all sorts of things,” Dr. Tam said. “If people think I’m the kind of person that they would want to see on TikTok, absolutely.”

“I’ll also depend on my communications expert colleagues to tell me whether I’m the best person to be on TikTok in order for that to be actually successful. Dancing is probably not something that I would engage in, but who knows.”

Canada’s top doctors are reminding Canadians to not ignore routine in-person health appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic, including cancer screenings and dental care.

“Now is the perfect time to catch up on any appointment you may have missed,” Dr. Tam said.

Ontario 3M facility to begin producing 50 million N95 masks a year

The Ontario and federal governments have partnered with 3M Canada to expand its Brockville, Ont., facility to produce N95 masks.

Both levels of government are contributing $23.3 million and it’s expected that beginning in 2021, 50 million N95 masks will be produce each year, as part of this five-year agreement. The supply will be split evenly between the federal and provincial governments.

“Our health care workers have been on the front lines of our country’s fight against COVID-19 since the very beginning,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement. “While the virus remains a threat, we need to make sure these real-life heroes have the equipment they need.”

“This agreement with 3M Canada highlights the Government of Canada’s commitment to protecting those who are doing so much to keep their fellow Canadians healthy and safe.”

At a press conference on Friday, the prime minister was also asked why the federal government decided to announce the extension of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and new COVID-19 benefit programs just after proroguing parliament.

Trudeau maintained that the federal government needs to check in with parliament if its anticipating putting forward such an ambitious plan for COVID-19 recovery, which will be done after the throne speech in September.

August 20

COVID-19 questions of the day

B.C. won’t be testing asymptomatic people, even school staff

Dr. Réka Gustafson, British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer, maintained that testing of asymptomatic individuals is not effective, saying the test “does not perform well in that situation.”

Dr. Gustafson added that the province does not intend to implement testing of asymptomatic school staff, explaining that that test does not tell you a great deal of information if the individuals do not have symptoms.

These comments come as other jurisdictions, including Alberta and New Brunswick, have indicated asymptomatic testing will be available for school staff.

For anyone who has concerns about COVID-19 being airborne, B.C.’s deputy provincial health officer stressed that is not the case.

“The behaviour of this virus is now known,” Dr. Gustafson said. “It’s transmitted in situations with close proximity with others who are infected and that is not the feature…of a virus that is transmitted efficiently when airborne.”

B.C. health officials continue to caution the public of holding group gatherings or being in crowded settings, particularly when alcohol is involved, as those situations remain key locations for virus spread.

Alberta’s top doctor recommends families consider limiting their close contacts when school starts

At a press conference on Thursday Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said that although there are concerns about resuming in-person education in schools during the pandemic, “we must not simply focus on COVID-19 alone.”

“We know a great deal more about the virus now…we also know very clearly that measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID came with their own risks to health and wellness,” Dr. Hinshaw said.

She went on to stress that the public “must learn to live with this virus” and school is important to allow children to socialize, for food security and to provide relief from home stresses, like financial insecurity.

Dr. Hinshaw said parents and guardians need to have a “very low” threshold for keeping their children home for school and other activities. She recommends that families also consider limiting their personal cohort, or any close interactions with people outside their household, during the beginning weeks of school.

New Brunswick outlines plan to support medically vulnerable students

The New Brunswick government announced support for vulnerable students who may not be able to attend in-person classes. Student with existing medical conditions have been ask to consult with their existing healthcare provider to asses if it is safe for them to attend school next month

Parents and guardians should contact their school principle by Aug. 31 if their child cannot attend in-person education, in order to plan for at home learning. Educational support services teams will contact families between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4 to work on a personalized learning plan.

The province will also make COVID-19 testing available for school staff, even if they do not have any symptoms, if they are at all concerned about possibly having the virus.

“Providing regular testing for asymptomatic teachers and school staff will help to better identify and isolate cases in schools,” Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said in a statement.

Respiratory viruses won’t ‘take a break’ in the fall as COVID-19 persists

At a press conference on Thursday, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, cautioned that fall is respiratory virus season and there will be a challenges associated with “ruling out” COVID-19, because many flu and cold symptoms are very similar.

Dr. Williams stressed that parents in particular should be “proactive” and should not, under any circumstances, send their child to school if they have any symptoms associated with COVID-19, influenza or a cold.

He added that getting the flu shot will help to rule out influenza but other respiratory viruses won’t “take a break” in the fall.

With regards to any cases that appear in a school or workplace setting, Dr. Williams said the level of testing or self-isolation that will be required will be based on public health’s assessment of the level of transmission.

For example, public health may want to test or isolate a cohort classroom in a school, including the teacher, or test an entire workplace.

Federal government announces CERB extension, new COVID-19 benefit programs

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Chrystia Freeland, and the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough, announced the federal government will be extending the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) for an additional four weeks, for a total of 28 weeks.

Effective Sept. 27, the government will begin transitioning to the EI program, which would allow Canadians to access up to $500 per week.

Three additional benefits were also announced by the federal officials:

  • Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) for self-employed worker or people who do not quality for EI: $400 per week for up to 26 weeks

  • Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB): $500 per week for up to two weeks

  • Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB): $500 per week for up to 26 weeks per household

Qualtrough indicated the government intends to introduce legislation at the return of parliament to implement these new benefits.

MPP calls for COVID-19 testing of students, school staff

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the province will have “proactive” COVID-19 testing for schools, although few details have been revealed at the moment.

“We do have a plan for testing, proactive testing right across the board,” Ford said. “Nothing is more important right now than making sure we have a safe environment for the kids going back to school.”

These comments come after MPP Mitzie Hunter sent a letter to health minister Christine Elliott calling for students, families, and education staff in “high-risk areas” to be tested for COVID-19 prior to the reopening of schools, continuing into the beginning of the school year.

“I am deeply concerned about the safety of students and education workers in my riding of Scarborough-Guildwood, which remains a COVID-19 hotspot,” Hunter states in the open letter. “Toronto Public Health has identified nine public schools in my riding that are in the highest-risk areas for transmission of COVID-19.”

“Many of these schools are predominantly located in low-income areas, which as we know, are at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission with fewer options for self-isolation.”

Hunter added that local parents have also expressed concerns about students being able to practice physical distancing in classrooms.

“Parents across my riding have gotten in touch with me to express that there is little confidence in the government’s plan to keep their children safe,” the letter reads. “We must work together and do all we can to prevent a second wave, including taking proactive steps to keep schools safe.”

August 19

Ontario Premier sticks to consistent, repetitive message on back to school plan

At a transit announcement in Mississauga, Ont. on Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford stuck to his consistent messaging that the province’s back to school plan is “the safest plan in the entire country.”

When pressed on any considerations to reduce class sizes in elementary schools across the province, Ford maintained that school boards have the ability to dip into their reserve funds to hire more teachers and get access to additional instruction spaces, if they desire.

Ford was also asked about the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) proposing to make masks mandatory across all grades, opposed to just Grade 4 and up. The premier responded by saying he agrees with the recommendations from SickKids that younger students should not be required to wear masks but said he will “support” the TDSB.

“Keeping a mask on in JK or senior kindergarten might be difficult but we’ll support it,” Ford said. “It’s hard to keep the masks on them.”

Manitoba adds masking requirement in schools

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced at a press conference on Wednesday that students in Grade 4 to Grade 12 and school staff will be required to wear a mask if physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief medical officer of health, indicated the province will be supporting schools to acquire a supply of masks, but more information is expected to come in the near future, including funding for this specific measure.

The province also announced the launch of the #RestartMB Pandemic Response System, an online tool to provide localized COVID-19 information to Manitobans.

“Equipping Manitobans with the information they need to stay safe while restarting our economy will help ensure we are better prepared to navigate through the COVID challenges ahead,” Pallister said in a statement. “That is what our new Pandemic Response System is designed to do.”

There are four colour-coded response levels:

  • (Red) critical – community spread of COVID-19 is not contained and/or there are significant strains on the health-care system

  • (Orange) restricted – community transmission of COVID-19 is occurring, public health measures are being taken to manage the negative impact on human health and/or the health system

  • (Yellow) caution – community transmission of COVID-19 is at low levels

  • (Green) limited risk – the spread of COVID-19 is broadly contained and a vaccine and/or effective treatment is available

Dr. Roussin explained the province is beginning at the yellow response level, with low community transmission.

He explained that public health is looking at the average amount of community transmission in the community over a seven day period and if the numbers are over 40 on a “consistent basis,” that will indicate to public health that there is a significant amount of ongoing community transmission, and changes may need to be made.

“COVID’s not going away, not going away anytime soon, as much as we would like it to,” the premier said on Wednesday. “We all have to learn to live with this virus.”

“The more we learn, the more we act on what we learn, the safer we’ll all be.

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