Ontario restrictions won’t be changing, Tam doesn’t want Canada to wait ’10 years’ for vaccine

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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 4,800 active cases of COVID-19 in Canada (with more than 125,000 diagnoses so far) and 9,000 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 1

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.”

August 18

Alberta’s top doctor urges the public to keep cases low to avoid ‘tidal wave’ of new cases

With COVID-19 cases continuing to increase in Alberta, with particular concerns around cases in Edmonton, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said it is difficult to determine what the pattern of a second wave might be and when it will officially begin.

“If we allow spread to continue unchecked, if we don’t collectively follow the public health guidance, then we could be seeing the beginning of an upward trend, which could move into a bigger wave,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “What we’ve seen, I will say, across the province over the past several weeks is more like a series of ripples across many areas of the province where case numbers go up and come down.”

“A second wave, a really big second wave, is not inevitable and the shape of what that wave looks like, whether it’s a ripple, whether it’s a high peak, is in our hands and collectively we can keep it at more of a low level rather than a tidal wave.”

As parents and students anticipate the return to school, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health indicated officials do have a specific threshold for when a school would have to be shutdown due to COVID-19 spread.

She explained it would depend on “when their symptoms started” and “when they have been at school.” Dr. Hinshaw said, for example, if a students was symptomatic and stayed home on Monday, and hadn’t been at school since Friday, there wouldn’t be a requirement to isolate the rest of their class.

“The simple fact of symptoms would not require those in the classroom to be in quarantine or isolation,” she said, adding that parents or guardians of that student would be encouraged to get them tested for the virus and if positive, public health would look into close contacts.

A sibling of a student with COVID-19 would also need to stay home but unless they were also confirmed positive for the virus as well, Dr. Hinshaw said the close school contacts of that student wouldn’t need to be isolated.

Quebec prepares for second wave of COVID-19

The Quebec government released its action plan for a possible second wave of COVID-19, with a focus on ensuring that seniors in long-term care and associated healthcare workers are prepared.

Some of the interventions include prohibiting the movement of workers in long-term care facilities, offering additional home support for seniors, building up supply of personal protective equipment and reduce the time for screening.

News plans and solutions need to be in place by Sept. 30.

The government also announced that $106 million will be provided to public health to hire 1,000 full-time employees and material resources.

‘The best plan in the country, bar none, end of story’

Ontario Premier Doug Ford continued the pattern of defending the province’s back to school plan, reiterating that it is “the best plan in the country, bar none, end of story.”

Ford maintained that the Ontario government followed the guidance from public health officials and Sick Kids hospital when devising the rules around bringing children back to school.

“It wasn’t the Doug Ford plan, it wasn’t the Stephen Lecce plan, it was a combination of all the people that we got advice off of,” the premier said. “I’m always going to listen to the doctors and I’m going to listen to the doctors over the teachers’ unions.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford has been a strong supporter of the work of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who will replace Bill Morneau as Minister of Finance for Justin Trudeau’s government. The Ontario premier congratulated her on her new position.

“There’s no secret, I think the world of Chrystia, I sent her a message this morning,” Ford said. “She was swamped as Deputy Prime Minister and if there was one person to have confidence in, it’s Chrystia Freeland.”

Canada’s top doctor comments on the safety of elections during COVID-19

In brief remarks on Tuesday, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, confirmed her department has not been engaged in discussions around the safety of holding elections, following New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs calling an election for Sept. 14.

Dr. Tam said there has been guidance on public health measures and recommendations around physical distancing, mask wearing indoors and hand hygiene that “all have to be in place” in these circumstances. She added that it may be prudent to explore technological advancements around elections.

As younger people continue to account for a large percentage of COVID-19 cases, Canada’s chief public health officer said a lot of thought is being put into how to communicate pandemic messaging to this age group.

“I think we can all do better,” Dr. Tam said, adding that new youth testimonials on COVID-19 have recently be launched.

“I think it’s really important to engage the input from young persons,” she said. “These are the people with the lived experience and that their ideas and innovation is going to be really critical.”

August 17

British Columbia changes rules on mask wearing in schools

The British Columbia government provided updated guidelines that require masks to be worn by staff, middle and secondary students in high traffic school-related areas. This includes buses, hallways, or anytime students are outside of their learning group and physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Exceptions will be made for those who are not able to wear a mask for medical reasons.

At a press conference on Monday, B.C.’s Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, said although school safety is top of mind for many in the province, a particular concern for health officials is the number of private, indoor gatherings in B.C.

“This pandemic is not ending soon,” Dix said. “This pandemic that we’re all tired of, so very tired of, will be going on now, we will expect, well through 2021 into 2022.”

“This new normal’s going to be in place for a long time…We cannot let a few wreck it for everybody else.”

He added that the province needs “buy in” from the public to prevent these high risk situations from happening but suggested that the province is also looking at how to better enforce the public health measures in place.

Dr. Réka Gustafson, B.C.’s deputy provincial health officer, said the province has only seen one public exposure that was exclusively an outdoor event. She added that most of the COVID-19 transmission in the province has been in closed environments with prolonged contact.

Ontario government pressed on negotiations with the province’s largest school board

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, faced several questions at a press conference on Monday about the provincial back to school plan, with a focus on discussions with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB).

This comes after the Ontario government rejected the school board’s proposal for the upcoming school year, which included a reduction in class sizes in elementary school (between 15 and 20 students per class) and shortening the 300-minute instruction time by 48 minutes to give teachers preparation time at the end of each school day.

Further discussion between the province and the TDSB leaders is scheduled for Tuesday.

“Our plan has been pretty solid throughout this whole pandemic,” Ford said. “We have been flexible.”

Minister Lecce said the province has had constructive discussions with the Toronto school board but stressed that the government plans to prioritize giving all students as much time in front of a teacher as possible.

The premier also called out the teachers’ unions for not being flexible with their demands. Unions have been calling for a number of additional considerations by the province, including smaller classes sizes and cohorts, a stronger masking policy and additional safeguards on buses.

“The Direction does not meet basic and essential health and safety requirements and exposes our members to risks that threaten not just their own health and lives, but also, at a minimum, the health and lives of their students, and their family members,” a letter from the province’s four biggest teachers’ unions to the Ontario government reads. “The safety of students cannot be separated from the safety of teachers and education workers in this context.”

“They constantly want to attack,” Ford said. “Why don’t you be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.”

“The teachers union, they wanted HVAC, we went out, we gave them HVAC. They wanted more sanitation, we went out, we gave them more sanitization. They wanted more access to the reserves from the boards, we went out and we gave them more on the reserves…Everything you’ve asked, we’ve changed it.”

With negotiations still in flux with the province’s largest school board, Lecce reiterated his previous statement that the government is open to the possibility of staggering the start of school “by a few days” but he didn’t provide any additional comment on the possibility of delaying the start of the school year further.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, also commented on the province’s back to school plan on Monday. She indicated there is “never any situation with absolutely zero risk” and the existing health protocols, like physical distancing and individuals staying home if they are at all symptomatic, are even more important when school resumes.

“Reopening schools is something that we know is very important, paediatricians have very strongly recommended it in terms of the mental and social health, as well as learning for children,” Dr. Yaffe said. “What we’re looking at is implementing public health measures to mitigate the risk and then, if there is a case, to make sure it’s dealt with as quickly as possible to reduce spread.”

Saskatchewan pushes back school start date

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced the province will be pushing the start of the 2020-21 school year to Sept. 8, after it was previously set between Sept. 1 and Sept. 3.

“This extra time will provide teachers and staff two to four additional days to be in the schools to get training on the new protocols, properly reconfigure classrooms, and where possible hold virtual meetings with parents to discuss the new school procedures,” the statement from the province reads.

The Saskatchewan government also announced it will allocate $40 million from the $200-million provincial COVID-19 contingency fund for the education sector, which will support the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation supplies, and enhancing distance learning options.

The province will be increasing its testing capacity to 4,000 tests by the beginning of September, in advance of the school restart. Saskatchewan officials are encouraging teachers and staff to get tested for COVID-19 before school resumes and throughout the school year.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said although he anticipates the “occasional” COVID-19 case in a student or school staff member, it should not always be a cause of concern.

“COVID travels from the community to schools,” Dr. Shahab said at a press conference on Monday, adding that it is “important to keep community transmission low.”

He said that as cough and cold season arrives, testing is important but he expects that “nine times out of ten” it won’t be COVID-19.

Ontario NDP leader calls out Ford’s ‘bargain basement scheme’ for the province’s back to school plan

On Monday morning, Ontario NDP Leader Andrew Horwath brought a school bus to Queen’s Park, with cardboard cutouts of students, to demonstrate how crowded children will be in these settings.

While taking questions from reporters, Horwath indicated that some school buses in the province are carrying three children per seat with more than 70 kids on one bus.

The provincial NDP leader stressed that there were concerns about overcrowding in classrooms before the COVID-19 pandemic, criticizing the Ontario government for not stepping up to allow for smaller classes and fewer students on buses. She said the province should be facilitating the hiring of more teachers and school staff, adding bus routes and sourcing additional spaces for instruction.

“What parents really wanted was a secure return to school five days a week where they know their kids are going to be safe,” Horwath said. “Unfortunately, Mr. Ford’s bargain basement scheme doesn’t do that at all.”

“You should have been on this and now, three weeks ahead of school, parents are trying to make decisions about what to do and…some folks are saying, if school’s not going to open on time then we need more options, we need child care options, we need supports if you’re going to expect us to stay home.”

Horwath also accused Doug Ford’s government of trying to resume in-class learning “on the cheap” when more provincial funding is necessary for a safe return to school.

“The idea that boards of education can dip into their reserve to try to close the gap that should have been funded by the provincial government is simply the wrong thing to do,” the provincial NDP leader said. “It’s just not good enough that the boards are expected to draw from the reserves opposed to the government of Ontario doing its job, which is to fund the safe return of school for all of our kids, including their transportation needs as well.”

Quebec government announces additional funding for schools, teachers

The Quebec government announced Monday that it will invest $20 million for additional education support, including hiring more teachers and tutors.

This investment is also set to provide more assistance to students with learning disabilities or learning difficulties.

At a press conference on Monday, Quebec’s Minister of Education, Jean-François Roberge, recognized that keeping children out of the school setting for three months can “create some gaps,” which these additional resources will help fill.

Roberge was also asked about reports that Montreal lawyer Julius Grey plans to file a lawsuit in Superior Court to challenge the province’s order that all children must return to in-class learning when school resumes in Quebec, or parents have to choose to homeschool their children. Grey argues this contravenes the charter of rights and freedoms.

“In Quebec, going to school is mandatory from six to sixteen,” the education minister said. “Parents have the choice to opt for homeschooling if they want to do so.”

He went on to suggest that if there are particularly difficulties related to COVID-19 infections, the province would provide assistance to help students learn at home but the best place for children to be is in school.

August 14

Ontario expands capacity limits at fitness facilities

The Ontario government announced that beginning on Aug. 15, sport, fitness and recreation facilities can expand their capacity to 50 people for each indoor sport or fitness room, with physical distancing of at least two metres.

The new capacity limits apply to gymnasiums, health clubs, community centres, multi-purpose facilities, arenas, exercise studios, yoga and dance studios and other fitness facilities that are able to follow the new rules.

“Many of our gyms and fitness centres are owned and operated by small business owners and they are struggling,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement. “To help them get back on their feet and hire back staff, we are making these changes so they can serve more people.”

“I continue to urge everyone to follow the strict public health protocols to ensure everyone can have a safe workout.”

The provincial government is also investing $8 million through the Ontario Amateur Sport Fund to help the province’s sports organizations.

“This funding is providing much-needed stability and support to a sector that provides services to many businesses and non-profit organizations,” Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries said in a statement. “With these changes and investments, we will once again show the world that Ontario is the best place to play sports.”

‘Give us a break, just a little bit of a break’

Premier Ford was asked at Friday’s press conference to comment on hundreds of people in Hamilton receiving tickets from local police for drinking in park during the COVID-19, after some health experts have indicated that during the pandemic this is safer than being in enclosed spaces like bars or house parties.

The premier said he understands that some people need more breathing room, particularly people who live in smaller apartments with limited or no outside space.

“I can’t agree with giving someone a ticket during COVID,” Ford said. “Gives us a break, just a little bit of a break…who cares, if you aren’t rowdy.”

“They’re making it legal to go out and smoke a joint, a doobie, a reefer whatever the heck they call it nowadays. I wouldn’t want my kids walking by a bunch of guys smoking cannabis or marijuana but if a couple of guys are sitting there quietly on a picnic bench having a cold little beer, who cares. It’s not a big deal, that’s just my personal opinion.”

The premier also commented on the recent potential exposure impacting about 550 who were at the Brass Rail Tavern strip club in Toronto between Aug. 4 and Aug. 9, after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.

“It’s about follow up and we’re going to show how contact tracing works,” Ford said. “Practise social distancing, I know it sounds crazy…when you’re talking about the Brass Rail but you’ve just got to do it.”

“I feel sorry for the people when they go to their house and tell them that they were at the Brass Rail, that’s who I feel sorry for, I feel sorry for the spouse, seriously. Man, I wouldn’t want to be on the end of that one.”

Ford added that all businesses need to follow the public health protocols in place and said everyone who was exposed has to get tested.

Education minister ‘open to working with boards’ on staggered school restart

At a press conference on Friday, Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, confirmed that a memo has been sent to provincial school boards advising them that based on their request, they will have the flexibility to stagger the resumption of in-class learning throughout the first week of the school year.

This can include, for example, brining younger students back to school on the first day and resuming classes for older student in the school on the last day of the week.

Lecce went on to say that he is “open to working with boards” if they believe more time is needed to safely restart all classes, beyond the first week.

“If they believe it’s really important to take a few extra days to restart the school year, stagger the start to reduce the volume of kids coming into those schools, I’m going to work with them in the partnership of keeping the kids safe,” he said.

Federal officials planning for ‘worst-case scenario’ in the fall

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

By Aug. 23, Canada could see up to 127,740 cumulative COVID-19 cases and up to 9,115 cumulative deaths across the country, according to the latest modelling data.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, and deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, presented the national information at a press conference on Friday and stressed that it is “difficult” to predict future spread of the virus with many recent cases based on localized outbreaks and hotspots of community transmission.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Dr. Tam indicated that maintaining a combination of public health measures will be “essential” to keeping cases low, particularly as schools reopen and more businesses resume operations.

“Right now, I think on a whole we are on that slow burn kind of trajectory but it doesn’t take much for things to escalate,” she said. “Can always do better, I have to say.”

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Canada’s chief public health officer said that until there is a safe and effective vaccine, COVID-19 cases will still be seen but the goal is to keep spread low, maintaining a relatively “slow burn” to keep the virus under control.

Dr. Tam added that it is still prudent to plan for a “worst case scenario,” which could include a large fall peak, followed by ongoing peaks and valleys, which exceed Canada’s health care capacity.

“The take home message is that the fate is still within our hands and what we do now will influence the probability of the fall peak,” she said, adding that Canada’s health officials are also planning for the convergence of other respiratory viruses that will likely circulate in the fall, including influenza.

“We don’t know the seasonality of this virus. It’s continued throughout the summer, that’s for sure, but what if it demonstrates a certain type of acceleration under certain conditions … The other aspect of planning for the influenza season is also making sure that capacity isn’t being half taken up by influenza-related hospitalizations, for example.”

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

The effective reproductive number in Canada, how many people are infected by each case of COVID-19, has recently pushed up above one this month. Dr. Tam indicated this number needs “remain consistently below one” but explained that this metric may be a “less clear” signal of the trend of the virus when national infection rates remain relatively low.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Staying in line with what many local jurisdictions have been reporting, the latest federal data shows that Canadians between the ages of 20 and 39 reported the highest incidence of COVID-19 recently.

Although this age group generally does not have severe illness from the virus, they are not entirely immune to critical outcomes.

“Transmission in any age group builds a reservoir for the virus that threatens our ability to maintain epidemic control,” Dr. Tam said.

Public Health Agency of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada

Recent trends in the past couple of weeks shows an increase in transmission and localized outbreaks in several jurisdictions with previously low levels of spread, including B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Dr. Tam said this is a reminder that all Canadians across the country need to remain vigilant and follow existing public health measures.

Canada-U.S. border restrictions extended

Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, has confirmed that existing restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border will be in place for another 30 days, until Sept. 21.

“We will continue to do what’s necessary to keep our communities said,” Blair wrote in a tweet on Friday morning.

The existing rules prohibit all non-essential travel between the two countries.

Canada provides ‘pathway’ to permanent residency for asylum claimants on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic

The Canadian government announced it is providing a “pathway” to permanent residency for some asylum claimants working in the health care during the pandemic.

These individuals must provide direct care to patients and Quebec will select the qualifying asylum claimants who wish to reside in the province.

“Canada is above all else a nation where we all look out for one another,” Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said at a press conference on Friday. “A place where people seek to recognize those who put others first, even if that invites personal risk, even if no one asked to help them out, even if they did so simply because they felt it was the right thing to do.”

The following criteria must be met to successfully apply:

  • Individuals must have claimed asylum before March 13.

  • Individuals were issued a work permit after they made a claim for asylum.

  • Claimants must have worked in health institutions (ex. hospitals, long-term care homes, home care through an organization or agency, assisted living facilities) for no less than 120 hours between March 13 and Aug. 14 in occupations such as orderlies, nurses, nurses’ aides and patient service associates, assistant orderlies and certain home support workers.

  • Individuals must demonstrate six months of experience in the designated occupation before being granted permanent residence and will have until Aug. 31, 2021 to get this experience.

  • They must have a Certificat de sélection du Québec (CSQ), if wishing to reside in Quebec.

  • All individuals must meet existing admissibility requirements, including those related to criminality, security and health.

Family members of the principal applicant who are in Canada would be included in the application for permanent residency, but anyone who has been found ineligible to make an asylum claim, or anyone who has withdrawn or abandoned their claims, is excluded.

Nova Scotia implements mandatory masking in schools

The Nova Scotia government announced that students in Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear a mask in schools, including in hallways and common areas if a physical distance of two metres cannot be maintained. There is an exception in classroom settings when students are facing in the same direction, seated at desks that are two metres apart.

“We know that social distancing is not always physically possible but schools have been asked to be creative and innovative to maximize opportunities for spacing,” Zach Churchill, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Education, said at a press conference on Friday.

Churchill explained that students and staff will receive two free cloth face masks, and disposable masks will also be available if students forget or lose their face mask during the school day.

“We need this to work for all of us and we can do that by continuing [to work] together,” the education minister said.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, called for parents to work as a family to make their children more comfortable wearing a mask, including teaching them how to take a mask off and put a mask on safely.

If there is a COVID-19 case identified in a school, Dr. Strang indicated local public health officials will “quickly” work to identify and test close contacts, beginning with the people in that classroom cohort. He said anyone who tests positive will quarantine at home for at least 14 days and people identified as close contacts will also self-isolate for 14 day.

“I fully expect that we will get COVID cases in a school, but that doesn’t mean that what we’ve got in place has not worked,” Dr. Strang said. “Our goal is to keep our COVID cases low and if we follow the practices that worked in the first wave, and that have worked in the past to protect our school communities from other communicable diseases, we’ll be able to maintain appropriate levels of safety.”

August 13

COVID-19 questions of the day

B.C. on an ‘upward trajectory’ of COVID-19 cases

B.C. Ministry of Health
B.C. Ministry of Health

New COVID-19 modelling data released by officials in British Columbia shows the province is on an “upward trajectory” in COVID-19 cases, which the province’s top doctor says is “concerning” but it is still possible to change the pattern.

“It’s not a predictive model,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer said. “It doesn’t tell us what’s going to happen it tells us what can happen.”

B.C. Ministry of Health
B.C. Ministry of Health

The reproductive numbers in the province have been “bouncing around,” but Dr. Henry wants to see the number “hovering around one” or below one, while it has increase to around two in August.

B.C. Ministry of Health
B.C. Ministry of Health

The latest data shows that a larger proportion of more recent cases are in younger people.

B.C.’s provincial health officer said hotspots for spread in this age group includes bars, social events and other private gatherings.

B.C. Ministry of Health
B.C. Ministry of Health

The province also released information on how COVID-19 has impacted people of different racial and ethnic background differently.

“What this shows all of us is that this pandemic has created incredible uncertainty, anxiety and many challenges, but the challenges have not been shared equally,” Dr. Henry said. “We know it has differentially impacted those of lower economic status, people in racialized communities and we now have to look at how we can support communities across B.C.”

B.C. Ministry of Health
B.C. Ministry of Health

B.C.’s provincial health officer added that the virus has been “quite stealthy” with many only ever experiencing mild symptoms but she indicated there is no evidence that this is because the virus has mutated.

“It does change, it mutates, but relatively slowly compared to some other viruses like influenza,” Dr. Henry said. “It means that immunity is likely to last for a longer period of time, it also means that the chances of a vaccine being effective for a longer period of time and in a broader population is slightly more likely.”

Ontario’s top doctor backs plan for return to school, Lecce offers more cash

Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, said school boards in the province will be able to access reserve funds for the upcoming school year to invest in more staff and to be able put additional physical distancing measures in place, which frees up about $500 million with the province providing support to school boards without reserve funds.

Lecce announced that $50 million will be provided to update ventilation systems in schools and $18 million will support online learning.

The education minister said students whose parents or guardians choose the online learning model for the upcoming school year will receive 75 per cent of their instruction through live, synchronized learning.

When asked about the possibility of school boards staggering the start of school for various grades, Lecce suggested that is something he would support.

“I’m going to support any concept to de-risk the circumstance for kids and that seems reasonable, and not outside the spirit of our plan, which is to get kids back to school at the beginning of September,” the education minister said.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, maintained that Ontario’s back to school plan is safe, despite calls from the teachers unions that it puts the health of both students and teachers at risk.

“When we were rapidly increasing in cases back in March, without being asked, I was concerned and recommended that…we keep the school closed because I didn’t feel with that amount of community transmission that we could ensure the safety in the schools,” Dr. Williams said. “If there was that concern now I would not recommend opening at this stage but I am recommending opening.”

More details on back-to-school measures in New Brunswick

The New Brunswick government released additional guidance on its plan for the resumption of school in September.

All students must bring a face mask to school but they do not need to be worn in classroom settings. Students in Grades 6-12 must wear a face mask on school buses and common areas, while the use of a face mask is “encouraged” for students in Kindergarten to Grade 5.

“In the event that a student becomes ill at any point during the school day…they’ll be required to wear the mask at that point, until their parents or guardians arrive to take them home,” Dominic Cardy, New Brunswick’s Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development said at a press conference on Thursday.

Teachers in Kindergarten to Grade 8 can choose to wear a face mask or a shield, while teachers of higher grades will wear a face mask or shield whenever they are not able to physically distance.

Curtains will be installed as a “physical barrier” between school bus drivers and students, and bus drivers will be required to wear a face mask or shield if physical distancing cannot be maintained.

Students must sit in the same seat on school buses each day, with one child per seat or members of the same household. Students in Grade 6 to 12 can sit two to a seat with face masks.

The provincial government outlined that parents will be responsible for screening their children for COVID-19 symptoms, while educators “will teach students age-appropriate ways to reduce physical contact and promote good hygiene.”

Hand sanitizing stations will be installed in school entrances and in all classrooms, with enhanced cleaning of high-touch surfaces, personal spaces and changing rooms at schools.

Flu shot changes, ‘You need to keep doing well,’ Ontario doctors say

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, is asking people in the province to “be more vigilant” with personal protection, social circles and cohorts, particularly as school is weeks away from resuming.

“You’re doing great, you need to keep doing well,” Dr. Williams said, adding that Ontarians need to be “even better” when students go back to in-class learning.

In terms of the upcoming flu vaccine, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said the province is planning for “wider distribution” this year and plans to order more supply, with particular attention given to residents of long-term care and seniors residences, people over the age of 65 and Ontarians with existing medical conditions.

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