Tam urges young Canadians to follow rules after disturbing trend in cases reveals age shift
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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 4,600 active cases of COVID-19 in Canada (with more than 121,000 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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 are extending the reciprocal restrictions at the Canada-US border for another 30 days, till Sept. 21, 2020. We will continue to do what’s necessary to keep our communities safe.
— Bill Blair (@BillBlair) August 14, 2020
“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.”
COVID-19 questions of the day
B.C. on an ‘upward trajectory’ of COVID-19 cases
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.”
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.
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.
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.’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.