Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for August 25

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for August 25th.
A transit rider waits to be cleared after getting a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up clinic in Victoria Park Station, in Toronto, on Aug. 24, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Many Canadian students to begin a 2nd straight academic years in masks

The Aug. 19 edition of this newsletter pointed out that despite mounting evidence that the more transmissible delta variant was driving up COVID-19 case numbers even with rising levels of vaccine uptake, mask mandates for schoolchildren next month were the exception rather than the rule.

At that time, Ontario and school boards in Calgary and Edmonton were the most notable to have gone further than a mere recommendation that masks be worn, mandating their use.

What a difference a few days makes. It now appears that a significant percentage of kids in Canadian elementary and secondary schools, if not most, will be required to mask up when they arrive for class this fall.

On Aug. 20, the Winnipeg School Division, River East Transcona School Division and Pembina Trails School Division independently announced their mask mandates for the upcoming school year.

This week, Quebec said it will require students in primary and secondary schools in nine regions, including Montreal and Laval, to wear masks at all times while indoors when they return to class in less than a week.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge on Tuesday characterized the measure as "preventive and prudent," and admitted the delta variant and the emergence of a fourth wave had thwarted the province's original plan to ditch masks in classrooms.

Last year at this time, the Saskatchewan government recommended masks in high traffic areas for grades 4-12. There is no provincial edict in effect this year, but it was learned this week that the public and Catholic school divisions in both Regina and Saskatoon are mandating indoor mask use in elementary schools and recommending masks be worn in high schools.

In his return to school letter, Regina Public School director of education Greg Enion cited "more than 15,000 children who will attend pre-kindergarten to grades 6 and 7 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated" as part of the rationale.

COVID-19 transmission has generally been lower in Atlantic Canada throughout the pandemic, but Nova Scotia's new administration said this week masks are to be worn in class at least to begin the new school year.

The B.C. government said Tuesday masks will be mandatory for school staff and students in Grade 4 and up come Sept. 7.

"[A mandate is] proportional to the risk. We know that schools are a safe setting, that the risk of transmission in the school settings is actually very low, even in the absence of vaccines last year," said Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

Dr. Anna Wolak, a family physician and member of the advocacy groups Mask4Canada, welcomed the development. She said that barring the development of further variants, Canada should aim for a 95 per cent vaccination rate for the entire population — including children.

"Until children can get vaccinated, I don't think we can look at removing masks any time soon."

While that appears to be a consensus view in terms of both masks and vaccines, it's far from an unanimous one worldwide.

A recent New York Magazine article questioned the amount of hard data and studies examining mask effectiveness in curbing transmission in schoolchildren, pointing to several European nations last year where students didn't wear masks, and where the resulting pediatric cases and illnesses were similar to North America, where most children did wear masks.

And on the subject of vaccinating the youngest of children, one high-profile researcher in Britain on Wednesday suggested to Sky News that protecting as many adults through vaccination as possible may be a better approach.

"If our aim is to reduce deaths and hospitalization, then booster jabs are what we should be prioritizing above vaccinating children because there are a limited supply of vaccines," said Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London. "But if we want to drive down cases, then we need to go into children."

From The National

B.C. announces vaccine passport amid COVID-19 spike

2 months ago
B.C. has followed Quebec's lead and will implement a vaccine passport system to access non-essential services. 2:43


New York's new governor adds 12,000 COVID-19 deaths to state's previous tally

Exactly one year ago, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was earning plaudits for his blunt but compassionate news conferences, during which he spoke at length about the seriousness of COVID-19 as infections ravaged his state earlier than others.

Cuomo was often looked upon favourably compared to then-president Donald Trump, whose coronavirus advice was often inconsistent and quixotic. The New York politician published last October titled American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

As first reported by the Associated Press last month, one of those lessons may have been to undercount the state's coronavirus death toll. The count used by Cuomo in his media briefings only included laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported through a state system that collects data from hospitals, nursing homes and adult-care facilities.

This week, his successor acknowledged that New York has had nearly 12,000 more deaths from COVID-19 than Cuomo told the public. New York is now reporting that nearly 55,400 people have died of COVID-19 in the state based on death certificate data submitted to the CDC, up from about 43,400 that Cuomo had reported to the public as of Monday, his last day in office.

"The public deserves a clear, honest picture of what's happening. And that's whether it's good or bad, they need to know the truth. And that's how we restore confidence," Gov. Kathy Hochul told NPR.

Cuomo resigned effective Monday in the face of an impeachment drive after being accused of sexually harassing at least 11 women, allegations he has disputed. He still faces the possibility of criminal charges in that scandal.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department began an investigation into the state's handling of data on nursing home deaths and the state attorney general is looking into whether Cuomo broke the law in using members of his staff to help write and promote his book about pandemic lessons learned, from which he stood to make more than $5 million US.

Read the full story

World roundup: Japan, Jamaica deal with pandemic strain, U.S. report on COVID-19 origins is anticipated

Japan expanded its coronavirus state of emergency on Wednesday for a second week in a row, adding eight more prefectures as a surge in infections fuelled by the delta variant strains the country's health-care system.

The government has faced criticism for holding this summer's Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics — the latter event is currently taking place — despite strong opposition from the public. Officials deny any direct link between the games and the spike in infections.

Japan's state of emergency relies on requirements for eateries to close at 8 p.m. and not serve alcohol, but the measures are increasingly defied. Unenforceable social distancing and teleworking requests for the public and their employers are also largely ignored due to growing complacency.

More than 35,000 patients in Tokyo are recovering at home, about one-third of them unable to find a hospital or hotel vacancies.

Pakistan on Wednesday reported 141 deaths from COVID-19, one of its highest tallies since May. According to Pakistan's National Command and Operations Center, more than 4,000 new coronavirus infections were also reported in the past 24 hours.

In the Americas, Jamaican officials are calling on doctors and nurses — including those who have retired — to help as the country deals with increasing strain from COVID-19 patients.

Jamaica is among a number of relatively small nations in the Americas dealing with rising cases, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). PAHO said on Wednesday that list includes Belize, Guatemala, the Grenadines and Honduras and that in Latin America and the Caribbean, just 23 per cent overall are fully vaccinated.

Beijing went on the offensive Wednesday ahead of the release of a U.S. intelligence report on the origins of the coronavirus, bringing out a senior official to accuse the United States of politicizing the issue by seeking to blame China.

Fu Cong, a Foreign Ministry director general, said at a briefing for foreign journalists that "scapegoating China cannot whitewash the U.S."

"If they want to baselessly accuse China, they better be prepared to accept the counterattack from China," he said.

China, the U.S. and the World Health Organization (WHO) are entangled in a feud that centres on whether the virus that causes COVID-19 could have leaked from a lab in the city of Wuhan, where the disease was first detected in late 2019.

A joint WHO-China report earlier this year concluded a lab leak was "extremely unlikely," and said the most likely scenario is that the virus jumped from bats to another animal that then infected humans.

U.S. President Joe Biden ordered a 90-day review by intelligence agencies of both theories. That time frame elapsed Tuesday, but the White House has said an unclassified version of the report should be available to the public and media in the coming days.

For more world coronavirus developments, you can follow here.

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With files from Reuters, The Canadian Press, The Associated Press