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The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for April 30

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak from CBC News for Thursday, April 30.

 

The USNS Comfort hospital ship leaves New York City after the last patient aboard was discharged earlier this week. (Justin Heiman/Getty Images)

Questions about outdoor COVID-19 transmission risks grow as weather improves

As millions of Canadians eye the imminent arrival of better weather and feel the effects of six weeks stuck largely at home, some are wondering whether spending more time outdoors is a risk worth taking.

Research about the likelihood of outdoor transmission of the virus is virtually non-existent. While crowded outdoor spaces pose a clear risk of infection, there is little doubt that COVID-19 spreads far more easily indoors than outdoors. The competing priorities of urging people to stay at home to prevent infections and the mental health costs of spending too much time indoors, mixed with the unclear risks of outdoor transmission, have public health officials struggling to craft a clear and consistent message.

B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, told people in her province on Wednesday to go outdoors. "The risk [of catching the virus] would be infinitesimally small if somebody walks by you, runs by you — even if they are within six feet," she said. Her Ontario counterpart was less definitive; Dr. David Williams said it's important that people who go outside do so in ways that allow for physical distancing. "Don't go to places where you think everybody else is going to go. Don't go at hours when everybody else is going," he said.

While evidence about outdoor transmission of the virus is lacking, research "has consistently shown that transmission is strongly dependent on being in close proximity to a sick person for some period of time," the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health said. The centre, a Vancouver-based team of researchers funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, is sounding caution about the negative effects of limiting people's access to the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of making more outdoor space available, Toronto is lessening it by shutting its largest park starting today. The closure of High Park is to prevent crowds from gathering around groves of cherry trees to view their blossoms. Dr. Eileen De Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, has rejected calls that the city close downtown streets to traffic to free up more room for pedestrians, saying it could encourage people to congregate on the closed streets.

Click below to watch more from The National

Antibody testing can determine whether someone has had COVID-19 even if they didn’t have symptoms, and could shed more light on where outbreaks have occurred. 3:04

IN BRIEF

The stories behind the first 1,000 lives lost to COVID-19 in Canada

Across the country, thousands of Canadians are struggling with a lack of closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Physically prohibited from being with their loved ones in their final moments, they are saying goodbye on phones, screens or, in some cases, not at all.

The story of COVID-19 in Canada is more than a graph. Each of those data points represents a hole in the lives of a Canadian family who are now forced to mourn at a distance. For several weeks, a team of CBC journalists has been keeping track of those who died, trying to find out as much as we can about who these people were in an effort to tell their stories.

Unlike many other countries, Canada has an incomplete picture of the toll of COVID-19, writes CBC News editor in chief Brodie Fenlon​​​​. As part of the Lives Remembered project, CBC News is setting out to learn who is being disproportionately affected and to help everyone understand how to deal with this pandemic in the months ahead. If you would like your loved one's information included in our data set, please email covid-data@cbc.ca.

Read more stories from the Lives Remembered project

Did the WHO mishandle the global coronavirus pandemic?

The World Health Organization has come under fire for its response to the global coronavirus pandemic, with threats of funding cuts and investigations into its conduct. But experts say that while the WHO may have made some missteps in its handling of the crisis, the organization is only as powerful as its weakest link.

In 2005, the WHO's responsibilities increased with the adoption of the International Health Regulations (IHR), a legal agreement signed by all members that requires countries to report emerging disease outbreaks that are at risk of spreading worldwide. In doing so, experts say the WHO took on a more political role in juggling the domestic interests of its individual members with the interests of the rest of the world. "They have never performed well in that function — not once," said Amir Attaran, a professor in the faculties of law and school of epidemiology and public health at the University of Ottawa.

While the WHO considered an emergency declaration in January, Chinese officials acted swiftly to silence early informal releases of information from health-care workers sounding the alarm in Wuhan. "You never want to give bad news to your boss in China," said former Canadian ambassador to China David Mulroney. He said that highlights an inherent issue within the WHO: it can be "stonewalled" by a member country on the release of information — posing a "significant risk" at a critical time in an outbreak.

Read more about the WHO

Newfoundland and Labrador moves to ease COVID-19 restrictions

Effective today, Newfoundland and Labrador residents can expand their household bubbles under the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald unveiled the provincial government's five-stage plan for relaxing public health restrictions, including conditions that need to be met as the province progresses from present conditions — what it calls Level 5 — to living with COVID-19 — Level 1.

The government's alert system comes as the province marks the fourth straight day with no new COVID-19 cases. Effective today, Newfoundland and Labrador residents can expand their household "bubble" — the immediate group people live and interact with under public health restrictions — to one other household to interact with, provided the other household agrees. Each household can interact only with each other.

The provincial government has set May 11 as the target date for moving to Level 4, provided several conditions, are met, including widely available testing and capacity in the health system to handle the caseload. Should the conditions be met, Level 4 includes the relaxation of restrictions on low-risk outdoor recreational activities, low-risk non-essential businesses and the resumption of some medical procedures in regional health authorities. No target date has been set for Level 3 or lower.

Read more about Newfoundland and Labrador's plan

THE SCIENCE

How do we develop a vaccine if experts worry our antibodies aren't providing full immunity?

CBC News readers, viewers and listeners have sent in countless questions about the COVID-19 pandemic, including this one. If you have a question of your own, reach out at covid@cbc.ca.

As for the issue at hand: Right now, evidence strongly suggests the antibodies we are producing do indeed provide us with some sort of immunity, according to Matthew Miller, associate professor in the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University. "The real questions are for how long does that protection last," he said. "I think that's sort of a bigger issue."

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious diseases specialist at the University Health Network, agreed. "I believe we will make a vaccine for this and that the antibodies that people produce will very likely provide some level of protection. The question is how much protection and for how long." Bogoch said doctors and scientists are focusing on the lifespan of the antibodies because the coronavirus does in fact mutate. That means antibodies you created to fight off the virus the first time you are exposed may not be effective the next time.

But Miller added that antibodies aren't the only part of your immune system that protects you from the virus. "There are also these cells called T-cells and they can help provide protection as well," he said. "It's kind of a mixture of antibodies and T-cells that do the work for your immune system in order to protect it."

AND FINALLY...

Teachers in Steinbach, Man., surprise graduating students at their homes

With social isolation, teachers say they wanted to give the students a pick-me-up so the school organized the early morning surprise to celebrate the graduating class. 1:35

Grade 12 students from Steinbach Regional Secondary School in southeastern Manitoba woke up to a big surprise Wednesday, as some of their teachers showed up with lawn signs saying "congratulations."

With the school's normal graduation activities postponed for now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school organized the early morning gesture to celebrate the graduating class. "I think our grads need a pick-me-up. It's been tough work for them at home, being distanced from their friends and normal routine," said Sherry Bestvater, co-principal of the school.

The teachers started decorating their cars early in the morning with yellow ribbons and balloons and banners displaying the school's logo, the sabre, on them. Some teachers held signs that said "SRSS Grad 2020" while the parade of cars went down Main Street honking and cheering.

"[I] was not expecting that. It's really nice to know that our school is doing everything they can for all the grad students," student Parker Rempel said.

Read the full story about the teachers' surprise

Send us your questions

Still looking for more information on the outbreak? Read more about COVID-19's impact on life in Canada, or reach out to us at covid@cbc.ca.

If you have symptoms of the illness caused by the coronavirus, here's what to do in your part of the country.

For full coverage of how your province or territory is responding to COVID-19, visit your local CBC News site.

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With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters

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