The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for August 31
- U.S. coronavirus cases pass 6 million.
- Teachers unions to file labour board complaint over Ontario's school reopening plan.
- CRA's handling of COVID-19 benefit cyberattacks 'reprehensible,' alleges proposed class-action lawsuit.
- In scramble to reopen schools in a pandemic, concerns raised about after-school child care; after record number of cases Friday, where will B.C.'s COVID-19 numbers go today?
- Read more: Does your child have a sore throat? What being 'slightly sick' may mean once school starts.
Canada secures deals for up to 114M doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines from U.S. drug companies
Canada's federal government signed agreements with two U.S. drug companies to secure up to 114 million doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines under development. Maryland-based biotechnology company Novavax announced in a news release Monday that it had struck a deal to produce 76 million doses of a vaccine it is working on for the Canadian government, should the vaccine ever get Health Canada approval. Later in the day, Ottawa announced it has signed a separate deal with U.S. drug company Johnson & Johnson to secure up to 38 million doses of the company's potential vaccine, which is completely different from Novavax's.
The vaccines are two of dozens in development around the world, each of which targets the virus that causes COVID-19 in a different way. Novavax's vaccine is known as a "protein subunit" vaccine, which has the advantage of being manufactured faster than some other types of vaccine but generally doesn't produce as strong an immune response as some other potential options. Johnson & Johson's vaccine candidate is what's known as a non-replicating viral vector vaccine. For it, viruses that have been genetically engineered so they can't replicate and cause disease are injected into the body to provoke an immune response.
Novavax released promising results of a very small clinical trial earlier this month, which showed it produced higher levels of the antibodies in healthy volunteers after two doses than those found in recovered COVID-19 patients. The next phase of testing underway in the U.S. and Australia will include many more people. The company plans to start much larger late-stage clinical trials soon, and told Reuters last month that if all goes well, it expects it could obtain regulatory approvals as early as December. Novavax said Monday the vaccine, should it work and be safe, would be available to Canadians as early as the second quarter of 2021. A Phase 1 and 2 trial of Johnson and Johnson's vaccine, meanwhile, is underway in the U.S. and Belgium.
The deals with Novavax and Johnson & Johnson come on the heels of similar ones that the federal government has signed with other drug companies, including one for at least 20 million doses of a potential vaccine from Pfizer and up to 56 million from Moderna. While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are both RNA vaccines and thus function in a similar manner, they are completely different from the Novavax and Johnson & Johnson candidates, which means that Canada has potentially secured access to millions of vaccine doses that work in three completely distinct ways. Anita Anand, Canada's minister of public services and procurement, said Ottawa is also in the final stages of negotiations with drug firm AstraZeneca, which is working with Oxford University on a promising non-replicating viral vector vaccine.
"In the weeks and months ahead, our government will continue to take the steps needed to make sure Canada gets a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference this morning, during which he also announced $126 million to expand a bio-manufacturing facility in Montreal to produce drugs and vaccines to combat COVID-19 and other things. "Once a vaccine is proven to work, we'll also need to be able to produce and distribute it here at home."
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U.S. coronavirus cases pass 6 million
U.S. cases of the novel coronavirus passed six million on Monday as many states in the Midwest report increasing infections, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota have recently reported record one-day increases in new cases, while Montana and Idaho are seeing record numbers of currently hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Nationally, metrics on new cases, deaths, hospitalizations and the positivity rates of tests are all declining, but there are emerging hot spots in the Midwest.
Many of the new cases in Iowa are in the counties that are home to the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, which are holding some in-person classes. Colleges and universities around the country have seen outbreaks after students returned to campus, forcing some to switch to online-only learning. Across the Midwest, infections have also risen after an annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., drew more than 365,000 people from across the country from Aug. 7 to 16. The South Dakota health department said 88 cases have been traced to the rally.
More than eight months into the pandemic, the United States continues to struggle with testing. The number of people tested has fallen in recent weeks. Many health officials and at least 33 states have rejected the new COVID-19 testing guidance issued by the Trump administration last week that said those exposed to the virus and without symptoms may not need testing. Public health officials believe the United States needs to test more frequently to find asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers to slow the spread of the disease. The U.S. also has the most coronavirus-related deaths in the world at more than 183,000, followed by Brazil at 120,000 and India at 64,000.
Teachers unions to file labour board complaint over Ontario's school reopening plan
An escalating conflict between Ontario Premier Doug Ford's government and four major teachers unions is headed to the province's labour board as the unions allege Ontario's school reopening plan violates its own workplace safety laws. The unions — which represent 190,000 teachers and education workers in Ontario — said Monday morning that they all plan to file complaints after meetings with the provincial government failed to address their concerns last week.
The Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation all allege the school reopening plan does not take "every reasonable precaution" to protect workers from COVID-19. With the start of classes approaching quickly, the Ford government has faced increasing pressure over its COVID-19 pandemic back-to-school plan. The province's strategy will see students in kindergarten through Grade 8 return to school without any reduction in class sizes, although students will spend the day in a single cohort to limit contact with other children. Most high schoolers will also be in class full-time, though students at some boards across the province will take half their courses online in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Teachers unions, school boards and some parents say the province must lower elementary class sizes and fund the reduction instead of insisting boards dip into their own reserve funds to lease extra space or hire additional staff to promote physical distancing. Last week, the teachers unions asked the Ministry of Labour to issue a series of workplace orders to set safety standards in schools, setting a Friday deadline for the government. The unions said the Labour Ministry — which oversees workplaces in the province — should order standards that mandate 15 to 20 students per class to ensure a two-metre distance can be maintained between pupils. Ford said Monday that the province is putting "every idea possible" into Ontario's classrooms. "The teachers unions just want to fight; they want to fight with everyone," Ford said, adding he distinguishes between the unions and teachers themselves.
CRA's handling of COVID-19 benefit cyberattacks 'reprehensible,' proposed class-action lawsuit alleges
A proposed class-action lawsuit has been launched against the federal government on behalf of Canadians who applied online for COVID-19 emergency aid — only to have their personal and financial information stolen by hackers. The lawsuit alleges that a series of "failings" by the government and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) allowed at least three cyberattacks between mid-March and mid-August, but the public wasn't alerted until CBC News broke the story on Aug. 15. The Treasury Board and the CRA held a news briefing to confirm the security breaches Aug. 17.
The proposed class proceeding claims the delayed detection of the hacks caused the number of victims to balloon to at least 14,500. "The actions of the [CRA] are reprehensible," states the claim, "and showed a callous disregard for the rights of [victims]." It alleges the agency's conduct was "a deliberate ... departure from ordinary standards of decent behaviour, and as such merits punishment." The CRA has blamed "a vulnerability in security software" for the online breaches, and has said it wasn't aware of the first cyberattack until Aug. 7. The agency and the federal government have yet to file a legal response.
Most of the victims of the security breaches were applying for financial assistance under the Canadian emergency relief benefit (CERB) or the Canadian emergency student benefit (CESB), both of which pay recipients up to $2,000 a month. The legal action alleges the CERB and CESB were "implemented hastily," without adequate security measures. As a result, it claims hackers were able to steal the personal information of applicants and use the stolen data to impersonate victims, change addresses and direct deposit information and file fraudulent claims under the emergency programs. No date has been set for a hearing, and none of the allegations has been proven in court.
Can mouth shields replace cloth masks?
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As for the issue at hand: "I don't think they're a really good alternative at all," said Dr. Susy Hota, medical director for infection prevention and control at the University Health Network in Toronto. Mouth shields are plastic guards that cover the lower half of a person's face and are marketed for stopping the spit of food-service workers.
The purpose of wearing non-medical face coverings, according to public health officials, is to protect others from the droplets spewing from your mouth and nose. There is also evidence that non-medical masks may offer some protection for the wearer, too. But because mouth shields are not tight-fitting and are open at the top, there are "lots of opportunities for droplets to get in," Hota said. "I would avoid using them."
Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, also said he's "not a fan" because mouth shields don't collect droplets like a mask would. "Cloth masks actually get damp," Furness said in an email. "But I'm guessing [shields] don't have rivulets of water running down them, and that would be because the droplets aren't staying." Instead, he said, the droplets are just forced sideways around the shield. "Full face shields have the same problem."
Corner Brook, N.L., painter highlights pandemic productivity in portraits
Many people have had more time on their hands since the pandemic began, and it often comes with the pressure to be productive. It's a feeling Corner Brook, N.L., artist Michelle MacKinnon knows well, and one she turned into art. "I just started thinking about what it meant to be productive in this time. I found that I wasn't being super productive in the beginning, I wasn't really inspired to be working on anything at the time," MacKinnon said. "So one morning I kind of woke up and I just decided that I wanted to go back to the idea of something familiar, something comfortable."
MacKinnon reached out to other artists to be the subject of her portraits, asking them to submit a picture of their "pandemic state," along with a caption about their accomplishments during pandemic, no matter how mundane. She said some sent photos of things as mundane as cleaning out a tote bag, some were of people who had been laid off, and others were about people having their first child. "I really loved the different scale of significance that each artist told me about and how they interpreted the project," she said.
MacKinnon has completed more than 40 portraits of artists since the project began and said it's been a great experience to connect with other artists on a personal level. She said she has been getting great response from the public since posting the portraits on her Instagram page, with viewers often relating the captions to their own experiences through the pandemic. Others have told her seeing familiar faces on their social media through portraits has been comforting in times of isolation. "I've been a bit lonely in isolation, but it's kind of like having my friends pop up into my feed every day," MacKinnon said.
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With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters