The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for July 29
- Stigmatizing Hutterites about COVID-19 will harm response, Dr. Tam says.
- Medical experts, led by the Hospital for Sick Children, release new back-to-school recommendations for Ontario.
- Manitoba's spike in COVID-19 cases is cluster, not second wave, province's top doctor says.
- Most B.C. students to return to school full time in September, education minister says.
- Read more: The latest pandemic updates from around the world.
Toronto, Peel region cleared to move to Stage 3 of Ontario's COVID-19 recovery plan
Toronto and Peel region will move into Stage 3 of Ontario's COVID-19 recovery plan on Friday, the provincial Ministry of Health said this morning, as the province reported its fewest number of new cases since March 23. Windsor-Essex, the only other area of the province that is still in Stage 2, will not be permitted to proceed to the next phase at this point.
Stage 3 allows for activities such as indoor dining in restaurants, live performing arts shows and the reopening of movie theatres and playgrounds. It also permits larger gatherings of people, though social distancing requirements remain in place. In a news release, the Ontario government said the decision was made because of "positive local trends of key public health indicators" in Toronto and Peel, including consistently lower new daily cases, hospital capacity and an ability to contact trace confirmed cases of COVID-19. "We have made tremendous progress that allows us to return to something a little closer to our normal lives this summer, but we are not out of the woods yet," Ontario Premier Doug Ford said.
In a series of tweets this morning, provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott noted that just 76 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Ontario between 4 p.m. ET Monday and 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, the 24-hour timeframe the province uses in its daily reports. The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of the illness declined down to 91, the fewest since the province began reporting hospitalization figures on April 1. The number of those patients being treated in intensive care units and with ventilators also declined.
Toronto and Peel, Ontario's two most populous areas, have both seen steady declines in new daily cases over the last week. In this morning's provincial update, Peel confirmed four new infections of the novel coronavirus, while Toronto was listed as "-13," likely the result of double reporting of cases at some point this week. CBC News has reached out to the Ministry of Health for clarification. Despite the apparent progress in curbing the spread of the illness, Toronto Mayor John Tory has asked the province to implement additional measures that would be applied to bars, restaurants and indoor dining settings in the city.
Meanwhile, the province said it will continue to monitor trends in Windsor-Essex in the coming days and weeks. The areas of Kingsville and Leamington are still experiencing localized outbreaks among temporary farm workers who often live in cramped conditions. Two cities currently in Stage 3, Ottawa and Sudbury, have seen new cases of COVID-19 emerge in recent days, but Ford said Tuesday there are no plans to roll back the reopening in any areas.
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Stigmatizing Hutterites about COVID-19 will harm response, Dr. Tam says
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said discrimination against Hutterites will not help build trust as some colonies across the Prairies experience outbreaks of COVID-19. There are outbreaks in Hutterite colonies in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Nearly two dozen new cases were identified in Hutterite colonies in Saskatchewan on Monday. Premier Scott Moe described the outbreak as severe, but he pointed out that the increasing numbers show Hutterites are taking the right steps and getting tested.
Hutterites are communal, Anabaptist communities. There are about 50,000 members in more than 520 colonies in Canada and the United States. The Hutterite way of life can make colonies vulnerable to spread of the novel coronavirus since members eat, worship and do many other activities together. Many colonies have rapidly responded to COVID-19 outbreaks to keep themselves and neighbouring communities safe by mass producing masks or restricting travel in and out.
However, there have been increasing reports of Hutterites facing discrimination when they leave the colony. Members in all three provinces have shared stories of being denied service and turned away from stores. Outbreaks in Hutterite communities are complex, Tam said. The federal government is providing epidemiological support and is prepared to help with increased testing and rapid response teams if needed. Tam acknowledged that more work needs to be done in certain communities. "COVID-19 does not discriminate," she said on Tuesday. "So it's systems and society that discriminate and not the virus itself."
Medical experts release new back-to-school recommendations for Ontario
The Hospital for Sick Children released new proposed guidelines for reopening schools in Ontario come September, including recommendations like staggered lunch times, no large assemblies and mandatory masks for older students. The document, which was released today in collaboration with doctors from across the province, builds on COVID-19 recommendations the organization first released last month. It suggests various health and safety protocols for schools that take a student's age and developmental considerations into account.
The group says it is recommending the use of masks for high school students, with consideration for middle school students, whenever physical distancing can't be maintained. Around 61 per cent of the authors agreed masks shouldn't be required for elementary school kids. Most of the doctors also agreed that if community transmission is low, masking should not be mandatory for students returning to class. Dr. Sean Ari Bitnun, a physician at SickKids, further emphasized that one single measure wasn't going to mitigate things — success relies on the package. "If we're not focusing on any of the other recommendations, we are bound for disaster," he said. "It really is the bundle effect that is going to create a safe environment for teachers and students."
The document stresses that opening schools safely — and keeping them open — will be directly impacted by how the virus is spreading in the community. The recommendations reflect a mark of less than 200 new confirmed cases a day, and experts said that "may evolve" as the epidemiology of COVID-19 changes and new evidence emerges. "My view, and I think this is shared by the others, is maybe the most important thing is to have a robust system of testing and contact tracing," Bitnun said. "In other words, we should focus on, to paraphrase, putting out fires as they come up rather than shutting down everything based on a specific number." Ontario school boards have until Aug. 4 to submit their reopening plans to the provincial government for approval.
Manitoba's spike in COVID-19 cases is cluster, not second wave, province's top doctor says
The surge in new COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks in Manitoba is not a second wave of the pandemic, but it is a strong reminder the province is far from being in the clear, Manitoba's chief public health officer said. On July 13, there was one active case in the province after a 13-day streak of no cases. That all changed the following day, when five new cases were announced. Since then, Manitoba has had more than 80 new cases, one of which led to a death.
Despite the surge in cases, Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief provincial public health officer, said he does not classify it as a second wave. "We had a relatively short period with very low numbers, but this transmission is still ongoing around the world," he told CBC Manitoba's Information Radio host Marcy Markusa on Wednesday. "This is another cluster." Manitoba has been moving toward reopening its borders and economic activity, with Phase 4 kicking in last Saturday. At the time he announced the draft plan, Premier Brian Pallister said it was important to open things up in order to boost the economy and get people working again.
Roussin said it's not out of the question that restrictions could be tightened once again for all visitors if the case counts continue to rise. "It kind of goes without saying we've had to all be flexible and adjust to what we're seeing around us," Roussin said. The decision-making process has to consider both public health and the health of the economy because they're intertwined, he said, noting that it is "a complex situation." As more and more jurisdictions around Canada are mandating the use of masks, Roussin said Manitoba hasn't taken that step because that's another complicated balancing act. That said, he believes they will soon play a larger role in the province's road to recovery.
Health Canada authorizes drug remdesivir for severe COVID-19 cases
Health Canada has authorized, with conditions, the drug remdesivir for patients with severe COVID-19, although Canada's top doctor said the supply is limited. The drug — which will go by the brand name Veklury — is manufactured by Gilead Sciences Canada. On Tuesday, Health Canada announced the drug is now authorized for use in adults and adolescents age 12 and older, with a body weight of at least 40 kilograms. The company did not seek permission to use the drug to treat pregnant women or children under 12.
In April, a study run by the U.S. National Institutes of Health tested remdesivir versus usual care in 1,063 hospitalized coronavirus patients around the world. It found that the drug reduced the time it takes patients to recover by 31 per cent — 11 days on average versus 15 days for those just given usual care. But Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of Canada, warned that "the supply with this company is very low globally."
Remdesivir is administered intravenously and used only in health-care facilities where patients can be closely monitored. "It's not something people can go out and access by themselves," Tam said Tuesday during a news conference. Because the drug has been given an expedited review, the manufacturer will have to ensure the continued safety, efficacy and quality of the drug, a statement from Health Canada said.
North Bay, Ont., company develops pods to help people visit during the pandemic
Many Canadians likely haven't seen their friends or family members who live in long-term care homes or group settings in person since the start of the pandemic. Now, the head of a company in North Bay, Ont., said he's developed a safe way to visit those in care, without risking their health.
Louis Brown, the CEO of NorEnvironmental International, is in the process of testing his product, which is called a Visitor Pod. He describes the pod as a two-sided shelter with a clear plastic wall in between. "We've put in overpressured filtered air on the resident's side so that they are protected from anyone bringing anything in to them by being on the visitor's side, which is sealed," he said. "We minimize right off the bat any chance of spread. But then when we put the filter system in, it eliminates it."
He said the system doesn't require people to wear PPE or have a negative test, but the pods would have to be properly cleaned in between visits. Brown, whose company usually makes specialized shelters that can be set up by military and EMS in extreme situations, said they're working on setting up a "field trial" to test the product. "We know that the components all work," he said. "What we're trying to do is to make any changes to make it more ergonomic and have residents feel comfortable in it."
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With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters