Tag Archives: holidays

Quebec wants travellers returning from holidays abroad to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding planes

Travellers planning to return home to Quebec after holidaying abroad should face strict measures, including being tested for COVID-19 before hopping on a flight home and once again upon their arrival, the provincial health minister announced today.

This comes after Quebec recorded 2,381 new cases on Tuesday, along with 64 new deaths.

Saying the situation in Quebec hospitals is “critical,” particularly in the Montreal area, Christian Dubé announced he is asking the federal government for a series of measures to prevent travellers from spreading COVID-19 after returning to Quebec. They inlcude:

  • People returning to Quebec should be tested for COVID-19 before boarding their flight and not be allowed on a plane if they test positive for the virus.

  • Travellers should be subjected to rapid testing upon their arrival at international airports, such as Jean Lesage in Quebec City and Pierre Elliott Trudeau in Montreal. 

  • Dubé has also asked the federal government to tighten the enforcement of quarantine measures for travellers who have returned.

Dubé said Quebec and Ottawa “agree on these measures,” but that they are in negotiation about a timeline for implementing them. 

“If it was up to me, we would do it as of tomorrow morning,” the health minister said. “But we are in discussion with the federal government and we will continue those discussions over the next few hours.”

WATCH | Why Quebec’s health minister wants Ottawa to apply stricter rules for travellers:

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé is asking the federal government to ramp up measures for travelers returning to Canada. 1:21

Dubé said the new rules are necessary to avoid the surge in cases that occurred last spring in Quebec, where spring-break travellers brought the coronavirus home from abroad and Quebec experienced the worst caseloads in the country.

“The images we’ve seen of travellers down south are shocking for everybody, especially for those following the rules and the health-care workers,” Dubé said. “We have to remember what’s happening here.”

Dubé was referring to photos on social media of maskless Quebecers dining out, dancing and drinking in close proximity to other people at resorts.

Last Thursday, the Institut national d’excellence en santé et services sociaux (INESSS) published projections about hospital needs, indicating that Quebec hospitals could run out of beds by mid-January.

 “We will go beyond our capacity and half of the designated beds are already taken up,” Dubé said. “We have to remember why we are making these sacrifices.” 

The risks of travel

Dubé warned the costs of contracting COVID-19 while abroad — or of breaking rules here — could be very steep.

He said Quebecers who test positive for COVID-19 at a foreign airport will have to find hotels to stay in and pay the cost themselves before they can return home.

He also said Quebec has no intention of going beyond standard reimbursement for health care abroad, and that travellers will have to hope their private travel insurance covers any hospitalization or medical care because RAMQ coverage is “minimal.”

The health minister also reminded Quebecers that the fines for disobeying quarantine rules once back in Canada range from $ 800 to $ 750,000.

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CBC | Health News

When feeling lonely and unhappy veers into depression: challenges of these pandemic holidays

Despite all the bright cartoon specials and joy-infused music that pervades this time of the year, it is a well-established fact that not everyone feels like celebrating when the holidays roll around.

This year, added stress from the second wave of the pandemic is making day-to-day life even more difficult. If you’ve been feeling more down lately, you are not alone.

A national survey released earlier this month found that the recent surge in COVID-19 cases has made people more stressed and feeling greater levels of despair and hopelessness. 

Nearly three-quarters of the Canadian population (71 per cent) reported feeling more worried about this coming second wave of the pandemic back in September, with 40 per cent reporting their mental health had deteriorated since March. 

Add to that mix the fact that people can’t gather for the holidays as they might want — and the cold, dark days — and it’s all a bit of a recipe for tough weeks ahead.

Christmastime can be particularly tough for people who are alone or feeling isolated this year because of pandemic-related restrictions. (Zivica Kerkez/Shutterstock)

“People find the winter to be a challenge under the best circumstances,” said Emily Jenkins, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s nursing school and lead researcher on the survey. 

And so I could imagine that where those kind of pre-existing challenges with the season [exist] alongside the very tight restrictions that we’re all going to be living through this holiday season, that it’s going to have an impact on mental health.”

CBC’s The National asked Canadians to send in their specific concerns and questions about the upcoming pandemic holidays and two psychiatrists offered some advice.

Helping young children

Shannon Barner of Edmonton wanted to know about talking to her elementary school-aged children, who are asking about doing “normal” holiday activities like seeing their cousins and grandparents. 

“Is there a professional response or something more that we could be providing for the kids? Should we be providing more than just a simple ‘No, because of COVID’ answer?”

Talking to kids about this very different holiday season can benefit from some good solid information and a little optimism, says Dr. Shimi Kang. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

Dr. Shimi Kang, a psychiatrist and author from Vancouver, recommends using a mix of “truth and optimism.”

“We don’t want to sugar-coat things, but we want to give them age-appropriate truth,” she said. “The brain likes information. It gets scared of the unknown.” 

She recommends explaining why people are physically distanced and how the virus is contagious. But an important addition to the answer, she said, is something positive.

“Talk about, ‘We’re still going to have a great holiday season, we’re going to drop off gifts or do a choir on Zoom with grandparents.’ End with that tone of optimism. The brain loves that.”

WATCH | Dr. Kang’s full answer about talking to children about this different holiday:

Psychiatrist Dr. Shimi Kang offered ideas for how parents can answer their kids’ questions about why they can’t see cousins or grandparents or do all the ‘normal’ holiday things this year. 0:42

Tough times for older kids, too

Your older kids may be feeling more stressed and anxious, too. It’s been an upside-down kind of year for those who were supposed to be off at college or university, only to have spent most of their time home or in a dorm room, alone, attending classes online. 

Chloe Champion in Halifax wanted some advice for dealing with that feeling of isolation. 

That’s been a growing concern for doctors like Dr. David Gratzer, a psychiatrist at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. 

A recent CAMH study found about one in four Canadians say they are turning to binge drinking to cope. He stresses that especially right now, using substances in moderation is important. 

It’s also important for us to find other ways of coping with this isolation and loneliness that we’re all feeling, he said. “Obviously, it’s going to be different than it usually is. We’re not popping by our parents’ place for a cup of coffee. But maybe we can reach out with Skype or FaceTime or WeChat.”

Even a traditional phone call can go a long way, Gratzer says.

WATCH | Dr. Gratzer on the importance of maintaining connections with people:

Psychiatrist Dr. David Gratzer says the key to coping with feelings of isolation is establishing connections and he had some suggestions for how to do that. 1:03

Not just sad, but depressed

The reality, though, is that not everyone has someone to call. One viewer asked how you can tell when feeling lonely and unhappy has veered into depression?

“Go deeper,” suggested Kang. In relationships, try for more vulnerability, more jokes and more laughs.

She said loneliness can actually have toxic effects, such as reducing our immune system, and has been linked to early death.

“If there are symptoms of depression that lasts more than two weeks — which is a low mood plus disturbed sleep, difficulty with your focus, concentration and lack of interest, motivation, anxiety, panic or any suicidal thoughts — we definitely want to get some help,” she said. 

Jenkins’s data has suggested people experiencing mild to moderate stress, anxiety or depression are not seeking out mental health support, mostly because they are unaware that help exists. 

“The Canadian Mental Health Association has the Bounce Back program that’s now available nationally,” she said. “The federal government has Wellness Together Canada, which is another mental health support resources available online free of charge, available to people … in their own homes.”

The number of people experiencing suicidal thoughts has also increased since March. In September, a full 10 per cent of respondents to the UBC survey reported experiencing suicidal thoughts in the previous two weeks — way up from the 2.5 per cent reporting having such thoughts in the previous year, prior to the pandemic.

“Not that it necessarily translates to suicide, but indicates that there’s a very significant level of distress among a lot of people,” Jenkins said.

And she worries what the holidays will bring. 

In Canada, help is also available nation-wide for anyone having suicidal thoughts.

If you are thinking of suicide or know someone who is, you can get help from Crisis Services Canada by calling toll-free 1-833-456-4566 or texting 45645 between 4 p.m. and midnight ET.

Basic tips to try

And if you’re just looking for some basic tips or suggestions for getting through the next few weeks, Gratzer offers the following: 

  1. Learn: “We’re designed to learn. It’s intellectually stimulating so you don’t have to learn Japanese tonight. But some type of learning to incorporate into your day can be useful.”
  2. Give: “Obviously, charitable acts are very different right now, but even helping an elderly neighbour doing some shopping is very rewarding for them. But it’s also very rewarding for you.”
  3. Exercise: “There are very few things that are as evidenced as exercise for not only treating major mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, but preventing it in the first place.”

And, finally, try to reach out to others, Gratzer said. “It’s important for us to maintain our connection with people, and it’s important for us to maintain a healthy lifestyle in, frankly, pretty stressful times.”

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CBC | Health News

Home for the holidays: Post-secondary students navigate vague guidelines, self-isolation

Whether donning a mask to venture out to meet her lone study buddy or rushing to grab food on a 15-minute break between online lectures, Western University first-year student Madison Francoeur always hears her father’s voice in her head, reminding her to stay cautious about COVID-19.

Her family spent the spring and summer staying away from others, she said. They bought groceries once every three weeks, and rare visits with her grandparents meant catching up from inside a parked car on their driveway.

Living communally in residence at Western’s London, Ont., campus this fall has definitely been a different type of challenge, Francoeur said, despite her medical sciences classes being held almost completely online.

“We’ve been told we should limit our contact to one person, one or two people,” she said, but when eight young women share a bathroom, it “kind of makes it very difficult.”

Public health messaging during the pandemic has generally been to stick to your household. But how this applies to post-secondary students living away from their families has been a more complicated issue, especially with the imminent winter break. Regulations aren’t always clear, say student leaders, with young people aching to return home often left to weigh risks on their own.

Although school officials have advised limiting contacts to one or two people, living in residences, shared bathrooms and communal cafeterias make things more difficult, says Madison Francoeur, a student at Western University in London, Ont. (Submitted by Madison Francoeur)

Francoeur, who speaks to her parents daily, is looking forward to reuniting with them for the holidays at the family’s Barrie, Ont. home, and her precautions have already begun.

Reviewing for her finals, coupled with the hours-long exams themselves, have kept her “confined” for about two weeks, she said. Francoeur believes she’s only left her dorm room to retrieve meals, take washroom breaks, study with a friend on her floor or take a short drive, when she needed a change of scenery.

She’s also hoping she can take a COVID-19 test before she leaves campus — she’s had two already amid outbreaks at Western.

“My parents definitely want me to come home because I’ve always spent Christmas holidays at home,” she said. “But they’ve definitely [said] ‘Be cautious before you come home.'” 

Going home game plan

“A lot of students are unclear about what’s expected of them…. We haven’t necessarily seen a lot of clear policy from provincial governments about what’s expected of students at this time,” said Bryn de Chastelain, chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and president of the St. Mary’s University Students’ Association in Halifax.

“Trying to limit non-essential travel and trying to make sure that we’re following rules correctly, it’s been challenging for students who … very much would like to be able to travel and go home.”

WATCH | University students grapple with how to return home for the holidays safely:

When provinces ask people to stay within their households, what about the university students coming home for an extended holiday break? A look at the decisions some students are grappling with because of a lack of guidance as well as what a health expert recommends to make sure the holiday homecoming is safer. 1:49

For his part, de Chastelain is trying to determine if he can safely make the trek from Halifax to his hometown of Georgetown, Ont., to spend time with his family and recharge for next term.

He said he feels he’s got some basics covered: staying in with his roommates and only leaving their house when absolutely necessary. En route to Ontario, he would stay masked and make frequent use of hand sanitizer. After arriving, de Chastelain said he plans to hang out with his immediate family and not venture elsewhere — no joining in on errands, grocery runs or visiting others.

Yet there’s a wrinkle in his plan: He must find somewhere completely separate from his housemates to spend a 14-day isolation period upon return — a stricter requirement introduced by the Nova Scotia government in early November.

“I was planning on going home, coming back and isolating in my room. But now the added complication is trying to find either a hotel or an Airbnb or some other form of accommodation. There’s obviously a significant cost associated with that.”

Still, de Chastelain said he supports the concept of post-travel isolation during the pandemic. He completed a two-week quarantine and underwent a few COVID-19 tests in Halifax after his last trip home in August. “It made me feel very safe engaging [back] in the community.”

The Dalhousie University campus in Halifax was among the sites where rapid COVID-19 testing has been offered. (Robert Short/CBC)

Complex situations facing students

Vague guidance about students going home have heightened tensions, said Grace Dupasquier, chair of the Alliance of BC Students.

Her province’s guidelines note that “welcoming your child home from university is okay,” but Dupasquier believes that contradicts the recommendations about mixing households. What if your student family member lives with others in a separate household? What if there are multiple students in the family attending different schools and with different living situations?

That’s what the fourth-year Capilano University student is facing. Living alone, studying almost exclusively online and isolating since the beginning of November, she considers herself a low risk for returning home. However her younger sister attends another school and lives with roommates, while a second sister lives with her partner’s family in one of British Columbia’s hot spot regions.

Grace Dupasquier, chair of the Alliance of BC Students, thinks families across the country are likely having difficult discussions about who’s coming home for the holidays. (Submitted by Grace Dupasquier)

That her family also includes members who are immunocompromised, as well as those working in public-facing customer service jobs, complicates things further.

It’s forced her family to “deliberate on who’s coming home — if anybody’s coming home — and it’s been hard,” Dupasquier said. However, she said she believes families all over the province and country are having similar discussions.

Dupasquier said she’s frustrated by those who depict students seeking to gather with loved ones over the holidays as irresponsible, as well as regularly hearing young people — who are more likely to be working front-line retail jobs, taking public transit and sharing living accommodations — being blamed for outbreaks.

“This is a time in our lives when we are quite literally driven to go find other young people, to go build our families, build our lifelong friendships. We don’t have that right now,” she said. “All of these things should be taken into consideration…. There’s a lot more that’s really going on behind the scenes.”

WATCH | Post-secondary schools extend winter break to alleviate student, staff burnout:

Several universities are extending the winter break and delaying the start of the second semester because students are under such intense stress from online learning and the isolation that comes with it. Many of them say they’re concerned about their mental health. 2:02

At the end of the day, students are allowed to return to their primary residences, said Katie Kidd, vice-president of student life at the University of Alberta Students’ Union. The hope is “they follow the public health orders and that they are really being safe in their personal choices.”

In addition to advising students to get tested for COVID-19 if experiencing any symptoms, Kidd pointed out that her Edmonton-based school is maintaining some programming, as well as food services, for those living on campus who choose to remain. There are also other resources, including a program providing students who require somewhere to isolate with a place to stay.

Katie Kidd, vice-president of student life at the University of Alberta Students’ Union, says her Edmonton-based school is maintaining some programming, as well as food services, for those living on campus who choose to remain during the break. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Ahead of the holidays, Kidd has been spending time with just her roommate, both of them in relative isolation. “This is the first time I’ve left my house in 14 days, and I will continue to isolate until I go back to Calgary,” she said.  

The prevailing sentiment she’s heard from fellow students is a desire to keep themselves, their peers and their families safe, Kidd said.

“No one wants to go home and accidentally give their family COVID.”

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Canadians urged to dramatically limit contacts as COVID-19 cases rise, holidays begin

Public health officials are urging Canadians to dramatically limit their contacts with other people as the country continues on a “rapid growth trajectory” for COVID-19 cases and the holiday season begins.

This week’s approval of a COVID-19 vaccine has led to a groundswell of public optimism — but public health officials are warning the pandemic is a long way from over. Releasing new modelling from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) today, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that if Canadians maintain their current contact levels, more than 12,000 new cases will be recorded daily by January.

If people increase their level of contacts, however, that number could surge to more than 30,000 cases daily by January, according to the modelling sheets.

PHAC modelling suggests combined efforts are “urgently needed” to bend the curve as outbreaks continue in long-term care facilities and First Nation communities, putting a strain on hospitals and regional health care systems.

Tam told a media briefing in Ottawa that only one per cent of Canadians have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which means most Canadians remain vulnerable to infection.

3 weeks, 100K new cases

About 100,000 new cases have been reported across the country in just the last three weeks, with growth being driven primarily by the six provinces west of the Atlantic region. In recent weeks, each of these provinces has recorded its highest daily case count, and several also have seen their highest daily number of deaths to date.

“We have yet to see the kind of sustained decline in daily case counts that would indicate we are bringing the pandemic under control,” Tam said.

WATCH / Dr. Tam on impact of COVID-19 on health system

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tam, updates reporters with the rising number of COVID 19 cases in regions across the country and reveals modeling projections. 0:50

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Canada is entering a tricky season, when people traditionally take a break from work to spend time with family. Despite the positive news on the vaccine front, she urged Canadians to be vigilant in practising public health guidelines because a “very clear danger” remains.

“We’re going to have to be very, very cautious over the next several weeks to protect those people who are counting on us to work together,” she said.

Hajdu urges collaboration

Asked if the government should impose more restrictive measures to stem the disastrous rise in cases, Hajdu said the best approach is for the federal government to collaborate with the provinces.

“Yes, it is a tragedy, I completely agree with you, that cases are rising,” she said. “They are rising globally. There are very few countries that are not seeing growth right now. But I will tell you this — I believe it’s that effort of partnership, that we-will-do-whatever-it-takes attitude, that will get our country through this.”

Short-term projections suggest there could be up to 577,000 cases and 14,920 deaths by Dec. 25.

As of Friday morning, Canadian public health officials were reporting a total of 443,922 cases and 13,154 deaths.

Today’s projections are particularly grim for First Nations, where the number of active cases has doubled in the last month. The current number of active cases is more than 20 times higher than the peak number during the first wave of the pandemic for First Nations on reserve.

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Beyond Zoom: Virtual Gathering Spaces for the Holidays and Beyond

This site may earn affiliate commissions from the links on this page. Terms of use.

Note: This post was written by Van Truong and Jason H. Moore.

The holiday season is when we would typically gather with colleagues and friends to celebrate a year’s worth of accomplishments and hardships. But this year hits differently. Although we cannot gather in-person, it’s more crucial now than ever to still have these celebrations to feel connected and renewed for what 2021 will bring. But of course, the problem is that the pandemic is roaring again, and we are all digitally exhausted. Technology was meant to solve our physical isolation by connecting us instantaneously.

When the world stopped in its tracks during the Spring and many forms of work converted to an online format, we forgot about life outside of work. Technologies tend to have a precipitous rise and fall, but Zoom is a different case altogether. From work meetings to virtual happy hours and therapy sessions, online video chatting has pretty much all but consumed every aspect of our lives. We are now relying on video chat to make up for months without the real social interactions we crave. Unfortunately, spontaneous conversations between coworkers or friends are not captured well in Zoom. Long ago were the days when we could “bump” into someone and strike up a conversation in a non-structured space and time.

Although 2021 will likely see an end to the pandemic, how and where we work will be changed forever with more and more people permanently working from home. A key question raised during work-at-home planning meetings is how we will foster spontaneity and satisfy our inherent craving for the sensory stimulation provided by in-person meetings. The closest we might come to that experience is through a software-based metaverse able to provide virtual spaces for interaction, human-like avatars with sensory information exchange, and ease of communication. Unfortunately, software is not yet available for a complete metaverse experience. However, there are some promising new communication platforms that might provide an intermediate step between Zoom and a full-blown metaverse.

Gather Town, Here, High Fidelity, Minecraft, and Topia are all virtual communication platforms that take us a step or two in that direction. Many of these are free to use and some have commercial options. Gather Town, also known as Gather, is a pixelated virtual space where users can walk around select rooms and engage in video conversation based on their proximity to one another. As many academic departments and institutions consider how to approach programming for this holiday season and the new year, we implore them to take a good look at hosting events on the Gather platform or one of the others. Many anecdotes shared by peers and colleagues across several fields paint a telling story for Gather Town’s potential for re-creating the scientific community online. 

For professional development, numerous scientists have applauded Gather Town as one of the go-to online venues for poster sessions, including CogSci2020! Conference participants regaled the ease of wandering around the conference hall and “running into” other friends setting up their posters. Dr. Shayna Sparling for #CSRF2020 shared, “I just uploaded my poster for #CSRF2020 and this http://gather.town thing we’re using for the poster hall is amazing/hilarious!! I started wandering around the hall and ran into a few friends who were also setting up their posters and it was so fun video chatting!” For one participant of #AAPTSM20, he enjoyed the people, ideas, and wisdom from the conference while still getting to listen to the waves on the beach in Gather Town in-between talks. The Julia Language community fostered co-presence for their daylong hackathon event where people could work alongside each other and feel a sense of aligned productivity. Other folks noted the remarkable ability to have “some serious discussion” after research presentations in Gather without the lurking feeling that a handful of participants might monopolize the conversation as in Zoom calls. 

Imagine a video call with 200 active participants and more than one person talking at once. It would be an utter nightmare. To support teaching and education, several college departments have re-invented office hours so students can swing by to get clarification from instructors or work together with peers. One noteworthy example is from the University of Pennsylvania’s Computer and Information Science department where they recreated Levine Hall, home to the Computer and Information Sciences department and the Weiss Tech House – all entirely on Gather. They created six virtual spaces for each of the building’s six floors, which can accommodate 200 students at any single time. Since small groups can branch off, and the platform can support multiple ongoing conversations simultaneously, it is no surprise why these virtual socialization platforms have become so popular for conference networking, poster sessions, and academic office hours.

Not all professionals miss the real experience of going to in-person conferences. Many agree that it takes a lot of emotional energy and can often be unpleasant for many people. It appears Gather Town can mimic more social interactions from real life than simply the serendipitous, feel-good ones. One person noted that it “has enabled all the awkward social hierarchies of a conference to be faithfully reproduced online, while looking like early Nintendo games.” Unfortunately, as in all community spaces: safe and inclusive spaces are created in practice by people intentionally embracing inclusive principles. A few Gather Towns have been closed down due to bad actors. This does not have to be an inevitability for our online communal spaces, though. Instead of waiting for the return to physical spaces, QueerinAI and other groups for minoritized individuals are creating safe spaces online to cultivate a sense of community amidst this period of physical isolation. There may be an upside to Gather Town for introverts too. Instead of feeling the pressure to shine your video camera, people have the option to express themselves and communicate more freely through an avatar in Gather, similar to Second Life, an online virtual world where users can create, connect, and chat with others from around the world. Ultimately, an online community must be built with intention and care, especially if we want to re-create a virtual place where all feel welcome.

And let’s not forget about the non-productive, non-work-related aspects that many professionals miss the most about being together in-person. For instance, the 1st year cohort in the University of Washington’s Molecular Cell Biology Program met for a Gather pub night to usher in the start of their Ph.D., albeit virtually. Outside of science, the first-ever worldwide Virtual Club Night was held in Gather Town featuring games, live DJ music, and more. Our own research lab gathers for coffee hours on the platform to chat about whatever is on our minds. We have begun to hear whispers that some departments are considering hosting their annual holiday party or upcoming graduate recruitment in Gather Town.

If you haven’t considered it yet, give Gather Town or one of the many virtual platforms a hearty try. Coupled with a low learning curve and a great free model, we believe one of these would be a great online venue for your next large group event. This difficult and monumental year cannot pass fast enough, but before it is gone, let us Gather for one last hurrah to send it packing. We should celebrate this milestone with our peers. Do not forget to take a moment to recognize how much each of us has gone through to arrive in 2021.

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What Canadians need to know about COVID-19 before gathering over the holidays

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

Canadians considering gathering with loved ones over the holidays this year need to come to terms with some harsh realities. 

The country faces a perfect storm: record rates of COVID-19 amid a growing sense of pandemic fatigue at a time when we typically travel to see loved ones and spend time together indoors.

But COVID-19 is insidious, an unwanted guest that can slip in unnoticed and wreak havoc despite our best efforts to control it. 

“We have to ask ourselves honestly, must we socialize? And the answer is probably no,” said Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

“There is no way to eliminate risk except not to do it in the first place.”

But we’ve learned a lot more about how COVID-19 spreads since it first emerged at the beginning of this year, which can help inform us on where we’re most at risk. 

Confusion over holiday guidelines

There’s understandably a lot of confusion about what sorts of holiday gathering might be reasonable to consider this year, especially since depending on where you live in this country the rules and recommendations differ.  

The official advice from Canada’s chief public health officer is to avoid large gatherings, non-essential travel and to keep things as small as possible within your household. 

Certain provinces, like Ontario, recommend skipping extended family gatherings altogether and taking precautions like self-isolating for 10 to 14 days for those travelling home from away, including colleges and universities.

While others, like Quebec, have put a lot of faith in their population by allowing gatherings of up to 10 people for four days over the holidays after a seven day period of self-imposed quarantine.

But Deonandan says we can’t necessarily rely on people to completely self-isolate on their own — that requires not leaving home for groceries, essential items or even to walk the dog. 

WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam advises no large gatherings or non-essential travel

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, says it’s clear that Christmas this year is not going to be like other years. She recommends against any gatherings but has some advice if people choose to forgo the public health guidelines. 0:48

“You’re also going to have outliers who have infectious periods longer than two weeks,” he said.

“If enough people do this, you’re going to get a sufficient number of people who do not fall under that umbrella who are indeed infectious and who start outbreaks.” 

Silent spread a ‘key driver’ of outbreaks

While we weigh whether it’s even possible to gather safely with friends and family in a pandemic, it’s important to keep in mind the unseen dangers we could be inviting in — even in parts of the country that have low rates of COVID-19.

“The problem with this virus is that it’s like many other viruses,” said Dr. Allison McGeer, a medical microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai hospital who worked on the front lines of the SARS epidemic in 2003. “You shed virus before you get sick and some people who get infected don’t develop symptoms.” 

“That’s why what has worked is everybody wearing masks and everybody maintaining social distance, because you can’t tell who the next infected person is going to be.”

McGeer says viruses like influenza, chickenpox and measles typically present symptoms in the body before people are infectious — but the virus behind COVID-19 is different. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated scientific guidance this week that acknowledged asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals account for more than half of all COVID-19 transmissions. 

“Silent transmission is one of the key drivers of outbreaks,” said Seyed Moghadas, a professor of applied mathematics and computational epidemiology at Toronto’s York University. 

“There is an incorrect notion in the general population that if someone feels fine then they are not infected. A person can certainly be infected, infectious, and feel completely fine.” 

Seyed Moghadas at York University says because of high rates of asymptomatic COVID-19 infections, silent transmission is one of the ‘key drivers’ of outbreaks. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Moghadas, the lead author of a study published in the journal PNAS on the silent spread of COVID-19 that was cited in the CDC guidelines, says this underscores how difficult the virus is to control, a challenge “magnified” in close quarters.

In Nova Scotia, which has successfully contained the spread of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic despite the bursting of the Atlantic bubble this week, catching those silent spreaders before they unknowingly infect others is key. 

Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease specialist at Dalhousie University, has partnered with public health authorities in a pilot project to use rapid COVID-19 tests on people without symptoms in high-traffic areas of Halifax. 

It’s only been a few days, but what they’ve found was surprising. 

On the first day they tested 147 people and found one asymptomatic case, the second day they tested 604 more and found another one, and on the third day they did 804 tests and found five more. 

“We recognized that there are a lot of people out there, even if they’re doing the right thing, that don’t know they’re infected, don’t know they’re infectious and could be spreading to other people,” said Barrett.

“When there’s community spread of a virus that has a long period of time when you can be infectious without symptoms, you have to test broadly in the community or you have no idea what’s going on.” 

‘A negative test is not a license to socialize’

One novel approach to avoid meeting with loved ones while unknowingly infectious that has emerged is to get a COVID-19 test beforehand to pre-emptively detect it. 

But the timing of that test is incredibly important and there’s a lot of room for error, so it may be a less effective strategy than it first appears.

A new study in the journal Science looked at 1,178 people infected with COVID-19 and more than 15,000 of their close contacts to determine when people were most infectious. 

It found most of the transition — 87 per cent — happened in a fairly wide window of time, up to five days before or after symptoms appeared, while 53 per cent was in the pre-symptomatic phase.

“It’s possible to be early in the disease cycle such that you won’t detect any viral presence. But in two days suddenly you’re infectious and now we’re screwed,” said Deonandan, at the University of Ottawa.

“So a negative test is not a license to socialize.”

Still, Deonandan says there will be people who are going to socialize anyway, so it’s better they do so with precautions in place like testing and self-isolating than nothing — even if those precautions aren’t perfect.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or the winter solstice, Canadians are being told to consider meeting virtually, avoid risky indoor gatherings without masks and instead find ways to connect while still physical distancing.

“I think the pitch to people is that yes, we’re used to having time off school and we’re used to seeing everybody,” said McGeer. “But this is the year to delay.” 

WATCH | Tam on the holiday season and how the pandemic won’t go on forever

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam talks to The National’s Andrew Chang about the holiday season and getting to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. 6:31

“The best advice this year is maybe not to go too far from home,” said Barrett. “Is it worth it to lose control of the virus?”

“We’re hanging on by a thread here. Please don’t let that thread break.” 

To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, subscribe by clicking here.

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Sony Shares Fresh Details on PlayStation 5, Will Launch Holidays 2020

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To date, Sony has kept pretty quiet about the PlayStation 5. Thanks to a new interview with PS5 system architect Mark Cerny, we can now confirm one detail — the machine will officially be known as the PlayStation 5. That’s not exactly unexpected, but given that companies occasionally like to toss a wrench in things, it’s nice to know. The launch date, as expected, is “Holidays 2020” — another expected-but-nice-to-have-confirmed data point.

The interview with Cerny, published in Wired, touches on an array of details rather than being a deep technical discussion. He confirms that the PlayStation 5 has hardware-level support for ray tracing, not some kind of software-only solution. It’s not clear why people thought there wasn’t; AMD has confirmed that hardware ray tracing is baked into its upcoming 2020 GPUs, and the feature is expected for consoles in at least some form (it isn’t clear yet what kind of hardware solution this is).

Cerny spent time talking more about the PS5’s SSD, and how it improves performance. One way that game developers have compensated for the miserable performance of hard drives is to copy certain common resources over and over in the game code, to ensure that they are always available for sequential data loads. The nature of hard drives requires that the drive heads be positioned over the specific area of the platter that contains the data to be read, which means certain common elements that are used throughout a game (like streetlights, car models, and potentially certain other texture data) need to be stored alongside unique data (specific buildings or environmental maps) to ensure that everything loads in properly. SSDs don’t have this problem, which means game installations can be “de-duped” and remove these duplicated resources to save storage capacity.

It’s not clear how much disk space this saves, but it’ll probably help a bit. It’d be nice. Game installation sizes have tended to balloon every generation and the PS5 will use 100GB-capacity disks — implying that before long, we can all look forward to 100GB game installations. 1TB SSDs are starting to look cramped already.

Another new feature will be the ability to install games with much more granularity and to jump into games much more easily. If you only want to play the multiplayer component of a single/multi-player game, you’ll have the option to install just the section of the title you want to play. This may be a change intended to get players into games quicker, or it may reflect the fact that Sony wants to cut down on the effective size of game installs and give players more flexibility. SSDs still cost more than HDDs, and with 100GB game disks, Sony has good reason to cut game installation sizes.

Along with this increased flexibility in game installs comes adjustments to how games themselves are accessed. A new UI will allow you to jump into games with friends immediately, rather than booting up a title to see what friends are doing in it. “Even though it will be fairly fast to boot games, we don’t want the player to have to boot the game, see what’s up, boot the game, see what’s up,” Cerny says. “Multiplayer game servers will provide the console with the set of joinable activities in real time. Single-player games will provide information like what missions you could do and what rewards you might receive for completing them—and all of those choices will be visible in the UI. As a player you just jump right into whatever you like.”

Increased Haptic Feedback

Another major change with the PS5 is coming with changes to how haptics work in the Dual Shock 5 controller. It now includes adaptive triggers that can offer varying levels of resistance to make shooting a bow and arrow or pulling a trigger require more resistance, or to make two different guns feel different to use. Haptic feedback capability has also been enhanced, and the controller can use haptics to simulate multiple types of surfaces or environments rather than simply providing generic ‘rumble’ at pre-defined moments. Wired spent time with the controller and confirmed that it can make different sorts of surfaces feel distinct. Platformers could be punched up a notch with these kinds of options, to the joy of ice-level lovers everywhere and the hatred of everyone else.


Render by LetsGoDigital

Incidentally, the PS5 devkit reportedly looks like images Gizmodo saw last week. A render based on the images, by LetsGoDigital, is shown below. Whether or not this reflects the final design of the machine isn’t something we know yet.

The arguments in favor of the PS5, at this point, don’t boil down to any one innovation, but in the way those innovations — higher storage performance, new UI flexibility, and new methods of haptic feedback — will be collectively used to create new kinds of experiences. Details like price and formal specs are information both Microsoft and Sony are sitting on at this point, for obvious reasons. With one more holiday season before the new hardware drops, neither company wants to risk wrecking previous-gen sales before it’s time to put new hardware out.

I’m going to be interested to see what comes of the new console generation. The move from GCN 1.0 to an RDNA-derived GPU should deliver some significant performance uplift, but I’m more curious to see what developers can do with the increased CPU resources. The PS4SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce and Xbox One were both based on AMD’s Jaguar, but while that chip was a plucky mobile contender in 2013, it was weaker than the “big-core” x86 CPUs that were then on the market. An eight-core Ryzen-based CPU will offer far higher performance than any Jaguar could, even if we assume a relatively low clock to keep power consumption down. The combination of an updated GPU and a significant boost to CPU performance should hopefully allow these new consoles to distance themselves from the previous generation.

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Hockey Night in Canada podcast: Hockey books for the holidays

The Hockey Night In Canada podcast is a weekly CBC Sports production.

In each episode, host Rob Pizzo is joined by colourful characters within hockey to discuss great moments and great players and talk about today's stars. The Hockey Night podcast brings you beyond the boxscore with insight you won't find anywhere else. 

The focus of this week's Hockey Night In Canada podcast is hockey books! Hockey books are part of most fans lives and with Christmas just around the corner, they make for the perfect stocking stuffer. It's the time of giving and we wanted to help you out with ideas for anyone on your list. 

Actor and comedian Jay Baruchel is a die-hard Canadiens fan. Pizzo had the chance to chat with Baruchel about his new book Born Into It: A Fan's Life, in which Baruchel opens up about his love affair with the Habs and his relationship with his father. And how they have both helped mould and shape the person he is today.

Pizzo also chats with Sportsnet broadcaster Ken Reid about his second book on hockey cards — Hockey Card Stories 2. If you love hockey cards — you will really enjoy this conversation.

WATCH: Jay Baruchel talks about how Habs fans should look ahead, not behind:

On this week's show, Baruchel talks about his new book and the life of a die-hard Habs fan. 0:53

Ice Level reporter Sophia Jurksztowicz chats with TSN broadcaster James Duthie, whose written three books in his career, including one on legendary coach and Hockey Hall of Famer Brian Kilrea.

Be sure to subscribe to the Hockey Night in Canada podcast to get a new episode each week. It's available on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Tune In or wherever you get your podcasts.

Listen to previous Hockey Night podcasts

Episode 11:  

The NHL recently confirmed that when the 2021-22 season begins, there will be 32 teams in the league. We take a closer look at Seattle's expansion bid, the history of expansion, as well as the future of expansion.

Episode 10: 

The axe has fallen on four coaches and one general manager so far this season, but we sometimes forget that coaches are human and have families. Former NHL coach Barry Melrose breaks down what life is like for coaches after they're fired. 

Episode 9:

Hazing has been an accepted part of hockey for decades now. But recently some disturbing stories have come into the public eye. Stories that involved abuse, bullying, and some horrible behaviour … all disguised as "hazing."

Episode 8: 

They're a unique breed — the keepers of the crease are often known to be a little eccentric. Ilya Bryzgalov joins in to help explain what makes them so different from their teammates. 

Episode 7:

Recent HHOF inductee Jayna Hefford joins Pizzo to break down the 2018 class, while selection committee member Brian Burke sheds some light on who the most important person in the game is — and it may not be who you think. 

Episode 6:

Pizzo sits down with Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean to talk about the top storylines one month into the season and MacLean also fuels the debate over who the best player in the game is right now. 

Episode 5:

Hockey fans depend on certain trusted insiders to get their breaking news, but how exactly do they get these scoops? Turns out it's harder work than some might expect. 

Episode 4:

The fans love seeing the puck in the net…so what about the poor guys between the pipes? Are they getting pummelled for the sake of rule-tinkering?

Episode 3:

Could there be a more thankless gig? Perfection means being ignored. A single mistake and you are marked for years of noisy abuse. Don Koharski officiated over 1,700 regular season games. He and Pizzo discuss the infamous "donut incident".

Episode 2:

Rivalries are the heart and soul of NHL excitement, but the days of brawling are mostly a thing of the past. Chris Nilan and Kris Draper talk about those old grudges, while some current players insist rivalries are as hot as ever.

Episode 1: 

At the beginning of every NHL season, hockey fans generally have more questions than answers when it comes to their favourite teams — and the start of the 2018-19 campaign was no different. Pizzo tackled five burning questions on the minds of the hockey faithful. 

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