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Study suggests vaccines may improve symptoms for some COVID-19 long-haulers

Elaine McCartney typically keeps a list on hand of her 30 or so health issues following a bout of COVID-19 a year ago— in part because she just can’t keep track of them all.

There’s the severe fatigue and memory issues. Brain fog, much like after a concussion. Constant headaches, low appetite, round-the-clock dizziness. And on and on.

The 65-year-old from Guelph, Ont., has been experiencing those symptoms for close to a year, after developing what felt like a severe case of influenza in April 2020 and which a physician identified as a probable case of the COVID-19 illness. 

Then last month she got her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Her condition quickly seemed to improve.

“I was able to go to the store on my own, which I haven’t done for eight months,” McCartney said. “And my energy was up, and my pain was less. I had chronic debilitating pain in my shoulder, and it was gone.”

McCartney’s experience may offer a glimmer of hope for a growing number of people around the world living with prolonged health concerns after being infected with the virus causing the COVID-19 illness.

She’s not the only patient seeing unexpected improvements. Emerging research suggests vaccines may reduce symptoms for some of those suffering from what is now being called “long COVID”, where patients continue to suffer from a range of health concerns long after the infectious phase of the illness has passed. 

‘Reassuring’ findings from U.K. study

More than a year into the pandemic, it’s not clear how many people are experiencing long-term health issues after having COVID-19, but their numbers are growing.

Researchers think around 10 per cent of people who get sick with COVID-19 continue to live with lasting symptoms — some suggest the number could be as high as 30 per cent — which could mean millions worldwide are coping with some lingering issues from the disease.

A new preprint study out of the U.K., which is still awaiting the peer review process, looked at a small group of such “long COVID” patients. It found those who had received at least one dose of the vaccine had “a small overall improvement” in long COVID symptoms and a “decrease in worsening symptoms” when compared to the unvaccinated patients.

The researchers followed 66 hospitalized patients whose symptoms persisted — issues like fatigue, breathlessness, and insomnia — including 44 who got vaccinated and 22 who didn’t.

Emerging research suggests vaccines may reduce symptoms for some of those suffering from “long Covid”, or lingering symptoms after a bout of COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

A little over 23 per cent of the vaccinated patients saw some resolution of their symptoms, the researchers noted, compared to around 15 per cent of those who weren’t vaccinated — with no difference in response identified between the Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines used among the participants.

The team also found another “reassuring result” — fewer vaccinated patients reported any worsening symptoms during the time period studied than the unvaccinated group, though they cautioned that there was a large potential for bias given patients self-reported their symptoms. 

Dr. Fergus Hamilton, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Bristol Medical School and part of the team behind the new study, said the findings offer a “slight hint” that vaccines might improve lingering symptoms.

“Although we’re a bit suspicious about that given the small numbers,” he added.

Science behind vaccine impact not clear

The study is limited by its small sample size, but other medical experts are observing a similar trend.

In the U.S., where roughly a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated, physicians now have a large pool of patients to follow.

Dr. Daniel Griffin, an infectious diseases physician at Columbia University in New York, said around 40 per cent of the patients he is treating for lingering health issues from COVID-19 are reporting either complete, or significant, improvement in their symptoms after being fully vaccinated.

He said the numbers in the U.K. study were “pretty on-target” with what he initially observed in his own patients, but that the impact seemed to bump up a couple weeks after people got their second dose.

“That’s the first bit of good news in a really a long time,” Griffin said.

But he acknowledged the mechanics behind why vaccination might clear up lingering COVID-19 symptoms isn’t yet clear.

WATCH | Long-COVID sufferers struggle with limited care options:

Kim Clark and Sonja Mally have jumped from specialist to specialist for the past year as they’ve sought relief for a series of crippling symptoms associated with post-acute COVID-19 syndrome. Some health experts say more dedicated funding and resources for COVID long-haulers would help sufferers like them and shed light on a little-understood aspect of the pandemic. 2:27

“I think the most persuasive theory for me is that the virus was never completely cleared, or whatever remnants might still be … are now able to be cleared because of the robust response that’s triggered by the vaccines,” Griffin said.

McCartney said her own post-vaccination experience felt nothing short of a miracle — even if the science behind what’s happening in her body remains hazy and more research needed to evaluate how much vaccines could actually help COVID long-haulers going forward.

“I was feeling so miserable, for so long,” she said.

“I’ve logged more than a thousand steps in the past four days and I haven’t done that for months and months and months — so I’ve definitely seen improvement.”

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CBC | Health News

Homan, Einarson improve to 8-1 at Canadian women’s curling championship

The favourites set the tone in championship pool play Friday at the Canadian women’s curling championship.

With a few surprise teams making the eight-team cut, perennial contenders Rachel Homan, Jennifer Jones and Kerri Einarson posted afternoon victories and showed why they’re good bets to reach the playoffs.

  • Watch and engage with CBC Sports’ That Curling Show live every day of The Scotties at 7:30 p.m. ET on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

“With only three teams advancing, you can’t have very many losses to advance,” Jones said. “So we know that and we know we’re going to have to play every game as though we have to get that W and hopefully we perform well.”

Homan’s Ontario team stole a point in the 10th end for a 7-6 victory over Chelsea Carey’s Team Wild Card One and then came back for an 8-7 win over Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges in an extra end.

That left Homan in top spot at 9-1 with Einarson, the defending champion, who topped Saskatchewan’s Sherry Anderson 10-6 before eliminating Carey from playoff contention with a 9-3 rout.

THAT CURLING SHOW | Previewing weekend play at the Scotties:

The drama is ramping up at the Scotties and Devin Heroux and Colleen Jones have all your predictions and scenarios. 49:50

Jones’s Manitoba team earned a split on the day to sit in a tie for third place at 7-3 with Alberta’s Laura Walker. Jones posted a 12-8 win over Beth Peterson of Team Wild Card Three before dropping a 7-5 decision to Walker.

“I guess mandatory is a good word for it,” Walker said of the win. “We needed it and I’m proud of the way we went out there and got it.”

With Anderson sitting out the nightcap with an injury, alternate Amber Holland threw fourth stones for Saskatchewan. She dropped a 10-9 decision to Peterson in an extra end that left both teams tied with Quebec at 6-4.

Earlier, Walker edged St-Georges 7-6 in an extra end. Saskatchewan and Quebec had an unexpected share of the Pool B lead after the preliminary round.

THAT CURLING SHOW | Laura Walker defeats Jennifer Jones:

Laura Walker beats Jennifer Jones 7-5, Alberta and Manitoba are now tied with 7-3 records. 0:51

Carey (5-5), who’s filling in at skip for Tracy Fleury this week, barely missed a runback double-takeout attempt with her final shot against Homan, who put the pressure on with two protected stones near the button.

“They hung in there with me and we made some good ones in the end,” Homan said of teammates Emma Miskew, Sarah Wilkes and Joanne Courtney.

Jones, who’s aiming for a record seventh Scotties Tournament of Hearts title, stole five points in the 10th for her afternoon victory. Einarson was also tested early in that draw before a late deuce sealed the win.

Two more draws were set for Saturday at the Markin MacPhail Centre. The top three teams in the eight-team pool will reach the playoffs on Sunday.

The second- and third-place teams will meet in an afternoon semifinal for a berth in the evening final against the first-place team.

The Hearts winner will return as Team Canada at the 2022 national playdowns in Thunder Bay, Ont. The champion will also earn a berth in the Olympic Trials in November at Saskatoon.

The men’s national championship — the Tim Hortons Brier — starts March 5 at the same Canada Olympic Park venue. The Hearts is the first of six bonspiels to be held at the arena through late April.

THAT CURLING SHOW | Ben Herbert logs Scotties championship predictions:

The Olympic gold medallist breaks down the competition heading into the weekend in the Calgary bubble. 3:26

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CBC | Sports News

Hardware Accelerators May Dramatically Improve Robot Response Times

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(Credit: onurdongel/Getty Images)
New work in robotics research at MIT suggests that long-term bottlenecks in robot responsiveness could be alleviated through the use of dedicated hardware accelerators. The research team also suggests it’s possible to develop a general methodology for programming robot responsiveness to create specific templates, which would then be deployed into various robot models. The researchers envision a combined hardware-software approach to the problem of motion planning.

“A performance gap of an order of magnitude has emerged in motion planning and control: robot joint actuators react at kHz rates,” according to the research team, “but promising online techniques for complex robots e.g., manipulators, quadrupeds, and humanoids (Figure 1) are limited to 100s of Hz by state-of-the-art software.”

Optimizing existing models and the code for specific robot designs has not closed the performance gap. The researchers write that some compute-bound kernels, such as calculating the gradient of rigid body dynamics, take 30 to 90 percent of the available runtime processing power in emerging nonlinear Model Predictive Control (MPC) systems.

The specific field of motion planning has received relatively little focus compared with collision detection, perception, and localization (the ability to orient itself in three-space relative to its environment). In order for a robot to function effectively in a 3D environment, it has to first perceive its surroundings, map them, localize itself within the map, and then plan the route it needs to take to accomplish a given task. Collision detection is a subset of motion planning.

The long-term goal of this research isn’t just to find a way to perform motion-planning more effectively, but it’s also to create a template for hardware and software that can be generalized to many different types of robots, speeding both development and deployment times. The two key claims of the paper are that per-robot software optimization techniques can be implemented in hardware through the use of specialized accelerators, and that these techniques can be used to create a design methodology for building said accelerators. This allows for the creation of a new field of robot-optimized hardware that they dub “robomorphic computing.”

The team’s methodology relies on creating a template that implements an existing control algorithm once, exposing both parallelism and matrix sparsity. The specific template parameters are then programmed with values that correspond with the capabilities of the underlying robot. 0-values contained within the matrices correspond with motions that a given robot is incapable of performing. For example, a humanoid bipedal robot would store non-zero values in areas of the matrices that governed the proper motion of its arms and legs. A robot with a reversible elbow joint that can bend freely in either direction would be programmed with different values than a robot with a more human-like elbow. Because these specific models are derived from a common movement-planning template, the evaluation code for all conditions could be implemented in a specialized hardware accelerator.

The researchers report that implementing their proposed structure in an FPGA as opposed to a CPU or GPU reduces latency by 8x to 86x and improves response rates by an overall 1.9x – 2.9x when the FPGA is deployed as a co-processor. Improving robot reaction times could allow them to operate effectively in emergency situations where quick responses are required.

A key trait of robots and androids in science fiction is their faster-than-human reflexes. Right now, the kind of speed displayed by an android such as Data is impossible. But part of the reason why is that we can’t currently push the limits of our own actuators. Improve how quickly the machine can “think,” and we will improve how quickly it can move.

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ExtremeTechExtreme – ExtremeTech

Canada tops Slovakia to improve to 2-0 at world juniors

Philip Tomasino had a goal and an assist for Canada in a 3-1 win over Slovakia at the world junior men’s hockey championship Sunday.

Jack Quinn, with an empty-net goal, and Jordan Spence also scored for Canada (2-0) playing its second game in as many days to start the tournament.

The host country opened with a 16-2 romp over short-staffed Germany on Saturday.

Canadian goaltender Devon Levi made 17 saves for the win on his 19th birthday.

Martin Romiak scored for Slovakia (1-1). Goaltender Samuel Hlavaj of the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix stopped 20 shots in the loss.

WATCH | Canada earns preliminary-round win over Slovakia: 

Canada beats Slovakia 3-1 to stay perfect at the World Junior Hockey Championship. 0:29

Canada has Monday off before facing Switzerland (0-2) in Pool A on Tuesday. Finland (2-0) beat the Swiss 4-1 earlier Sunday.

The top four teams in each pool advance to quarterfinals Jan. 2, followed by semifinals Jan. 4 and the medal games Jan. 5.

Romiak’s power-play goal at 18:36 of the third pulled the Slovaks within a goal, but Quinn sealed the victory with an empty-netter.

Tomasino took a long pass from Dylan Cozens and beat Hlavaj with a high shot at 16:25 of the third period for a 2-0 lead.

Canada’s Schneider serves suspension

Canadian defenceman Braden Schneider served a one-game suspension Sunday for checking German forward Jan-Luca Schumacher in the head the previous day.

Spence, who was a healthy scratch Saturday, drew into the lineup and scored on his first shift of the tournament.

Slovakia’s defence was a much tougher test for Canada’s scorers than depleted Germany.

The Canadians dominated puck possession and allowed Slovakia few clean entries into Canada’s zone, but their attack lacked cohesion for much of the game.

Slovakia killed off a pair of Canadian power-play chances and Canada in turned kill off one Slovak man-advantage in the second period.

Defenceman Bowen Byram levelled Slovak forward Jakub Kolenic on Canada’s blue-line midway through the period.

Spence scored Canada’s lone goal of the opening period at 4:08.

The Australian-born defenceman from Cornwall, P.E.I., caged a Dawson Mercer rebound and beat Hlavaj with a wrist shot from the hash marks.

WATCH | Finland downs Switzerland to stay unbeaten:

Finland scored 3 times on the power-play as they defeated Switzerland 4-1 and improved to 2-0 at the World Junior Hockey Championship. 0:29

Canadian winger Dylan Holloway didn’t dress for Sunday’s game because of an upper-body injury. Captain Kirby Dach isn’t playing in the tournament because of a wrist injury sustained in a pre-tournament game.

Cozens, who had a hat trick and six points against Germany, wore the captain’s C on Sunday. Cozens is alternating the captaincy with Byram.

The International Ice Hockey Federation announced Sunday there were no new positive tests for the COVID-19 virus among the teams and tournament personnel.

Three German players were released from quarantine Sunday to rejoin a team that iced just 14 skaters in its first two games.

Barring further positive tests, five more Germans will be released from isolation Tuesday with one player remaining in quarantine until Jan. 4.

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CBC | Sports News

Casual social contacts can help combat loneliness and improve well-being during pandemic, psychologists say

Jennie Aitken, 33, began noticing it weeks into the pandemic.

The Victoria woman has a family and was frequently checking in with good friends, but since her management job with a local health authority required her to work from home, she could go days without seeing other people.

“I realized how lonely I felt,” said Aitken.

With the second wave of the pandemic pushing more people into the isolation of their own homes, a second public health crisis with potentially deadly consequences has emerged: loneliness.  

Even though we need to be physically distant from others, it’s good to make an effort to be socially close to people, psychologists say. (Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Not just an uncomfortable emotion, loneliness is a leading risk factor for death. Social isolation exceeds the health risks associated with obesity, inactivity, excessive drinking, air pollution and smoking over 15 cigarettes a day, according to a 2010 review of 148 studies by psychology professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University in Utah.

That’s bad news in a worsening pandemic where increasingly tighter restrictions are forcing many of us to be apart from family and friends.  

Yet there’s a surprising antidote that can tide us through the holiday season and beyond: informal, casual interactions with acquaintances and strangers, such as neighbours, baristas, delivery drivers, dog walkers and others we may encounter in the course of an average day.

Called “weak ties,” these interactions can be just as effective in restoring our sense of well-being and belonging as connecting with our stronger ties to family and close friends.

“It just takes a handful of interactions – like going to the grocery store – and suddenly, I felt OK again,” Aitken said of her own experience.  

Even superficial interactions can improve well-being

When the pandemic hit, Jolanda Jetton, a professor at the University of Queensland, about 915 kilometres north of Sydney, and a few of her social psychology colleagues wrote the book Together Apart, in which they argued that the very social connections being discouraged are actually key to maintaining health during COVID-19.  

We can physically distance without socially distancing, Jetton and her co-authors said. 

While we must adhere to public health guidelines, we also need social contact beyond our immediate families, says Susan Pinker, psychologist and author of the book The Village Effect

When comparing social isolation against other health risks, Pinker said, it’s not just close relationships but social integration – how much you interact with people as you move through the day – that can be  predictors of how long you will live.  

Despite having to be in individual bubbles, it’s still possible to find ways to connect with others. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

“We really have to be creative in finding ways to see each other,” she said.

As we’ve cancelled big family dinners and nights out with our friends, one way to boost our well-being is to interact with the people standing right in front of you.  

Gillian Sandstrom, a professor at the University of Essex, about 110 kilometres northeast of London, found that while the number of interactions with strong ties (such as family and friends) improved people’s sense of well-being and belonging, “the same was true of the weak tie interactions” – relationships involving less-frequent contact, low emotional intensity and limited intimacy (such as greeting a neighbour on the street).

Sandstrom, who completed her PhD at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, studied the issue on the campus. 

Part of her study looked at a group of 58 undergraduate students and an older group of 52 community members and counted the number of weak and strong tie interactions they had as they went through their days. 

Participants reported greater subjective well-being and sense of belonging on days when they had more weak-tie interactions.  

Psychologists say that speaking to people you encounter throughout the day can help stave off loneliness. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

In another part of her study, she measured how many interactions 242 undergraduate students had with classmates. Those who had the most interactions, regardless of whether they had any friends in the class, reported greater subjective feelings of happiness and belonging.

“Weak ties are so important, and yet, it feels like we underestimate them,” she said.

“We have so many more of them than we have strong ties, and they’re so much easier to build. And they can do a good job in filling in gaps.”

Effect of small interactions adds up

Such interactions can help people compensate for some of the deeper connections they’ve lost in the pandemic, Sandstorm said.

Victoria’s Aitken agreed.

“These interactions feel so superfluous that you don’t really seek them out in the same way,” Aitken said. “So for me, I’ve had to make a real point of scheduling in casual interactions, like going to CrossFit, where I largely just stand around and talk to people behind a mask four metres away. It’s honestly been a major thing to keep me well.”

Even chatting with a stranger at a coffee shop leads to a greater sense of belonging and happiness, another of Sandstorm’s studies suggested.  

WATCH | The challenge of solo living during the pandemic:

As public health officials urge residents to limit in-person social interaction to their own households, adherence is especially daunting for people who live alone. 1:52

Sandstrom instructed one-half of the 60 participants to smile, make eye contact and have a brief conversation with the barista at Starbucks and the other to be as efficient as possible. Those who made an effort to talk to the barista experienced more positive emotion and felt more of a sense of belonging after leaving.

This echoes the work of Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at UBC in Vancouver, whose study of 78 people found that participants reported feeling greater well-being than expected when interacting with a stranger, equivalent to the mood boost they experienced when interacting with their romantic partner.   

However, Sandstrom said, we often don’t take advantage of these potential boosts in mood when we cross paths with each other.  

“I think people are so focused on efficiency that they’re losing out on these moments of connection and maybe not even realizing they are doing it,” Sandstrom said.  

Even casual connections with people can help foster a sense of belonging and community, psychologists say. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

“Each individual conversation with a stranger or weak tie isn’t necessarily anything special, but they add up to something which is even more important — a sense of trust and community.”

Sandstorm’s latest, yet-to-be-published study suggests that talking to strangers not only alleviates loneliness, but also increases feelings of trust and benevolence toward others. 

During the pandemic, she paired 64 strangers with each other and had them connect virtually for a conversation. Not only did people feel less lonely and isolated; she also found their general sense of trust in others and perceptions of others’ benevolence were higher after having a conversation with a stranger.

“Now, I go out of my way to talk to strangers,” said Sandstrom. “Even though I’m still an introvert.”

Community ties help — even at a distance

As jurisdictions around the world move to tighten restrictions in response to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, these weak ties that we previously took for granted are threatened. Physical distancing has pushed most of us away from in-person interactions in favour of communicating by email or text, using self-checkouts, or doing our shopping online.

University of Queensland’s Jetton said it’s important to be aware of interactions.

“We have all these devices that measure our steps…. Maybe we need to start measuring the social connections that people have and help them make plans on how to expand their social network,” Jetton said.

Speaking to strangers, even in a lineup, can help boost your spirits. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

While it might be hard to have casual social interactions in person, Jetton’s research suggests that merely belonging to a group can be one way to reap some of the benefits of weak social ties. Her studies suggest that belonging to a group, regardless of the strength of individual ties within the group or physical proximity, improves well-being.

We can still feel like a community member, even when the connection is impeded by something like a lockdown. Coming together for virtual church services, or art classes, or to sing, or cheer and bang pots and pans from apartment balconies are all ways we’ve adapted to stay connected, even when our immediate friends and family are physically distanced.

So while the provinces are tightening restrictions, limiting our chances for holiday gatherings, connecting with weak ties — from chatting with strangers on the street to singing as a group on Skype — can help substitute for some of the deeper connections that are physically out of reach right now.

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CBC | World News

Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler urges change to improve human rights in U.S.

Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler says he never envisioned his hometown of Minneapolis-St. Paul would serve as the spark for U.S.-wide protests against police killings of African-Americans.

During a 40-minute conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Wheeler urged his fellow citizens to vote for candidates who will improve human rights in the U.S. and said the violence sweeping America obscures the positive conversations taking place across the country about the need for change.

“For the most part, I’d say I’m proud of my hometown for the response and for the people standing up and not tolerating this anymore,” Wheeler said, speaking via Zoom from south Florida, where he is living with his family and training in preparation for the possible resumption of National Hockey League play.

“If you watch the news and you see, you know, tons of peaceful protests and people clearly upset, clearly sick and tired of the same conversation, but doing it in a way that is promoting real change.”

“Unfortunately, that’s not the case with everyone. Unfortunately, there are people that are taking advantage of those situations and doing some destruction to people who have worked a long time to establish small businesses — and so that’s been really heartbreaking.”

Wheeler addressed reporters three days after he issued a statement decrying the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“Growing up outside Minneapolis, I always felt sheltered from racism. That’s because I was,” Wheeler wrote in an image posted to Twitter on Saturday night.

“Most people I grew up with looked like me. I never had to be scared when I stopped at a traffic light or saw the police in public. My kids will never know that fear either.

“I’m heartbroken that we still treat people this way. We need to stand with the black community and fundamentally change how the leadership in this country has dealt with racism. I’m sorry it has taken this long, but I’m hopeful that we can change this NOW.”

On Tuesday, Wheeler expressed regret he didn’t speak out sooner — and suggested other white athletes should do the same.

“We have to be as involved in this as black athletes. It can’t just be their fight,” he said, referring to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling gesture during the singing of the U.S. national anthem in 2016.

“I wanna be real clear here: I look in the mirror about this before I look out at everyone else. I wish that I was more involved sooner than I was. I wish that it didn’t take me this long to to get behind it in a meaningful way.”

“But I guess what you can do is try to be better going forward. That’s kind of been my position is I want to be a part of the change going forward.”

Wheeler did in fact speak out in 2016. He chastised U.S. president Donald Trump for disrespecting Kaepernick’s right to express himself.

On Tuesday, Wheeler suggested Trump is exacerbating violence in the U.S. right now.

“What happened last night in Washington with the president was unfortunate and kind of just pours gas on the fire a little bit,” he said, referring to Trump’s use of police to forcibly remove protestors near a church in order to stage a photo op with a bible.

“I don’t think anyone’s condoning rioting and looting and destroying businesses and that behavior. On the flip side of that, the whole issue that started this, is police violence.”

Tough to explain to a 7 year old

Wheeler said it was hard for him to explain the police killing to his children.

“They watched George Floyd die on TV. So that’s that’s been really challenging,” he said, adding it was particularly difficult to convey to his seven year old.

“He’s asking why won’t he get off his neck? And to have to explain that to him, to try to explain to him that, you know, to a seven year old, that the police, that he feels are out there to protect us and look out for us, that that’s not always the case,” he said. “That’s a hard conversation to have.”

Wheeler said it was difficult for him to speak out because the culture of hockey does not condone individualism. 

Athletes, he said, have a platform they must use to promote positive change.

“I strongly feel that this has nothing to do with politics,” he said.

“You can vote for whoever you want. You can have your opinions about policy and Republicans, Democrats, all that. But I mean, these are human rights, fundamentally. 

“If you’re American, you need to be very educated and vote, not just for the national election, not just for the president, but in your local votes, you know, state, city, county, all these ways that we can try to change the system and put the right people in power so that these things aren’t happening any more.”

Wheeler was not the only Winnipeg NHLer speaking out. Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews posted a statement on Instagram stating the need to acknowledge both the African-American struggle and the human rights conditions for Indigenous people in Canada.

“I can’t pretend for a second that I know what it feels like to walk in a black man’s shoes. However, seeing the video of George Floyd’s death and the violent reaction across the country moved me to tears,” Toews said.

“It has pushed me to think, how much pain are black people and other minorities really feeling? What have Native American people dealt with in both Canada and US? What is it really like to grow up in their world? Where am I ignorant about the privileges that I may have that others don’t?”

After Wheeler spoke to media, the Winnipeg Jets issued a statement denouncing racism.

Wheeler also spoke about the potential for the NHL’s return and the difficulties it may cause players who are parents. He also called those concerns insignificant at the moment.

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CBC | Sports News

Ottawa Health Team model will improve patient care, minister pledges

A new health care system unveiled in Ottawa Friday will help free up hospital beds and improve care for patients, including those who need home care and long-term care, the Ontario government says.

The Ottawa Health Team is one of 24 such organizations that will initially take over responsibilities from Ontario’s Local Health Integration Networks, which are in the process of being dissolved. 

The new health teams aim to better connect community health care centres with hospitals, meals-on-wheels services, addiction recovery supports and long-term care facilities, said Health Minister Christine Elliott.

They will also help hospital patients return to the community, she added.

“It just makes it a lot easier for people,” Elliott said.

‘Connected, integrated care’

Elliott said that eventually, each patient will have a single record and care plan that will help the team address their specific needs — and hopefully provide better care. 

“The team is going to work together to make sure when somebody is admitted to hospital, for whatever procedure they need to have, they’re already looking at their recovery and how they can be returned home,” Elliott said.

The new system will hopefully also prevent needless trips back to the emergency room departments, Elliott added.

“What people will notice, when the health team is fully up and running, is that they’re having more connected, integrated care [so] that those issues with respect to transitions, will be dealt with,” she said.

“They will have care navigation services and one number to call if they have any concerns.”

Christine Elliott, Ontario’s Minister of Health, said the new Ottawa Health Team will break down barriers that prevent care providers from working directly with each other to support patients. (Jean Delisle/Radio-Canada)

The teams will initially focus on helping frail or elderly people, as well as those with mental health issues and addictions, said Simone Thibault, executive director of the Centretown Community Health Centre.

“Often those are the people who end up in emergency that could have been better cared for in the community,” said Thibault, whose organization is one of the team’s initial partners.

Thibault said the Ottawa Health Team will first monitor the success of their approach by evaluating “a few hundred” patients, and then expanding until it includes everyone within its region. 

“We know the system’s not working,” she said. “It’s complicated, and we just want to simplify the system.”

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, has concerns over the accountability and oversight of the new teams. (CBC)

Skepticism remains

Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, remains skeptical of the province’s strategy. 

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and governments have been saying that … this plan or that plan or what have you will facilitate moving people out of hospitals,” said Mehra, whose group advocates for public health care.

She believes patients are already shifted into home care as soon as spots are available, and that they only languish in hospital when long-term care beds don’t exist. 

“We don’t see how the health teams are going to actually help the demand and supply problems,” said Mehra.

She also has questions about oversight, arguing more could be done to make the teams transparent and accountable to both patients and the public.

“We are quite concerned because [with] the previous iterations of these types of things there was at least public governance. There was a written plan, there was public oversight, there were meetings,” she said.

“The Ontario Health Teams have no such thing. There’s no meeting to [attend], there’s no minutes of the meeting, there’s no clarity around what they’re planning.”

Won’t save province money

Ontario Health will continue to be the governing body over the health teams, including Ottawa’s, Elliott said. 

Money will flow from Ontario Health to the local teams, the minister added, and they can organize in anyway they see fit, be it partnerships or corporations.

“They will have a budget that they will receive for the care of all of the people within their geographic area, and there will be an agreement between Ontario Health and the local team that sets standards and expectations that go along with the money,” Elliott said.

The new model is not expected to save the province money, Elliott said.

The initial partners behind the Ottawa Health Team are:

  • Bruyère Continuing Care
  • Carefor Health and Community Services
  • Carlington Community Health Centre
  • Centretown Community Health Centre
  • Ottawa Inner City Health, Inc.
  • Ottawa Public Health
  • Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre
  • Sandy Hill Community Health Centre
  • Somerset West Community Health Centre
  • South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre
  • The Ottawa Hospital


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Treat HIV early to improve survival

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

Treating HIV infection hours to days after birth could improve a person’s chances of having a long and healthy life, researchers say.

Two studies released this week, ahead of World AIDS Day, focus on improving long-term health outcomes, in children or adults, by treating HIV sooner.

“Early is better” may seem self-evident. But HIV doctors and scientists say that wasn’t the case when powerful but toxic treatments first became available.

“Initially, we waited until people actually had symptoms from their HIV, but now we know that if we actually start treating earlier, the overall damage to the immune system will not be as much,” says Dr. Laura Sauvé, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Sauvé said adults who get infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, might not have any symptoms for years, so it might seem “counterintuitive” to treat someone before they feel sick

But she said a study released this week by researchers at Harvard University in Boston, treating infants with HIV early in Botswana, is important because it showed how treating sooner:

  • Improves health.
  • Affects how a baby’s immune system evolves.
  • Shrinks HIV’s reservoir, an important step toward understanding how to cure HIV infection

The reservoir is a place where HIV hides out and sleeps. When someone is treated with antiretrovirals, the virus becomes undetectable in the blood but it still lurks hidden in the central nervous system and other immune cells, said Sauvé, who was not involved in the study.

“The smaller the reservoir, the better the chance that we have of us eventually getting rid of HIV in the body.”

For the study in Botswana, researchers treated 10 infants born with HIV within hours to a few days after birth.

After two years, the 10 children treated the earliest had a smaller reservoir of HIV and more robust functioning of a key part of the immune system, compared with a second group of 10 infected infants who started treatment months after birth. 

Without treatment, 50 per cent of HIV-infected children die by two years of age, Dr. Roger Shapiro of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told reporters in a teleconference hosted by the journal Science Translational Medicine.

In sub-Saharan Africa, it’s estimated 300-500 pediatric HIV infections occur each day, Shapiro said.

2nd study

While early treatment shows promise, prevention remains paramount, Sauvé said. Treating pregnant women with antiretrovirals prevents the virus from spreading to the baby.

In Canada, about 245-250 babies are born to women living with HIV each year, and about 98 per cent of the mothers have access to treatment. Still, one to five new HIV-infected babies are born every year across the country, Sauvé said.

Meanwhile, Sauvé said, a Canadian counterpart to the Botswana trial called EPIC4 also aims to study whether early treatment of infants born with HIV is effective. 

Both trials began after the birth in 2010 of the “Mississippi baby,” a girl who received a combination of three antiviral medications within 30 hours of her birth. Even though her family stopped treatment when she was a toddler, her HIV stayed in remission for 27 months before it relapsed and she restarted treatment.

A scanning electron microscopic image shows the presence of numerous human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) virions (spherical in appearance) budding from cultured human lymphocytes. (C. Goldsmith, P. Feorino, E. L. Palmer, W. R. McManus/CDC/Reuters)

A second HIV study published this week in the journal Cell Reports focused on preventing HIV at an even earlier stage.

Using a humanized mouse model, virologist Éric Cohen and his team looked at whether the virus can be attacked during the brief window of time between when it enters the body and when it spreads beyond the area of infection.

“As soon as you stop treatment, the virus rebounds,” said Cohen, a professor of microbiology, immunology and infectious disease at the University of Montreal. “The virus rebounds because it is hidden … and silent in these cells that establish very early on.”

To prevent infection, scientists need to understand the early stages of HIV infection, when the virus is most vulnerable, Cohen said.

Since HIV doesn’t harm regular mice, Cohen’s experiment used mice with immune systems that were replaced by human immune systems susceptible to HIV.

Overwhelm HIV early

Our immune system has an innate component that kicks in immediately to recognize foreign patterns in viruses and bacteria to help prevent or control infections. 

“They found this specific cell that’s involved in the innate immune system that, if you treat it with a specific type of drug, you can enhance its function, and by doing so it provides better immune response and more protection,” said Eric Arts, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Western University in London, Ont., who wasn’t involved in Cohen’s study.

These cells, called plasmacytoid dendritic cells, are small, rounded cells that patrol the body, on guard to detect invaders as part of innate immunity, and alerting other defences.

But in HIV infection, these guard cells are lost, allowing infection, and disease, to progress.

The big caveat, Arts said, is that the research is at a mouse model stage — a long way from a vaccine that’s safe and effective to use in humans.

Tricky HIV

And the complexity of HIV has stymied vaccine researchers for decades.

“Each time researchers have thought they were onto a strategy that might protect people, HIV is tricky enough to get around those strategies,” Sauvé said.

As Canadians mark World AIDS Day on Sunday, it’s a chance to take stock of progress toward the World Health Organization’s and UNAIDS’ goal of 95-95-95 by 2030:

  • Identify 95 per cent of those infected.
  • Treat nearly all of them.
  • Make sure they’re successfully virus-suppressed enough that it doesn’t harm their health and won’t be sexually transmitted to someone else.

Arts, who hold the Canada Research Chair in HIV research, said Canada isn’t there yet.

Despite the 95-95-95 goals, in 2016, an estimated 86 per cent in Canada were diagnosed and aware they had HIV (meaning 14 per cent didn’t know); 81 per cent of those who were diagnosed were on treatment; and 89 per cent of those on treatment had achieved viral suppression, according to CATIE, a Canadian HIV awareness and research organization.

“Unless we reach those goals of higher levels of knowing people are infected, treated and sustained treatment — effective treatment — we’re never going to be successful.”

To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, please subscribe.

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Trudeau says he would look at ways to improve medical assistance in dying law

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said today that if he’s re-elected prime minister, he’ll bring in legislation to expand access to medical assistance in dying.

The Trudeau government commissioned expert panels to look at other areas of assisted death, including advance requests and extending the right to mature minors and people with severe psychiatric disorders.

Trudeau did not offer specifics today when asked how he would proceed in those areas if he’s re-elected, but said he would aim to strike a balance between protecting the most vulnerable people and respecting the rights and choices of Canadians.

“We recognize that we need to take more steps to move forward as a society. We recognized that court cases would come in, that people would be evolving as a society and that’s what we’ve responded to,” he told reporters after a rally in the Montreal riding of Outremont.

“We will move forward in a responsible way with legislation that responds to that.”

Trudeau also promised to ensure the proper supports are in place for palliative care and people with disabilities, so that no one chooses to end their life because they can’t get the help they need.

‘Live in dignity’

“The essential element around society is ensuring that everyone gets the supports, the treatment they need to live in dignity, and to make the choice of medical assistance in dying one that is made in a way that isn’t because you’re not getting the supports and cares that you actually need,” he said.

A Quebec judge invalidated sections of the federal and Quebec laws on medically assisted dying last month, ruling that they were too restrictive and therefore unconstitutional.

Trudeau said the Liberals would review the court decision to see how the law could be improved, but that the federal government would not appeal the ruling.

The judge invalidated a Criminal Code requirement that a natural death be “reasonably foreseeable” before someone can be eligible for assisted death.

Trudeau said that when the legislation was introduced three years ago, he knew that various courts would rule on it and that Canadians’ views on the subject would evolve.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said he would appeal the ruling so that the Supreme Court of Canada could provide certainty.

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Upcoming AI Traffic Systems Can Improve Pedestrian Safety Without Sacrificing Privacy

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The city of Vienna recently commissioned a team of developers at Austria’s Graz University of Technology to develop a button-free pedestrian crossing system that uses artificial intelligence to get the job done.  Rather than pushing a button and wondering if it actually matters while waiting to cross, the new method will employ cameras and image classification algorithms to determine when people need to cross the street.

This new system will use a crossing light-mounted camera with a 26 by 16-foot area of view and use custom-developed algorithms to analyze pedestrian movement, path choice, and crossing intention.  The AI will send its results to the existing traffic system to request a walking light change and it will permit walking as soon as possible.  Once the walk light turns on, the AI will monitor pedestrian crossing to ensure safety.  Rather than using a simple timer, the AI will inform the traffic system when pedestrians have crossed safely or abandoned their crossing ambitions so the light can turn off.

The team of developers also considered two important factors: outdoor weather and privacy concerns.  The system was designed to operate in imperfect conditions and even function during power fluctuations.  Additionally, only the AI can see the images captured by the camera.  The system will neither transmit or record anything in an effort to maintain pedestrian privacy.

While this evolution of your standard traffic light should provide some much-needed improvements to safety and efficiency, it still remains in its infancy.  The developers deserve credit for their efforts to create technology that creates a safer environment without making sacrifices, but some of the responsibility for our privacy still lies with us.  These new systems may become the targets of malicious exploits someday.

With feature-rich and inexpensive security cameras (e.g. Wyze) flooding the consumer market we’re already watched by more digital eyes than ever.  Home networks typically provide a much easier target for hackers and, along with other common exploits (e.g. webcam hacking), so new camera-based traffic systems likely pose far less of a threat (so long as reasonable precautions are taken to prevent malicious activity.  While we should remain aware that we live in an era of constant surveillance with questionable security, we can at least rest a little easier when crossing the street in the near future.

Top image credit: Nicola Di Concilio, Rog. a de Souza, and Adam Dachis

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