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Teens feeling disconnected, hopeless due to COVID-19 raises alarm for parents, experts

Ten months into the coronavirus pandemic, Toronto teen Serena Sri is sorely missing all the “amazing” things about adolescent life, from spirit days, intramural sports and learning in-person at her high school in the city’s west end to hanging out with friends and attending her beloved hip-hop dance class.

“I’m really a social person and I love being around people. With the pandemic, we can’t do that,” she said.

“I kind of feel more alone and I kind of… shut down in a sense. And I lose my motivation to do anything, even simple things in my daily life.”

The pandemic has also had a negative effect on Edmonton student Quinncy Raven-Jackson, who says a more solitary life under COVID-19 restrictions has exacerbated the anxiety disorder he’s been dealing with.

“I have difficulty with social interaction sometimes, so not seeing people, I sometimes forget how much these people care about me and stuff like that. So it was very lonely,” said the 19-year-old University of Alberta freshman. 

“I have a good relationship with both my parents and a great therapist, so I had some safe adults to speak to, fortunately. But even when you have those kinds of help, it doesn’t always really resonate.”

‘I have difficulty with social interaction sometimes, so not seeing people, I sometimes forget how much these people care about me,’ said Edmonton student Quinncy Raven-Jackson, ahead of a bit of cycling with his dad, Mark Jackson. (Peter Evans/CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many teens and young Canadians feeling disconnected, hopeless and unmotivated to navigate school and daily life — and this sentiment is causing concern for parents and experts alike.

“Everyone’s normal has now changed into something completely different from what it was 10 months ago,” said Sadia Fazelyar, a post-secondary student and youth mental health advocate for Jack.org, a national charity focused on young Canadians.

“The biggest thing I hear from youth is it’s this whole new thing that nobody really knows how to navigate properly.”

Many young people aren’t comfortable speaking up about difficulties, feelings or mental health struggles they’re facing, so they look to sports, the arts, clubs or social groups as a form of support, Fazelyar says. “Now it’s all been taken away from them and it really hits them hard.” 

WATCH | What would young Canadians tell their pre-pandemic selves?

Canadian teens and young adults on mental health challenges and thoughts about living through the pandemic. 4:40

Seeing classmates, friends or family through a screen, even regularly, doesn’t offer the same opportunity for connection, added the 21-year-old Ryerson University student.

“Youth feel alone. And it’s kind of hard to have that conversation or even to bring it up … because it feels like they shouldn’t be alone. They get to talk to their classmates five days a week on Zoom in the classroom. They can call their friends. They get to be with their family, but it’s just not the same.”

Concern about the mental well-being of Canada’s youth is rising. A child mental health research team spearheaded by Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children is currently conducting a study into the effect COVID-19 is having on the mental health of young Canadians. Ottawa clinics and support groups are seeing a spike in demand for mental health resources, while medical officials in Calgary have noted a rise in cases of eating disorders

Wanting to explore what kids and teens are thinking and feeling about COVID-19, Nikki Martyn, program head of early childhood studies at the University of Guelph-Humber, launched a research project analyzing artwork created by youngsters in response to the pandemic.

Though submissions came from children as young as two years old, the majority were by 14- to 17-year-olds, says the educator and child psychology researcher. “It shows how much teenagers really want to be heard and have so much to say.”

The artworks include illustration, painting, sculpture, mixed-media creations, even musical compositions, and the message within them is clear, according to Martyn: It’s a painful time and young people are struggling.

WATCH | Social isolation, school closures take a toll on mental health of teens:

Teenagers are struggling with mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, even more than usual. A few of them share their struggles and a psychologist shares an art project that helps teens express themselves. 6:45

“They’re feeling sad and alone and isolated and worried and scared. They feel lack of motivation and distress and failure,” she said.

“What I worry about is the helplessness or the disillusionment about their own future. Sometimes even anger, which we all understand. It’s the same things in some ways that we’re feeling as adults, but it’s different because of where they’re at developmentally at this time of their life.” 

The writing and phrases included within some of the artwork — “What’s the point? No one cares. This is too much. I am not OK. Broken’ — speak volumes, Martyn added.

“The teens were able to share this perspective and their experience very clearly. I think it’s really important that we listen to it.”

The majority of artworks submitted to her new research project were from 14- to 17-year-olds, showing ‘how much teenagers really want to be heard and have so much to say,’ says child psychology expert Nikki Martyn, seen with her 15-year-old son Carson Capobianco in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

‘It’s OK to not be OK now’

Martyn says she believes these pandemic-inspired feelings go beyond the already powerful emotions and stresses teens have in regular times, but that this moment also presents families with an opportunity to normalize open discussion about mental health.

She suggests parents open up to their kids and teens about their own vulnerabilities, sharing when they themselves are feeling drained, that they’ve had enough or that they also can’t wait for this all to be over.

“It’s OK to not be OK now,” she said.

Right now, small steps like getting outdoors and talking to a counselor are helpful, says Serena Sri, seen here with her mother Ashanty. ‘Making sure that I’m still like going outside for walks, even though it’s only with my mom.’ (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

Ashanty Sri is worried about the toll the pandemic is taking on her daughter Serena, who has also been diagnosed with anxiety. She wonders about what longer term effect there may be on today’s teens, who are navigating growing up without the social, classroom and even part-time job experiences they’re used to. 

For now, the mother-daughter duo are putting the focus on mental wellbeing by taking small steps, noted the Toronto elementary school teacher. Getting active outdoors has helped, added Serena. 

“Making sure that I’m still like going outside for walks, even though it’s only with my mom… Also a great outlet is talking to somebody like a counselor or a therapist, because I feel like it helps releasing everything.”

Maintaining connections with peers is another recommendation from Fazelyar, the youth mental health advocate — things like regular phone or video calls with friends, online game nights, watching movies together via apps or, if local restrictions permit, physically distanced time outdoors.

“You should still be ‘being social,'” Fazelyar said. 

“When you’re thrown into this or you feel like you’re kind of alone because you don’t have your friends or social network, it’s just best to find new ways to adapt.”

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AstraZeneca manufacturing error raises questions about vaccine study results

AstraZeneca and Oxford University on Wednesday acknowledged a manufacturing error that is raising questions about preliminary results of their experimental COVID-19 vaccine.

A statement describing the error came days after the company and the university described the shots as “highly effective” and made no mention of why some study participants didn’t receive as much vaccine in the first of two shots as expected.

In a surprise, the group of volunteers that got a lower dose seemed to be much better protected than the volunteers who got two full doses. In the low-dose group, AstraZeneca said, the vaccine appeared to be 90 per cent effective. In the group that got two full doses, the vaccine appeared to be 62 per cent effective. Combined, the drugmakers said the vaccine appeared to be 70 per cent effective. But the way in which the results were arrived at and reported by the companies has led to pointed questions from experts.

The partial results announced Monday are from large ongoing studies in the U.K. and Brazil designed to determine the optimal dose of vaccine, as well as examine safety and effectiveness. Multiple combinations and doses were tried in the volunteers. They were compared to others who were given a meningitis vaccine or a saline shot.

Before they begin their research, scientists spell out all the steps they are taking, and how they will analyze the results. Any deviation from that protocol can put the results in question.

None of the volunteers in the trial who received the half dose was under the age of 55. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

Real or quirk?

In a statement Wednesday, Oxford University said some of the vials used in the trial didn’t have the right concentration of vaccine so some volunteers got a half dose. The university said that it discussed the problem with regulators, and agreed to complete the late-stage trial with two groups. The manufacturing problem has been corrected, according to the statement.

Experts say the relatively small number of people in the low-dose group makes it difficult to know if the effectiveness seen in the group is real or a statistical quirk. Some 2,741 people received a half dose of the vaccine followed by a full dose, AstraZeneca said. A total of 8,895 people received two full doses.

Another factor: none of the people in the low-dose group were over 55 years old. Younger people tend to mount a stronger immune response than older people, so it could be that the youth of the participants in the low-dose group is why it looked more effective, not the size of the dose.

A laboratory technician works at the mAbxience biopharmaceutical company in Garin, Argentina, which has agreed to make the AstraZeneca vaccine if approved. Details of the preliminary trial are to be published in medical journals. (Natacha Pisarenko/The Associated Press)

Another point of confusion comes from a decision to pool results from two groups of participants who received different dosing levels to reach an average 70 per cent effectiveness, said David Salisbury, and associate fellow of the global health program at the Chatham House think tank.

“You’ve taken two studies for which different doses were used and come up with a composite that doesn’t represent either of the doses,” he said of the figure. “I think many people are having trouble with that.”

Oxford researchers say they aren’t certain and they are working to uncover the reason.

‘The Goldilocks amount’

Sarah Gilbert, one of the Oxford scientists leading the research, said the answer is probably related to providing exactly the right amount of vaccine to trigger the best immune response.

“It’s the Goldilocks amount that you want, I think, not too little and not too much. Too much could give you a poor quality response as well,” she said. “So you want just the right amount and it’s a bit hit and miss when you’re trying to go quickly to get that perfect first time.”

Details of the trial results will be published in medical journals and provided to U.K. regulators so they can decide whether to authorize distribution of the vaccine. Those reports will include a detailed breakdown that includes demographic and other information about who got sick in each group, and give a more complete picture of how effective the vaccine is.

Moncef Slaoui, who leads the U.S. coronavirus vaccine program Operation Warp Speed, said Tuesday in a call with reporters that U.S. officials are trying to determine what immune response the vaccine produced, and may decide to modify the AstraZeneca study in the U.S. to include a half dose.

“But we want it to be based on data and science,” he said.

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TikTok to leave Hong Kong as security law raises worries

TikTok said Tuesday it will stop operations in Hong Kong, joining other social media companies in warily eyeing ramifications of a sweeping national security law that took effect last week.

The short-form video app’s planned departure from Hong Kong comes as various social media platforms and messaging apps including Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Google and Twitter balk at the possibility of providing user data to Hong Kong authorities.

The social media companies say they are assessing implications of the security law, which prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in the city’s internal affairs. In the communist-ruled mainland, the foreign social media platforms are blocked by China’s “Great Firewall.”

Critics see the law as Beijing’s boldest step yet to erase the legal divide between the former British colony and the mainland’s authoritarian Communist Party system.

TikTok said in a statement that it had decided to halt operations “in light of recent events.”

Protesters carry the flag which reads “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time” in Hong Kong last month. A new security law criminalizes some of these pro-democracy slogans. (Kin Cheung/The Associated Press)

Facebook and its messaging app WhatsApp said in separate statements Monday that they would freeze the review of government requests for user data in Hong Kong, “pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts.”

Hong Kong was convulsed with massive, sometimes violent anti-government protests for much of last year as the former British colony’s residents reacted to proposed extradition legislation, since withdrawn, that might have led to some suspects facing trial in mainland Chinese courts.

The new law criminalizes some pro-democracy slogans like the widely used “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” which the Hong Kong government says has separatist connotations.

The fear is that it erodes the special freedoms of the semi-autonomous city, which has operated under a “one country, two systems” framework since China took control in 1997. That arrangement has allowed Hong Kong’s people freedoms not permitted in mainland China, such as unrestricted internet access and public dissent.

Telegram, whose platform has been used widely to spread pro-democracy messages and information about the protests, understands “the importance of protecting the right to privacy of our Hong Kong users,” said Mike Ravdonikas, a spokesperson for the company.

Twitter pauses data requests from Hong Kong

“Telegram has never shared any data with the Hong Kong authorities in the past and does not intend to process any data requests related to its Hong Kong users until an international consensus is reached in relation to the ongoing political changes in the city,” he said.

Twitter also paused all data and information requests from Hong Kong authorities after the law went into effect last week, the company said, emphasizing that it was “committed to protecting the people using our service and their freedom of expression.”

“Like many public interest organisations, civil society leaders and entities, and industry peers, we have grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law,” the company said in a statement.

Google likewise said it had “paused production on any new data requests from Hong Kong authorities.”

Though social platforms have yet to be blocked in Hong Kong, users have begun scrubbing their accounts and deleting pro-democracy posts out of fear of retribution. That retreat has extended to the streets: Many shops and stores that publicly stood in solidarity with protesters have removed the pro-democracy sticky notes and artwork that had adorned their walls.

Chinese President Xi Jinping casts his vote on the Hong Kong national security law at the closing session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing on May 28. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Under implementation rules of Article 43 of the national security law, which give the city’s police force sweeping powers in enforcing the legislation, platforms, publishers and internet service providers may be ordered to take down any electronic message published that is “likely to constitute an offence endangering national security or is likely to cause the occurrence of an offence endangering national security.”

Hong Kong police arrest 370

Service providers who do not comply with such requests could face fines of up to 100,000 Hong Kong dollars ($ 17,506 Cdn) and receive jail terms of up to six months.

Individuals who post such messages may also be asked to remove the message, or face similar fines and a jail term of one year.

Hong Kong authorities moved quickly to implement the law after it took effect on June 30, with police arresting about 370 people.

The rules allow Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam to authorize police to intercept communications and conduct surveillance to “prevent and detect offences endangering national security.”

Police can conduct searches for evidence without a warrant in “exceptional circumstances” and seek warrants requiring people suspected of violating the national security law to surrender their travel documents, preventing them from leaving Hong Kong.

Written notices or restraining orders also may be issued to freeze or confiscate property if there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect that the property is related to an offence endangering national security.

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Nvidia Unveils Its First Ampere-Based GPU, Raises Bar for Data Center AI

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In lieu of the multi-day extravaganza that is normally Nvidia’s flagship GTC in San Jose, the company has been rolling out a series of talks and announcements online. Even the keynote has gone virtual, with Jensen’s popular and traditionally rambling talk being shifted to YouTube. To be honest, it’s actually easier to cover keynotes from a livestream in an office anyway, although I do miss all the hands-on demos and socializing that goes with the in-person conference.

In any case, this year’s event featured an impressive suite of announcements around Nividia’s new Ampere architecture for both the data center and AI on the edge, beginning with the A100 Ampere-architecture GPU.

Nvidia A100: World’s Largest 7nm Chip Features 54 Billion Transistors

Nvidia’s first Ampere-based GPU, its new A100 is also the world’s largest and most complex 7nm chip, featuring a staggering 54 billion transistors. Nvidia claims performance gains of up to 20x over previous Volta models. The A100 isn’t just for AI, as Nvidia believes it is an ideal GPGPU device for applications including data analytics, scientific computing, and cloud graphics. For lighter-weight tasks like inferencing, a single A100 can be partitioned in up to seven slices to run multiple loads in parallel. Conversely, NVLink allows multiple A100s to be tightly coupled.

All the top cloud vendors have said they plan to support the A100, including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Baidu. Microsoft is already planning to push the envelope of its Turing Natural Language Generation by moving to A100s for training.

Innovative TF32 Aims to Optimize AI Performance

Along with the A100, Nvidia is rolling out a new type of single-precision floating-point — TF32 — for the A100’s Tensor cores. It is a hybrid of FP16 and FP32 that aims to keep some of the performance benefits of moving to FP16 without losing as much precision. The A100’s new cores will also directly support FP64, making them increasingly useful for a variety of HPC applications. Along with a new data format, the A100 also supports sparse matrices, so that AI networks that contain many un-important nodes can be more efficiently represented.

Nvidia DGX A100: 5 PetaFLOPS in a Single Node

Nvidia DGX A100Along with the A100, Nvidia announced its newest data center computer, the DGX A100, a major upgrade to its current DGX models. The first DGX A100 is already in use at the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Lab to help with COVID-19 research. Each DGX A100 features 8 A100 GPUs, providing 156 TFLOPS of FP64 performance and 320GB of GPU memory. It’s priced starting at “only” (their words) $ 199,000. Mellanox interconnects allow for multiple GPU deployments, but a single DGX A100 can also be partitioned in up to 56 instances to allow for running a number of smaller workloads.

In addition to its own DGX A100, Nvidia expects a number of its traditional partners, including Atos, Supermicro, and Dell, to build the A100 into their own servers. To assist in that effort, Nvidia is also selling the HGX A100 data center accelerator.

Nvidia HGX A100 Hyperscale Data Center Accelerator

Nvidia DGX A100 InternalsThe HGX A100 includes the underlying building blocks of the DGX A100 supercomputer in a form factor suitable for cloud deployment. Nvidia makes some very impressive claims for the price-performance and power efficiency gains that its cloud partners can expect from moving to the new architecture.  Specifically, with today’s DGX-1 Systems Nvidia says a typical cloud cluster includes 50 DGX-1 units for training, 600 CPUs for inference, costs $ 11 million, occupies 25 racks, and draws 630 kW of power. With Ampere and the DGX A100, Nvidia says only one kind of computer is needed, and a lot less of them: 5 DGX A100 units for both training and inference at a cost of $ 1 million, occupying 1 rack, and consuming only 28 kW of power.

DGX A100 SuperPOD

Of course, if you’re a hyperscale compute center, you can never have enough processor power. So Nvidia has created a SuperPOD from 140 DGX A100 systems, 170 InfiniBand switches, 280 TB/s network fabric (using 15km of optical cable), and 4PB of flash storage. All that hardware delivers over 700 petaflops of AI performance and was built by Nvidia in under three weeks to use for its own internal research. If you have the space and the money, Nvidia has released the reference architecture for its SuperPOD, so you can build your own. Joel and I think it sounds like the makings of a great DIY article. It should be able to run his Deep Space Nine upscaling project in about a minute.

Nvidia Expands Its SaturnV Supercomputer

Of course, Nvidia has also greatly expanded its SaturnV supercomputer to take advantage of Ampere. SaturnV was composed of 1800 DGX-1 Systems, but Nividia has now added 4 DGX A100 SuperPODs, bringing SaturnV to a total capacity of 4.6 exaflops. According to Nvidia, that makes it the fastest AI supercomputer in the world.

For AI on the Edge Nvidia's new EGX A100 offers massive compute along with local and network security

For AI on the Edge, Nvidia’s new EGX A100 offers massive compute along with local and network security

Jetson EGX A100 Takes the A100 to the Edge

Ampere and the A100 aren’t confined to the data center. Nvidia also announced a high-powered, purpose-built GPU for edge computing. The Jetson EGX A100 is built around an A100, but also includes Mellanox CX6 DX high-performance connectivity that’s secured using a line speed crypto engine. The GPU also includes support for encrypted models to help protect an OEM’s intellectual property. Updates to Nvidia’s Jetson-based toolkits for various industries (including Clara, Jarvis, Aerial, Isaac, and Metropolis) will help OEMs build robots, medical devices, and a variety of other high-end products using the EGX A100.

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How Deadly Is COVID-19? New Stanford Study Raises as Many Questions as It Answers

Among the many “known unknowns” complicating the creation of public policies to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic is estimating its lethality. We know that overall, it has been dramatic, with nearly 40,000 fatalities in the US alone in just over a month. But since we don’t know how many people have been infected, we don’t know how likely it is to be deadly for someone who contracts it.

Early estimates based on confirmed cases have ranged from 1 to 5 percent. It has always been assumed that these estimates are high since, in most countries including the US, only the sickest have been tested — at least until very recently. But we don’t have any solid data on the real number of cases, or how much the mortality rate varies by demographics. It does seem clear that COVID-19 is more dangerous to older people and those with underlying conditions, but we don’t know by how much.

In order to get real answers for the mortality rate, studies of broader populations are needed. Quite a few of those have gotten underway around the world, with several of them in the United States. One of the first to report its results, in the form of a “pre-print” (not yet peer-reviewed), is an effort led by Stanford University researchers to test 3,300 volunteers from Santa Clara County. That includes Stanford at one end, stretches through much of Silicon Valley past San Jose at the other end, and has a population of almost two million.

Apple’s new screening tool.

Estimated Infections of ’50 to 85 Times’ Confirmed Case Count

The striking conclusion of the Stanford researchers in the pre-print of their study, which has gained traction in media around the world, is their estimate that the prevalence of COVID-19 in the area is 50 to 85 times higher than the confirmed case count. It’s not surprising that the actual number is higher than the confirmed number. But previously, most estimates have been closer to 5 or 10 times the confirmed case count.

The obvious implication of their conclusion is that the mortality rate for COVID-19 is much lower than current estimates, and by a large enough margin that it is worth re-evaluating our public policy response. However, there are a number of good reasons to tread carefully in using the study’s findings. These reasons have unfortunately been overlooked by many in their rush to trumpet the headline conclusion or justify policy actions. We’ll take you through some of the most significant caveats.

A Quick Review of Antibody Testing for COVID-19

Almost all the testing that has been done in the US, and most of the world, related to COVID-19 has been using diagnostic tests for 2019-nCov, the virus which causes it (also referred to as SARS-2-nCoV). A correct positive result means that the subject is currently infected. That’s helpful for deciding on possible courses of therapy, and for compiling active case counts, but it doesn’t tell you if a person has had COVID-19 and recovered. As a result, those tests don’t allow you to sample the general population to see who might have developed some immunity, or how widespread unnoticed or undiagnosed cases have been.

Antibody testing is complementary to diagnostic testing in this case. Tests can measure one or both IgM and IgG (Immunoglobulin M and Immunoglobulin G) reactivity to the 2019-nCoV virus. IgM levels rise fairly soon after the onset of COVID-19, but eventually decrease, while IgG levels represent an ongoing resistance (and hopefully some longer-term at least partial immunity). So for completeness, antibody tests should ideally measure both.

Test Sensitivity and Specificity

If you haven’t previously dug into evaluating tests, two important terms to learn are sensitivity and specificity. Sensitivity is how likely a test is to correctly identify a positive subject with a positive test result. A low sensitivity means that many subjects who should test as positive don’t — aka a false negative. Specificity is a similar concept, except it measures how many subjects who should test negative actually do. Here, a low sensitivity means more false positives. Depending on the purpose of the test, one may be a lot more important than the other. Interpreting them is also dependent on the overall ratio of positive to negative subjects, as we’ll see when we look at Stanford’s results.

About the Antibody Test Stanford Used

Hangzhou Biotest Biotech COVID-19 Test Devices Distributed by Premier BiotestAt the time Stanford did the study, there weren’t any FDA-approved COVID-19 antibody tests for clinical use. But for research purposes, the team purchased tests from Premier Biotech in Minnesota. Premier has started marketing a COVID-19 antibody test, but it doesn’t create it. The test listed on the company’s website, and that it appears Stanford used, is from Hangzhou Biotest Biotech, an established Chinese lab test vendor. It is similar in concept to a number of COVID-19 antibody tests that have been available in China since late February and the clinical test data matches the data Stanford provides exactly, so it appears to be the one used.

In particular, the sensitivity and particularly the specificity results for the Hangzhou test are impressive — and important. The researchers analyzed test results from the manufacturer and complemented them with additional testing on blood samples from Stanford. Overall, they rated the sensitivity of the tests at 80.3 percent and the specificity at 99.5 percent. Strikingly, though, the manufacturer’s test results for sensitivity (on 78 known positives) were well over 90 percent, while the Stanford blood samples yielded only 67 percent (on 37 known positives). The study combined them for an overall value of 80.3 percent, but clearly, larger sample sizes would be helpful, and the massive divergence between the two numbers warrants further investigation. This is particularly important as the difference between the two represents a massive difference in the final estimates of infection rate.

On sensitivity, the manufacturer’s results were 99.5 percent for one antibody and 99.2 percent for the other, on 371 samples. The tests for both antibodies performed perfectly on Stanford’s 30 negative samples. Overall, Stanford estimated the test sensitivity at 99.5 percent. That’s important because if the sample population is dominated by negative results — as it is when testing the general public for COVID-19 — even a small percentage of false positives can throw things off.

Hangzhou Biotest Biotech COVID-19 Test Device manufacturer test results

Hangzhou Biotest Biotech COVID-19 Test Device manufacturer test results

There is some additional reason to be skeptical about the particular test used. In another pre-print, researchers from Hospitals and Universities in Denmark rated the Hangzhou-developed test last in accuracy of the nine they tested. In particular, it had only an 87 percent specificity (it misidentified two of 15 negative samples as being positive). That is a far cry from the 99.5 percent calculated by Stanford:

The Hangzhou POC (Point of Care) antibody test for COVID-19 generated 2 false positives in 15 samples when evaluated by Danish researchers.

The Hangzhou POC (Point of Care) antibody test for COVID-19 generated 2 false positives in 15 samples when evaluated by Danish researchers.

Models Have Error Bars for a Reason

The paper is quite upfront about the large potential errors introduced by the relatively small sample sizes involved. For example, the 95 percent Confidence Interval (CI) for specificity is given as 98.3 to 99.9 percent. If the specificity was actually 98.3 percent, the number of false positives would just about equal the number of positive results in the study. The team’s own paper points out that with slightly different numbers, the infection rate among its test subjects could be less than 1 percent, which would put it fairly close to existing estimates. Obviously errors in specificity could be canceled out by offsetting errors in sensitivity, but the point is that news headlines never seem to come with error bars.

The Stanford study contains an impressive set of statistical caveats, but those are lost in the sensationalist headlines and sound bytes it has generated.

The Stanford study contains an impressive set of statistical caveats, but those are lost in the sensationalist headlines and sound bytes it has generated.

Models and studies also need to be reality checked against known data. For example, the Stanford study estimates that the actual mortality rate for COVID-19 among the general population is .12-.2 percent, instead of the much larger figures we’re used to reading. However, New York City already has a COVID-19 mortality rate of around .15 percent of its total population. That would imply that every single resident of New York City has been infected and had enough time for the disease to have taken hold.

As unlikely as that is, more people are unfortunately dying there each day, so it just isn’t plausible that the mortality rate there is as low as Stanford’s paper estimates. Here, too, they point out that there are lots of variables at play that would affect mortality rates. But those caveats are small solace if people run off with the headline numbers as if they were settled science.

The Study’s Selectivity Bias May Not be Fixable After the Fact

Volunteers for the study were recruited via Facebook ads, for reasons of expediency. The researchers have done an impressively thorough job of trying to correct for the resulting demographic skew of volunteers compared with the general population of Santa Clara County — ultimately estimating that the general public has nearly twice the infection rate of their subjects. Demographically, that might make sense, but it completely ignores how volunteers might self-select. Those who felt sick earlier in the year but thought it was the flu, those who thought they had COVID-19 but couldn’t get tested, those who had traveled to China or Europe, and those who’d been in contact with someone with COVID-19 but been unable to get tested would all seem like very likely enthusiasts for a quick sign up. After all, volunteering meant spending a chunk of a day waiting in a parking lot to have your finger pricked.

There doesn’t seem to have been any attempt to measure or control for this bias in subject selectivity. As a result, it is hard to see how the study can be interpreted as literally as it has been by so many sources.

The authors are open about issues with subject self-selection causes bias, but don't have a way to deal with it

The authors are open about issues with subject self-selection causes bias, but don’t have a way to deal with it.

It’s great that we’ve finally started to collect some data on the true incidence of COVID-19 here in the United States, and a much higher than expected incidence of infections certainly has implications in determining how fatal it is and the best approach for dealing with it. However, we need to look past the headline and remember that this is just one small piece of a very large puzzle. It’s going to take a lot more work to fill the rest in.

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Xi’s early involvement in coronavirus outbreak raises questions

A recent speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping that has been published by state media indicates for the first time that he was leading the response to a new virus outbreak from early on in the crisis.

The publication of the Feb. 3 speech was an apparent attempt to demonstrate that the Communist Party leadership acted decisively from the beginning, but also opens Xi up to criticism over why the public was not alerted sooner.

In the speech, Xi said he gave instructions on fighting the virus on Jan. 7 and ordered the shutdown that began on Jan. 23 of cities at the epicentre of the outbreak. His remarks were published by state media late Saturday.

“On Jan. 22, in light of the epidemic’s rapid spread and the challenges of prevention and control, I made a clear request that Hubei province implement comprehensive and stringent controls over the outflow of people,” he told a meeting of the party’s standing committee, its top body.

China’s National Health Commission on Sunday reported a drop in new virus cases for the third straight day. There were 2,009 new cases in mainland China, bringing the total to 68,500.

The mortality rate remained stable with 142 new deaths, the commission said, raising the death toll from COVID-19, a disease caused by a new coronavirus, to 1,665. Another 9,419 people have recovered and been discharged from hospitals.

Four people have died outside of mainland China, with the most recent fatalities in France and Japan last week.

The Canadian government said Saturday it was sending a chartered plane to repatriate the Canadians stuck on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been quarantined in Yokohama, Japan since Feb. 3 due to coronavirus.

Visitors walk past the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship Sunday in Yokohama. The Canadian government said Saturday it was chartering a plane to fly home the Canadians on board. Americans free of symptoms who wish to leave the ship before the quarantine ends on Wednesday were to begin their departure Sunday night in order to catch government-organized flights home. (Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press)

Fifteen Canadian passengers, out of the 255 initially confined to their cabins, have contracted the virus and at least three have been hospitalized. Those who are transported back to Canada will undergo a 14-day period of quarantine.

About 400 Americans on the quarantined ship were also awaiting charter flights home as Japan announced another 70 infections had been confirmed on the vessel, increasing the number of infected to 355.

WATCH | A Canadian on the ship says the airlift is ‘too much, too late’:

Paul Marko of Richmond, B.C., says he and his wife have already tested negative for coronavirus on the Diamond Princess. 0:37

Xi’s role was muted in the early days of the epidemic, which has grown into one of the biggest political challenges of his seven-year tenure.

The disclosure of his speech indicates top leaders knew about the outbreak’s potential severity weeks before such dangers were made known to the public. It was not until late January that officials said the virus can spread between humans and public alarm began to rise.

Trust in the government’s approach to outbreaks remains fractured after the SARS epidemic of 2002 and 2003, which was covered up for months.

The COVID-19 outbreak began in December in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, which has the bulk of infections and deaths. On Jan. 23, Wuhan became the first city to impose an unprecedented halt on outbound transportation, since expanded to other cities with a combined population of more than 60 million.

Authorities in Hubei and Wuhan faced public fury over their initial handling of the epidemic. The anger reached a peak earlier this month following the death of Li Wenliang, a young doctor who was reprimanded by local police for trying to spread a warning about the virus. He ended up dying of the disease himself.

In apparent response, the Communist Party’s top officials in Hubei and Wuhan were dismissed and replaced last week.

Even as authorities have pledged transparency through the current outbreak, citizen journalists who challenged the official narrative with video reports from Wuhan have disappeared and are believed to be detained.

The fall in new cases follows a spike of more than 15,000 on Thursday, when Hubei began to include cases that had been diagnosed by a doctor but not yet confirmed by laboratory tests.

Treatment after imaging, doctors’ observations

Overwhelmed by the number of suspected cases, the province has not been able to test every person exhibiting symptoms. The clinical diagnosis is based on doctors’ analyses and lung imaging and is intended to allow probable cases to be treated as confirmed ones without the need to wait for a lab result.

The virus has spread to more than two dozen countries and prompted many to place entry restrictions on people from China and recent visitors to the country.

The Americans aboard the Diamond Princess were told to decide whether to stay or take chartered aircraft arranged by the U.S. government to fly them home, where they would face another 14-day quarantine. Those going were to begin leaving the ship Sunday night. People with symptoms were to be banned from the flights.

American passenger Matthew Smith said he and his wife were not taking the flights, because the 14-day quarantine for the ship is set to end on Wednesday. The evacuees will be taken to Travis Air Force Base in California, with some continuing to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where they will have to undergo another quarantine.

Malaysia ends transit of cruise ship passengers

Malaysia said it would not allow any more passengers from another cruise ship to transit the country after an 83-year-old American woman from the MS Westerdam tested positive for the virus.

She was among 145 passengers who flew from Cambodia to Malaysia on Friday. Her husband also had symptoms but tested negative for the virus. The Westerdam was turned away from four ports around Asia before Cambodia allowed it to dock in Sihanoukville late last week.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said that her country would bar cruise ships that came from or transit any Chinese ports from docking.

Cambodia said earlier that all 1,455 passengers on the Holland America-operated ship had tested negative for the virus.

Taiwan reported its first death from the virus, the fifth fatality outside of mainland China. Taiwan also confirmed two new cases, raising its total to 20.

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Alysha Newman raises Canadian pole vault mark to 4.82m in 1st Diamond League win

Sensing she was on track for her first-ever Diamond League victory, Alysha Newman turned up the heat on a warm Saturday evening in Paris.

The 25-year-old broke her Canadian record for a third time this season with a personal-best 4.82-metre clearance on her third and final attempt at the Meeting de Paris to defeat Olympic and world champion Katerina Stefanidi of Greece.

WATCH | Alysha Newman jumps personal-best 4.82m in Paris:

Alysha Newman wins pole vault in Paris by clearing 4.82m, sets new Canadian record. 0:52

“I’m doing everything I can to win my first Diamond League meet and that’s where my head is at,” Newman told CBC Sports earlier this week from Germany before clearing 4.50 for the win at the Festungsspringen International Pole Vault Meet.

Newman will battle for the Diamond Trophy and $ 50,000 US first price on Sept. 6 in Brussels after finishing third behind Stefanidi (4.85) — the three-time defending Diamond League champion — and Morris (4.75) at the 2017 Diamond League final in Belgium.

“I think what I’ve learned the most about Katerina is how consistent she is,” said Newman, who won her third Canadian title in the past four years last month in Montreal. “Any day she competes, she knows she could jump between 4.60 and 4.75 and Diamond League meets are being won this season at 4.75, 4.80.”

The Diamond League mark of 5.00 belongs to world No. 2 Morris of the United States, who like Stefanidi cleared 4.75 on Saturday but had five missed attempts to her opponent’s four to finish third.

3-time Canadian champion

Saturday’s victory was the first for Newman in five meetings on the Diamond League circuit this season against Stefanidi. The Canadian entered Saturday’s competition brimming with confidence after placing second to the Greek athlete at the Müller Grand Prix last Sunday in Birmingham, U.K.

WATCH | Newman jumps 4.65m to finish 2nd in Birmingham:

Alysha Newman finishes second in the women’s pole vault event in Birmingham with clearance of 4.65 metres. 0:41

Newman achieved her goal of clearing every bar on the first attempt last weekend, jumping 4.65 before calling it a day as swirling winds at Alexander Stadium made it too dangerous for her and others to continue. Stefanidi managed to get a tailwind on her third and final attempt at 4.75 and won the event.

“I was ready to jump higher, was in a good spot [mentally] and thought I was going to have an attempt at 4.82,” said Newman. “It’s very hard to win in Diamond League. For me to be one step closer, I’m excited and feel this is my year to win one.”

Newman cleared 4.77 on her third attempt on July 17 to finish on top of the podium at the Stabhochsprung Jockgrim meet in Germany, less than six weeks after jumping 4.76 at the Speed River Inferno track and field meet in Guelph, Ont.

McBride in top form for Diamond League final

Brandon McBride prepared for his first Diamond League final on Aug. 29 in Zurich, Switzerland, with a season-best performance on Saturday.

The native of Windsor, Ont., went out quickly in the men’s 800 metres and stayed behind pacesetter Harun Adba throughout before a visibly exhausted McBride held off Wesley Vazquez of Puerto Rico over the final 100 metres to post a winning time of one minute 43.78 seconds.

The race wasn’t a points-scoring Diamond League event, but McBride had already secured his spot in next week’s season finale, having entered Saturday’s competition fifth in the standings.

McBride’s previous fastest 800 this season was 1:43.83, set at a Diamond League meet in Monaco on July 12.

The 25-year-old was coming off his third Canadian title in four years and fourth overall after clocking 1:44.63 on July 27 in Montreal.

Vazquez’s time of 1:43.83 is a Puerto Rican record, while Michael Saruni of Kenya was third in 1:44.41.

Lyles breaks Bolt’s meet record in 200m

Aaron Brown, who repeated as Canadian champion in the 200 metres on July 28, finished third on Saturday in 20.13 seconds.

The 27-year-old began the day having already secured a berth in the Diamond League final on Sept. 6 in Brussels.

Noah Lyles of the United States eclipsed eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt’s meet record of 19.73, beating his closest competitor, Ramil Guliyev of Turkey, by three metres with a winning time of 19.65. His season- and personal-best is 19.50, set on July 5 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Guliyev, the reigning world champion, clocked 20.01 but hasn’t dipped under 20 seconds since his season-opening victory in 19.99 on May 3 in Doha, Qatar.

Diamond League on CBC Sports

CBC Sports is providing live streaming coverage of all 14 Diamond League meets this season at CBCSports.ca and via the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices. TV coverage will be featured as part of the network’s Road To The Olympic Games weekend broadcasts throughout the season.

The following is a list of upcoming Diamond League meets, all times ET:

  • Diamond League final, Zurich (Aug. 29, 2–4 p.m.)
  • Diamond League final, Brussels (Sept. 6, 2–4 p.m.)

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Canadian lab’s shipment of Ebola, Henipah viruses to China raises questions

Scientists at the National Microbiology Lab sent live Ebola and Henipah viruses to Beijing on an Air Canada flight March 31, and while the Public Health Agency of Canada says all federal policies were followed, there are questions about whether that shipment is part of an ongoing RCMP investigation.

Ebola and Henipah are Level 4 pathogens, meaning they’re some of the deadliest viruses in the world. They must be contained in a lab with the highest level of biosafety control, such as the one in Winnipeg. 

Two months after that shipment, on May 24, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) referred an “administrative matter” to RCMP that resulted in the removal of two Chinese research scientists — Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng — and several international students on July 5. 

Both agencies have said repeatedly that public safety has not been at risk. 

PHAC will not confirm if the March 31 shipment is part of the RCMP investigation.

Strict protocols

Several sources, who have asked to remain anonymous because they fear for their jobs, say the pathogens may have been shipped to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in a way that circumvented the lab’s operating procedures, and without a document protecting Canada’s intellectual property rights.

Researchers working at the National Microbiology Lab on cutting-edge, high-containment research are not allowed to send anything to other countries or labs without the intellectual property office negotiating and having a material transfer agreement in place, in case the material sent leads to a notable discovery.

A PHAC spokesperson did not confirm if this shipment included such an agreement.

However, Eric Morrissette said it’s “routine” for the lab to share samples of pathogens and toxins with partners in other countries to advance scientific work worldwide.

The transfers follow strict protocols, including requirements under the Human Pathogens and Toxins Act (HPTA), the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, the Canadian Biosafety Standard and the lab’s standard operating procedures, Morrisette added.

“All transfers of Risk Group 4 samples follow strict transportation requirements and are authorized by senior officials at the lab and the NML tracks and keeps electronic records of all shipments of samples in accordance with the HPTA. Agreements for the transfer of materials are determined on a case-by-case basis,” Morrisette wrote in an email statement.

“On the specific shipments to China earlier this year, we can confirm that we have all records pertaining to the shipment, and that all protocols were followed as directed by the above Acts and Standards.”

Sources say Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, were escorted from the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg on July 5. (Governor General’s Innovation Awards)

Xiangguo Qiu is head of the National Microbiology Lab’s Vaccine Development and Antiviral Therapies section in the Special Pathogens Program. She is responsible for the lab that works with Ebola. Her husband, Keding Cheng, is also a PHAC biologist. 

After their security clearance was revoked and they were escorted from the lab, the University of Manitoba also cut ties with them and re-assigned Qiu’s graduate students, pending the RCMP investigation. No charges have been laid.

Neither scientist has responded to requests for comment, although some of their former colleagues say Qiu is not just a world-renowned scientist who helped develop a treatment for Ebola, but also a researcher with ethics and integrity.

Case raises questions 

One question raised by this case is that of intellectual property protection, says Leah West, who practises, studies and publishes in the field of national security law and lectures at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

“If China was leveraging these scientists in Canada to gain access to a potentially valuable pathogen or to elements of a virus without having to license the patent  … it makes sense with the idea of China trying to gain access to valuable IP without paying for it,” she said.

Leah West says she hopes the lab and Health Canada are doing an investigation in addition to the one the RCMP is conducting. (Submitted by Leah West)

West accepts PHAC’s assertion that public safety is not an issue, even though the viruses were transported on a commercial Air Canada flight.

However, she says the fact the RCMP is involved means there’s a legitimate concern.

“You don’t send a policy breach, a bureaucratic policy breach, to the RCMP to investigate unless you believe that that policy breach has resulted in a criminal offence or could have resulted in a criminal offence. So what is the criminal offence potentially here?” West said.

She said she hopes the lab and Health Canada are also doing an internal investigation.

“I think there will need to be an inquiry into the scientists to potentially see whether or not they were compromised or any elements of their work were compromised and that China gained illegal or improper access to Canadian intellectual property … to see what China may have gained access to without knowledge, prior to this incident,” West says.

Don’t ‘jump into any conclusions too quickly’

However, the deputy director of the University of Alberta’s China Institute is urging caution when it comes to making assumptions. 

Jia Wang doesn’t dispute China has been involved in the past in espionage and intellectual property theft, but she says that country is making big investments in developing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) scholars and then putting that into innovation.

China has its own reasons to protect intellectual property because many new ideas are coming from there, Wang says.

She’s waiting to see what comes of the RCMP investigation of the lab in Winnipeg.

“As China observers, we’d like to perhaps gently remind people not to jump into any conclusions too quickly,” she said.

“It will be good to get to the bottom of this and see what might have gone wrong and what was the oversight and how can the procedures be improved or people involved can be reminded of how to adhere to the policies better.”

Jia Wang, deputy director of the University of Alberta’s China Institute, is advising caution about making assumptions concerning the case. (Submitted by Jia Wang)

The shipment of the viruses took place at a time when relations between Canada and China have been strained over the arrest of a Huawei executive, at the request of the United States. 

In retaliation, China has detained two Canadians and is boycotting Canadian canola and pork.

Because of the strained relationship between the two countries, and this case at the lab, Chinese-Canadian researchers and academics are starting to worry they may be singled out and targeted, Wang said.

“Certain assumptions are made or their loyalty to Canada is questioned in any way. And as multicultural as we are in Canada, we don’t want to see that.”  

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Trudeau raises detention of 2 Canadians with Chinese president

The issue of two Canadians detained in China was raised in discussions with the Chinese president at the G20 summit in Osaka, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday.

Canada and China are going through a “challenging moment” right now, Trudeau said in his summit closing press conference, adding that direct conversations are key to moving forward.

“I think it was important that I have an opportunity to have face-to-face discussions with President Xi on this issue,” Trudeau told reporters.

“We take the situation of the two Canadians detained in China extremely seriously and it was important we have those exchanges.”

The prime minister did not have a formal bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi at the summit of leaders from major economies but the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) says there were “constructive interactions” between the two leaders.

One of the Canadian government’s strategies at the G20 was to rally for heightened support from other countries on the issue of the detentions Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

On Friday, the PMO said it received “broad support” from European partners on the matter when Trudeau sat down with them.

Trudeau also said Saturday that he was “confident” the issue was raised during a bilateral meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Xi — a highly-anticipated discussion on trade.

Trump’s pledge to help Canada 

Last week while meeting with Trudeau in the Oval Office ahead of the G20, the president made a public pledge to do “anything” to help Canada on the detentions.

“Many of our allies around the world have been highlighting the situation of the two Canadians detained in China and we are confident that the president also brought that up but you’ll have to ask him for details,” Trudeau said.

But in his own post G20 news conference, Trump didn’t mention the detentions of Kovrig and Spavor.

He said he and the Chinese president did not talk about Meng Wanzhou— Huawei’s chief financial officer who was arrested in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant on Dec. 1.

Meng’s arrest created diplomatic waves between Canada and China and Spavor and Kovrig were taken into custody that month in arrests deemed “arbitrary” by the Canadian government.

But talk of Huawei CFO off the table

“We didn’t discuss Ms. Meng. That was not discussed,” Trump said. “We did discuss Huawei, but we didn’t discuss her situation.”

Huawei would have to be the last issue discussed in trade talks with China, Trump added.

A central point of friction between the U.S. and China right now is the decision by the Americans to deem Huawei as “incompatible” with its security interests and that of its allies.

In remarks made at the beginning of his meeting with the Chinese president, Trump said America and China are getting “a little bit closer” to reaching a trade agreement.

The president also said he and the Chinese president have spent a lot of time together, noting they have “become friends.”

Trump said he looks forward to working with China and that the U.S. wants to do something that will “even it up” with respect to trade, noting it is “actually very easy to do.”

“I actually think that we were very close and then … something happened where it slipped a little bit,” Trump said. “Now we’re getting a little bit closer, but it would be historic if we could do a fair trade deal.”

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Smoking strong pot daily raises psychosis risk, study finds

Smoking high-potency marijuana every day could increase the chances of developing psychosis by nearly five times, according to the biggest-ever study to examine the impact of pot on psychotic disorder rates.

The research adds to previous studies that have found links between marijuana and mental health problems, but still does not definitively pinpoint marijuana as the cause.

Psychotic disorders — in which people lose touch with reality — are typically triggered by factors including genetics and the environment. But experts say the new study's findings have implications for jurisdictions legalizing marijuana, warning they should consider the potential impact on their mental health services.

"If we think there's something particular about (high-potency) cannabis, then making that harder to get a hold of, could be a useful harm-reduction measure," said Suzanne Gage, of the University of Liverpool, who was not connected to the new study.

Researchers at King's College London and elsewhere analyzed data from a dozen sites across Europe and Brazil from 2010 to 2015. About 900 people who were diagnosed with a first episode of the disorder at a mental health clinic, including those with delusions and hallucinations, were compared with more than 1,200 healthy patients. After surveying the patients about their use of cannabis and other drugs, researchers found daily marijuana use was more common among patients with a first episode of psychosis compared with the healthy, control group.

The scientists estimated that people who smoked marijuana on a daily basis were three times more likely to be diagnosed with psychosis compared with people who never used the drug. For those who used high-potency marijuana daily, the risk jumped to nearly five times. The paper was published online Tuesday by the journal Lancet. It was paid for by funders including Britain's Medical Research Council, the Sao Paulo Research Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.

"If you decide to use high-potency marijuana, you should bear in mind: Psychosis is a potential risk," said Dr. Marta Di Forti, of King's College London and the study's lead author. She said it was unknown how frequently people could smoke lower-potency marijuana without raising their likelihood of psychosis, but that less than weekly use appeared to pose no risk.

Di Forti and colleagues estimated that in Amsterdam, about half of new psychosis cases were associated with smoking high-potency pot.

Gage noted that it was possible that people with a family history of psychosis or other risk factors might be more susceptible to developing problems like psychosis or schizophrenia if they used cannabis.

"That could be the thing that tips the scale for some people," she said. "Cannabis for them could be an extra risk factor, but it definitely doesn't have to be involved. If you use cannabis, it doesn't mean you are definitely going to develop psychosis."

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