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‘If you’re sick, stay home’ is a non-starter for many Canadians

The debate around paid sick leave has grown louder and more urgent in the past several weeks as COVID-19 cases have continued to soar in many parts of the country along with concern that people are going to work sick because they can’t afford to lose their pay. 

Health officials in Alberta are investigating two workplace outbreaks of the more virulent P1 variant, first detected in Brazil.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix told CBC’s As It Happens this week that “it’s indoor social and indoor workplace circumstances where we’ve seen the largest level of transmission” of COVID-19.

And in Ontario, it’s a similar story.

“The bulk of cases now that seem to be driving this pandemic are happening in workplaces where essential workers are unable to fully physically distance from one another,” said Dr. Camille Lemieux, medical lead for the University Health Network’s COVID-19 assessment centre.

Many worker advocates say what is needed is better paid sick leave. 

At the end of February, the labour federations from all 10 provinces and three territories joined together to call for “seamless access to universal, permanent and adequate employer-paid sick days for all workers.”

That has not happened.

Here’s a brief look at where paid sick leave stands right now in Canada. 

How many Canadians have paid sick leave?

Most don’t, according to a report released last August by the Decent Work and Health Network, a network of health providers based in Ontario who advocate for better employment conditions.

Fifty-eight per cent of workers in Canada reported having no access to paid sick days, the report found, citing a University of B.C. analysis of 2016 Statistics Canada data. It’s even higher for those who earn less than $ 25,000 — more than 70 per cent had no paid sick leave.

And a study released last fall by Corporate Knights found only 28 per cent of the large Canadian companies surveyed offered adequate sick leave, which was defined as at least 10 paid days per year.


Members of the Decent Work and Health Network rally in Toronto in 2019. The group says more than half of all Canadian workers have no paid sick leave, with the numbers even higher among those who earn under $ 25,000. (CBC)

Do any provinces offer paid sick leave?

Two provinces mandate sick leave. 

In Quebec, a worker is entitled to two days per year, after six months of employment, to be paid by the employer. In Prince Edward Island, a worker is entitled to one employer-paid day per year, after five years of employment. 

Despite ongoing demands that the other provinces do something to help workers who are sick, the pleas have fallen on mostly deaf ears. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has argued for months, and as recently as this week, that there is no need for provinces to bring in paid sick leave because the federal program brought in specifically to deal with COVID-19 is adequate.

Ford’s government has refused to pass a bill put forward by the opposition NDP, and supported by the Ontario Federation of Labour, that would guarantee paid sick days for every worker, delivered by their employer.

He accuses those calling for his government to ensure paid sick days of “playing politics.”

WATCH | Ford says people should help others apply for the federal sick leave:  

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says his critics ‘are playing politics’ as he explains why his government isn’t instituting paid sick leave. Instead, he’s encouraging Ontarians to use a federal program. 1:07

What does the federal program cover? 

The $ 1.1 billion Canada recovery sickness benefit (CRSB), which was unveiled last fall, offers workers $ 500 ($ 450 after taxes) for a one-week period. If the illness lasts longer, the worker must reapply. 

The CRSB will pay a maximum of two weeks total, for the period between Sept. 27, 2020 and Sept. 25, 2021. A worker must be off sick for at least 50 per cent of their normal work week to qualify, and must have earned $ 5000 in 2019, 2020, or in the 12 months prior to applying.

Some advocates say it falls short of what is needed. 

“What we’re trying to address here is a worker who wakes up in the morning and they have symptoms,” said Laird Cronk, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, one of the 13 federations that made the joint request for employer-paid sick leave.

The application process and eligibility criteria make it difficult for a worker to just decide to stay home, he said.

“We don’t want them to say, I’m so worried about this untenable decision, so worried about paying rent or groceries and food or medications or for the kids, that they convince themselves that it’s probably seasonal allergies and they hope for the best because they can’t afford to lose the money.”


Workers prepare beef to be packaged at the Cargill facility near High River, Alta. The plant was the site of largest COVID-19 outbreak in North America. (Name withheld)

His federation, for example, is urging the B.C. government to change the Employment Standards Act to let that worker stay home and continue to receive his or her wage for up to 10 days, which could then be reimbursed by the province.

“Employers who can show that they’ve been, in the short term, affected by COVID-19 economically, would receive relief from the government on a sliding scale … up to 75 or 80 per cent reimbursed.”

The head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business told CBC News in January that the CRSB is sufficient and that it is right that the government pay for sick leave — not employers. 

“To impose the costs on small firms at this stage would be really challenging, of course, because most small firms are desperately hanging to say stay on,” said Kelly. “Any additional cost would be absolutely devastating.”

How much is COVID-19 care costing the government?

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), between January and November 2020, stays in hospital for COVID-19 related illness costs about $ 23,000 per stay — four times higher than the average stay. The average length of COVID-19 stay was about two weeks, according to CIHI. 

In that time period, the estimated total cost of COVID-19 related hospitalizations in Canada was more than $ 317 million. 


A nurse tends to a patient suspected of having COVID-19 in the intensive care unit at North York General Hospital, in Toronto, on May 26, 2020. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

There were more than 13,900 hospital stays for patients with a diagnosis of COVID-19 in Canada between last January and November, along with more than 85,400 emergency department visits for COVID-19.

The CIHI data does not include numbers from Quebec. 

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CBC | Health News

Shouts of ‘you’re killing him’ could have prompted Chauvin to reassess use of force, trainer testifies

Derek Chauvin could have potentially reassessed his actions when irate bystanders yelled at him that he should get off of George Floyd because he was “killing him,” a lieutenant who trains police officers in use-of-force techniques acknowledged on Tuesday.

Lt. Johnny Mercil, a Minneapolis police officer, was one of the officers who trained Chauvin in proper use-of-force techniques. He was also the latest in a series of senior officers with the force, including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who have testified that Chauvin, with his knee pressed into Floyd’s neck during their confrontation on May 25, 2020, used excessive force and violated police procedure.

Chauvin, 45, who is white, faces two murder charges — second-degree unintentional murder and third-degree murder — in Floyd’s death. The 46-year-old Black man died after Chauvin pressed his knee against the back of Floyd’s neck for around nine minutes as other officers held him down. Chauvin’s trial is now in its second week. 

Use-of-force trainer testifies 

During cross examination, Chauvin’s lawyer Eric Nelson, who has argued that police at the scene were distracted by what they perceived as a growing and increasingly hostile crowd of onlookers, asked if Mercil agreed that a crowd jeering at police officers will raise alarms within the officers. Mercil agreed.

However, prosecutor Steve Schleicher quickly followed up with his own question about the bystanders, asking: “If they’re saying ‘Get off him, you’re killing him,’ should the officer also take that into account and consider whether their actions need to be reassessed?”

“Potentially, yes,” Mercil said.

Earlier, Mercil was asked more specifically about the use-of-force procedures and how they relate to this specific case.

Knee to neck not part of training

He was shown a picture of Chauvin with his knee pressed into Floyd’s neck. Schleicher asked Mercil if that restraint was part of the training at the Minneapolis Police Department.

“No sir,” he said.

Mercil said a knee on the neck is an authorized use of force, but that officers are told to stay away from the neck if possible. Schleicher asked Mercil how long such a technique should be used if an officer were to employ it. 

Mercil said it would depend on the resistance being offered.

“Say, for example, the subject was under control and handcuffed — would this be authorized?” Schleicher asked.

“I would say no,” Mercil said.


Defence attorney Eric Nelson, left, and Chauvin are seen in Hennepin County District Court on Tuesday. (Court TV/The Associated Press)

Video captured by a bystander showed the handcuffed Floyd repeatedly say he couldn’t breathe. 

Floyd had been detained outside a convenience store after being suspected of paying with a counterfeit bill. All four officers were later fired. The footage of the arrest prompted widespread outrage, setting off protests across the U.S. and around the world.

The prosecution says Chauvin pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck as he lay handcuffed on the pavement was the cause of his death. But the defence argues Chauvin did what his training taught him and that it was a combination of Floyd’s underlying medical conditions, drug use and adrenaline flowing through his system that ultimately killed him.

Records show that Chauvin was trained in the use of force by the police department in October 2018.   

On Tuesday, Mercil also told Hennepin County District Court that police should try to put a suspect in the “recover” position, sit them up or stand them up, as soon as possible to decrease the risk that they might have difficulty breathing while on their stomachs.

‘I would say it’s time to de-escalate the force’

Under cross-examination by Nelson, Chauvin’s lawyer, Mercil acknowledged that, in his experience, there have been times when suspects he was in the process of detaining were lying about having a medical emergency.

Mercil also testified that circumstances can change minute to minute; that a suspect can go from being compliant and peaceful to violent, and he agreed that all of those considerations play a part in the use of force.

He also said there have been times when an unconscious suspect regained consciousness.

Mercil also acknowledged that just because a person is handcuffed, doesn’t mean the suspect is in control, and that he has trained officers to restrain suspects as “long as they needed to hold them.”

But Schleicher then asked Mercil whether it’s inappropriate to hold a suspect in a position where the officer’s knee is across their back or neck once the person is under control and no longer resistant.

“I would say it’s time to de-escalate the force.”

“And get off of them,” Schleicher said.

“Yes sir,” Mercil said.

Mercil agreed that if an officer is placing body weight with the knee on a person’s neck and back it would decrease the person’s ability to breathe. He also agreed that it would be inappropriate to restrain someone in that way after they had lost their pulse. 

Mercil was asked if there was ever a time when an individual lost their pulse, suddenly came “back to life” and became more resistant. 

“Not that I’m aware of,” he said.


Witness Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant and expert in use-of-force techniques, testifies at Chauvin’s murder trial. (COURT TV/Associated Press)

Use of force ‘was excessive’: expert

In other testimony, Jody Stiger, a Los Angeles Police Department sergeant serving as a prosecution use-of-force expert, said officers were justified in using force while Floyd was resisting their efforts to put him in a squad car.

But once Floyd was on the ground and had stopped resisting, Stiger said officers “should have slowed down or stopped their force as well.”

Stiger said that after reviewing video of the arrest, “my opinion was that the force was excessive.”

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CBC | World News

In sports, you’re never the winner ’til it’s over

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

It ain’t over ’til it’s over

One of the great things about sports is that everyone accepts the premise that the game ends when the rules say it ends. No one argues they should be declared the winner because they were leading through three quarters, or two periods, or after Game 3 of a best-of-seven series. We keep counting the points until it’s actually over.

So here, for no reason at all, are three famous examples of teams losing their leads — not because they were “stolen,” but simply because there was more game left to play.

1972 Summit Series: Canada vs. Soviet Union

In one of the great surprises in hockey history, the mysterious Soviet national team found itself 3-1-1 through the first five games against Canada’s collection of NHL stars. But, even at the height of the Cold War, the teams had agreed to play eight games, and so they did. Canada won the next two and the series looked like it might end in a deadlock with Game 8 in Moscow knotted at 5-5 in the final minute. But, in an early example of Russian meddling, the Soviets sent word that they’d claim victory because they were plus-1 in goal differential for the series. Luckily for democracy, Paul Henderson rendered that argument moot.

1993 NFL wild-card playoff game: Houston vs. Buffalo

Warren Moon threw four touchdown passes as the visiting Oilers raced out to a 28-3 halftime lead on the Bills, and they made it 35-3 with a pick-6 just after the break. But 28 minutes still remained, so the game continued and Buffalo backup quarterback Frank Reich threw four touchdowns to engineer an epic 41-38 comeback win capped by Canadian Steve Christie’s field goal in overtime.

2014 Olympic women’s hockey gold-medal game: Canada vs. United States

As the clock dipped under four minutes left in the third period, the Americans led 2-0 and could taste their first Olympic gold in 16 years. But the bitter rivals kept playing because, well, that’s just the way it works, and Brianne Jenner cut Canada’s deficit to 2-1 with 3:26 left. After Canada pulled its goalie for an extra attacker, the U.S. almost sealed the win with an empty-netter, but the puck hit square off the post and stayed out. Marie-Philip Poulin then scored the tying goal with 55 seconds left and potted the winner in overtime to give Canada its fourth consecutive Olympic gold.


Marie-Philip Poulin scored the tying goal against the United States with seconds remaining in the gold medal game. Poulin would later score the game-winning goal in overtime. (Getty Images)

Quickly…

The NBA took another step toward returning before Christmas. As expected, players’ union reps voted last night to approve the league’s plan for a 72-game regular-season schedule that begins Dec. 22 and allows for the Finals to be completed before the Summer Olympics open on July 23. Training camps are expected to open Dec. 1, which is only 25 days away. Several key details still need to be worked out, including what the salary cap will be for next season and what portion of players’ salaries will be held in escrow and likely kept by the owners to defray the massive financial hit they’ll take if/when fans aren’t allowed in arenas (about 40 per cent of expected revenue will be lost, the league claims). Read more about the framework for the season here and how the schedule could be problematic for Canada’s hopes of qualifying for the Olympic men’s tournament here.

Milos Raonic made the semifinals of the Paris Masters tournament. The Canadian survived two match points to beat Frenchman Ugo Humbert in a final-set tiebreaker, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7). Raonic’s next opponent is Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, who’s ranked fifth in the world. Raonic is ranked 17th and has lost both his meetings with Medvedev. The winner will likely face Rafael Nadal in the final. The Paris Masters is equal in quality to Canada’s Rogers Cup. Both are worth 1,000 rankings points to the champion, which is the most you can earn outside of the Grand Slams and the season-ending ATP Finals. Read more about Raonic’s quarter-final win and watch highlights here.

Canadian swimming star Kylie Masse won another 100-metre backstroke race. The reigning (and back-to-back) world champion at that distance prevailed again in today’s final session of an International Swimming League match in Budapest. Yesterday, Masse won the 50m backstroke and finished third in the 200 back. Her team, the Toronto Titans, placed third among the four teams in the match. Watch her latest win here.

Major League Soccer’s regular season wraps up on Sunday and two of the three Canadian teams are still alive. Toronto FC is definitely going to the playoffs, and it can win the Supporters’ Shield for the league’s best regular-season record. Toronto and Philadelphia lead MLS with identical 13-4-5 marks. But Philly has an insurmountable edge in goal differential, so Toronto needs a better result in its match vs. the New York Red Bulls than Philadelphia gets vs. New England. Meanwhile, the Montreal Impact sit ninth in the Eastern Conference and need to avoid dropping below 10th in order to qualify for a play-in match. A win on “Decision Day” vs. 13th-place D.C. would ensure that. A draw or a loss and they’ll need help. The Vancouver Whitecaps have already been eliminated from playoff contention in the Western Conference.

And finally…

The Red Sox pulled a Steinbrenner. Less than a year after firing manager Alex Cora because of his involvement in the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal, Boston is reportedly rehiring him for the job. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred identified Cora as the ringleader of Houston’s scheme to steal opposing catchers’ signs during its run to a World Series title in 2017, when he was an assistant coach, and suspended him for the 2020 season. The ban expired about a week ago, and the Red Sox wasted no time in bringing back the guy who led them to a franchise-record 108 wins and a World Series championship in 2018. Still, they’ve got a long way to go to match the five times Yankees owner George Steinbrenner hired and fired manager Billy Martin in the ’70s and ’80s.

Tonight and tomorrow on CBC Sports

Women’s golf: The third round of the Korean LPGA Tour’s Hana Financial Group Championship is streaming live Saturday from midnight-3 a.m. ET, with a replay from noon-3 p.m. ET. The final round starts Saturday at 11 p.m. ET, with a replay Sunday at noon ET. Watch all the streams on CBCSports.ca or the CBC Sports app.

Grand Prix of Figure Skating — Cup of China: The second Grand Prix of the season (Skate America was two weeks ago, then Skate Canada was cancelled) began Friday. It concludes Saturday with the free skates in each competition, beginning with the ice dance at 1:30 a.m. ET. Watch them all here or on the CBC Sports app.

International Swimming League: Road to the Olympic Games is replaying races from the two ISL matches that happened this week. Watch the shows on Saturday and Sunday afternoon on the CBC TV network. Check local listings for times.

FIG Gymnastics Friendship and Solidarity Competition: Live stream Saturday at 11 p.m. ET, replay Sunday at noon ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

You’re up to speed. Get The Buzzer in your inbox every weekday by subscribing below.

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CBC | Sports News

Canada is slowly re-opening — and new research reveals where you’re most at risk of COVID-19

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.


When 61 members of a choir gathered for a practice in Mount Vernon, Wash., on March 10 — including one with COVID-19 symptoms — the group had no way of knowing just how bad the situation could get.

The two-and-a-half-hour practice was an ideal scenario for the virus to spread: Choir members sat close to each other, sang together, shared snacks, and stacked chairs when it was over.

Two weeks later, 53 of the 61 choir members in attendance had either confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19. Three of those people were hospitalized. Two died.

Was it the singing, close contact, touching of surfaces, or sharing of food that caused the outbreak? Researchers aren’t sure which factors mattered most.

But one thing is common between that outbreak and others studied so far: Spending an extended period of time indoors together seems to help fuel the spread of COVID-19

Watch: Are you safer from COVID-19 indoors or outdoors?

Andrew Chang asks an infectious disease doctor whether it’s safer to be indoors or outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic. 1:02

“There’s more and more evidence that it is capable of spreading through the air,” said Linsey Marr, an expert in the transmission of viruses by aerosol at Virginia Tech.

“The big outbreaks always involve crowded places, sometimes poorly ventilated, other times, we don’t know.” 

As provinces across Canada are slowly reopening, experts say emerging research offers lessons on how to do that safely — and it suggests tight, enclosed spaces may pose the biggest risk.

Where are outbreaks happening?

The choir practice is the subject of new research from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that shows how one close gathering can have devastating consequences.

The outbreak is known as what’s called a “superspreader event,” where a highly infectious person can spread the illness to many other people.

Two other recent reports from the CDC also found that the virus could more easily spread in an indoor setting with low ventilation over an extended period of time.

One looked at an outbreak at a call centre in South Korea. The report found 94 of 97 confirmed COVID-19 cases in an office building were all people who worked on the same floor.  

Another paper by researchers in China studied a restaurant in Guangzhou and found an infected individual without symptoms was apparently able to spread the virus to nine others.

The direction the air-conditioning system was blowing may have helped transport the virus particles to other diners, who otherwise had no contact with one another — while the report found those elsewhere in the restaurant who weren’t near the airflow didn’t get sick.

“Ventilation seems to play a role and what that means is that transmission is occurring via droplets in the air that people are inhaling or somehow picking up,” said Marr. 

“The fact that ventilation seems to matter strongly suggests that there is transmission happening through the air.”

The World Health Organization says airborne transmission of the virus “may be possible in specific circumstances,” such as the intubation of a patient in a hospital, but says there isn’t conclusive evidence it can spread from person to person through the air.


Friends are pictured in a public park near the seawall in Vancouver, B.C., on May 6. Emerging research shows simply talking loudly could generate droplets with the potential to carry the virus. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Yet even the simple act of talking can produce hundreds of tiny droplets that have the potential to carry viruses and can remain in the air from eight to 14 minutes, a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found. 

The research team didn’t study the speech droplets of people who had COVID-19 specifically, but they did conclude that even just one minute of loud talking could generate over 1,000 droplets with the potential to carry the virus.

“Protecting yourself from a droplet-borne infection is extremely complicated at the best of times,” said Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor in the department of medicine at the University of Toronto who studies infectious diseases.

“One of those things that’s been extremely consistent is that having people in close quarters — especially breaking bread, so to speak — has increased the likelihood of transmission.” 

Lessons for Canada about reopening

Against the backdrop of this growing body of research, officials across Canada are launching slow, phased reopenings that include many indoor settings.

Starting May 19 in Ontario, retail stores — but only outside of shopping malls, with street entrances — can start reopening with physical distancing measures in place.

In Quebec, the return to some semblance of normalcy is two-tier: Areas outside Montreal are reopening, but the provincial government has already twice delayed easing restrictions in and around the city itself — the epicentre of the province’s COVID-19 cases.

And in British Columbia, restaurants, hair salons, retail stores, museums, and libraries are all slated to reopen soon, though bans on gatherings of more than 50 people will remain in place and nightclubs and bars are expected to remain shuttered longer.

Regardless of when these types of businesses officially reopen across Canada, the research trends can help us navigate which activities put Canadians more at risk, said Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor of viral pathogenesis at the University of Manitoba. 


Kids socially distancing at a school for children of essential service workers in West Vancouver. Experts say indoor settings with poor ventilation are a growing concern for the spread of the disease. (Ben Nelms)

“It informs our decisions when we start to think about things like reducing [physical] distancing measures,” he said, adding that means anything from interacting in stores or dining at a restaurant. 

“We now have to think about new strategies to employ to be able to reduce these types of events.”

‘Move as many activities outdoors as possible’

Kindrachuk said examples like glass barriers for cashiers could become part of the “new normal” of society after the pandemic ends, and more people will think about how easily infectious diseases spread on a day-to-day basis. 

“I think we’ll be revisiting many of the aspects of our lives where people are in close quarters,” Morris said.

“I don’t think anyone can now imagine going on a subway system that’s totally jam-packed and feeling comfortable right now.”


A man waits on a subway platform in Vancouver on April 22. Experts say cramped settings like transit are another potentially risky environment. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Morris said these types of social settings where people congregate en masse — like schools, malls, stadiums and transit — will be an ongoing concern for the spread of the disease.

“Now the only way that we’ll be able to safely manage this moving forward is by getting us to a very low level, and having ongoing surveillance, and accepting that — at times — people are going to be infecting others,” he said.

“But if we have very good surveillance and contact tracing, we will be able to limit the extent of the spread once it rears its head.” 

The simplest way to reduce transmission, according to Marr, is to reconfigure our lifestyles to avoid crowded indoor places, particularly those with poor ventilation.

While talking about gatherings this week, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry put it this way: “Outside is always better than inside.”

Watch Dr. Bonnie Henry explain how to safely host a barbecue:

Dr. Bonnie Henry shares her recommendations on how to create physical distance while hosting a barbecue this summer. 1:24

It’s a move that should prove easier in the summer months when restaurants and bars, for instance, can potentially open patio seating.

“I think we should try to move as many activities outdoors as possible,” she said. “Obviously avoiding dense crowds is a good idea and paying careful attention to ventilation in buildings is going to be helpful.”


A closed patio space is seen in downtown Vancouver on Tuesday. Providing more space for people should prove easier in the summer months when restaurants and bars can potentially open patio seating. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Reconfiguring society in that way could give people open-air options to resume a somewhat normal life, while reducing their risk of catching COVID-19.

“We can’t stop it,” Marr said, “but we can slow it.”


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CBC | Health News

Why a positive antibody test for COVID-19 doesn’t mean you’re ready for a crowded pub

Medical researchers are gaining clues about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, but there are big gaps in understanding our immune response to it — how well, and for how long, we can become protected from being infected in the future.

That understanding is crucial in the push to loosen lockdown restrictions that will allow people to go back to their workplaces and gather in public. 

Some clues come from what we know about other viral infections, and from ongoing studies tracking those who’ve had COVID-19 and recovered.

What is an infection?

Infection refers to the growth of microbes in the human host. 

It’s not the same as disease because an infection doesn’t always lead to harm.

What’s known about infection in COVID-19?

The incubation period between infection and appearance of symptoms seems to be about five or six days. It can vary from one to 14 days.

Symptoms are mild about 80 per cent of time, the World Health Organization says. 

Those who are hospitalized are admitted about a week after symptoms start.


And immunity?

Immunity is the ability to resist infection.

It can occur naturally when someone is infected and their body mounts a successful immune response against it. To do so, the immune system creates both general antibodies and specific antibodies against the particular infection — and retains a sort of memory to resist it coming back.

Or we can gain immunity by vaccination with inactive or weakened forms of the virus to stimulate an immune response.

What don’t we know about immunity to COVID-19?

Once the antibodies have fully cleared the virus from someone’s system, the person recovers.

“In most cases you would expect those antibodies to provide you with protection for a period of time,” the World Health Organization’s head of emergencies, Dr. Michael Ryan, said last week. But we don’t yet know the extent of protection for someone who has successfully fought off this new coronavirus.

Immunologists say that in people who have symptoms, antibodies start to appear after about a week and then peak a week or two later. 

Even less is known about people who test positive for SARS-CoV-2 but never show symptoms.

Diagnostic nose or throat swabs used at COVID-19 assessment centres and hospitals look for RNA, or genetic material, from the pandemic virus because it is faster than trying to grow the virus in a lab the old-fashioned way.

But it’s only by growing the virus that scientists can tell if it’s viable or capable of causing disease.

Dr. Mark Loeb chairs the infectious diseases division at McMaster University, where he studies viral infections such as influenza (flu) and West Nile. Loeb said scientists and physicians need to find more specific ways of measuring immunity to COVID-19.

“The technical term for this is ‘correlates of protection,'” Loeb said. “What sort of level of antibody do you need to be protected? How long does it last? Those are all important research questions.”

Why do scientists want to track immunity in populations?

Mona Nemer, Canada’s chief science adviser and a member of the federal COVID-19 immunity task force, said knowing more about the immune response is also important for understanding what percentage of Canada’s population has been exposed to the virus.

“Right now, we’re testing only people who are showing symptoms,” Nemer she said.

We don’t really know how many people have been infected but lack symptoms, she said.

WATCH | What it’s like to get an antibody test in the U.S.

Antibody testing can determine whether someone has had COVID-19 even if they didn’t have symptoms, and could shed more light on where outbreaks have occurred. 3:04

To conduct these antibody tests, a person gives a pinprick sample of blood that’s put on a slide or cartridge. The cartridge is loaded into a device that indicates the presence or absence of two types of antibodies, called IgM and IgG, that indicate an immune response to COVID-19. 

Daniel Altmann, an immunologist at Imperial College’s Hammersmith Hospital in London, says the simple yes-or-no antibody test is not enough. 

“Would it give me the confidence that I scored positive on that test that I was now ready to queue up for a pint of beer in a crowded pub, shoulder to shoulder with all the other people there? Not really, no,” said Altmann, who co-wrote a commentary in the medical journal The Lancet titled “What policy-makers need to know about COVID-19 protective immunity.”


The true test of whether people have gained immunity to COVID-19 will be during a second wave, said Dr. Mark Loeb. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

In labs, researchers use a more sophisticated version of antibody tests than the rapid tests being assessed for clinical use in Canada for so-called seroprevalence studies that will follow people in the general population over time to test their antibody levels and to see if they develop symptoms.

“By following people forward into a second wave, we’ll have a much better idea about all these questions,” Loeb said.

What is herd immunity and why does it matter?

Herd immunity occurs when enough people get protection from infection, either naturally or through vaccination, that most of the population is resistant to a virus’s invasion and spread. When most of the population is resistant, that helps protect those who are more vulnerable.

But the proportion of population that must be immune to achieve herd immunity differs depending on the illness.

“We may be banking on herd immunity, and herd immunity may be very weak and fragile thing,” Altmann said of the pandemic. “We may all be sitting ducks waiting for re-infection.”

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Octavia Spencer Tears Up Over ‘Humbling’ PGA Award: ‘You Can’t Win the Race If You’re Not In It’ (Exclusive)

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Soon, Alexa Will Know When You’re About to Die

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Smart speakers and other home technologies continue to raise serious privacy and security concerns. Many of us own smart devices because the convenience outweighs the negative, indirect effects they have on our lives and society as a whole. While these data collection practices typically come with complex ethical issues that most of us still struggle to resolve in our daily lives, it’s important to remember that the practices, themselves, are morally agnostic. However, researchers at the University of Washington have discovered that continuous data collection from your smart speaker could save your life.

It’s not a stretch to imagine a scenario in which a person in an emergency situation asks Alexa to get help and it utilizes its numerous connections to get help. In fact, you don’t have to imagine it because it has already happened–just not on purpose. Regulatory issues prevent Amazon (and other companies) from adding emergency features easily but it’s far from a technological limitation.  In fact, Alexa seems to understand how to facilitate a 911 call to the confusion of all involved (even though it’s obviously because of a Bluetooth phone connection and not because Alexa became sentient).

But what happens when you can’t say the command to get help in the first place? You can’t always voice a command in an emergency because you’re physically unable or doing so would put you in more danger. Smart devices may offer another way to help, beginning with cardiac arrest and the way you breathe. The initial signs of a heart attack include irregular gasps of breath, formally known as agonal respiration, which provide a unique sonic pattern a machine can identify—so long as it’s always listening. Bloomberg spoke to Dr. Jacob Sunshine, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at the University of Washington, to get the details:

This kind of breathing happens when a patient experiences really low oxygen levels.  It’s sort of a guttural gasping noise, and its uniqueness makes it a good audio biomarker to use to identify if someone is experiencing a cardiac arrest.

The researchers trained their initial AI model using 7,316 2.5-second audio clips that were captured by smart devices and cellphones over the course of eight years. They also used around 83 hours of normal sleeping and breathing sounds to provide negative data in order to reduce the misidentification of agonal respiration in the model. Their system was able to accurately detect agonal breathing events up to six meters away and act.

While the system can easily run on systems with hardware in existing smart speakers like the Amazon Echo, and efforts have been made to fine-tune accuracy, the researchers believe their model needs further training before it can function reliably in real-world conditions. That’s a good thing, too, because if it doesn’t work properly it’s just invading your privacy without helping you. We have enough of that already.

Top image credit: Adam Dachis

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‘You’re the voice in a very dark night’: Training helps RCMP’s 911 staff stay calm

The calls come in at every hour of the day or night, dialed by someone who needs help or support and answered by someone who is trained to remain calm, get details and assess the situation.

And when things get hectic, the 911 and dispatch operators at Alberta’s two RCMP operational communication centres turn to each other for support, said telecommunications operator Kathleen Perron. 

“Operators take a lot of verbal abuse in their calls. Everyone is at their most stressful when they call 911, it’s never something pleasant,” she said. 

“We rely on each other to be strong for each other when we answer those calls.”

Alberta’s operators received 910,217 calls for service in 2018.

About 200,000 of those calls were from people who dialed 911, while the remainder came from the 136 detachments and agencies — including Alberta Sheriffs and various municipal and Indigenous police agencies — that rely on the operational communications centres for support while they’re in the field. 

Kathleen Perron is an operator in the RCMP’s Northern Alberta Operational Communications Centre, located in Edmonton. A centre in Red Deer handles calls for southern Alberta. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

The Edmonton centre answers calls for northern Alberta, while the centre in Red Deer handles dispatch for the south. Calgary and Edmonton police have their own call centres. 

“You’re the voice in a very dark night for somebody, whether it’s a police officer — because they depend on us to assist them if ever they’re dealing with a high-stress environment — or high-stress calls for the public.”

Operators are trained to stay calm while trying to obtain as much information as possible from the caller.

As much as possible, the training reflects real-world scenarios, Perron said. 

“We have done regular training sessions where we practice active shooter situations. Some are involved with the members to practice if there’s ever a high-stress situation, because we need to be as prepared as possible.”

RCMP 911 operators are being recognized for their commitment and dedication to their jobs 1:32

The Fort McMurray fire of May 2016 was the ultimate test for the operational communication centre in Edmonton.

Operators were supporting evacuees and RCMP officers impacted by the fire, while also taking 911 calls for the rest of northern Alberta, said Perron.

“There were cots set up outside and people were sleeping between shifts, just to get any amount of sleep possible, to be able to help those people that were in need.”

An operator’s work is intense but rewarding, said Perron. 

“I come home at the end of the day, and as tired as I might be, I know that somebody on the other side of the line, their day was essentially made better,” she said. 

“I might have saved somebody’s life and that’s pretty special.”

RCMP officers were supported by the staff in Edmonton’s Operational Communications Centre during the 2016 Fort McMurray fire. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

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AMD Radeon VII Review: This Isn’t the 7nm GPU You’re Looking For

The AMD Radeon VII isn’t a GPU we ever expected to see as a consumer product. AMD repeatedly indicated it had no particular plan to bring a 7nm to this space, preferring to keep its first run of 7nm hardware reserved for servers and the AI/ML space. Then, at CES 2019, AMD CEO Lisa Su announced AMD would bring a new GPU to market to compete head to head with the RTX 2080 at the $ 700 price point. Fast forward to the present day and here we are.

Vega-vs-RadeonVII

The Radeon VII is based on the same 7nm silicon as the Radeon MI50 and MI60. AMD shrank the die significantly between the two GPUsSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce and used the space savings to squeeze in another set of HBM2 chips, doubling available RAM bandwidth. If you care about sheer memory capacity in your graphics card — and to be clear, there are professional and scientific applications that benefit from large GPU buffers — the Radeon VII is the only card on the market that gives you this much RAM for under a thousand dollars.

Radeon-VII-Table

Boosted FP64 Performance

The Radeon VII has another advantage over other cards on the market, though AMD kept this one tight to their vest. Until today, the highest FP64 performance you could buy in a consumer GCN GPU was the Radeon 7990, a short-lived dual-GPU product that’s nearly five years old. Initially, AMD communicated that its Radeon VII GPU was capable of just 0.88 TFLOPS (1/16th of FP32 performance). Instead, the Radeon VII is capable of a whopping 3.46 TFLOPs, or just under half of the MI60’s maximum performance (1/4 FP32 performance total).

This significant repositioning puts a new spin on the Radeon VII, positioning it more clearly for double-precision compute workloads. Unfortunately, this news wasn’t communicated until right before the review NDA, which means we won’t have time to take a particular examination of the GPU in that context. We intend to write a separate article investigating compute and scientific workloads on the Radeon VII, which will give us an opportunity to examine this side of the GPU more thoroughly. Today’s review will focus on the consumer side of the equation.

As with the first 7nm GPU, all eyes are going to be on the Radeon VII to see how well it performs on the process node. We already have some information on this point. As the table above indicates, the Radeon VII die is ~67 percent the size of the Vega 64 die. Clock rates have improved only modestly, with the base clock up by 1.09x and the boost clock increasing by 1.13x.

Most of the improvements between Radeon Vega and Radeon VII boil down to the huge increase in RAM bandwidth and total VRAM buffer. The clock gains from the 7nm shift are very modest. AMD did note to us that it had reduced the GPUs internal latency and made a few performance-enhancing tweaks to the architecture, but data here was limited. Those hoping that AMD would have a new major AI or machine learning initiative to announce — something akin to DirectX ray tracing support or new antialiasing methods — will be disappointed.

New Thermal Monitoring

The Radeon VII uses a new type of thermal monitoring system rather than the old, edge-mounted GPU thermistors it had previously deployed. Radeon VII has a total of 64 temperature sensors mounted across the die, 2x the number of Vega 64. Going forward, Radeon VII GPUs will use the maximum temperature measured across the die, known as the Junction temp, to control GPU behavior. According to AMD: “Controlling based on Junction Temperature from the extensive sensing network allows each GPU to reliably maximize its performance potential while reporting an additional temperature that is more representative of the hottest parts of the GPU.”

AMD notes that Junction temps will be higher than what gamers are used to seeing in the past. This shouldn’t be considered a problem, and the GPUs are designed to hold these temperatures safely. Junction temps of 110C are not unusual or considered problematic.

The Story So Far…

Before we dive into performance figures, let’s revisit how the GPU market has evolved in the past six months. Nvidia’s RTX refresh cycle this past fall didn’t do much to improve performance-per-dollar. Of its new high-end GPUs, only the RTX 2080 Ti genuinely moved the ball forward on performance. The RTX 2080 and RTX 2070 are slightly faster than the GTX 1080 Ti and GTX 1080 respectively (think 8-12 percent), but carry higher prices than their predecessor GPUs did. Nvidia’s justification for these price increases has been to point at its new ray tracing feature as justification. ExtremeTech historically takes a very dim view of buying hardware for features you can’t use, for reasons we explored in-depth as part of our RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti review.

But therein lies the rub. Even if you agree that Nvidia’s RTX technology is a risky bet, AMD hasn’t baked anything equivalent into the Radeon VII. In the past, one GPU vendor sometimes zigs when the other zags — Nvidia went all-in for 3-D glasses and monitors a few years back, while AMD threw its weight behind Eyefinity and multi-monitor gaming. In this case, RTX and DLSS were major launch features for Nvidia, while AMD’s major launch feature is the straightforward promise of more performance relative to its previous generation of graphics cards.

Gamers hoping that AMD would bring a GPU to market that shook up the status quo or at least forced Nvidia to lower its prices are going to be disappointed (again). AMD is targeting the RTX 2080’s performance at the RTX 2080’s $ 700 price point using Vega’s 300W power envelope.

Test Configuration

All testing was done on an Asus Prime Z370-A using an Intel Core i7-8086K with 32GB of DDR4-3200 and the latest version of Windows 10. A Thermaltake Toughpower 80 Plus Titanium 1250W PSU was used for testing.

All of our results can be parsed in the slideshow below. Click on each graph to open it in a new window.

Performance Summary

AMD promised that the Radeon VII would be capable of tackling the RTX 2080SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce, and that’s generally what we see here. In our complete suite of tests, the Radeon VII offered 96 percent the performance of the RTX 2080. That’s within a 5 percent margin of error, and close enough to declare that yes, the two solutions are generally competitive.

The Radeon VII tends to exhibit superior scaling to the RTX 2080, which is to say, it tends to lose less performance than its competitor as resolution increases.

Power Consumption, Heat, and Noise

Note: My GPU test rig uses a V3 Voltair CPU cooler, which includes a Thermo-Electric Cooler, or TEC. This consumes additional electricity. As a result, our idle and power consumption figures may be higher than elsewhere on the web. Running 32GB of RAM in XMP at DDR4-3200 also substantially increases power consumption compared with stock voltage and DDR4-2400.

Our power consumption figures are taken from the third loop of a Metro Last Light Redux benchmark run at 1920×1080. All detail settings conform to those used for our GPU reviews.

PowerConsumption-Metro-LastLight

AMD’s absolute power consumption has scarcely budged compared with Vega 64, but its performance per watt has improved significantly. Using the automatic undervolting option on our Radeon VII decreased power consumption by ~7.5 percent without harming frame rates at all.

Once you factor in the Radeon VII’s increased performance, the GPU is indeed significantly more efficient. The Radeon VII consumes roughly 75 percent as much power as the Vega 64 per frame of animation drawn. Activate its underclocking feature, and this drops to 70 percent. But the RTX 2080 consumes just 63 percent the power of the Radeon Vega 64. AMD’s 7nm GPU draws roughly the same amount of power as its Nvidia rival, but it isn’t quite as efficient on the whole.

Finally, there’s noise. I don’t own a dB meter, but folks — Radeon VII ain’t quiet. Overall, it’s comparable to the Vega 64, but there are moments when the fans on the Radeon VII kick harder. They also tend to ramp up faster. Everyone has their own personal tolerance for this sort of thing, but I consider the noise profile of these cards to be a significant negative.

At this point, the noise situation has become ridiculous. Ever since at least Hawaii, reviewers have hit AMD for the noise profile of its reference designs. To its credit, the company has at least attempted to address this, but its most high-profile attempt to fix the problem with a water cooler created an even bigger mess. Vega 64 was a loud GPU, louder than I’m personally comfortable installing in my own system. Radeon VII doesn’t improve on this at all. At this point, it’s clear AMD doesn’t actually have any interest in building or outfitting its reference cards with coolers that match the performance of what Nvidia ships (and what Nvidia ships isn’t always great, either, mind you). Hawaii launched over five years ago. Why are we still waiting for AMD to actually fix this in a high-end GPU that isn’t the Radeon Nano?

I expect a $ 700 GPU to have a better noise profile than the $ 12 box fan I bought at Aldi.

Conclusion

The Radeon VII is a rough match for the RTX 2080’s performance. It also lacks one of the RTX 2080’s specific liabilities. When Nvidia launched the RTX family, it asked customers to swallow a significant price hike relative to the company’s then-current GPU lineup. AMD isn’t making that mistake. The Radeon VII offers more performance than any AMD GPU before it. It’s 1.33x faster than the Vega 64 with no other pesky last-gen cards to muck up the stack.

Of course, given that the Vega 64 currently sells for $ 400, you’re buying 1.33x more performance for 1.75x the money. That’s exactly the opposite of the kind of ratio we prefer to see. It’s hard not to wonder what 7nm Vega’s performance might have looked like if the GPU had fielded more ROPs and texture mapping units to accompany its enormous bandwidth increase — again, we suspect that consumer games simply weren’t the primary market for this card and that its overall design reflects that fact. We intend to write a separate article focusing on GPU compute and will report back with how the Radeon VII’s additional memory bandwidth aids it in those contexts.

BoxFront-and-GPU

For me, the bottom line is this: I have consistently argued that Nvidia erred in raising prices when it launched the RTX family. I have argued that there were too many reasons to believe RTX features won’t be particularly useful during Turing’s lifespan to justify buying into the family, particularly when older GTX cards based on Pascal offered such competitive performance.

Now we have the Radeon VII. It lacks RTX/DXR features but doesn’t offer an alternative. Its larger HBM2 buffer and interposer costs may explain its pricing — I’ve wondered before if Nvidia’s decision to raise prices would actually make it make sense for AMD to bring 7nm Vega to the consumer market — but they don’t make it a particularly good value. How much value do I put on ray tracing right now? Not much. But a feature that’s only useful in a tiny number of games is still at least arguably more useful than no feature at all. Nor is there much reason to believe that the 16GB HBM2 buffer will get a workout any time soon. Game developers will always target their titles to the GPUs that people practically own; having one consumer GPU with 16GB of onboard memory isn’t going to move the needle in terms of future game VRAM requirements.

If AMD had managed to bring Radeon VII in at $ 600, it would have a genuine value argument to make relative to Nvidia’s product stack. If it had outpaced the RTX 2080 at the same price, it could argue for superior rasterization performance with higher noise levels as an acceptable trade-off. Instead, what we have here — at least in the consumer market — is a loud RTX 2080-equivalent without the admittedly dubious features Nvidia tried to use to justify its price increases.

You know what’s worse than an RTX 2080 with dubious features and a bad price point? A loud RTX 2080-equivalent with no new features at all and the same bad price point.

The story isn’t all bad here. AMD was able to take advantage of its shift to 7nm to improve its overall competitive standing against the RTX family, and the Radeon VII competes against the GTX 1080 Ti / RTX 2080 more effectively than Vega 64 fared against the older GeForce 1080. But I can’t hammer Nvidia for months over the price increases and positioning it introduced with Turing only to turn around and laud AMD for delivering a GPU that roughly matches on perf but offers fewer features and higher noise, uncertain as the value of those features may be.

This is not the 7nm GPU you’re looking for. We’ll have more to say on compute specifically in the near future.

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