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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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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Completes Last Asteroid Flyby Before Heading Home

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NASA’s ambitious Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) has been in orbit of the asteroid Bennu since 2018, but it’s getting ready to call it a day and head home. NASA reports that OSIRIS-REx has completed a last-minute addition to its mission profile: one final flyby of Bennu to see how its activities changed the surface of the object. 

OSIRIS-REx arrived at Bennu in late 2018, but NASA spent almost two years studying the space rock before OSIRIS-REx got down to business. The spacecraft’s Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) allowed it to drift down and tap the asteroid, discharging a burst of compressed nitrogen. OSIRIS-REx did just that in late 2020, scooping up what could be more than two pounds of regolith. NASA would have considered the mission a success at just 2.1 ounces (60 grams). 

NASA says OSIRIS-REx will depart Bennu on May 10th. The long wait is mostly thanks to orbital mechanics — if the spacecraft waits until May to leave orbit, it will use less fuel to get back to Earth. This also gave the team time to plan the now-complete final tour, which happened early on April 7th. 

OSIRIS-REx spent almost six hours taking images of Bennu during the pre-programmed maneuver. It covered more than a full rotation of the asteroid, but the area around the “Nightingale” sample site will be the most interesting. “By surveying the distribution of the excavated material around the TAG site, we will learn more about the nature of the surface and subsurface materials along with the mechanical properties of the asteroid,” said Dr. Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona. 

With the flyby done, all NASA has to do now is download the data. That’s easier said than done, though. At a distance of 185 million miles (297 million kilometers), the Deep Space Network can only manage a data rate of 412 kilobits per second. Plus, OSIRIS-REx has to share time on the network with NASA’s other space missions. With just a few hours of downloading per day, NASA expects it will take another week to get the multiple gigabytes of data OSIRIS-REx collected. 

After getting underway on May 10th, it will take OSIRIS-REx two years to return home. The sample container with pristine samples of an ancient asteroid should land in the Utah Test and Training Range on September 24, 2023.

Now read:

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Raptors to keep calling Tampa home for rest of season

The Toronto Raptors will play all their home games in Tampa, Fla., this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NBA team said Thursday the team will complete its home schedule at Amalie Arena after initially announcing in November it would play half its home games in Tampa before making a decision on the second half of the season.

The Raptors say the decision was made because of border restrictions and public safety measures in Canada.

The lone NBA team from outside the U.S., the Raptors have joined several Canadian counterparts in having to play south of the border during the pandemic.

Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays (Buffalo, N.Y.) and Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC (East Hartford, Conn.), CF Montreal (Harrison, N.J.) and Vancouver Whitecaps (Portland) relocated for partial or full seasons in 2020. Major League Rugby’s Toronto Arrows will start their 2021 season in Marietta, Ga.

A schedule release for the second half of the season is expected in the coming days.

City of champions

“Florida has been really welcoming to us and we’re so grateful for the hospitality we’ve found in Tampa and at Amalie — we’re living in a city of champions, and we intend to carry on the tradition of winning for our new friends and fans here,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a statement.

“But home is where the heart is, and our hearts are in Toronto. We think often of our fans, of our Scotiabank Arena family, and all those we are missing back home, and we can’t wait until we can all be together again.”

The Raptors are 6-5 in their “home” building this season, which they’re sharing with the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa also has the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers and the Rays played in the World Series last season.

There have been reports the Blue Jays are considering playing home games in nearby Dunedin, Fla., site of their spring-training complex, this season.

Logistical issue

The Raptors’ decision is hardly unexpected given the state of the pandemic in the U.S. and Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that starting next week any nonessential travellers arriving in Canada by land will need to show a negative PCR-based COVID-19 test or face a fine if they don’t have one.

That wouldn’t be an issue for NBA teams; travelling parties are tested daily, players multiple times a day.

The bigger issue is logistics. The land border already remains closed to nonessential travellers who are not Canadian citizens; Canada requires those entering the country to isolate for 14 days, which wouldn’t be feasible for NBA teams, and the Canadian government has also strongly discouraged nonessential travel for any reason.

Toronto made the move south last fall, knowing Thursday’s decision was a real possibility.

The Raptors tried to simulate the comforts the team has at home in Toronto, at least as much as possible. “We The North” — the team motto — signage is everywhere in the hotel that the Raptors are using as a practice facility in Tampa, from the elevator doors to the ballroom wall behind one of the baskets. The court that the Raptors use for games was shipped down from Toronto. And there’s a 2019 world championship banner swaying from the rafters, alongside the Lightning’s retired jerseys for Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, at the same end of the court as the Raptors’ bench.

“They did a great job,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said earlier this season.

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COVID-19 vaccine queue-jumping alleged at Ontario nursing home

Amid a vaccine shortage in Canada, at least one board member and the family of some managers at a Toronto-area nursing home are being accused of inappropriately keeping COVID-19 vaccinations for themselves.

A health-care union claims a nurse was required to inoculate at least 10 individuals who were not care-home residents or front-line staff at Villa Leonardo Gambin, a non-profit home managed by Sienna Senior Living in Vaughan, Ont.

The union filed a grievance against the home on Thursday.

“I believe that they got the vaccine because they know somebody who’s a manager at a long term care home who gave them priority access to the vaccine,” Charlene Nero, secretary treasurer of Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 3000 told CBC News.

The union further asserts that one of the home’s medical staff left the premises with approximately five doses of the Moderna vaccine “for what appeared to be [their] personal use.”

“If these allegations are proved to be correct, this is just completely unacceptable,” said Dr. Samir Sinha, the director of geriatrics at Sinai Health in Toronto.

“We have so many people who are vulnerable of dying from COVID.… This actually means we’re wasting doses and we’re actually costing lives.”

The care home said the doses were administered to avoid wasting open vials of vaccine.

Staff at Villa Leonardo Gambin wave from a window. A health care union claims a nurse was required to inoculate at least 10 individuals who were not care-home residents or front-line staff there. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

4th outbreak at home

The 168-bed home is in its fourth outbreak. It has lost 25 residents to COVID-19 since the pandemic started.

The nurse was instructed to record that the vaccines were given to essential caregivers on paperwork, Nero said.

“She was actually offered the opportunity to call her own family members in, who are not yet on the priority list for vaccines and have them vaccinated,” Nero said. “She declined.”

The matter has also been raised to both Public Health Ontario and York Region Public Health, which says it is now looking further into the matter.

It also says public health officials will now be on-site at a subsequent clinic planned at Villa Leonardo Gambin.

Board says vaccines were set to expire

A statement from the board chair at Villa Leonardo Gambin, Andrew Iacobelli, confirmed that the vaccine was “offered to non-front-line staff who work or volunteer for the residence … including myself,” but only after “all of the available staff and residents” received the vaccine.

Iacobelli confirms he received the Moderna vaccine.

“We further extended the remaining unused vaccines to family members of staff and volunteer board members, [who] are often present in the home”.

Iacobelli claims the leftover vaccine with a limited shelf life “would go to waste” and thus “a decision to prevent this from happening was made.”

“We took all steps possible to ensure team members and residents were offered and encouraged to take the vaccine before deciding to provide it to others.”

He also says allegations that vaccine doses were removed from the residence are taken “very seriously and we are taking all the necessary steps to look into this matter.”

WATCH | Nurse told to inoculate at least 10 individuals who were not care-home residents or front-line staff

A nurse at a Toronto-area long-term care home says she was told to give COVID-19 vaccines to at least one board member, and family members and friends of several managers. Her union has filed a complaint with public health authorities. 2:59

However, staff who are not front-line would not even normally be permitted inside a home during the province’s pandemic lockdown.

His statement did not say which non-front-line staff received the vaccine. It also does not explain how these individuals learned of the opportunity or happened to be in the home which, during the pandemic, is locked down to anyone other than front-line staff and essential visitors. Board members and their families would not ordinarily be exempt.

Nero says the union is also concerned about people entering the care home, which she describes as a serious breach of infection control measures.

“There’s supposed to be an absolute lockdown in terms of people visiting. If you have an ill family member who is a resident at Villa Gambin, you can only have one designated essential caregiver who can go in.

“As a result of the personal relationships of these folks to senior management at the home that was allowing them to jump the queue,” she said.

Once a vial of the vaccine had been punctured, it cannot be moved to another location and must be used within six hours, said York Public Health. The care home said shots were given to non-front-line workers to avoid wasting doses. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Moderna vaccine vials contain 10 doses each, so the maximum wastage per vial would typically be nine, after one is administered. The union alleges as many as 15 doses were improperly used or taken. 

York Region Public Health said in a statement that “once a vial has been punctured, it cannot be moved from the service delivery location and must be used within six hours.”

The health unit said its procedure when there is leftover vaccine is now to reach out to medical first responders to attend a home to receive end-of-vial doses.

It’s not clear whether that is a new policy, or one that has existed when this vaccination clinic took place.

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Pandemic may force Canadian men to play home World Cup qualifiers at neutral sites

CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani says Canada will likely have to play its first home World Cup qualifying matches at a neutral site due to pandemic-related restrictions.

Border issues and the need for quarantine complicate a qualifying schedule that has already been pushed back several times due to COVID-19. The Canadian men are slated to pay their first home qualifying match in late March.

“Listen, it’s not going to be as easy as it was before, when you just got on a plane and you play or you play at home,” Montagliani told reporters Wednesday. “Obviously no fans for probably the vast majority of these games, if not all of them. There’ll be neutral venues for some of them. Canada, I would think, would be a neutral venue. Although it would be a home game, it would still be a neutral venue.

“It’s World Cup qualifying so it’s the responsibility of each federation to sort their things out. It’s not really a CONCACAF event. However, having said that, we’re helping and facilitating as much as possible to help our federations from a logistical standpoint to ensure that March goes off as smoothly as possible.”

Montagliani doubles as a FIFA vice-president and is a former president of the Canadian Soccer Association.

Canada Soccer said it “continues to work with the PHAC (Public Health Agency of Canada) and provincial medical authorities to establish the best venue and safest environment for upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifiers.”

Montagliani says CONCACAF can use intel gained from the experiences of other confederations to help with the staging of the games. Canada has also just held a national team camp in a bubble in Bradenton, Fla.

Must win group to advance

The top five sides in the region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, skip the first two qualifying rounds and go directly to the final round-robin stage.

The other 30, including 72nd-ranked Canada, will battle it out to see which three join No. 9 Mexico, the 22nd-ranked Americans, No. 47 Jamaica, No. 51 Costa Rica and No. 64 Honduras.

Canada is scheduled to open its qualifying campaign March 25 in Group B play at home to No. 169 Bermuda, the first of a possible 20 matches the Canadian men will have to play if they are to book their ticket to Qatar in 2022.

The Canadians then play March 28 at the 193rd-ranked Cayman Islands and June 5 at No. 200 Aruba before wrapping up first-round play June 8 at home to No. 141 Suriname.

Canada needs to win its group to advance to the second round of qualifying.

Should Canada survive the first round, it will open the second round June 12 at the Group E winner before hosting the rematch on June 15.

The Canadian men, who are co-hosting the 2026 World Cup along with Mexico and the U.S., have only ever qualified for one World Cup — 1986 in Mexico where they exited after failing to score in losses to France, Hungary and the Soviet Union.

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As COVID-19 exposes long-term care crisis, efforts grow to keep more seniors at home

Lucy Fernandez volunteered in a long-term care home for 20 years.

Although she saw first-hand how much of an effort staff and her fellow volunteers made to keep the residents happy, she also saw many seniors languishing in their rooms.

“While she was still, you know, fairly cognizant, [she] expressed her desire of not wanting to go to a long-term care facility,” her daughter, Laura Fernandez, said.

Lucy, now 85, suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s disease, with limited ability to speak and move. Because she’s one of 850 people in Ontario’s High Intensity Supports at Home program, announced by the provincial government in December, personal support workers come in for several hours a day — in addition to others who work with her on cognitive development — allowing Laura Fernandez to keep her mother at home in Toronto.

“She is in her own environment, she’s happy,” Fernandez said. “Just knowing that I’m there, I know is giving her comfort.”

That’s the level and quality of home care that should be much more widely available to seniors, according to several health policy advocates, including the National Institute on Ageing and the Ontario Community Support Association.

In addition, they say, it would ultimately save governments money by keeping more seniors out of long-term care facilities, which are expensive both to build and run.  

COVID-19 put spotlight on home care

The benefit of increased home-care investment in Canada is getting long-overdue attention, now that COVID-19 has torn through long-term care homes, killing thousands of residents and exposing lethal weaknesses in the system, said Dr. Samir Sinha, head of geriatrics at Mount Sinai and University Health Network hospitals in Toronto.

“Long-term care is at a crossroads,” said Sinha, who is also the director of health policy research for the National Institute on Ageing.

“People are thinking about their futures more than ever before and saying, ‘When I age, you know, am I going to be able to age with independence? Will I have to go into one of these homes? You know, how do I actually stay in my home for as long as possible?'”

WATCH | Laura Fernandez’s mother volunteered in a long-term care home:

Laura Fernandez describes the difference it makes for her mother, who has advanced Alzheimer’s disease, to receive the care that allows her to stay at home. 1:15

Not only do most seniors want to live at home for as long as possible, more of them actually could, according to a report released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) in August 2020.

After reviewing the health status of people admitted in long-term care facilities in several provinces over the course of a year, CIHI concluded that across Canada, about one in nine new admissions “could potentially have been cared for at home, provided they had access to ongoing home-care services and supports.”

In Ontario, where people admitted to long-term care facilities are often quite frail or suffer serious cognitive impairment, including dementia, CIHI estimated that one in 12 new admissions could still potentially have remained at home if sufficient care were provided.

“One of the greatest reasons why people end up in nursing homes in Canada is because we don’t have enough publicly funded home care and supports … available,” Sinha said.

Although the Ontario government (under both Liberal and Conservative leadership) has increased its investment in home care and community services over the last decade, those investments haven’t kept pace with the needs of an aging population, according to the Ontario Community Support Association, which represents more than 200 not-for-profit organizations that provide home care and community support.

While long-term care homes have been struggling during the pandemic, the home-care sector could have helped lessen their load if it were funded appropriately, said Deborah Simon, the association’s CEO.

Devastating COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes have exposed enormous weaknesses that the Ontario government has pledged to fix, but many seniors’ experts say expanded home care should be a cornerstone of the solution. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Home care has also proven to be a safer option during COVID-19, Simon said, because seniors could more easily isolate in their own homes than in the congregate living setting of a long-term care facility. In addition, home-care workers use “the full gamut” of personal protective equipment.

“Care can be safely provided to people in the community who have COVID, using those very, very stringent practices around infection control,” Simon said. 

Put home care first, advocates urge

The COVID-19 crisis prompted the Quebec government to announce an additional $ 100 million investment in home care on top of the $ 1.7 billion it had already budgeted for this year.

“Home care is what people want, and they want it even more because of the pandemic,” Health Minister Christian Dubé said at a news conference in Montreal in November.

In a statement, Ontario’s Ministry of Health said it provided about $ 2.88 billion in funding to home care in the 2019-20 fiscal year. No estimate was given for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Both the National Institute on Ageing and the Ontario Community Support Association say government funding should be prioritized so that home care is the end goal, rather than just an interim solution until seniors get a space in long-term care. (David Donnelly/CBC)

On Tuesday evening, a ministry spokesperson told CBC News in an email that “the government continues to make investments in our home-care sector for 2021-22,” citing an “additional” $ 111 million for the High Intensity Supports at Home program to help people with high needs — including Lucy Fernandez — transition out of hospital to home.

The spokesperson also cited last October’s announcement of a $ 461 million “temporary wage increase” for personal support workers in both home-care and long-term care settings during COVID-19.

In a separate statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Long-Term Care said it was investing up to $ 20 million for a community paramedicine program to provide services to seniors in their homes while they wait for a bed in long-term care.

But both the National Institute on Ageing and the Ontario Community Support Association say government funding should be prioritized so that home care is the end goal, rather than just an interim solution until seniors get a space in long-term care.

The Ontario Community Support Association has submitted a pre-budget consultation report to the provincial government, advocating for an investment of $ 595 million in the 2021 budget to make that happen.

The National Institute on Ageing has also submitted a proposal, co-authored by Sinha, to prioritize home care.

WATCH | Doctor says most Canadians want to age at home for as long as possible:

Geriatrics specialist Dr. Samir Sinha says boosting the level of home care and sending fewer people to long-term care facilities is both cost-effective and the right thing to do. 0:33

Both reports estimate the cost of home care to be significantly less expensive than long-term care. They also point to the Ontario government’s own estimate that about 38,000 people are currently on the waiting list for a long-term care bed.

To address that, the Ontario government has pledged to build 15,000 new long-term care beds and update 15,000 more.

That will cost billions of dollars that could be better invested — at a lower cost — in building a robust home-care system, Sinha said.

“By finding that better balance with those future investments we’re looking to make, I think we’re actually going to allow more people to age in the places of their choice,  which frankly allows everybody — the taxpayers and individuals and governments — to win.”

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One-time home run king Hank Aaron dead at 86

Hank Aaron, who endured racist threats with stoic dignity during his pursuit of Babe Ruth but went on to break the career home run record in the pre-steroids era, died early Friday. He was 86.

The Atlanta Braves said Aaron died peacefully in his sleep. No cause of death was given.

Aaron made his last public appearance less than two weeks ago when he received the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Hammerin’ Hank” set a wide array of career hitting records during a 23-year career spent mostly with the Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves, including RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases.

But the Hall of Famer will be remembered for one swing above all others, the one that made him baseball’s home-run king.

It was a title he would hold for more than 33 years, a period in which the Hammer slowly but surely claimed his rightful place as one of America’s most iconic sporting figures, a true national treasure worthy of mention in the same breath with Ruth or Ali or Jordan.

“Hammerin’ Hank” set multiple hitting records during a 23-year career spent mostly with the Braves, including RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases. But the Hall of Famer will be remembered for one swing above all others.

On April 8, 1974, before a sellout crowd at Atlanta Stadium and a national television audience, Aaron broke Ruth’s home run record with No. 715 off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Aaron finished his career with 755. Barry Bonds surpassed that in 2007 —though many continued to call the Hammer the true home run king because of allegations that Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs.

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Chris Armas already feeling right at home as head coach of Toronto FC

One day into the job and new Toronto FC coach Chris Armas is already feeling right at home.

The former New York Red Bulls boss has extensive ties to his new club. Toronto GM Ali Curtis was sporting director at the Red Bulls while Armas was an assistant coach prior to getting the top job there.

Back in the early ’90s, Armas played for Puerto Rico alongside current Toronto president Bill Manning. Both men spent time in the USL with Armas at the Long Island Rough Riders and Manning — who went on to become the Rough Riders GM prior to working in MLS — at the New York Fever. 

And Armas has known Michel Bradley since the Toronto FC captain was a pre-teen. Bradley’s father Bob coached Armas and the Chicago Fire when the expansion team won the MLS title in its inaugural season in 1998.

The 48-year-old Armas succeeds Greg Vanney, who stepped down Dec. 1 after more than six years at the MLS club. Vanney subsequently was named head coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Armas’ introduction via Zoom call Thursday was essentially a love-in.

“He’s such a great human being and he attacks his work and his life with such integrity,” said Curtis. “His work ethic is unmatched he has all the different elements of what we need in a coach.”

“I’ve know Chris a long time and he is a winner first and foremost that was the main important ingredient for us in a new head coach,” added Manning.

Armas said he already feels in sync with Manning and Curtis. “They are in this together with the head coach,” he said.

While both front office men said Armas will be involved in all decision-making, the new coach does not have the technical director title that Vanney held.

“Essentially all player personnel falls under Ali,” said Manning.

As for Armas, he said he welcomes the pressure of succeeding Vanney, TFC’s most successful coach.

“That’s exactly where, I think, real competitors want to be and that’s one of the biggest reasons I came to the club,” he said. “Yes, I want to win. The pressure’s to win.

“This will wake me up early and it will put me to bed late. And then I’ll sleep well. But I’m going to work, I’m going to work hard to deliver excellence, trophies. And I can guarantee that I will coach a team that is clear — they’re clear with roles, we are together, we don’t cut corners and we have a style of play that is on the front foot and we go after every game.”

Asked about his preferred style of play, Armas said: “It starts with energy and passion.”

He said he favours an up-tempo game, “making the game fast, playing vertical and, now of course with this roster, with real intelligence and decision-making.”

On defence, he said he wants his team to take time and space away from the opposition. While the Red Bulls were known for their high press, he says more is needed in the toolbox.

He called it “attacking football” on and off the ball.

Thumbs-up from captain Bradley

Armas, who won 66 caps for the U.S national team, was an elite defensive midfielder over 12 MLS seasons with the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chicago. He served as Red Bulls assistant before being elevated to the top coaching job in July 2018.

He led the Red Bulls to the Supporters’ Shield and Eastern Conference final, losing to eventual champion Atlanta United. Armas was fired last September with the Red Bulls at 3-4-2.

Armas’ appointment has already got a thumbs-up from Bradley.

“I was a young guy fortunate enough to spend a lot of time around that team,” the 33-year-old Bradley told the club website. So for me to have the opportunity now to play for Chris, I’m really excited.

“I think his personality, his leadership, the way he can engage everybody around him, the standards that he’ll have for the team, for every single guy, I think it sets up in a really really good way for us.”

Curtis said the search for Vanney’s replacement was “vast, exhaustive and methodical,” involving everything from checking references to analyzing international clubs to see if their style of play matched Toronto so as to target their coaching search.

“Like everything it’s both a science and an art and then it’s gut,” said Curtis.

A father of two boys, Armas’ wife is a nurse.

Akinola out of Canadian national team camp

Canada Soccer’s plan to showcase its men’s national program to Toronto FC striker Ayo Akinola has been derailed by medical issues.

Canada Soccer said Thursday that Akinola was one of four players who did not make the camp in Bradenton, Fla., due to medical reasons. The other three are Toronto’s Liam Fraser, Orlando City’s Tesho Akindele and Vancouver’s Michael Baldisimo.

Canadian team officials did not detail the medical reasons or explain why news of the players missing camp only came out Thursday when players started arriving days earlier.

All players and staff had to record at least two negative COVID-19 test results in the week before their travel. One player, who has not been identified, tested positive upon arrival in camp and is currently in isolation.

The 20-year-old Akinola, who was born in Detroit but moved to Canada when he was one, is eligible to play for Canada, the U.S. and Nigeria. He made his debut for the U.S. senior side in December, scoring in a 6-0 win over El Salvador, but is not cap-tied since the match was a friendly.

Akinola, whose Canadian-born younger brother Tom has featured in the Canadian youth setup, has come up through the U.S. ranks and played at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India.

The Florida camp was seen as a chance to show Akinola what Canada offered.

Two English-based players invited to camp have since withdrawn. Theo Corbeanu, an 18-year-old forward, is staying with Wolves’ first team while 17-year-old forward Marcelo Flores remains with Arsenal’s under-18 squad.

The Canada camp is slated to run through Jan. 24 at the IMG Center in Bradenton, where the U.S. team is also training.

Canada coach John Herdman has added Vancouver’s Theo Bair, Toronto’s Jahkeele Marshall-Rutty and Jacob Shaffelburg, and FC Edmonton’s Amer Didic to the camp roster.

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Brock Boeser cashes in pair to help Canucks spoil Oilers’ home opener

Brock Boeser scored twice, including the winner, as the Vancouver Canucks downed the Edmonton Oilers 5-3 on Wednesday in the 2020-21 NHL season opener for both teams.

Bo Horvat, Adam Gaudette, and rookie Nils Hoglander also scored for Vancouver. Braden Holtby made 28 saves for his first win as a Canuck.

Kailer Yamamoto, Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson replied for Edmonton. Mikko Koskinen stopped 30-of-35 shots for the loss.

It was a back and forth game in front of no fans and canned crowd noise at Rogers Place.

The Canucks won despite not having winger J.T. Miller in the lineup. Miller, their top scorer from last season, and depth defenceman Jordie Benn had to sit out as per COVID-19 protocol.

WATCH | Boeser’s pair lifts Canucks over Oilers:

Brock Boeser records 2 goals in Vancouver’s 5-3 win over Edmonton. 0:56

Oiler captain McDavid, playing on his 24th birthday, was held scoreless but buzzed around the net, driving on Holtby relentlessly and drawing multiple penalties.

Oiler centre Leon Draisaitl, the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner as the league’s top point getter last season, registered one assist.

Boeser scored twice in the third period to seal the win as the Canucks took advantage of numerous Oiler defensive breakdowns.

Vancouver opened the scoring with less than five minutes to play in the first period. Tanner Pearson, racing with the puck up the right wing, managed, just before getting hit by Oiler Zack Kassian at Edmonton’s blue line, to spin and put the puck on the tape of Horvat in the slot. Horvat skated in alone and shot the puck low stick side past Koskinen.

The Oilers tied the game early in the second. Draisaitl, off a turnover, fed the puck to Yamamoto who one-timed the puck from the slot into the top corner of the net.

WATCH | NHL returns with cautious optimism:

The NHL season returned to the ice on Wednesday with many questioning if it was the right decision amid rising COVID-19 cases. The league is hoping the season will go off without a hitch, as businesses that rely on the games are looking for ways to save their bottom line. 2:01

Hoglander, the Swedish rookie, put Vancouver up 2-1 with less than three minutes to go in the second, on a rebound after Edmonton failed to clear the puck out of its own end.

The goals came in bunches in the third period, starting with Nurse’s wrist shot from the face-off circle just 10 seconds in.

Gaudette then scored on a cross-ice feed from Antoine Roussel to make it 3-2.

Less than two minutes later, Quinn Hughes, down on the ice near the blue line managed to backhand the puck to an open Boeser in the slot, who fired low and in for a 4-2 lead.

Then Larsson fired a slapshot from the top of the face-off circle through traffic and in to cut the lead to 4-3.

Boeser then took a pass off the wall from Elias Pettersson to steam in on the right wing and fire the puck shortside over Koskinen’s shoulder.

WATCH | 9 NHL storylines… in 90 seconds:

Rob Pizzo identifies the key things to watch as the season begins. 1:54

The two teams play again in Edmonton Thursday night in what will be a 56-game regular-season sprint over 115 days. Due to cross-border COVID travel restrictions, the seven Canadian teams will play each other in the North Division.

Edmonton and Vancouver will play 10 times.

It was a return to familiar surroundings for both teams.

Edmonton hosted the NHL’s Western Conference playoffs and league’s final two playoff rounds last summer in the so-called playoff “bubble.”

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What it will take to keep nursing home residents safe from COVID-19

To counter some of the drivers of coronavirus transmission among essential workers, governments across Canada should prioritize safety, say experts who’ve looked closely at avoiding outbreaks among the most vulnerable.

Canada’s worst outbreaks continue to hit residents of long-term care homes, where short staffing can make it difficult to care for vulnerable people sick with COVID-19. To keep them safe will require addressing long-standing staffing shortages on top of stockpiling personal protective equipment and changing how the long-term care sector is led.

Farinaz Havaei, an assistant professor in the school of nursing at the University of British Columbia, says she found a combination of good planning, strong leadership and a focus on safety contributed to how a large B.C. long-term care facility successfully kept COVID-19 at bay at the start of the pandemic.

“Their [leadership] decisions were essentially driven by prioritization of safety rather than being driven by budget and finances, which was really important,” Havaei said. She and her team analyzed surveys and reviewed administrative data and interviewed leaders, workers and family members for the research.

In contrast to the horrors reported by the military at some devastated long-term care facilities in Quebec and Ontario in the spring, Havaei said staff at the B.C. facility went above and beyond in caring for residents.

The workers spent quality time with those under their care, reading them books, painting their nails and facilitating virtual connections with family members.

WATCH | A daughter’s devotion to helping her mom recover from COVID-19:

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Havaei is now planning a provincewide study of B.C.’s single-site employment policy for long-term care workers, which requires staff to work in only one high-risk site.

To Havaei, more flexible paid sick leave policies and ensuring adequate 24/7 staffing in long-term care homes go hand-in-hand with keep residents safe.

“My personal opinion is that staffing is the cause, or is probably one of the root causes, of this whole situation,” of having to call in the military to deal with outbreaks in long-term care homes during the first wave, she said. 

She says several factors exacerbate the challenges staff face in long-term care homes:

  • Crowding of residents.
  • Residents may lack the cognitive ability needed to follow handwashing and other infection prevention measures.
  • On top of their regular workload, staff became the eyes and ears of family members who weren’t allowed to visit or provide care.

Havaei points to a body of research, including her own, that’s established a link between burnout of nurses and higher likelihood of adverse events for patients or residents.

“They are more likely to make some sort of a patient-adverse event, like making a medication error, having their patient fall, violating infection prevention control guidelines that potentially result in urinary tract infection and so on,” she said. 

During the second, worsening wave of COVID-19 across much of Canada, nurses and personal support workers at long-term care homes face those everyday challenges on top of the coronavirus. About 40 per cent of all long-term care homes in Ontario alone are dealing with an active COVID-19 outbreak.

Havaei wonders whether stretching staff too thin in such a high-risk environment contributes to lapses in infection control that can allow the virus to take hold.

In B.C., health-care workers top the list of workers’ compensation claims followed by long-term care, a much smaller industry proportionately.

Staffing is probably one of the root causes of devastating outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care homes across Canada, says Farinaz Havaei. (Submitted by Farinaz Havaei)

Work both improves health and can sicken

Victoria Arrandale, an assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, studies how to reduce exposure to hazards in the workplace, including COVID-19. It’s a field she was drawn to after suffering an ankle injury at a pulp mill in her home province of British Columbia, plunging her into the world of filing a workers’ compensation claim.

“I just got hooked on thinking about how work does impact people’s health,” Arrandale recalled. “It improves people’s health because it provides stable income, hopefully, but it can also make people sick.”

Arrandale said paid sick leave is an important policy because it can help prevent the introduction of the coronavirus into the workplace.

From a population-level perspective, Arrandale would like to see more detailed collection of workplace data during contact tracing, as in Ontario’s Peel Region and Hamilton, and as Toronto is moving toward.

“We’ve got good information on health care, but having it for every [sector] would allow us to better understand where the workplace burden of COVID is arising,” Arrandale said. “There may be groups of people who we’re not recognizing that could be more precariously employed or racialized groups, women.”

Having a more complete picture could improve understanding of where and why workplace outbreaks occur to better target prevention measures, such as staggering shifts and breaks, providing alternative lunch spaces or splitting up people who are all working in a row while still achieving workplace goals, she said.

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