Tag Archives: increased

Severe COVID-19 linked to increased risk of stillbirth, preterm birth

A new data analysis links COVID-19 to increased risk of pregnancy complications including preterm birth and stillbirth, with the risks rising if infection is severe.

Montreal researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 42 studies involving 438,548 pregnant people around the world.

Authors including Dr. Nathalie Auger of the University of Montreal’s School of Public Health said the data “provides clear evidence that symptomatic or severe COVID-19 is associated with a considerable risk of preeclampsia, preterm birth and low birth weight.”

“Clinicians should be aware of these adverse outcomes when managing pregnancies affected by COVID-19 and adopt effective strategies to prevent or reduce risks to patients and fetuses,” concludes the study, published Friday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The study says COVID-19 patients were more likely than those without the disease to experience preeclampsia, stillbirth and preterm birth.

Urgent questions for medical community

Compared to asymptomatic patients, symptomatic patients were at double the risk of preterm birth and a 50 per cent increased risk of cesarean delivery.

Meanwhile, those with severe COVID-19 had a four-fold higher risk than those with a mild case to experience high blood pressure and preterm birth.

The reason for increased risk was unclear, but researchers said it could be because the virus that causes COVID-19 stimulates an inflammatory response affecting blood vessels.

The team also called for more research to better understand disease pathways that explain these associations.

“Lack of knowledge about SARS-CoV-2 infection in pregnancy has raised urgent questions among obstetricians and neonatologists about the risk of maternal, fetal and neonatal morbidity and mortality,” the study says.

“There is an urgent need for evidence to guide clinical decisions.”

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), has said all governments should grant access to the COVID 19 vaccine to pregnant and lactating individuals.

“The benefits of getting vaccinated for individuals at higher risk during pregnancy or while breastfeeding outweighs the risks of not receiving the vaccine,” SOGC said. 

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CBC | Health News

AstraZeneca says its vaccine review found no evidence of increased blood clot risks

AstraZeneca Plc on Sunday said it had conducted a review of people vaccinated with its COVID-19 vaccine which has shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

The review covered more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and United Kingdom.

“A careful review of all available safety data of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and U.K. with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia, in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country,” the statement said.

Authorities in Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands have suspended the use of the vaccine over clotting issues, while Austria stopped using a batch of AstraZeneca-Oxford shots last week while investigating a death from coagulation disorders.

Ireland on Sunday temporarily suspended AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine “out of an abundance of caution.”

The drug maker said additional testing has and is being conducted by the company and the European health authorities and none of the re-tests have shown cause for concern.

There are also no confirmed issues related to quality of any of its COVID-19 vaccine batches used across Europe and rest of the world, the company said.

Health Canada says no issues with vaccine reported

While other countries paused use of the vaccine, Health Canada has maintained there is “no indication” the vaccine causes blood clots, adding that no adverse events from AstraZeneca doses have been reported in Canada so far.

“Health Canada authorized the vaccine based on a thorough, independent review of the evidence and determined that it meets Canada’s stringent safety, efficacy and quality requirements,” the department said on March 11. 

Canada is one of many countries, including Germany, France, Poland, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom who continue to use the vaccine, citing a lack of any evidence of a link to blood clots.

WATCH | Reassurance on safety of AstraZeneca-Oxford’s vaccine:

Despite some European countries temporarily halting use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine after 30 cases of blood clots, experts maintain it is still safe to use in Canada. 2:01

There has been some confusion, however, related to Canada’s position on who should take the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended last week that Canadians over 65 not receive an AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccination despite emerging evidence from countries around the world demonstrating its ability to prevent severe COVID-19 in older adults.

The recommendation led provinces to reorganize their vaccination plans for seniors. The result was people aged 60-64 could receive AstraZeneca-Oxford shots ahead of older age groups, who are at greater risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Quebec is the only province so far to ignore the national recommendations. Officials there said this week they would administer the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to seniors in direct contrast to what the province considers outdated NACI advice.

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CBC | Health News

U.S. House approves increased COVID-19 relief cheques, sending bill to Senate

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Monday to increase COVID-19 relief cheques to $ 2,000 US, meeting President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger payments and sending the bill to the Republican-controlled Senate, where the outcome is uncertain.

Democrats led passage of the bill by a vote of 275-134, their majority favouring additional assistance. They had settled for smaller $ 600 payments in a compromise with Republicans over the big year-end relief bill Trump reluctantly signed into law.

The vote deeply divided Republicans, who mostly resist more spending. But many House Republicans joined in support, preferring to link with Democrats rather than buck the outgoing president. Senators were set to return to session on Tuesday, forced to consider the measure.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared, “Republicans have a choice: Vote for this legislation or vote to deny the American people” the assistance she said they need during the pandemic.

The showdown could end up as more symbol than substance. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has declined to say publicly how the Senate will handle the bill when Democrats there try to push it forward for a vote on Tuesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks to reporters after initial agreement on the COVID-19 aid package in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 20. (Ken Cedeno/Reuters)

Democrats vote to override Trump veto on defence

Hours later, the Democratic-controlled House also voted to override Trump’s veto of a defence policy bill.

House members voted 322-87 to override the veto, well above the two-thirds needed to override. If approved by two-thirds of the Senate, the override would be the first of Trump’s presidency.

Trump rejected the defence bill last week, saying it failed to limit social media companies he claims were biased against him during his failed re-election campaign. Trump also opposes language that allows for the renaming of military bases that honour Confederate leaders.

The defence bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, affirms three per cent pay raises for U.S. troops and authorizes more than $ 740 billion in military programs and construction.

COVID bill gives cash to individuals, businesses

The legislative action during the rare holiday week session may do little to change the more than $ 2 trillion COVID-19 relief and federal spending package that Trump signed into law on Sunday, one of the biggest bills of its kind providing relief for millions of Americans.

Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, ranking member of the House ways and means committee, acknowledged the division and said Congress had already approved ample funds during the COVID-19 crisis. “Nothing in this bill helps anybody get back to work,” he said.

The new bill now goes to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday for a final vote. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press)

The package the president signed into law includes two parts — $ 900 billion in COVID aid and $ 1.4 trillion to fund government agencies. It will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown that otherwise would have started on Tuesday, in the midst of the public health crisis.

Aside from the direct cheques that will go to most Americans, the COVID portion of the bill revives a weekly pandemic jobless benefit boost — this time $ 300 through March 14 — as well as a popular Paycheck Protection Program of grants to businesses to keep workers on payrolls. It also extends eviction protections, adding a new rental assistance fund.

Last standoffs of Trump’s final days

The COVID package draws on and expands an earlier effort from Washington, the largest of its kind. It offers billions of dollars for vaccine purchases and distribution, for virus contact tracing, public health departments, schools, universities, farmers, food pantry programs and other institutions and groups facing hardship in the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the government funding portion of the bill keeps federal agencies nationwide running without dramatic changes until Sept. 30.

The attempt to send much higher pandemic-era cheques to people is perhaps the last standoff of the president’s final days in office as he imposes fresh demands and disputes the results of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

The new Congress is set to be sworn in Sunday.

U.S. President Donald Trump plays golf at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Resistance in the Senate

The COVID relief bill faces resistance Tuesday from the Republican-led Senate. McConnell, in a rare break with Trump, had urged passage of the defence bill despite Trump’s veto threat. McConnell said it was important for Congress to continue its nearly six-decade-long streak of passing the defence policy bill.

Trump’s sudden decision to sign the COVID bill came as he faced escalating criticism from lawmakers on all sides.

Republican Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, a conservative who supported Trump’s extraordinary and futile challenge of the election results, counted himself on Monday among the opponents of a more generous relief package and Trump’s call for higher payments.

“It’s money we don’t have, we have to borrow to get and we can’t afford to pay back,” he said on Fox and Friends.

Democrats are promising more aid to come once Democrat president-elect Joe Biden takes office, but Republicans are signalling a wait-and-see approach.

Biden told reporters at an event in Wilmington, Del., that he supported the $ 2,000 cheques.

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CBC | World News

More Ontario regions face increased restrictions as province records 1,746 new COVID-19 cases

The latest:

Public health measures are ramping up in five regions across Ontario on Monday, with one more region moving to the “red alert” level on the province’s tiered pandemic response plan.

Windsor-Essex is entering the red level, Haldimand-Norfolk is entering the orange level and Hastings Prince Edward, Lambton and Northwestern are entering the yellow zone.

The province said the regions will stay in their new categories for at least 28 days, or two COVID-19 incubation periods, before a change is considered. 

Ontario on Monday reported 1,746 cases of COVID-19, with 622 new cases in Toronto and 390 in Peel Region, which are both under lockdown measures. Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a tweet that more than 39,400 tests had been completed.

The province reported eight additional deaths, bringing Ontario’s death toll to 3,656. Hospitalizations hit 618, with 168 in intensive care, according to provincial data.

Meanwhile, a window company in York Region, which is currently in the red alert zone, has declared a COVID-19 outbreak after 62 cases were confirmed there.

Health officials say this is the second outbreak at State Windows Corporation’s facility, following an initial outbreak in May that ended up infecting 17 people.

With many children continuing to attend school virtually during the pandemic, Premier Doug Ford on Monday announced a one-time support payment — of either $ 200 or $ 250 per child — to offset education-related expenses for families. The funds can be used for expenses including technology, school supplies and developmental resources.

What’s happening across Canada

As of 3:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 374,051, with 64,773 of those considered active cases. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 12,076.

In Saskatchewan, more than 100 medical students have signed an open letter to the provincial government calling for more action to control the spread of COVID-19.

In the letter, the University of Saskatchewan students thank the government for some of the measures already taken, such as mandatory indoor masking, but say they’re not enough.

Saskatchewan reported 325 new cases and two COVID-19 deaths on Monday. Along with 49 recoveries, there are now 3,879 active cases across the province.

Officials also reported 123 hospitalizations, which is a new record for the province.

Manitoba reported 343 new cases on Monday, along with 11 new COVID-19 deaths, including a man in his 30s and a woman in her 40s. Seven of the deaths are connected to outbreaks at long-term care homes

The province also hit a new record high for COVID-19 hospitalizations with 342 people in hospital, 43 of whom are in intensive care.

Two Manitoba churches held drive-in services over the weekend, in violation of public health orders capping gatherings at five people and ordering religious services to move online.

WATCH | Steinbach, Man., pastor says RCMP is ‘blocking God’ by stopping drive-in church service:

Members of a church in Steinbach, Man., a COVID-19 hotspot, clashed with the RCMP when they tried to enforce public health measures prohibiting all gatherings, including religious services. The pastor said officers were ‘blocking God.’ 2:35

Quebec reported 1,333 new cases of COVID-19 and 23 additional deaths on Monday, bringing the number of deaths in the province to 7,056. Hospitalizations stood at 693 in Quebec, with 94 in intensive care, according to a provincial tally.

The update comes a day after a Montreal long-term care home transferred 20 residents to local hospitals after COVID-19 took hold at the home in the last week, concerning officials and terrifying families.

Paramedics transfer a person from Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Montreal on Sunday as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Quebec long-term care homes were hit hard during the first wave of the pandemic last spring. Many facilities were under-staffed and in some cases, personnel moved between centres — allowing the virus to spread more easily.

Health officials in New Brunswick reported six new cases on Monday, a day after the province announced 14 new cases.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case on Monday, bringing the total number of cases in the province to 338. Prince Edward Island, which has just four active cases total, had no new cases to report on Monday.

Nova Scotia reported 16 new cases on Monday. The province started using pop-up clinics to test for COVID-19 last week.

WATCH | N.L. premier explains ‘difficult decision’ to leave Atlantic bubble:

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey says he is ‘following the evidence’ with the decision to pull out of the Atlantic bubble for now. 8:30

While the overall numbers are far lower than what health officials are seeing in Central and Western Canada, the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in several Atlantic provinces sparked enough concern that both Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I. decided to temporarily withdraw from the bubble that allowed free movement between the provinces.

Newfoundland Premier Andrew Furey told CBC’s Rosemary Barton that his province’s decision to temporarily leave the Atlantic travel bubble was a “tough decision — but it was one that we based on evidence.” 

Not long after the changes announced by Newfoundland and P.E.I., New Brunswick added some border restrictions of its own, saying that people travelling into the province — including people who live in other Atlantic provinces — would be required to self-isolate for 14 days unless exempt. 

“Registration for travel into New Brunswick, including New Brunswickers returning home from travel, is also now mandatory,” the province said in a statement last week.

Alberta reported 1,608 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, the second-highest daily total in the province since the pandemic began. The province, which has reported a total 533 deaths, said Sunday that there were 435 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Ninety-five of those people were being treated in intensive care units.

In British Columbia, which doesn’t provide COVID-19 data on weekends, a church in Langley was hit with a $ 2,300 fine for holding an in-person religious service, which is currently prohibited.

Nunavut reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the number of active cases in the territory to 108.

Yukon reported one new COVID-19 case on Sunday. The Whitehorse case brings the number of cases in the territory to 46. Sixteen of those cases are considered active, territorial health officials said in a statement.

There was no new case reported in the Northwest Territories on Sunday. 

Have questions about COVID-19 in Canada? Join Adrienne Arsenault and Andrew Chang of The National for a virtual town hall.

What’s happening around the world

WATCH | Consider COVID-19 risks of holiday celebrations, urges WHO chief:

‘We all need to consider whose life we might be gambling with’ during holiday celebrations because of the coronavirus, says World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 2:19

From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

As of Monday afternoon, more than 62.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 40.3 million of those considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.4 million.

Moderna Inc. said it would ask U.S. and European regulators Monday to allow emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine as new study results confirm the shots offer strong protection — ramping up the race to begin limited vaccinations as the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

Multiple vaccine candidates must succeed for the world to stamp out the pandemic, which has been on the upswing in the U.S. and Europe. U.S. hospitals have been stretched to the limit as the nation has seen more than 160,000 new cases per day and more than 1,400 daily deaths.

Moderna is just behind Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech in seeking to begin vaccinations in the U.S. in December. Across the Atlantic, British regulators also are assessing the Pfizer shot and another from AstraZeneca.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Vietnam confirmed on Monday its first locally transmitted case of the coronavirus in nearly three months, after the infection of a man related to a flight attendant who had tested positive after returning from Japan two weeks ago.

The country’s health minister ordered provinces and state agencies to tighten screening and controls and contact tracing efforts were launched after the 32-year-old man was confirmed as the first reported domestic infection in 89 days.

With its strict quarantine and tracking measures, Vietnam has managed to quickly contain its coronavirus outbreaks, allowing it to resume its economic activities earlier than much of Asia.

Vietnam crushed its first wave of coronavirus infections in April and went nearly 100 days without local transmission until the virus re-emerged and was quickly contained in the central city of Danang in July.

Indonesia reported a record daily rise in coronavirus infections on Sunday with 6,267 cases, bringing the total to 534,266, data from the country’s COVID-19 task force showed.

A medical worker stands inside a swab chamber as he prepares to collect swab samples to be tested for COVID-19 in Jakarta, Indonesia, last week. (Willy Kurniawan/Reuters)

Cambodia’s Education Ministry has ordered all state schools to close until the start of the next school year in January after a rare local outbreak of the coronavirus.

Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron issued a statement late Sunday saying that all schools will be shut to prevent students from being infected. Public schools will remain closed until Jan. 11, the start of the next school year, while private schools must close for two weeks, he said. Students in private schools will be permitted to study online.

Cambodia has reported only 323 cases of the virus since the pandemic began, most of them acquired abroad, with no confirmed deaths.

In the Americas, U.S. health authorities will hold an emergency meeting this week to recommend that a coronavirus vaccine awaiting approval be given first to health-care professionals and people in long-term care facilities.

Counties across California, meanwhile, are imposing stricter COVID-19 restrictions on Monday as cases surge statewide and Thanksgiving travellers return home.

Health officials are preparing for a wave of cases in the next two or three weeks that could be tied to holiday gatherings.

Los Angeles County, for example, will impose a lockdown calling for its 10 million residents to stay home beginning Monday.

WATCH | How testing helped Cornell University become a model of COVID-19 prevention:

At the start of the school year, Cornell University implemented a strategy of regular testing and robust contact tracing on campus. The plan was expensive, but it’s prevented any major COVID-19 outbreaks at the New York institution. 8:19

The state reported 7,415 coronavirus hospitalizations on Sunday, citing the most recently available data from the previous day. More than 1,700 of those patients were in intensive care units. California’s previous record was 7,170 in July.

As of Sunday, California has had nearly 1.2 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 19,000 deaths since the pandemic began. The state reported around 15,600 new cases on Saturday.

Mexico reported 6,388 new confirmed coronavirus infections and 196 additional deaths on Sunday, health ministry data showed.

In Africa, mass vaccination against COVID-19 is unlikely to start in Africa until midway through next year and keeping vaccines cold could be a big challenge, the continent’s disease control group said.

Kenya’s central bank has cut its forecast for 2020 economic growth by more than half, joining the Treasury in realizing that the coronavirus had inflicted more damage to the economy than previously thought.

In Europe, Belgium will let shops reopen from Tuesday, but keep other curbs over the festive period, while Italy will ease anti-COVID-19 restrictions in five regions from Sunday. Ireland will allow shops, restaurants, gyms and pubs serving food to reopen next week and permit travel between counties from Dec. 18.

A pharmacy worker wearing protective gear stands outside a tent set up for rapid COVID-19 tests in Rome’s Trastevere neighbourhood last week. (Alessandra Tarantino/The Associated Press)

Italy reported 541 coronavirus-related deaths on Sunday, against 686 the day before, and 20,648 new infections, down from 26,323 on Saturday, the health ministry said. 

While Italy’s daily death tolls have been among the highest in Europe over recent days, the rise in hospital admissions and intensive care occupancy is slowing, suggesting the latest wave of infections is receding.

Meanwhile, Greek officials say the number of new infections is waning in most parts of the country, which has been in lockdown for three weeks. The lockdown initially had been set to end Monday but has been extended for another week.

Greece on Monday recorded 1,044 new confirmed infections — down from a record high of more than 3,000 earlier in November — and 85 new deaths.

The hardest-hit country in the Middle East, Iran, had more than 948,000 reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 47,000 recorded deaths.

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CBC | Health News

Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Canada cites Huawei ban, increased NATO spending as top priorities

The woman nominated to serve as the new U.S. ambassador to Canada says she plans to apply fresh pressure on Ottawa to ban Huawei from taking part in Canada’s 5G network.

During an appearance before the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, Aldona Wos said that, if confirmed, she will “… build on our existing bilateral cooperation to counter China’s malign activities, and continue to raise concerns regarding the authorization of access to the 5G network by Huawei and other untrusted vendors.”

Canada is the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance — which includes the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand — that has not banned or restricted the Chinese tech giant from helping to build the country’s 5G network.

Ottawa is carrying out a comprehensive review of Huawei’s potential role in 5G that includes a broader, strategic look at how the technology can foster economic growth.

U.S. wants Canada to ban Huawei

Washington has threatened repeatedly to reconsider its intelligence-sharing arrangement with Ottawa if the company is allowed to participate in developing the sensitive technology, which will give internet users a speedier connection and provide vast data capacity.

The U.S. argues the company can be compelled to act as a spy agency for the Chinese government, and that it poses a significant national security risk. 

Wos also offered broad support for Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians being detained in China. Both men were taken into custody by Chinese authorities in December of 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, on a U.S. extradition request.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shake hands with U.S. President Donald Trump as they hold a bilateral meeting during the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019. Trump has put pressure on NATO allies, including Canada, to increase defence spending. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

“I will make clear the United States government’s deep concern over China’s retaliatory and arbitrary detention of two Canadian citizens,” she said. 

In her opening remarks, Wos highlighted the integration of the Canada-U.S. relationship in the areas of defence and national security and vowed to deepen those ties.

“The United States-Canada relationship is one of enduring strength. It is built on broad and deep ties between our peoples, shared values, extensive trade, strategic global cooperation and defence partnerships,” she said, reading from prepared notes.

Defence spending a thorny issue

Wos also vowed to apply more pressure on Canada to increase its defence spending — an issue raised by both the previous Obama administration and the current Trump administration.

“If confirmed, I will encourage Canada to provide critical capabilities to the alliance by meeting the commitments that all NATO leaders agreed to in the 2014 Wales pledge,” she said.

The Wales pledge calls on all NATO members that are not currently spending the equivalent of 2 per cent of their country’s gross domestic product (GDP) on defence to gradually increase spending and move toward that goal within a decade.

Canada’s defence spending in 2019 was equal to 1.27 per cent of its GDP, according to NATO figures. There is no plan currently to meet the 2 per cent goal.

Canada’s current defence policy calls for a 73 per cent budget increase by 2026-27, which would bring defence spending to 1.4 per cent of GDP.

If confirmed, Wos will replace Kelly Craft, President Donald Trump’s first ambassador to Canada who oversaw the re-negotiation of NAFTA. 

Craft’s service impressed many in the White House and she left her post in Ottawa to become the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Wos faced fewer questions than other nominees at today’s hearing. Much of the focus was on an appearance by Lisa Kenna, a long-time State Department employee nominated to serve as ambassador to Peru. 

Kenna worked in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s office at the time of the Ukraine pressure campaign that led to President Trump’s impeachment. 

Wos asked about Canada-U.S. border closure

Wos was asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire about COVID-related restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border. 

Shaheen said companies, hospitals and other medical providers in the northern part of her state have been negatively affected by the closure.

“Because of the nature of the pandemic that we all face, it is currently by mutual decision beneficial to both our countries to continue to have restrictions at our border,” Wos replied.

“But those restrictions are mostly for tourist and recreational activities of travel through the border. It is critical for both our countries to continue to have our goods and services be able to flow freely through the borders.”

Shaheen said she hopes Wos can work to ensure that the border closure doesn’t continue to disrupt trade between border states and Canada.

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CBC | World News

U.S. Postal Service faces budget uncertainty in a year of increased mail-in ballots

The U.S. Postal Service’s famous motto — “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers” — is being tested like never before, by challenges that go well beyond the weather.

Its finances have been devastated by the coronavirus. The Trump administration may attach big strings to federal bailouts.

The agency’s responsibilities, meanwhile, are mounting. A dramatic shift in many states to voting by mail is intended to protect voters from spreading the virus at polling places. But it’s also making more work for post offices and contributing to delays in determining election winners.

Primary election results were delayed this week in Kentucky and New York as both states were overwhelmed by huge increases in mail ballots. Both states are now giving voters extra time to return mail ballots, as long as they were postmarked by Tuesday.

“What we don’t need is more chaos in the chaos,” said Wendy Fields, executive director of the voting rights advocacy group The Democracy Initiative, who said worries about undue strain at the post office only exacerbate larger struggles against voter suppression.

President Donald Trump opposes expanding voting by mail, and has argued ahead of the Nov. 3 general election that it  will trigger fraud, even though there’s no evidence that will happen. Trump and many of his administration’s leading voices frequently vote absentee themselves.

Unsubstantiated allegations of fraud

The president has also called the Postal Service “a joke” and says package shipping rates should be at least four times higher for heavy users like Amazon. But shipping and packages are actually a top revenue generator for the Postal Service, and critics say Trump is merely looking to punish Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in retaliation for unflattering coverage in The Washington Post, which the billionaire Bezos also owns.

Trump has acknowledged larger political calculations are at work, tweeting that expanding vote by mail will “LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has suggested the Republican president’s opposition to absentee voting and criticism of the Postal Service may help him “steal” the election.

“The U.S. Postal Service is an essential pillar of American life. We simply cannot let Donald Trump destroy it,” Biden said in a tweet last month.

Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents 200,000-plus employees, said the Trump administration is “shamefully trying to use the crisis to carry out an agenda” of privatization, which would ultimately “break up the Postal Service and sell it.”

Jim Condos, who was president of the National Association of Secretaries of State from July 2018 to July 2019, said “our democracy depends on a reliable post office.”

“Mid-election year is not the time to see changes in the dependability of the Postal Service, especially during a year when our country is experiencing a pandemic and health crisis, which will dramatically increase the necessity of voting by mail,” he said.

The Postal Service predates the United States, created by the Second Continental Congress in July 1775. Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general.

Tweet from Maine Democrat:

Unlike its private competitors, the Postal Service cannot refuse to make costly deliveries to especially hard-to-reach addresses. Still, much of its budgetary concerns stem from a 2006 law requiring the agency to fully fund retiree health benefits for the next 75 years.

It normally operates without taxpayer funds. Amid the pandemic, however, it lost $ 4.5 billion US in fiscal year 2020’s second quarter.

Line of credit in coronavirus aid package

Congress approved a $ 10 billion line of credit for the agency as part of March’s sweeping economic rescue package. Since then, though, the Postal Service and the Treasury Department have had discussions about requirements to extend those loans.

Neither side will say publicly what’s being negotiated, but Trump has made his feelings clear. A 2018 Treasury task force also recommended the Postal Service increase package rates and cut labour costs. A second coronavirus aid package passed in May by the Democratic-controlled House includes $ 25 billion in direct aid for the Postal Service, but the Republican-led Senate hasn’t passed its own version.

In the meantime, more than 3,420 of the Postal Service’s 630,00-plus employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and some have died. While package deliveries have increased as Americans stay home, mail volumes plummeted — as much as 30 per cent, according to the American Postal Workers Union.

In April, then-Postmaster General Megan Brennan said the agency could be out of money by Sept. 30. Last week, Louis DeJoy, a North Carolina businessman and Republican fundraiser who’s donated to Trump, succeeded Brennan.

Postal Service spokesperson David Partenheimer said more recent trends “indicate that our 2020 financial performance will be better than our early scenarios predicted,” though he said much remains uncertain.

“Our current financial condition is not going to impact our ability to deliver election and political mail this year,” Partenheimer said.

Condos, currently Vermont’s secretary of state, fears keeping such a promise could force the Postal Service to cut back on routine services, which may see voting materials prioritized over regular mail. The pressure is also on since absentee ballots for overseas military members are sent 45 days before Election Day, or Sept. 18 — less than three months away.

“This whole idea that we have until November to decide, we really don’t,” Condos said.

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Calls to distress lines climb amid increased anxiety over COVID-19

Crisis lines and mental health professionals are seeing a jump in calls as Canadians come to grips with the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasingly drastic measures aimed at containing the novel coronavirus.

While some level of concern is both normal and healthy, experts say the risk of overreacting can lead to an inability to function, compulsive panic-buying or even self-harm.

“We’re experiencing a significant increase in calls,” Neta Gear, executive director for Distress and Crisis Ontario, said on Monday. “People are very anxious about what’s happening. People are feeling worried and scared.”

Increasingly, Canadians are being forced to cope with sudden disruptions more normally associated with wartime: Workers are being sent home; schools have closed; sports, entertainment and restaurant venues shut down; vacation plans shattered; and loved ones are stranded abroad.

In addition, those returning from out of the country, those who show symptoms or those who have had close contact with someone infected are being quarantined or asked to self-isolate for at least two weeks.

A woman walks along a nearly empty sidewalk in Montreal on Monday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Dr. Peter Selby, a clinician-scientist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, said previous pandemics such as SARS in 2003 have tended to lead to an increase in mental-health issues and self-harming.

It’s critical people find supports, Selby said.

“Social isolation doesn’t mean emotional isolation,” said Selby. “Social isolation doesn’t mean lock yourself in your room and only watch TV and don’t talk to anybody.”

Selby advised limiting exposure to coronavirus-related news and especially to alarmist social media. People in isolation can get trapped watching the same news over and again, which can unnecessarily amplify fears, he said.

“Get information once in the day,” Selby said. “You need to reduce the amount of information coming in that is not necessarily productive or helpful.”

350% increase

At Kids Help Phone, which takes about 1,500 calls and texts a day, overall contacts have only begun to creep up. What has shifted dramatically is the content of the calls.

“We have seen about a 350 per cent increase in young people reaching out with fears related to COVID-19,” said Alisa Simon, senior vice-president at Kids Help Phone. “It really started ramping up in the middle of last week.”

Chris Summerville, chief executive officer with the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, said stress is a key factor in any type of mental-health relapse. The antidote is to engage in as much positive activity and thinking as possible.

“As much as is possible, express care, concern and love to one another,” Summerville said.

Shoppers at Superstore buy paper towel and toilet paper in Vancouver on March 2. Across the country, stores are seeing more panic-buying over COVID-19 fears. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Doing something positive can alleviate feelings of helplessness as the pandemic rages, experts advise. That could mean volunteering to become a crisis-line responder or engage in activities as simple as trying a new recipe or walking the dog.

For those in distress over COVID-19, experts say, it’s especially important to know they are not alone and help is available — even if by phone or text.

“You want to make sure that people who are having stress reactions or are getting suicidal get support right away,” Selby said.

In the interim, mental-health services are coping with their own issues of illness or self-isolation, even as workloads increase.

“We know that the anxiety levels are increasing,” Simon said. “We anticipate that we are going to see large surges in demand for our service as other services close their doors.”

Some resources for those in crisis:

  • Crisis Services Canada: 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645; 1-866-277-3553 (from Quebec).
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868.
  • First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310.
  • Native Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-877-209-1266.
  • eMentalHealth.ca.

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ISS at Increased Risk of Impact After Indian Anti-Satellite Weapon Test

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All technologically advanced nations have at least a few space-based assets. In modern military conflict, those objects could become targets. Several countries have conducted tests with satellite-killing weapons, most recently India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced last week that the Mission Shakti test had successfully destroyed a satellite in low-Earth orbit. Now, NASA is expressing concern that the test could have placed the International Space Station at risk.

Space is big, but the space around Earth is feeling much more cramped lately. As the cost of reaching orbit drops, more countries and companies have launched spacecraft that will never come down of their own accord. That problem is multiplied a thousand-fold if one of those objects breaks apart, say because a missile smacked into it.

China is famous for conducting the most egregious test of a satellite smasher in 2007. In that test, China destroyed a satellite at an altitude of 537 miles. The debris from that event is still orbiting Earth where it poses a danger to other objects. The Indian test was intended to limit the potential risk, but NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine calls it a “terrible, terrible thing.”

India’s target in the test was a satellite it launched in January called Microsat-R with a mass of 740 kilograms (1,631 pounds). That’s a fairly large satellite. On March 27, India smashed it to pieces with Mission Shakti. The satellite was orbiting at an altitude of 175 miles, and the impact occurred on a downward trajectory. The intention was to send most of the debris into the atmosphere where it would not pose a danger to the ISS and other objects. It may not have worked out that way, though.

There are now at least 400 pieces of orbital debris from the destruction of Microsat-R, 60 of which are larger than 6 inches in size. Even one of the small chunks could spell disaster if it collided with the station at a high relative velocity. NASA and the US Strategic Command’s Combined Space Operations Center estimates that the ISS is now at a 44 percent higher risk of an impact. The ISS can move if there is enough warning, but NASA would obviously prefer not to have the increased danger in the first place.

Several space agencies and private companies are working on ways to remove orbital debris with lasers or giant nets, but all these approaches are years away from reality.

Now read:

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Study of U.S. hospital figures links pot use with increased risk of stroke

New research is being presented at a conference in Montreal today linking recreational cannabis use with an increased risk of stroke.

The study, being outlined at the World Stroke Congress, looked at five years of hospital statistics from the United States.

Researchers found the incidence of stroke rose steadily among marijuana users, even though the overall rate of stroke remained constant over the same period.

The study examined 2.3 million hospitalizations between 2010 and 2014 among people who used cannabis recreationally.

It found that 1.4 per cent of those, or about 32,000, had a stroke during that same period.

The rate of stroke for marijuana users increased over the period, from 1.3 per cent to 1.5 per cent, while the prevalence of stroke among patients nationwide was stable.

The researchers note in the abstract to their study that cannabis "has a potential link to stroke owing to cerebrovascular effects of cannabinoids."

They say their findings make a case for "further prospective studies to evaluate the marijuana-stroke association amidst legalization of recreational use."

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Researchers blame 'seismic shift' in sleep loss among teens on increased smartphone use

Teens are getting less sleep than they did before smartphones became commonplace, prompting concerns about potentially serious health consequences, researchers say.

A study published in the current issue of the journal Sleep Medicine examined data from two surveys of U.S. adolescents conducted over many years and including questions about how many hours of sleep they got. Almost 370,000 adolescents participated.

The researchers focused on how much sleep teens reported getting in the years from 2009 to 2015, “when the mobile technology really saturated the market among adolescents,” said Zlatan Krizan, a psychologist specializing in sleep and social behaviour at Iowa State University and co-author of the study. 

Over the course of that six-year period, they found “a seismic shift in the amount of sleep that a typical teen gets,” Krizan told CBC health reporter Vik Adhopia. 

Zlatan Krizan

Zlatan Krizan, a psychology researcher specializing in sleep, personality and social behaviour at Iowa State University, was one of the authors of a recent study that showed a trend of teens getting less sleep over the years they started using smartphones. (Iowa State University)

Krizan and his colleagues found that teens were 16 to 17 per cent more likely to report getting less than seven hours of sleep a night in 2015 than they were in 2009.  The recommended amount of sleep for 13 to 18-year-olds is eight to 10 hours per night, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What’s keeping them up?

The researchers looked at other factors besides electronic devices that might affect the amount of sleep teens were getting, including working after school, homework and watching TV, but the number of hours spent on those activities remained “relatively stable or reduced” between 2009 and 2015. 

“The only factor that also increased during the time that could be responsible for the shortened sleep is social media, news online and the kind of activities that mobile phones are used for,” Krizan said.   

The researchers emphasize that the amount of time teens spend on their phones — not just whether they’re using them at night — is an important factor in whether or not they’re losing sleep.

Teens who used the technology for two hours or less a day didn’t appear to suffer any adverse effects on their sleep, Krizan said.   

“[But] once you get five hours of use a day or more, you really see a heavily curtailed sleep,” he said.   

Getting enough sleep in adolescence is “crucial,” the study says. In addition to immediate effects, such as performance in school, sleep habits established in the teen years can contribute to sleep patterns and health for adulthood. Lack of sleep has been linked to health problems ranging from obesity and diabetes to depression and substance use. 

“[Sleep is] just one of those things that really reaches into all corners of our lives,” Krizan said. 

‘I need to go check it’

The study results don’t surprise Amanda Rix and her 15-year-old daughter Raeha. 

Until recently, Raeha took her smartphone to her bedroom with her at night, and would “use it a lot.”

“Like watching stuff, texting people and then when I was ready to go to bed, I’d like put it on the floor,” she said. 

But the temptation to pick up the phone again while she was trying to sleep was often too much to resist.  

Raeha and her phone

Raeha Rix says she’s had friends Snapchat her as late as 1 a.m. (Andy Hicenbergs/CBC News)

“Sometimes I’d just be like, ‘No I gotta go to bed, like I want to get up early and straighten my hair’ or something so I’d just like turn over,” she said. “And then I’d be like, ‘No, I need to go check it’ and then I’d pick it up.”

Her mother, Amanda, said Raeha would be “exhausted” by the time she got home from school. 

“By 3 o’clock when you want to curl up and have a nap, that’s a good sign that she’s not getting enough sleep,” she said. 

So Amanda imposed a house rule. As a real estate agent, she admits to checking her own phone at night, too. Now, both mother and daughter leave their phones outside their bedrooms when it’s time to sleep — and both say they’re sleeping better as a result.    

Lack of sleep ‘getting worse’

Lack of sleep is an issue affecting more and more teens, said Dr. Rachel Morehouse, medical director of the Atlantic Sleep Centre at St. John Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. 

“It just seems like it’s getting worse,” she told CBC News. 

Dr. Rachel Morehouse

Dr. Rachel Morehouse, medical director of the Atlantic Sleep Centre at St. John Regional Hospital in New Brunswick, says she believes the problem of teens getting insufficient sleep is even worse than a recent study suggests. (LinkedIn)

Morehouse said staff at her clinic “often” hear about teens using smartphones at night.

“They’re putting it under their bed and they’re responding to texts and emails and so on as they come in,” she said. “So that’s just another disruptor of sleep in adolescence.”

The actual reality of sleep deprivation among teens is probably even worse than the study suggests, Morehouse said. She estimates fewer than one-quarter of teens get the eight to nine hours of sleep a night they need.   

“It is truly an epidemic, I think.” 

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