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This is what COVID-19 looks like through the eyes of nurses on the front lines

Turning a desperately ill COVID-19 patient onto their stomach may seem simple enough to the uninitiated. It’s not.

In this case, at Quebec City’s Hôpital de l’Enfant-Jésus, it requires a total of seven people crowded around an intensive care bed. 

We often hear about how demanding it is for hospital staff and long-term care workers to handle the added workload foisted upon them by the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s just one illustration.

After draping a sheet over the patient, the edges are rolled into the sheet underneath. A pair of pillows are now snug to his chest, and the rolling begins. First, the patient is slid to the edge of the bed. On three, he’s turned to his side. Another three-count, and he is softly delivered onto his stomach.

The room empties. Everyone has work to do.

The Quebec capital has seen a massive spike in coronavirus infections in recent weeks, and a trio of nurses say they’re worried by members of the public trivializing the illness.

To help convince people to take the coronavirus more seriously during the upcoming holidays, they opened their doors to Radio-Canada.

Their names are Cathy Deschênes, Jennifer Boissonnault and Lindsay Vongsawath-Chouinard. Their aim: to show what life in the hot zone looks like.

Each of them agreed to wear a small camera so the public could see how a typical day unfolds. They filmed their colleagues and their patients, and illustrated how the pandemic has made the job harder and more complex.

(scroll up to view the video)

From left to right, Hôpital de l’Enfant-Jésus intensive care nurses Lindsay Vongsawath-Chouinard, Jennifer Boissonnault and Cathy Deschênes. (Radio-Canada)

Their point is not to elicit sympathy. As Deschênes says: “It’s difficult, but we love our jobs.”

Instead, they want to show the devastating path some COVID-19 patients are called upon to travel: patients who require more and more staff at their bedside, and need ever larger amounts of treatment time.

And each one of those treatments involves special planning and safety equipment. The ICU rooms have sliding doors, which makes it easier to maintain hot, warm and cold zones. And maintain them, they must.

Each shift has a nurse in charge of making sure the hygiene procedures are being followed and that personal protective equipment, like N95 masks and shields, is worn correctly.

“No one in our department has contaminated themselves (with the virus), we’ve had no outbreaks in intensive care and we’re very proud of that,” Boissonnault says, at one point.

The average age of the COVID-19 patient in the unit is between 60 and 75.

“Some might think that’s old. We don’t think so,” Boissonnault says.

The province has 390 intensive care beds dedicated to COVID-19 patients (20 for pediatric cases), and Enfant-Jésus, in the Maizerets area northeast of downtown Quebec City, accounts for 22 of them.

The unit is not short of business.

Of the 610 COVID-19 patients the hospital has treated so far this year, 90 were in intensive care. And 144 people who entered the hospital with the disease never made it home.

To work in an intensive care unit is to accept that not every patient can be saved, but COVID-19 is rough even for a group of people who must become inured to tragedy.

Public health restrictions mean it’s often not possible for patients’ relatives to be by their bedside, so when things take a turn for the worst, the only hand to hold usually belongs to a nurse, orderly, doctor or other staff member.

Staff prepare a room in the intensive care ward at Enfant-Jésus hospital in Quebec City. The unit opened its doors to Radio-Canada for a rare look at the daily battle against COVID-19. (Radio-Canada)

At one point, a family is forced to make the devastating decision to halt treatment on their intubated loved one. Two nurses each hold a hand as he is prepared for ‘comfort care’ — palliative measures.

“We’re with you sir,” says Boissonault, holding his left hand. “We’re taking care of you.”

The typical hospital stay for a COVID-19 patient lasts 17 days, but in the ICU sometimes it can stretch to 40 or beyond. Attachments form. When someone dies, there are often tears. There have been weeks when that happens four or five times in just one section of the unit. 

People infected with this virus can sometimes take a sudden, catastrophic turn.

“To give comfort to a patient whose family can’t be there with them in their final moments, to be the ones who take their hands in ours during their final moments … it’s troubling,” says Vongsawath-Chouinard, her voice cracking.

So when there is good news, it is celebrated.

Recently, a patient from the Saguenay called Daniel Bouchard made enough progress to be released from the unit to a regular COVID-19 ward in the hospital.

Daniel Bouchard, 65, is wheeled out of Enfant-Jésus hospital’s intensive care unit in Quebec City as staff applaud. He spent 8 days in the unit with COVID-19. (Radio-Canada)

It was his 65th birthday. He had been there eight days, some of them touch-and-go.

The nurses and medical staff got him a card and a small cake. He thanks them in a raspy voice and is overcome with emotion, weeping in his wheelchair as a nurse rubs his shoulders.

“Your tears say a lot,” Boissonnault says.

Safety measures oblige, the gathered staff had to sing Happy Birthday from the next room.

“Thanks so much, you’ve been an all-star team,” Bouchard says. 

Minutes later, it is time to leave. Outside the room, scrub-wearing staff line the hall.

They applaud as he is wheeled out of view.

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Where Biden and Trump still need votes to win — and why the election is as close as it looks

There were always only two ways the U.S. presidential election was going to play out.

Either it would be a decisive victory for former vice-president Joe Biden that would be apparent or projected before the sun rose on Wednesday morning, or the outcome wouldn’t be resolved for days, potentially leaving the country in an interim state of uncertainty and discord that President Donald Trump could attempt to play to his advantage.

Now that a new day has arrived, it’s clear which path the U.S. election took.

What comes next, however, isn’t.

That’s because a lot of votes still have to be counted — and there are enough of them to make the difference between a Biden presidency and a Trump re-election.

While the vote tallies for each candidate will continue to change over the next few hours and days, Wednesday morning it appeared that the election would come down to the results in six states: Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

As of 8 a.m. ET, Biden holds a lead in Nevada, Arizona and Wisconsin and appears on track to move in front in Michigan, enough for the Democratic nominee to reach the threshold of 270 electoral college votes needed to win the White House. If he holds these four close states, he will become the next president.

But that gives Biden exactly 270 votes, so it isn’t a comfortable win by any stretch. However, if he adds Georgia and Pennsylvania to his tally he jumps to 306 votes, even with Trump’s result in the 2016 election.

Trump still has a path but it is looking like a challenge as more votes are counted. If he can’t flip Wisconsin or Michigan back to Republican red, reversing a significant trend toward the Democrats in these states at the tail end of the count, then he will need to turn Arizona or Nevada around. The remaining ballots in Nevada are largely absentee ballots that are expected to favour Biden. Trump trails in Arizona by five points.

WATCH | ‘We feel good about where we are,’ Biden says:

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden spoke to a crowd at a drive-in rally in Wilmington, Del., where he said he believes he and his party are on track to win the election. 0:59

And those states only matter if he can also win Pennsylvania or Georgia — hardly a given.

Start with Georgia. The state was looking promising for Trump throughout the night until the votes in Atlanta started to be counted in bigger numbers. By early morning, Trump’s lead was down to about 100,000 votes. But the counting was put on pause in Fulton County, where Atlanta is located, due to a broken water line. Roughly 100,000 votes in this county alone have yet to be counted. Among those that have been tallied, Biden is leading Trump by a margin of 45 points.

Other counties in the state that are leaning heavily Democratic still have lots of votes to be counted as well, while nearly all of the vote in strong Republican counties has already been reported. The state could flip to the Democrats once all the votes are in.

And then there’s Pennsylvania, the state which could keep the country in suspense for the rest of the week. Ballots received in the mail by Friday will still be accepted, meaning some of the votes to be counted in Pennsylvania have yet to get to the counters. The absentee ballots that have been counted (and separately reported) have gone overwhelmingly to Biden by a margin of roughly 4:1.

WATCH | Rush to count mail-in votes underway in Philadelphia:

A large vote-counting operation has been set up at the Philadelphia Convention Center to count mail-in ballots. Machines called extractors separate the ballot from the main envelope and the security envelope and then the ballots are scanned. They can scan 30,000 an hour. 0:40

The counties containing Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, which preferred Hillary Clinton over Trump by 67 and 16 points, respectively, in 2016, also have lots of results still to report. Only a little more than half of the vote in Philadelphia County has been counted and only 70 per cent in Pittsburgh. These two counties alone could represent more than 600,000 uncounted ballots, roughly the same as Trump’s lead statewide.

A closer election than expected

That this election has come down to just a few states — even a few counties — is somewhat unexpected. National polls heading into election day gave Biden a wide lead, far wider than the lead Clinton had in the 2016 campaign.

He was ahead by a good margin in Pennsylvania, a respectable one in Florida and was narrowly in front in Georgia and North Carolina. He was within a couple of points of Trump in Ohio and Texas.

It appears that the Democrats’ hope of expanding their map into the Sun Belt — in addition to regaining the Midwestern states they lost in 2016 — has not been entirely realized. They were unable to capture Florida. They closed the gap in Texas but once again failed to make the demographically shifting state swing. Georgia could still go their way, but only Arizona appears to be potential new territory for the Democrats.

WATCH | Trump claims victory despite millions of uncounted votes:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said as far as he’s concerned he and the Republican Party have won the U.S. election. He said he will go to the U.S. Supreme Court and wants voting to stop. However, several states are still counting votes that have already been cast. 1:12

Instead, Biden’s chances hinge almost entirely on the traditionally Democratic Midwest. National exit polls suggest he has performed better than Clinton did among white Americans and those without a college degree — demographics that were key to Trump’s victory in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The exit polls also suggest Trump has done somewhat better than he did in 2016 among Black and Hispanic voters. That might be why Biden was unable to flip Florida and Texas and why he might still come up short in Georgia and North Carolina.

Too early to judge the polls

After Trump’s surprise victory in 2016, there were many questions about whether the polls could be trusted again. While it did inject a healthy dose of caution in interpreting the polls, there was an expectation that the polls would get closer to the mark this time — there were fewer undecideds than in 2016, and the pollsters had taken steps to capture some of the Trump-leaning demographics that had been missed in the last campaign.

These incomplete election results are unlikely to convince many skeptics that pollsters have improved the efficacy of their polls.

But judgment will have to wait until all of the results are in. In the last election, Clinton won the national popular vote by just over two percentage points, similar to the three- or four-point lead she was given in the polls. It took weeks to get there, however, due to the delay in counting mail ballots in places like California.

The same scenario could play out this time. Nationally, Biden holds a lead in the popular vote of about two points, but that is likely to grow significantly by the time all the votes are counted. Whether his lead will grow as wide as the eight- or nine-point edge he had in the polls remains to be seen.

The margins at the state level will change in the coming hours and days, so it is also premature to judge the performance of the polls in each individual state.

However, one state that does seem to have bucked the polls is Florida. Most polls gave Biden a modest lead in the state but it stuck with Trump. North Carolina and Georgia might be other states in which polls favoured the losing candidate, but both of these were classified as toss-ups and final projections have yet to be made.

There is lots still to be determined in the coming days, but the polls had long identified that both Biden and Trump had paths to the presidency, with a narrower one for Trump. While results have made Biden’s paths tighter, he still has more and better options than his opponent. That pre-election state of the race still holds — even on the morning after.

What do you want to know about the U.S. election? Email us at Ask@cbc.ca

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Auger-Aliassime looks to solve Germany’s Zverev while eyeing 1st ATP Tour title

Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime is through to the final of the Cologne Open after posting a 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 win over Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in a semifinal match Saturday in Germany.

The 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime, who is looking for his first win on the ATP Tour, will appear in his third final this season and sixth of his career when he faces top seed Alexander Zverev of Germany in Sunday’s final of the ATP 250 hardcourt tournament.

Zverev has defeated Auger-Aliassime in their two previous meetings.

“Sasha deciding to come and play here, myself being one of the young players in the draw, exciting final,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It’s our first final against each other, and hopefully it’s not the last.”

Auger-Aliassime’s two other finals this year came at indoor hardcourt tournaments before play on the ATP Tour paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

WATCH | Felix Auger-Aliassime fires 7 aces in semifinal win:

Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime defeats Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 in the semifinals of the Cologne Open. 1:12

He had some success when the tour restarted, reaching the fourth round of the U.S. Open. But he struggled in the next three tournaments when the Tour shifted to clay-surface events, including a first-round loss at the French Open.

Won only 64 per cent of service points

“Like everyone knows this year has been difficult. I had a great start to the year indoors, then unfortunately we had to stop,” Aliassime said.

“Last three weeks have been tough on the clay, so I’m happy to be in another final.”

After faltering in the second set, Auger-Aliassime quickly regained momentum with an early break in the third before putting the second-seeded Spaniard away.

The third-seeded Canadian hit into five double faults and won just 64 per cent of his service points, but also fired seven aces and converted three of his six break point chances.

“Today was a difficult match,” Auger-Aliassime said. “To come out on top against a player like Roberto is gratifying.”

Bautista Agut won 70 per cent of his service points and 51 per cent of overall points thanks to his dominant second-set performance. He didn’t serve an ace, and also converted three of his six break point opportunities.

It was the second meeting between Bautista Agut and Auger-Aliassime. The Spaniard won their first meeting at last year’s Davis Cup final.

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Canada captain Christine Sinclair looks to help young girls impacted by pandemic

With two nieces aged six and 10, Canadian soccer star Christine Sinclair knows all too well the impact of the pandemic and everything that comes with it on today’s youth.

“They’ve struggled with not being able to go to school and see their friends,” said Sinclair. “A lot of their school programs and sports, I mean they’re starting up again now, but they struggled with the isolation and being stuck at home and not being able to do the things that kids are normally able to do.

“And they have an incredible support system. I can only imagine how other youth feel that maybe don’t have the same support system.”

To that end, the 37-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., has joined forces with the Canadian Women’s Foundation to help raise funds for girls impacted by the pandemic. With International Day of the Girl scheduled for Oct. 11, the Canadian Women’s Foundation has launched the ShowUpForGirls campaign.

The campaign asks people to share how they are doing their part to uplift girls in the pandemic using the hashtag .ShowUpForGirls. Thanks to Giant Tiger and Sinking Ship Entertainment, every donation made in October to support girls’ programs in Canada through the campaign will also be tripled, up to $ 20,000.

Isolation has exacerbated mental health issues, as have increased economic instability and the threat of violence at home. The Canadian Women’s Foundation says local “girl-focused” programs face growing challenges to stay open.

The foundation funds such programs through its Girls’ Fund, which gives girls and non-binary youth tools “to develop into confident, resilient people.”

WATCH | Sinclair’s equalizer helps Thorns salvage points:

Burnaby, B.C.’s Christine Sinclair tied the match at one after Amy Rodriguez scored the opener in Portland and Utah’s 1-1 draw. 0:31

“I’m a firm believer in fighting for youth and girls, specifically,” said Sinclair. “This just made sense to me that in the midst of a global pandemic, girls are probably being impacted greatly.

“To help raise awareness to that and help raise some money to keep programs alive and well that support girls, it’s very important to me.”

For the Portland-based Sinclair, the campaign is also a chance to give back to Canada and help where it is needed. Sinclair has been able to get back to Canada once since February, serving her quarantine at the family cabin.

On the field, Sinclair has scored four times in her last two games for Portland as the NWSL continues play with its abbreviated, regional Fall Series. The Thorns wrap that up Saturday against the OL Reign in Tacoma, Wash.

It’s been a little taste of normalcy in strange times.

“For those 90 minutes that you’re on the field with your teammates competing against people other than your teammates, it feels normal. But the fact that we’re playing in a season that consists of four games is disappointing,” she said. “It’s been a hard year.

“I remember Jan. 1, getting ready to prep for the Olympics, qualify (for Tokyo). I thought we were going to have a great season with the Thorns. (There was) just so much excitement built for this year.

” It’s been a tough year but we’re all trying to make the best of it, I guess.”

Portland also played six games this summer at the Challenge Cup in Utah, making the semifinals before losing to the eventual champion Houston Dash.

On the international front, Sinclair has scored a world-record 186 goals in her 296 appearances for Canada, but has been idle recently The eighth-ranked Canadian women have not played since March 10 when they tied Brazil 2-2 at a tournament in Calais, France.

WATCH | Sinclair notches the hat trick:

Christine Sinclair scored a hat trick to lead the Portland Thorns to a 4-1 win over the OL Reign. 1:49

The Canadian women are awaiting word on confirmation on a possible camp later this month.

That could mean a reunion with Quinn, a friend and Canadian teammate, who came out publicly last month as transgender.

“There’s moments where what we do is so much bigger than soccer and sport,” said Sinclair. “To see what Quinn has done, I’m so amazingly proud. Quinn is so brave and has shed a spotlight on something that not many people talk about.”

Sinclair says Quinn has the support of the entire Canada team.

“I’ve never been more proud of a teammate, to be honest,” she added.

While Portland has made news recently for unrest in the streets, Sinclair says the protests have been limited to a small portion of the downtown core and have not lived up to the headlines.

“Obviously there are things happening, especially at night. There’s some intense situations. As a team, we’ve been told to avoid certain areas of downtown at night. But honestly it’s not as it’s been made to seem. The city’s isn’t on fire, like some people have said.”

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Why a second wave of COVID-19 is more dangerous than it looks

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

At first glance, Canada’s second wave of COVID-19 is looking a lot different than the first wave. 

Testing capacity has drastically improved, barriers to getting tested have been lowered, stocks of personal protective equipment have grown, and while we still don’t have a safe and effective vaccine — we know a lot more about COVID-19 and how to treat it

And despite a rapid rise in new cases across the country, hospitalizations and deaths are comparatively lower so far, which might lead you to believe the second wave will be less dangerous than the first.

“It may seem somewhat comforting to say, ‘Yes, there are a lot of cases, but we’re not seeing our hospitals overwhelmed, and we’re not seeing a huge number of deaths so far. So things are better, right?'” said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and University Health Network in Toronto.

“The truth of the matter is, we’re just getting started.”

Sinha said COVID-19 outbreaks typically followed a predictable pattern: people increase their number of contacts amid relaxed restrictions, then weeks later cases rise, hospitalizations spike and more deaths occur. 

Dr. Samir Sinha says the rising case numbers across Canada are lagging indicators that will likely lead to increases in hospitalizations and deaths — suggesting older Canadians may be next to feel the brunt of the pandemic. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“We need to modify our behaviour and do everything we can to try and wrestle it down as soon as possible,” he said. 

“If we don’t, we’re going to be thinking back a month from now saying, ‘What were we doing, and why did we even allow it to get this bad?'”

Some provinces could face worse second wave

In Canada’s hardest-hit provinces, cracks are already beginning to show.

“The second wave isn’t just starting. It’s already underway,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week. “The numbers are clear.”

Ontario public health officials are projecting up to 1,000 new cases per day this month, and the number of patients in the province’s hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 doubled in just one week.

Testing backlogs in Ontario also reached a record high of more than 90,000 this week, and the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, said the number of contacts per COVID-19 case is “much higher” than in the first wave. 

“We did lose focus over the summer, and we didn’t quite do enough to prevent a second wave,” said Dr. Irfan Dhalla, vice-president of physician quality at Unity Health, which includes St. Michael’s and St. Joseph’s hospitals in Toronto.  

“Everybody who works in health care is extremely worried, and now we need to think about what do we do to stop the second wave, and what do we do to prevent the third wave?” 

WATCH | Premier Ford introduces more restrictions in Ontario:

Though focused primarily on Ottawa, Toronto and Peel Region, Ontario Premier Doug Ford unveiled new public health measures for the province to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 3:57

Ontario introduced stricter public health measures on Friday, including pausing social circles and mandating mask-wearing provincewide where physical distancing isn’t possible, while targeting current hot spots like Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region as the province reported a record-high 732 daily cases of coronavirus.

Quebec recorded more than 800 new daily cases three times this week, its highest daily increase since May, including 933 on Thursday and 1,052 on Friday. 

The seven-day rolling average of cases in the province also increased 68 per cent with 16 more deaths reported Thursday, and there are already more than 5,000 health-care workers in the Montreal hospital network on leave. 

Quebec also unveiled new legal tools for police to enforce stricter public health measures taking effect in the province’s designated red zones.

“Lives are at stake. We want to keep our children in schools,” Quebec Premier François Legault said Wednesday. “We also want to protect our health network.”

WATCH | Quebec’s red zones shut down for 28 days to slow COVID-19 spread:

Red zone restrictions are in effect in three Quebec areas, including Montreal and Quebec City, meaning bars are closed and restaurants no longer have indoor dining for the next 28 days as the province tries to manage a spike of COVID-19 cases. 2:01

British Columbia reported 14 outbreaks in long-term care or assisted-living facilities and three in acute-care facilities but has so far managed to avoid outbreaks in schools and has kept its daily average of cases trending downward for now.  

Alberta announced a total of 67 cases tied to outbreaks at Calgary’s Foothills hospital — the second largest outbreak at a health-care institution in the province since the pandemic began.

Sinha said the rising case numbers across the country are lagging indicators that will likely lead to increases in hospitalizations and deaths — suggesting older Canadians may be next to feel the brunt of the pandemic.

“It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing older members of our society start catching this and then the consequences, unfortunately, become quite apparent,” he said. 

“Now if we’re looking at a second wave that’s going to be bigger than the last wave, we know that this is going to result in likely thousands of older people dying.” 

Lessons from the first wave

Let’s look at what we learned in the first wave of the pandemic in Canada. 

Older Canadians who are at higher risk of serious outcomes of COVID-19 paid a terrible cost, with those over 70 accounting for almost 90 per cent of all deaths in Canada. 

Coronavirus outbreaks hit the poorest and most diverse neighbourhoods of our major cities incredibly hard, while Black Canadians were more likely than others to be infected or hospitalized by the disease. 

We’ve also learned that physical distancing, wearing a mask and limiting your close contact with others — especially in confined settings with low ventilation — drastically reduce your risk of catching it. 

Asymptomatic transmission was also identified as a real and tangible threat, and superspreading events have also been recorded, most recently in the largest contact tracing study to date from India this week. 

But the virus also hasn’t significantly mutated to become any less infectious or less deadly. 

WATCH | Re-examining the role of COVID-19 superspreaders:

More research into how COVID-19 is spread shows that because not everyone sheds the same amount of virus, many infections are spread by a few people known as superspreaders. 2:01

“This is still a virus that hospitalizes people, and it still kills people, and it is still challenging to treat, and it is still disrupting the entire world,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. 

“The virus hasn’t changed. It’s still the same biologically. It’s just that now we have much more in our tool belt.”  

Adalja said despite the fact that health-care workers are getting more adept at treating it and there’s a better survival rate for those who are hospitalized, we still need to take the second wave seriously. 

Testing backlogs in Ontario reached a record high of more than 90,000 this week, and the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, said the number of contacts per COVID-19 case is ‘much higher’ than in the first wave. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“We still need more tools. We still don’t have a tool that can prevent somebody who’s infected from needing hospitalization,” he said. 

“Absent that, I think we still have to really be aggressive with controlling community spread.”

What can we do to slow the second wave? 

Steven Hoffman, director of the Global Strategy Lab and a global health law professor at York University in Toronto who studies pandemics, said it’s important to remember the second wave of COVID-19 is no less of a threat than the first. 

“It’s everyone’s hope that we’ll be better prepared to deal with the second wave because we’ve learned so much from the first wave,” he said. 

“But this virus remains as dangerous as it was before, and I’m actually even more worried for the second wave.” 

Hoffman said he became concerned early in the summer when hard-hit provinces began lifting restrictions because not enough was being done to prepare Canadians for the possibility that lockdowns could be reimposed. 

“No one was told from our political leaders that we’re now able to temporarily lift these measures until a time when they’ll likely be needed,” he said. “That’s just not the way to prepare people.”

Adalja said the threshold for re-entering lockdowns in the second wave needs to be “data-driven” and targeted toward activities that are proven to lead to spread in specific regions. 

Steven Hoffman says one of his biggest concerns is whether Canadians will be resistant to the idea of re-entering lockdown, if it’s deemed necessary. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The ‘big worry’

“You should only use a lockdown when you have fouled up your response so bad that that’s all you have left to do,” he said. 

“You don’t want people to behave as if we’re not in a pandemic on the one hand, and on the other hand the alternative isn’t just to completely shut the whole country down again.”

Hoffman said one of his biggest concerns is whether Canadians will be resistant to the idea of re-entering lockdown, if it’s deemed necessary. 

“We know that people are exhausted from containment measures, and my big worry going into a second wave is that people won’t be willing to follow public health directives, which we all really need to do,” he said. 

“That’s when this pandemic would become much worse than it is and potentially worse than the first wave.” 

To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, subscribe by clicking here.

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CBC | Health News

Nvidia Crushes New MLPerf Tests, but Google’s Future Looks Promising

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So far, there haven’t been any upsets in the MLPerf AI benchmarks. Nvidia not only wins everything, but they are still the only company that even competes in every category. Today’s MLPerf Training 0.7 announcement of results isn’t much different. Nvidia started shipping its A100 GPUs in time to submit results in the Released category for commercially available products, where it put in a top-of-the-charts performance across the board. However, there were some interesting results from Google in the Research category.

MLPerf Training 0.7 Adds Three Important New Benchmarks

To help reflect the growing variety of uses for machine learning in production settings, MLPerf had added two new and one upgraded training benchmarks. The first, Deep Learning Recommendation Model (DLRM), involves training a recommendation engine, which is particularly important in eCommerce applications among other large categories. As a hint to its use, it’s trained on a massive trove of Click-Through-Rate data.

The second addition is the training time for BERT, a widely-respected natural language processing (NLP) model. While BERT itself has been built on to create bigger and more complex versions, benchmarking the training time on the original is a good proxy for NLP deployments because BERT is one of a class of Transformer models that are widely used for that purpose.

Finally, with Reinforcement Learning (RL) becoming increasingly important in areas such as robotics, the MiniGo benchmark has been upgraded to MiniGo Full (on a 19 x 19 board), which makes a great deal of sense.

MLPerf Training added three important new benchmarks to its suite with the new release

MLPerf Training added three important new benchmarks to its suite with the new release


For the most part, commercially available alternatives to Nvidia either didn’t participate at all in some of the categories, or couldn’t even out-perform Nvidia’s last-generation V100 on a per-processor basis. One exception is Google’s TPU v3 beating out the V100 by 20 percent on ResNet-50, and only coming in behind the A100 by another 20 percent. It was also interesting to see Huawei compete with a respectable entry for ResNet-50, using its Ascend processor. While the company is still far behind Nvidia and Google in AI, it’s continuing to make it a major focus.

As you can see from the chart below, the A100 is 1.5x to 2.5x the performance of the V100 depending on the benchmark:

As usual Nvidia was mostly competing against itself -- this slide show per processor speedup over the V100

As usual, Nvidia was mostly competing against itself. This slide show per processor speedup over the V100

If you have the budget, Nvidia’s solution also scales to well beyond anything else submitted. Running on the company’s SELENE SuperPOD that includes 2,048 A100s, models that used to take days can now be trained in minutes:

As expected Nvidia's Ampere-based SuperPOD broke all the records for training times

As expected, Nvidia’s Ampere-based SuperPOD broke all the records for training times. Note that the Google submission only used 16 TPUs, while the SuperPOD used a thousand or more, so for head-to-head chip evaluation it’s better to use the prior chart with per-processor numbers.

Nvidia’s Architecture Is Particularly Suited for Reinforcement Learning

While many types of specialized hardware have been designed specifically for machine learning, most of them excel at either training or inferencing. Reinforcement Learning (RL) requires an interleaving of both. Nvidia’s GPGPU-based hardware is ideal for the task. And, because data is generated and consumed during the training process, Nvidia’s high-speed interlinks are also helpful for RL. Finally, because training robots in the real world is expensive and potentially dangerous, Nvidia’s GPU-accelerated simulation tools are useful when doing RL training in the lab.

Google Tips Its Hand With Impressive TPU v4 Results

Google Research put in an impressive showing with its future TPU v4 chip

Google Research put in an impressive showing with its future TPU v4 chip

Perhaps the most surprising piece of news from the new benchmarks is how well Google’s TPU v4 did. While v4 of the TPU is in the Research category — meaning it won’t be commercially available for at least 6 months — its near-Ampere-level performance for many training tasks is quite impressive. It was also interesting to see Intel weigh in with a decent performer in reinforcement learning with a soon-to-be-released CPU. That should help it deliver in future robotics applications that may not require a discrete GPU. Full results are available from MLPerf.

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Star Wars: Squadrons Looks Like the Best Space Combat Game in Years

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A few days ago, I sat down to write a story about how excited I to see what Star Wars: Squadrons would bring to the table. Then, I put the story down. EA hadn’t shown enough of the game that I felt confident writing about it, which says something about exactly how starfighter combat lovers have been treated the past 20 years or so.

In the early days of the 3D era, it seemed as if small-ship combat had a bright future. Games like Wing Commander and Descent: Freespace created compelling worlds, while the X-Wing series of games told original stories in the Star Wars universe. Then, it all died. The Rogue Squadron games carried on some starfighter-based storytelling after the X-Wing series ended, but those games played quite differently from the titles of the earlier era, even if they were superficially similar. Eventually, those ended too. Story-driven, AAA, starfighter-focused space combat games vanished from the market. Games like No Man’s Sky are as close as it gets, and having played both, the resemblance is modest.

EA has released a new gameplay video that showcases both the single-player and multiplayer battle modes and campaign sequences, and the game looks incredible.

Hera Syndulla and Wedge Antilles both make appearances, and the campaign takes place after the Battle of Endor, apparently in the early days of the New Republic. You’ll play as a pilot in the Vanguard (New Republic) or Titan (Imperial) squadrons. There’s mention of the New Republic’s Starhawk project — in Star Wars canon, the Starhawk-class is a post-ROTJ series of capital ships built from the remains of captured Imperial vessels. Starhawks played a major role at the Battle of Jakku, where a large Imperial Remnant fleet was eventually destroyed.

We don’t know how good the single-player experience in Star Wars: Squadrons will be. Battlefront II’s campaign was well-regarded, if fairly brief. I don’t expect the game to feature a unique mission tree like the Wing Commander games did. Those games were unique in taking that approach, and it was really only used in WC1 and WC2 — the later titles are far more linear. What I’m hoping to see is a game that will tell a genuine story and combine it with a flight model that doesn’t feel quite so arcade-centric.


Visually, the game looks astonishingly good, and we know it supports both HOTAS (Hands On Throttle and Stick) and can be played entirely in VR. I don’t recommend pre-ordering — I never recommend pre-ordering — but I’ve got high hopes for this game. As things stand, the best storytelling in starfighter combat titles has been in user-created mods and campaigns for franchises like Wing Commander. As much as I respect Wing Commander: Darkest Dawn, projects like this using a 21-year-old Freespace 2 engine can’t hold up to what a AAA developer can bring to bear.

The game is being developed by Motive Studios, who also helmed Star Wars Battlefront II, and will contain no microtransactions of any kind.

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Ottawa looks to give permanent residency to asylum seekers who work in health care

The federal government is working on a special program that would grant permanent residency to asylum seekers who have worked in health-care roles during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The temporary measure is expected to cover all the regions of the country. It’s unclear how many asylum seekers would benefit, but most would likely be in Quebec.

The proposed program, details of which were obtained by Radio-Canada, would extend beyond those who worked in long-term care homes, known in Quebec as CHSLDs, to all asylum seekers who have been working in the health system, including security guards.

It would not, however, apply to asylum seekers who worked in other sectors — even jobs deemed essential during the pandemic.

Radio-Canada obtained a copy of a presentation on the proposal given by Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino late Tuesday to the cabinet committee on COVID-19. 

Economic Development Minister Mélanie Joly, Liberal MP for Montreal’s Ahuntsic-Cartierville riding, said Wednesday on Radio-Canada’s Tout un matin the program had still not been approved by the cabinet committee.

She declined to provide details about the proposal, saying only it was important to recognize the contribution of those working on the front lines.

Discussions still going on

In recent days, according to information obtained by Radio-Canada, Quebec and Ottawa have held meetings about the plan, but have not yet reached an agreement.

“We are at work. Discussions are continuing with the federal government, since asylum seekers are currently a federal process,” Marc-André Gosselin, a spokesperson for Quebec’s Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, said Tuesday evening.

The new program still requires approval from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Late last month, in the face of public pressure, Quebec Premier François Legault said he would have Jolin-Barrette look at the situation, on a case-by-case basis, as a way of saying “thank you.”

But he stressed, at the time, that his government would also have discussions with the federal government, which is responsible for refugee applications.

Calls for recognition

There have been growing calls to recognize the contribution of asylum seekers who have served as “guardian angels” during the pandemic.

Since 2017, tens of thousands of people have crossed into Canada from the U.S. at Roxham Road, which leads into Quebec.

Advocates raised concern they may not be able to stay in Canada when deportations, which have nearly ground to a halt during the COVID-19 crisis, resume.

Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, the president of Quebec’s association of immigration lawyers, estimated several thousand people could stand to benefit from such a program.

“It’s a pretty broad definition,” he said, estimating that it could affect several thousand people.

“I think it’s absolutely fantastic. They listened to us very much. There was a big movement from the population and from society.”

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As NHL looks to restart season, just how accommodating should governments be with quarantine rules?

This article is part of CBC News’ Minority Report newsletter, which is your weekly tip-sheet to help you navigate the parliamentary waters of a minority government. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox every Sunday.

I fear that what I’m about to confess will jeopardize any affection we have towards one another, but, I have to be honest.

My name is Vassy, and I am a Leafs fan. 

I can almost picture your faces recoiling in horror at this revelation. I know, I know, I’ve heard it all: the centre of the universe attitude, the expensive tickets, the lack of a Stanley Cup in my lifetime. 

It’s all true. But I can’t help it, I love my team.

So, like millions of Canadians, I was just a little bit excited to hear about the prospect of a playoff run when the National Hockey League’s commissioner announced it last week. Of course, the games won’t look like what we’re used to; namely, there won’t be a crowd.  And, if and when hockey comes back, it will do so with a 24-team playoff format.

Toronto is one of three Canadian cities offering to be a hub city if and when the NHL resumes play. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The top four teams in each conference get a bye, but they will play two abbreviated round-robin tournaments to determine their seedings for the playoffs. The remaining eight teams in each conference will compete in a best-of-five play-in series to determine the 16 teams for the playoffs.

So where are the games to be played? It’s a question I bet you’re asking. 

The NHL will decide on two hub cities; one for the Western Conference teams and one for the Eastern Conference ones. 

Three Canadians cities are in the running to be a hub city: Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton.

But here’s the catch. For the NHL to choose a Canadian city, it would need either the teams to be exempt from the current travel ban between the U.S. and Canada or that ban would have to end all together. The league also wants an exemption of sorts to the quarantine rules around cross-border travel; right now, if you cross the border into Canada you have to quarantine for 14 days. 

 WATCH: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman explain the return-to-play format

Commissioner Bettman outlined the NHL’s 24-team playoff format, and the draft lottery. 2:11

If players have to self-isolate for 14 days — well, the NHL’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly called that a non-starter and said it would eliminate Canadian cities from contention.

Enter Alberta. 

Premier Jason Kenney is asking the federal government to mirror actions taken south of the border and exempt teams from the border restrictions. The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, later floated the idea of a “cohort quarantine,” which means that teams would basically seal themselves off as a unit versus each player self-isolating. 

B.C.’s premier was a little more cautious about the idea when he spoke to my colleague Chris Hall over the weekend on CBC Radio’s The House.

“The Canucks are in the playoffs. It took a pandemic to get them there, but they’re in the playoffs,” Horgan said. “We’re excited about that, but we’re not going to put other people at risk, and the NHL understands that the federal government understands that.”

Edmonton’s mayor is championing his city in the race, but Don Iveson insists moving ahead is contingent on public health officials giving the green light.

“Dr. Hinshaw, our chief medical officer of health, needs to be satisfied that all of the measures are there to protect the public and players and trainers and hospitality staff who might interact with the teams,” he told me last week in an interview.

“This is an opportunity for provincial and federal governments to work together to get on the same page, to support this quality of life and economic opportunity for our country and for our city.”

WATCH: Mayor Don Iveson discuss the possibility of Edmonton becoming an NHL hub city

Mayor Don Iveson discusses the potential of Edmonton becoming an NHL hub city when the league returns. 5:06

At this point, it doesn’t look like the aforementioned governments are on the same page, not entirely at least. People I speak to in the federal government are not anywhere close to a decision on whether to bend the quarantine rules, though I’m told there have been many conversations between Bettman and government officials in Ottawa. He’s trying hard to convince them, but everyone I spoke to isn’t ready to make a call yet. 

A lot of that has to do with the question of fairness, and by that I mean; what’s good for the goose is supposed to be good for the gander. Should NHL players be treated differently than anyone else crossing the border? Or if public health officials sign off on it, and resources like tests are still available for anyone who needs them, will that assuage those concerns? 

The answer should come sometime soon. The NHL hasn’t put firm dates on anything yet because like everything these days, it depends on COVID-19 and the containment of the virus. But the aim is to start playing this summer, which means a decision about hub cities will have to come before that. 

And no matter the city chosen, no matter if Canada makes the cut; one thing will always remain true…GO LEAFS GO! (don’t hate me).

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Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s ‘Rain on Me’ Costume Designer Dishes on Futuristic Looks (Exclusive)

Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s ‘Rain on Me’ Costume Designer Dishes on Futuristic Looks (Exclusive) | Entertainment Tonight

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