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How parts of Canada are going about vaccinating teachers against COVID-19

This weekend, teachers and school staff in Ontario’s Niagara region are getting their first chance at a COVID-19 vaccine, thanks to the recommendation of the area’s vaccination co-ordination task force. 

The group had previously flagged education workers as a priority and now the timing just made sense, said task force chair Dr. David Dec, a family physician based in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Many educators are under the age of 55 and cannot access mass clinics still aimed at older populations, nor can they receive the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine rolling out in pharmacies and some doctors’ offices. But now prioritized, Niagara-area teachers off for the April break next week can easily attend daytime vaccination clinics, Dec said.

As provinces and territories move into the next phase of their coronavirus vaccination campaigns, educators and school staff are starting to join the priority groups becoming eligible for shots. While different approaches are being used thus far, some emerging trends may offer lessons for bringing this immunization drive to all education workers.

Our thinking has thus far been to vaccinate the most at-risk populations first, Dec said, starting with long-term care and nursing homes, because “we knew that if you’re in that congregate setting, and if you bring that virus into that setting, then it can transmit like wildfire.”

Yet, we don’t seem to appreciate that classrooms are also congregate settings, he said. “They’re a bunch of people bunched-in close together.” 


A push to vaccinate school staff in Ontario’s Niagara Region now makes sense, since being off for April break next week makes it easier to attend daytime vaccination clinics, says Dr. David Dec, chair of the region’s vaccination co-ordination task force. (Regional Municipality of Niagara)

This push to prioritize educators is a “proactive approach,” according to Dec. “Everybody wants the schools to stay open, so if this is a small part of doing that, then I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Here is a look at how some jurisdictions are approaching the challenge.

B.C. starts in Surrey 

Annie Ohana recalls feeling “absolute elation” upon learning at her union’s annual general meeting in March that school staffers in Surrey, B.C., would be prioritized next in the vaccine rollout, with officials citing how hard the Fraser Health region has been hit by COVID-19.

“I remember lining up for the shot on that Sunday and all of us smiling ear-to-ear — behind our masks, of course — and very much [feeling] just relief,” Ohana said of getting her first dose two weeks ago.


Teacher Annie Ohana says she was elated when she learned teachers and school staff in Surrey, B.C., were being prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine. But she says she’s concerned about colleagues in other regions that haven’t had a similar rollout. (Mike Zimmer/CBC, Submitted by Annie Ohana)

 

Yet the L.A. Matheson Secondary School teacher recognizes that it’s only a first step, since students, families and other B.C. education colleagues are still waiting for their chance.

“I got an exposure notice Sunday [for] my classroom. About half my class was missing yesterday. It’s good to feel that, ‘OK well, at least I had the first dose and so hopefully that can help me.’ But the reality is my kids don’t and many of their family members don’t yet,” Ohana said.  

The campaign hasn’t moved as quickly as she’d anticipated out to educators in other B.C. regions, who haven’t yet been prioritized. The province’s teachers continue to push for safety measures like mask mandates and improved ventilation as well, she said.

“The more protected we are, the more we can keep the schools open.”

WATCH | Amid a third wave, educators are beginning to get priority for COVID-19 vaccines: 

Most Ontario schools are staying open during an emergency stay-at-home order and education workers in COVID-19 hot zones will be prioritized for vaccinations, something already being done in Quebec and British Columbia. 1:45

New Brunswick blitz

Last month, New Brunswick high schools were also put on the priority list. Beginning March 22, the province launched a campaign offering vaccinations to all in-school secondary staffers, which took just over a week. It came ahead of a return to full-time in-person learning for high schoolers that was set for Monday, but later cancelled amid a rise in cases.

“In the region where the vaccination clinics were happening, they closed the school down completely [for the day]. All of the school staff had the opportunity to go to the vaccination clinic, get the vaccines done,” said Rick Cuming, president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association and co-president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Federation.

The clinics were very well attended, according to Cuming, who is based in Fredericton. However, one major lesson that emerged, he said, was the need to account for the fact that some people will inevitably experience mild-to-moderate vaccination side-effects such as fever, fatigue and muscle pain — also among the symptoms listed for COVID-19 screening at schools. This was something Ohana, the teacher in Surrey, also noted.

“We have a supply teacher shortage … we certainly feel that effect here in the best of times, and then under this COVID situation, anybody that’s showing symptoms can’t show up into the school,” Cuming said.

“Our schools certainly noticed that in the days that followed the vaccine clinics.”


One lesson that came out of New Brunswick’s vaccination blitz for high school staffers was to be aware that some will experience post-vaccination symptoms such as fever, fatigue and muscle pain — which are also among the symptoms listed for COVID-19 screening at schools, says Rick Cuming, co-president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Federation. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Similar to Ohana, Cuming noted that the education workers not yet vaccinated — New Brunswick’s elementary and middle school teachers, administration and support staffers in those schools, as well as bus drivers and supply teachers — are anxiously awaiting their chance to get a shot.

Quebec, Ontario target hot spots

Following Niagara Region’s announcement this week about accelerating education sector vaccinations, the Quebec and Ontario governments also took a step in that direction, but primarily focusing on hot spot regions. 

In late March, a vaccination blitz targeting two Montreal neighbourhoods seeing rapid spread of the coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K. expanded to include teachers. On Wednesday, Quebec announced plans to start vaccinating Montreal’s essential workers — including school and daycare staff — as of this weekend.


Educators in Montreal are now being considered essential workers and prioritized for a COVID-19 vaccine, but that ‘should have been the case a while ago,’ says teacher Andrew Adams. School and daycare staffers in the city could book their appointments as of Friday. (CBC)

“I’m ecstatic to hear that teachers are finally being considered essential workers. That should have been the case a while ago,” said Andrew Adams, who teaches Grade 7 and 8 English at Montreal’s LaurenHill Academy.

The same day, as Ontario declared a third state of emergency and a new stay-at-home order, it also announced it was opening vaccination access to special education workers provincewide along with school staff in at-risk Toronto and Peel region neighbourhoods, starting next week during the April break. Officials in both Quebec and Ontario said the plan is to scale up vaccination in other regions of concern as soon as supply allows in the coming weeks. 

Though the Ontario government’s announcement means some educators will soon get their first injections, union leader Harvey Bischof is looking for a more robust rollout beyond Toronto and Peel, which is located west of the city. Those two public health regions closed schools and shifted to remote learning this week.

“If it doesn’t reach face-to-face educators in [other provincial] hot spots where there are significant reasons for concern … then it’s potentially a case of too little, too late,” said Bischof, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, from Brantford, Ont.

Halton, the region northwest of Niagara, announced Friday it is also moving ahead to prioritize school-related workers and child-care staff among the essential workers able to get a COVID-19 vaccine as of April 16.


A more robust vaccination rollout must quickly reach school staff in the many hot spot regions of Ontario, says Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Bischof said he also wants to see schools in high-risk regions remain in remote learning until three weeks after educators can receive a shot, so the vaccine has time to take effect.

He’s heartened to see some regions and local public health units “striking out on their own” beyond decisions being made at the provincial level, like Niagara’s move to vaccinate all school staffers and Peel and Toronto shuttering in-person learning this week.

“We’ve had quite a few school boards across the province now call for the priority vaccination of educators. We’ve seen some medical officers of health and public health units take really important steps,” he said. 

Back in B.C., high school teacher Ohana recognizes the pandemic is complex, “a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” but she wants politicians and decision-makers to be more willing to pivot their vaccination rollout strategy. 

“It was great to see [officials] kind of re-tinker things and say, ‘OK, it’s not just about age. We need to consider positions and jobs.'”

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MIT Creates Zoomable Lens Without Any Moving Parts

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The science of optics has revealed the scale and detail of the universe for centuries. With the right piece of glass, you can look at a distant galaxy or the wiggling flagella on a single bacteria. But lenses need to focus — they need to move. Engineers at MIT have developed a new type of “metalens” that can shift focus without any moving parts. This could change the way we build devices such as cameras and telescopes. 

Currently, focusing a lens on objects requires the glass to move in some capacity, and that adds complication and bulk. That’s why, for example, high-zoom camera lenses have been so slow to come to smartphones — there’s just no room to add movable lens elements. It’s also why smartphones that do have optical zoom use multiple fixed lenses. For example, the new Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has 13, 26, 70, and 240mm lens equivalents in its giant camera array. 

The metalens developed at MIT can focus on objects at multiple distances thanks to its tunable “phase-changing” material. When heated, the atomic structure of the material rearranges, allowing the lens to change the way in which it interacts with light. The design currently operates in infrared, but this is just a first step. 

Readers of a certain age might have interacted with a similar phase-changing material on rewritable CDs and DVDs. This technology, now all but extinct, relies on a material called GST that contains germanium, antimony, and tellurium. When heated with laser pulses, GST can switch between transparent and opaque, allowing optical drives to write and delete data. 

The metalens has a similar material called GSST — it’s the same stuff with the addition of selenium. This new material has a more ordered, crystalline structure that is just 1 micrometer thick. It’s etched onto various microscopic structures (see above), all of which refract light differently. The researchers call this a “metasurface.” At room temperature, the lens focuses on a nearby target. When heated, the optical properties of the metasurface change, and it focuses on a more distant target. 

So, that’s a dynamic lens without any moving parts. It’s just a proof of concept right now, but it’s a very cool concept. The team believes that tunable metalens technology could eventually lead to more compact and reliable telescopes, microscopes, and yes, better smartphone cameras.

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Indonesia officials say rescuers have found body parts, debris from plane crash

Indonesian rescuers pulled body parts, pieces of clothing and scraps of metal from the Java Sea early Sunday morning, a day after a Boeing 737-500 with 62 people onboard crashed shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, officials said.

Officials were hopeful they were homing in on the wreckage of Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 after sonar equipment detected a signal from the aircraft.

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi told reporters that authorities have launched massive search efforts after identifying “the possible location of the crash site.”

“These pieces were found by the SAR team between Lancang Island and Laki Island,” National Search and Rescue Agency Bagus Puruhito said in a statement.

Indonesian military chief Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto said teams on the Rigel navy ship equipped with a remote-operated vehicle had detected a signal from the aircraft, which fit the coordinates from the last contact made by the pilots before the plane went missing.


Search and rescue teams conduct operations at sea where the Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-500 is suspected to have crashed on Sunday. (Adek Berry/AFP via Getty Images)

“We have immediately deployed our divers from navy’s elite unit to determine the finding to evacuate the victims,” Tjahjanto said.

More than 12 hours since the Boeing plane operated by the Indonesian airline lost contact, little is known about what caused the crash.

Fishermen in the area around Thousand Islands, a chain of islands north of Jakarta’s coast, reported hearing an explosion around 2:30 p.m. local time Saturday.

“We heard something explode, we thought it was a bomb or a tsunami since after that we saw the big splash from the water,” fisherman Solihin, who goes by one name, told The Associated Press by phone.


“It was raining heavily and the weather was so bad. So it is difficult to see around clearly. But we can see the splash and a big wave after the sounds. We were very shocked and directly saw the plane debris and the fuel around our boat.”

Sumadi said Flight SJ182 was delayed for an hour before it took off at 2:36 p.m. local time. It disappeared from radar four minutes later, after the pilot contacted air traffic control to ascend to an altitude of 8,839 metres, he said.

There were 62 people on board, including seven children and three babies.


Relatives of passengers on board missing Sriwijaya Air flight 182 wait for news at the Supadio airport in Pontianak on Indonesia’s Borneo island on Saturday. (Louis Anderson/AFP via Getty Images)

Authorities established two crisis centres, one at airport and one at port. Families gathered to wait for news of loved ones.

On social media, people began circulating the flight manifest with photos and videos of those who were listed as passengers. One video shows a woman with her children waving goodbye while walking through the airport.

Plane was ‘airworthy’

Sriwijaya Air President Director Jefferson Irwin Jauwena said the plane, which is 26 years old and previously used by airlines in the United States, was airworthy. He told reporters Saturday that the plane had previously flown to Pontianak and Pangkal Pinang city on the same day.

“Maintenance report said everything went well and airworthy,” Jauwena told a news conference. He said the plane was delayed due to bad weather, not because of any damage.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation, with more than 260 million people, has been plagued by transportation accidents on land, sea and air because of overcrowding on ferries, aging infrastructure and poorly enforced safety standards.


Indonesian soldiers stand near a crisis centre set up at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, on Saturday. (Tatan Syuflana/The Associated Press)

In October 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet operated by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board. The plane involved in Saturday’s incident did not have the automated flight-control system that played a role in the Lion Air crash and another crash of a 737 MAX 8 jet in Ethiopia five months later, leading to the grounding of the MAX 8 for 20 months.

The Lion Air crash was Indonesia’s worst airline disaster since 1997, when 234 people were killed on a Garuda airlines flight near Medan on Sumatra island. In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing 162 people.

Sriwijaya Air has only has several minor incidents in the past, though a farmer was killed in 2008 when landing plane went off runway due to a hydraulic issue.

The United States banned Indonesian carriers from operating in the country in 2007, but reversed the decision in 2016, citing improvements in compliance with international aviation standards. The European Union has previously had similar bans, lifting them in June 2018.

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As parts of Canada return to lockdown, experts say rapid testing offers a way forward

With some regions now in the grips of a second pandemic shutdown, some scientists are saying the deployment of rapid tests is the best way to support sectors of the economy that have been crushed by public health measures meant to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Between March and September, only a single rapid, point-of-care test had been approved by Canadian regulators, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorizations to many more.

Following pressure from public health experts and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Health Canada has since approved four more rapid testing devices. Millions of tests have been ordered by the federal government for use in walk-in clinics and doctors’ offices.

But with a vaccine still months away, some scientists say rapid testing devices need to be used outside of health care settings at places many people are now reluctant to visit — airports, hotels, restaurants, casinos, cinemas and performing arts centres — and at essential workplaces like warehouses and food processing plants.

Dr. Steven Newmaster is a professor at the University of Guelph and an expert in DNA identification systems. He has been advising the Canadian company Songbird, which secured authorization from Health Canada to sell the Hyris bCube rapid molecular testing device late last month.

The bCube uses the “gold standard” in COVID-19 testing, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) process, to determine whether a person has the virus.

A patient is given either a nasal or oral pharyngeal swab, the sample is plugged into the cube-shaped testing box and then the result is sent to a cloud-based system where users can check results.

But unlike the lab-based PCR tests, which are widely used in Canada right now, the bCube is portable and can deliver definitive results within 90 minutes. The test is 95 per cent accurate, based on clinical trial data supplied to Health Canada.

WATCH: How accurate are rapid COVID-19 tests?

Canada has approved and purchased two different kinds of rapid COVID-19 tests. While they may not be as accurate as the tests that are currently in use, experts say they can play an important role in stopping the spread of the virus. 8:33

Newmaster said widespread rapid testing is a viable alternative to more lockdowns since the tests can easily identify infected people, allowing them to be isolated quickly to prevent further spread.

“I think rapid testing is incredibly important. It’s a game-changer. It fills a gap in society to get us back to work, to get us back travelling, to get us back to school,” he told CBC News.

“Point-of-care, rapid testing is one way to be able to deal with spread, monitor the spread and alleviate a lot of stress because people can move about and know where places are safe. We need this infrastructure in place.”

Newmaster said shutdowns are a blunt instrument that have wreaked havoc on our economy — millions are still out of work, despite rosier jobs numbers posted last Friday — and eight months into this pandemic, Canada needs to be much more targeted in its approach.

“I come from a group of molecular biologists that want to democratize genetics. We’re bringing it to society and industry — small types of instruments that you can hold in your hand,” he said.

“We need to put these tests out into society. It’s cheap and fast and allows us to reduce the risk.”

Some U.S. companies, like Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts, have been aggressively pursuing rapid testing options to convince guests to come back.


People walk along a pedestrian bridge near the Wynn Las Vegas hotel-casino. Wynn Resorts said Thursday that it has recorded 548 positive tests for COVID-19 among its 12,000 employees since May, and three workers have died. (John Locher/AP Photo)

With the Vegas strip seeing massive declines in visitors, the casino company is building its own on-site PCR test processing centre so that it can test thousands of employees and casino patrons each day — a program designed to make the property a COVID-free safe-zone.

That sort of approach could help the ailing tourism industry here in Canada, which employed more than 1.7 million people before the pandemic.

Newmaster said such mass testing could also be the solution to the 14-day quarantines imposed on returning travellers — a directive that has all but ended international business travel, devastating the airline industry.

“It’s quite silly, really. If I can test myself and I don’t have the virus, I’m healthy, I feel great, why do I have quarantine for two weeks? I’m no threat to anyone,” he said.

Airlines eye rapid tests

Air Canada has procured 25,000 rapid tests so that it can begin testing its employees — and it could buy many more to put passengers at ease.

“We believe testing will be key to protecting employees and customers until such time as a COVID-19 vaccine is available,” said Dr. Jim Chung, Air Canada’s chief medical officer.

“Rapid testing is a means to enable governments to relax current blanket travel restrictions and quarantines in a measured way while still safeguarding the health and safety of the public.”

While some critics maintain the COVID-19 outbreak at the White House has given rapid testing a bad name — the White House uses the ID NOW test from Abbott Laboratories — Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, said he’s drawn a different conclusion about the usefulness of these tests after the executive branch infections.

“The White House managed to go from March all the way to October without having any cases that really spread widely — despite their complete failure to wear masks or social distance — and I attribute that largely to their rigorous testing protocol,” he said in an interview.

Without testing staff and visitors, the largely mask-free White House would have been a “super-spreader” much earlier in this pandemic, he said.


President Donald Trump opens a box containing a 5-minute test for COVID-19 from Abbott Laboratories as Stephen Hahn, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, March 30, 2020, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

“The fact that they’ve gone so long without major outbreaks tells us that frequent testing can be very powerful in reducing risk but it doesn’t get it anywhere close to zero, so we have to maintain all other public health practices,” he said.

“If all you’re doing is testing, you’re essentially playing a game of roulette. Eventually, your odds are going to run out.”

Mina said he expects rapid tests will be widely available in the U.S. by spring 2021, which could be a much needed shot in the arm for industries where social distancing just isn’t feasible.

“They will become ubiquitous. Many, many people will have access to them,” he said. “You brush your teeth and then you take a test.

“They can also be used as a barrier to entry. If someone tests positive, they can’t go to a restaurant or a school. If they’re negative, they can, but they still take all the same public health precautions.”

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Experts warn parts of U.S. on verge of being overwhelmed by COVID-19 resurgence

The latest:

A coronavirus resurgence is wiping out two months of progress in the U.S. and sending infections to dire new levels across the country’s South and West, with hospital administrators and health experts warning Wednesday that politicians and a tired-of-being-cooped-up public are letting a disaster unfold.

The U.S. recorded a one-day total of 34,700 new COVID-19 cases, just short of the nation’s late-April peak of 36,400, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

While new cases have been declining steadily in early U.S. hotspots such as New York and New Jersey, several other states set single-day case records this week, including Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada, Texas and Oklahoma. Some of them also broke hospitalization records, as did North Carolina and South Carolina.

“People got complacent,” said Dr. Marc Boom, CEO of the Houston Methodist hospital system. “And it’s coming back and biting us, quite frankly.”

WATCH | Long lines at COVID-19 test sites in U.S.:

Traffic is seen at a standstill as drivers wait at drive-thru COVID-19 test sites in the U.S. 1:11

The stock market slid sharply Wednesday as the virus’s resurgence clouded investors’ hopes for a relatively quick economic turnaround. The virus has been blamed for more than 120,000 deaths in the U.S. — the highest toll in the world — and more than 2.3 million confirmed infections there.

California, the most populous state, reported over 7,100 new cases, a record. Florida’s single-day count of new confirmed cases surged Wednesday to 5,500 — a 25 per cent jump from the record set last week.

In Texas, which began lifting its shutdowns on May 1, hospitalizations have doubled and new cases have tripled in two weeks. Gov. Greg Abbott told KFDA-TV that the state is facing a “massive outbreak” and might need new local restrictions to preserve hospital space.

The Houston area’s intensive care units are nearly full, and two public hospitals are running at capacity, Mayor Sylvester Turner said. Houston Methodist’s Boom said Texans need to “behave perfectly and work together perfectly” to slow the infection rate.

“When I look at a restaurant or a business where people … are not following the guidelines, where people are just throwing caution to the wind, it makes me angry.”


A health-care worker takes down a patient’s information at a COVID-19 testing site in Houston on Wednesday. (David J. Phillip/The Associated Press)

Just 17 percent of intensive-care beds were available Wednesday in Alabama — including just one in Montgomery — though hospitals can add more, said Dr. Don Williamson, head of the Alabama Hospital Association.

“There is nothing that I’m seeing that makes me think we are getting ahead of this,” he said.

In Arizona, emergency rooms are seeing about 1,200 suspected COVID-19 patients a day, compared with around 500 a month ago. If the trends continue, hospitals will probably exceed capacity within the next several weeks, said Dr. Joseph Gerald, a University of Arizona public health policy professor.


Volunteers prepare packages of personal protective equipment and sanitizers to be donated in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday. (John Raoux/The Associated Press)

“We are in deep trouble,” said Gerald, urging the state to impose new restrictions on businesses, which Gov. Doug Ducey has refused to do.

Infectious-disease expert Dr. Peter Hotez said he worries that the states will squander what time they have to head off a much larger crisis.

“We’re still talking about subtlety, still arguing whether or not we should wear masks, and still not understanding that a vaccine is not going to rescue us,” said Hotez, of the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott initially barred local officials from fining or penalizing anyone for not wearing a mask as the state reopened. After cases began spiking, he said last week that cities and counties could allow businesses to require masks. Both Abbott and Ducey are Republicans.


A sign requiring face coverings at a business is seen in San Antonio, Texas, on Wednesday. (Eric Gay/The Associated Press)

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, ordered people to wear masks in public as the daily count of hospitalizations and new cases hovered near records. In Florida, several counties and cities have recently started requiring masks in public places and cracking down on businesses that don’t enforce social distancing rules.

In a sign of the shift in the outbreak, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey announced they will require visitors from states with high coronavirus infection rates to quarantine themselves for 14 days. That is a turnaround from March, when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued such an order for visitors from the New York City area, where cases were surging at the time.

Cases are also surging in some other parts of the world. India reported a record daily increase of nearly 16,000 new cases, with an outbreak in the capital city of New Delhi becoming a rising concern. Mexico, where testing rates have been low, also set a record with more than 6,200 new cases.


A health worker conducts a COVID-19 test on a patient as others wait in New Delhi on Wednesday. (Manish Swarup/The Associated Press)

But China appears to have tamed a new outbreak in Beijing, once again demonstrating its ability to quickly mobilize its vast resources by testing nearly 2.5 million people in 11 days. China on Wednesday reported 12 cases nationwide, down from 22 the day before.

In Europe, countries are both easing and increasing restrictions as the outbreaks evolve. Slovenia reintroduced mandatory use of face masks in public transportation and other enclosed public spaces after cases spiked in recent days, while Belgium said theatres and swimming pools could reopen next month. Infections there have nosedived over the past two months.

WATCH | Belgian entrepreneur gives coronavirus masks the human touch:

Photo booth operator makes custom masks to show the lower half of the wearer’s face. 1:59

In Africa, African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief John Nkengasong said the outbreak is “picking up speed very quickly,” with a steep increase in cases and deaths as more countries loosen lockdowns. Africa has seen nearly 325,000 cases and over 8,600 deaths.

Worldwide, more than 9.3 million people have been confirmed infected, and more than 479,000 have died, according to the Johns Hopkins count.


What’s happening with COVID-19 in Canada

As of 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had 102,241 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 65,091 of the cases as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 8,530.

In Ontario, patios and hair salons were back in business in Toronto and Peel Region on Wednesday.

Premier Doug Ford also announced a plan to reopen parts of Windsor-Essex, which until now has been the only region not cleared to move to the next phase of reopening, due to stubbornly high COVID-19 case numbers among migrant workers on farms in the region.


People are seen wearing protective face coverings in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

British Columbia is further easing restrictions, meaning residents will be allowed to travel within the province as hotels, motels, resorts, spas and RV parks look to reopen.

Premier John Horgan announced Wednesday that B.C. will gradually be moving into Phase 3 of its restart plan, after the province managed to increase activity without seeing a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.

Phase 3 of B.C.’s restart plan also means residents can travel within the province “safely and respectfully.”


People speak through a glass barrier at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver on Tuesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Canada’s Atlantic provinces announced Wednesday they will move forward with a so-called travel bubble as of July 3, allowing travellers in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador to move between provinces without self-isolating.

Visitors from provinces and territories outside the region will still be required to self-isolate for 14 days and adhere to the local entry requirements in each of the four jurisdictions. However, once the self-isolation period has passed, these visitors will also be allowed to travel within the Atlantic region.

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Tesla Shows Off Ventilators Made From Model 3 Parts

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk likes to speak his mind on Twitter, which has occasionally gotten him into trouble. Most recently, Musk’s inaccurate and tasteless comments on coronavirus have drawn criticism, as has his attempt to keep Tesla facilities open in defiance of quarantine orders. The company is trying to do its part during the pandemic, though. Tesla is designing a new ventilator that could save the lives of coronavirus patients, and it’s using Model 3 car parts to do it. 

Musk promised to work on building ventilators late last month after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio asked the company for help. Tesla said it would work on creating a new ventilator system, which many saw as a waste of time when there are already designs ready for production. In a new video demo of the Tesla ventilator, the team explains its decision to create something entirely new. 

While designing a new ventilator takes time, that’s not the only consideration. Tesla isn’t set up to manufacture ventilators, so using existing designs would come with some trial and error that slowed the process down regardless of the availability of designs. That would cause Tesla to consumer materials and components that the medical industry desperately needs. Tesla’s design doesn’t take away from current medical supplies, and the engineers doing the work to build these machines know the Tesla parts well and have facilities to produce them in bulk. 

In the video, Tesla showed off two prototypes, one of which was spread out on a table and another that was mounted inside a box as it would be in a hospital. The ventilator uses a Model 3 suspension accumulator as the gas mixing chamber, and the display and some electronics are straight out of the Model 3’s infotainment system. If Musk is right, using these components will speed up manufacturing when the devices are ready for production. However, we don’t know when that will be. 

Tesla is not the only company trying to design a new ventilator to help with COVID-19. Dyson is also looking to make its own hardware to fulfill a 10,000-unit UK government contract. It’s unclear if either Tesla’s or Dyson’s units will be ready in time to help with peak hospitalization. Many areas expect the number of seriously ill patients to exceed hospital capacity in the coming weeks.

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Trump considers opening up parts of U.S. as health experts urge longer lockdown

As Americans hunker down for another weekend, President Donald Trump faces a critical choice. The U.S. has topped 120,000 coronavirus cases, the most in the world and by late Monday, the White House campaign of “15 days to stop the spread” will end, leaving an unpredictable president with a critical decision to extend, tighten or loosen the mitigation measures.

“Our country has to go back [to work],” he said Thursday. “Our country is based on that. And I think it’s going to happen pretty quickly. A lot of progress has been made, but we’ve got to go back to work.”

His options are complicated. State governments have locked down 169 million Americans in varying stay-at-home orders. Every day, Vice-President Mike Pence has brandished the one-page guidelines for the 15 days, urging compliance with hand washing and physical distancing.

A new mail out to millions of Americans titled “President Trump’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America,” arrived in mailboxes just before the weekend.

Trump hopes for economic resurrection 

Yet Trump has, for a week now, been peddling the idea of allowing more freedoms, hoping for an economic resurrection, with the country “raring to go by Easter.”

That statement set off red alarms among health care experts, who strongly urge strict adherence to the restrictions for a longer period.

This weekend the White House’s coronavirus task force will present the president with “a range of recommendations and guidance for going forward,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the team leaders.

One strategy is to identify if areas in the U.S. that have fewer cases could open up first — the theory being that America could be divided into low-, medium- and high-risk areas.


A woman exits a new coronavirus testing site while others wait in line at Elmhurst Hospital Center in the Queens borough of New York. New York state is the current epicentre of the outbreak in the U.S. (John Mincillo/The Associated Press)

“We may take large sections of our country that aren’t so seriously affected, and we may do it that way, but we’ve got to start the process pretty soon,” Trump repeated at a briefing Thursday.

States with fewer confirmed cases, such as North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and New Mexico and pockets in the northeast, could be targeted as lower risk while places such as New York, with nearly half the reported cases, and other hot spots in urban areas would be higher risk.

On Saturday, Trump said he was considering putting sections of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut under quarantine. It was not clear how he would be able to block road, air and sea travel out of a region that serves as the economic engine of the eastern United States, accounting for 12 per cent of GDP. 

By Saturday night, he’d retreated from that plan, saying the CDC would instead urge a strong travel advisory to hard-hit  areas, and that “a quarantine will not be necessary.”


“I think we can start by opening up certain parts of the country, you know, the farm belt, certain parts of the Midwest, other places,” Trump said.

But the job of defending that decision, were it to happen, falls to his coronavirus response team working round the clock to get more data.

“What we’re trying to do is to utilize a laser-focused approach rather than a generic horizontal approach. And I think in the 21st century, we should be able to get to that,” said Birx, who co-ordinates the White House’s coronavirus response team.

“The president’s made it clear that, in his words, he wants to open up the country. But we’re going to do that responsibly.”

Muddling the public health message

After declaring himself a “wartime president,” the president appeared impatient this week with the economic casualties, including 3.2 million unemployed, cratering growth and a kick to a stock market that was soaring just a month ago.

Friday, he seemed to lean toward public health advice, telling a briefing, “life and safety and then the economy.”

But health professionals and state officials are deeply worried he will muddle the public health messaging.

“I am quite concerned that we’re considering these measures, especially when the science doesn’t support it,” says Nadia Abuelezam, an infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor at Boston College’s Connell School of Nursing.

Even if we do see a reduction in the number of cases, that doesn’t mean that it can’t re-surge there or it can’t be reintroduced to that particular area.”

It’s not at all clear how some states with fewer cases could open up while neighbouring states with a higher incidence remain locked down. Confusion over what’s allowed where could prompt people to pay less heed to the restrictions, health experts fear.

Viruses do not respect borders. Viruses do not discriminate. Viruses just want to find another body where they can replicate. And I think that’s something to really keep in mind,” said Abuelezam.

More data needed

Infectious disease experts want more time to measure if the mitigation efforts across the country are working. They also want to better understand how many Americans have or had the virus, with few or no symptoms.

That data would help more accurately define how much coronavirus is circulating in the community, but capturing that picture is still extremely complicated and will take time.

“I understand the concept — we’re hearing of ‘pockets’ [of no coronavirus]. But the problem with those pockets is we don’t know if those are places where the disease just hasn’t spread or testing hasn’t started,” said William Jaquis, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, in an interview with CBC News.

“Look, we all had low cases at one time, right? And then Seattle started, then New York started, New Orleans, now Detroit, and California is ramping up.”


The USNS Mercy docks in San Diego on March 18. The 1,000-bed naval hospital ship will be used to help combat an expected shortage of hospital beds in Los Angeles as the virus spreads. A second ship was sent to New York. (Gregory Bull/The Associated Press)

Modelling the new virus and predicting its effect on large populations is challenging, and changing, but data from more tests will ultimately produce a clearer picture.

“It’s really important to remember that … the mathematical modelling results that are coming out about the United States, are all indicating that if we let up on the [physical] distancing now, we will see a large spike in the number of new cases,” said Abuelezam.

40% of U.S. has low number of cases: Birx

The coronavirus team at the White House is collecting as much data as fast as it can to provide concrete evidence to persuade an unpredictable president, who has a habit of freelancing from the podium.

Birx’s role at the daily briefings is to balance the bad news piling up as the cases mount and the slope of the virus goes straight up, with no levelling off.

You know, it’s one thing to have it. It’s another thing to die– U.S. President Donald Trump

“Nineteen out of 50 states that had early cases have persistently low level of cases, at this point less than 200 cases [on Thursday],” she said. “So, that’s almost 40 per cent of the country with extraordinarily low numbers, and they are testing.

“Models are models. We are adapting. There is enough data now of the real experience with the coronavirus on the ground to really make these predictions much more sound.”

Trump has seemed persuaded that the number of deaths does not justify shutting down the whole of the country for longer than a few weeks.


Nearly empty on- and off-ramps viewed from the roof of the Space Needle in downtown Seattle, a city that, like several others across the U.S., is under a stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

“In my opinion, the mortality rate, it’s way, way down, and that takes a lot of fear out. You know, it’s one thing to have it. It’s another thing to die,” he said.

“When I first got involved, I was being told numbers that were much, much higher than the number seems to be. That’s one of the reasons I say, look, we’re going to beat this, and we’re going to get back to work.”

States enforcing federal guidelines differently

Practically, Trump does not have the powers to regulate whether businesses open or close. The U.S. states can independently decide which restrictions will apply under broader federal guidelines.

On Friday, one of those lower-risk states, Wyoming, extended its closures of schools and some businesses to April 17.  

“It’s clear how important it is for us to take sustained action,” said Governor Mark Gordon.

With the U.S. now eclipsing cases in all other countries, the experience on the ground changes by the hour and the health-care response in some hard-hit areas is severely strained.

Nurses and doctors say they can’t get enough personal protective equipment. Ventilators now being raced into production might not come soon enough. States are competing with each other to procure supplies.

The number of cases is one marker, but the rate of growth is even more telling, said Jaquis. In New York, cases doubled in three days.

Doctors say they need more time to allow them to respond to what’s about to hit, without worrying about the second wave of spread.

“We’re not quite ready to take care of what’s coming,” Jaquis said. “And we need to make sure that all of our patients and our communities and our health-care workers are protected. So right now, we need people to continue to stay home and we need to flatten that curve. They just need to continue with this for longer.”

Trump, calling himself a “wartime president,” travelled Saturday to Norfolk, Va.,  to offer a “kiss goodbye” to the USNS Comfort, a naval hospital ship headed for New York harbour to help the city’s health care workers deal with the pandemic.

“It sends a great signal,” Trump said, “when the president is able to go there and say thank you.”

Perhaps a confusing signal for the millions of Americans under orders to stay at home.

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Flooded Venice records 3rd exceptional tide as other parts of Italy hit with rain, snow

Venice was hit Sunday by a record third exceptional tide in the same week while other parts of Italy struggled with a series of weather woes, from rain-swollen rivers to high winds to an out-of-season avalanche.

Stores and museums in Venice were mostly closed in the hardest-hit area around St. Mark’s Square, but tourists donned high rubber boots or even hip waders to witness and photograph the spectacle.

Most were disappointed when officials closed the historic square as winds rippled across the rising waters. The doors of the famed St. Mark’s Basilica were securely shut to the public, an authorities took precautions — stacking sandbags in canal-side windows — to prevent salt-laden water from entering the crypt again.

Venice’s Tide Office said the peak tide of 1.5 metres hit just after 1 p.m. local time but a weather front off the coast blocked southerly winds from the Adriatic Sea from pushing the tide to the predicted level of 1.6 metres. By early evening, the level was less than a meter.

Still it marked the third time since Tuesday night’s 1.87-metre flood — the worst in 53 years — that water levels in Venice had topped 1.5 metres. Since records began in 1872, that level had never been reached even twice in one year, let alone three times in one week.

While Venetians had a bit of relief, days of heavy rainfall and snowfall elsewhere in Italy swelled rivers to worrisome levels, triggered an avalanche in the Alps and saw dramatic rescues of people unable to flee rising waters.


People are seen in a bar amid rising water in Venice on Sunday. Many store owners in the swanky area around St. Mark’s completely emptied their shops, while others put their wares as high as possible and counted on automatic pumping systems to keep the water at bay. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via The Associated Press)

In Venice, many store owners in the swanky area around St. Mark’s completely emptied their shops, while others put their wares as high as possible and counted on automatic pumping systems to keep the water at bay. In one luxury boutique, employees used water vacuums and big squeegee mops to keep the brackish lagoon waters from advancing.

Venice’s mayor has put the flooding damage at hundreds of millions of euros and Italian officials have declared a state of emergency for the area. They say Venice is both sinking into the mud and facing rising sea levels due to climate change.

Luca D’Acunto and his girlfriend Giovanna Maglietta surveyed the rising water from a bridge, wondering how to reach their nearby hotel in their colorful yet inadequate rubber boots.

Watch: Life-long Venice resident on impact of flooding

The CBC’s Natasha Fatah talks to Asia Busetto, lifelong Venice resident, on the impact of the flooding. 4:49

“We made the reservation this week before the floods and had paid already, so we came,” said D’Acunto, a 28-year-old from Naples. “Instead of a romantic trip, we’ll have an adventurous one.”

Most museums were closed as a precaution, but the Correr Museum, which overlooks St. Mark’s Square and explores the art and history of Venice, remained open. Tourists enjoyed a Venetian Spritz — a colourful aperitif with an Italian bitter and Prosecco — as the waters rose.

Officials said 280 civil protection volunteers were deployed to assist as needed. Young Venetian volunteers in rubber boots have also showed up at key sites, including the city’s Music Conservatory, to help save precious manuscripts from the invading salt water.

The flooding has raised renewed debates about the city’s Moses flood defence project, a corruption-riddled underwater barrier system that is still not operational after more than 16 years of construction and at least 5 billion euros ($ 7.3 billion Cdn) of public funding. It was supposed to be working by 2011.

Snow, rain in other parts of Italy

Floods were also hitting other parts of Italy on Sunday.

In Pisa, famed for its Leaning Tower, workers sandbagged the road along the rising Arno River, which authorities said had reached the highest level there and in another Tuscan city, Florence, since 1992.

“I ask citizens to go home and stay there,” Pisa Mayor Michele Conti, said in an appeal on state TV. He said bridges were being closed as a precaution in case the Arno overran its banks. Pisa’s offices and stores were ordered shuttered until midday Monday.

The Arno also surged through the heart of historic Florence, reaching a level near the Uffizi Galleries that was described as the highest in some 20 years. In 24 hours, 6.26 centimetres of rain had fallen in Florence, which was whipped by winds as high as 76 km/h.


Arno river overflows its banks at Sieci in Florence, Italy, on Sunday. (Claudio Giovannini/ANSA via The Associated Press)

A popular Florence tourist attraction, the Boboli Gardens, was closed as a precaution for fear of falling trees. Near the Tuscan town of Cecina, 500 people were evacuated when a local river swelled to the top of its banks.

Elsewhere in Tuscany, 2,000 people were ordered evacuated in Grosseto as the Ombrone river swelled dangerously. Near Grosseto, firefighters rescued a man clinging to a tree as floodwaters surrounded him.

In the countryside outside of Bologna, in the central-north Emilia Romagna region, an elderly couple was plucked to safety by a helicopter when the Idice river overran its banks.

In Italy’s mountainous Alto Adige, or South Tyrol region, a mid-autumn snowstorm triggered power outages and blocked roads in several Alpine valleys. The mayor of Val Martello, Georg Altstaetter, told state TV that an avalanche had damaged two houses but caused no injuries. Other homes were evacuated as a precaution in the town, which was left without electricity.

The region’s governor told people to stay home so crews could clear snow-clogged roads.


Workers remove the remains of an uprooted tree that crashed on some parked cars in the Ragusa square in Rome on Sunday. (Angelo Carconi/ANSA via The Associated Press)

A windstorm overnight in the Rome area toppled scores of trees, with two falling on cars, severely injuring a motorist.

Some politicians lamented that the drama over Venice’s high tides was eclipsing the needs of other areas.

In Matera, a once-impoverished southern town that has experienced a renaissance through tourism, heavy rain sent torrents of mud racing through its streets last week, ruining shops and lodging.

“There are no minor-league regions,” said Luigi Di Maio, a populist who leads the 5-Star Movement, the government’s main party.

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‘A microcosm of the country’: How impeachment hearings are playing out in parts of swing state of Michigan

Marilyn Rotko is a swing dancer in a swing state.

“Back and forth. It swings. It does. It swings from Republican to Democrat,” she says about her adopted home state.

The former New Yorker has lived in Michigan for most of the past decade. She has been registered as a Democrat since she could register to vote.

Rotko says one of her frequent dance partners is much more conservative. They don’t talk about politics.

It’s a refrain heard often these days in what some refer to as the “purple state,” called that because of the red (Republican) and blue (Democrat) mix of voters.

Politics and the impeachment hearings can be touchy subjects in a place where the margins for a win in 2016 were razor thin. Donald Trump took Michigan by just 10,704 votes.

Sterling Heights, Mich., is the fourth-largest city in Michigan, with a population of about 133,000. It is something of a bellwether, a predictor of what side will take power. 

The city voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and for Trump in 2016.


The last seven presidents, Democrat and Republican, all won the vote in Sterling Heights, the fourth-largest city in Michigan. (CBC)

Resident Michael Taylor was one of those Trump voters, and says it’s a move he now regrets.

“For me, it was really his character and fitness for office. I should have known before he got elected. But he, you know — I just, I just reached my breaking point,” he says, referring to his frustration with President Trump.

Taylor is also the mayor, and since he went public with the revelation that he no longer supports Donald Trump, he says hears from constituents who aren’t happy he is speaking out against the president.

“I think he’s beyond the pale, so I made that decision. But I I feel like I’m kind of alone on an island.”

He calls his city “a microcosm of the country at large.”

“Sterling Heights is really, to me, Ground Zero for what’s going to happen,” Taylor says about the coming election, adding that his constituents care more about jobs and the economy than the controversies around the president. 

“We’ve got four automotive plants and we’ve got a lot of manufacturing. And manufacturing is as strong as it’s ever been. We’ve got a lot of jobs and we’ve got a lot of vibrancy here.”


Michael Taylor, mayor of Sterling Heights, Mich., with one of his constituents at a local restaurant. (CBC)

When he has meet-the-mayor events, he says the continued support for the president is overwhelming.

Even though he doesn’t think the impeachment proceedings are playing out very well for President Trump, he also doesn’t think this will sway voters.

“The folks in this restaurant, they’re going to go to their job,” Taylor says, sitting in a back booth in a family-owned diner in his constituency. “And as long as they get that steady paycheque, and as long as they’ve got that job security, and as long as they feel like the economy is working for them, they’re not paying attention to the Twitter account and they’re not paying attention to all this madness.”

Swaying the vote

David Dulio, a political science professor at nearby Oakland University, agrees. He says Michigan is a state that is largely decided by independent or undecided voters. Those who support the president are likely to continue to support him, Dulio says, while dyed-in-the-wool Democrats aren’t going to switch sides.

Those who haven’t picked sides might be swayed by a number of things, but like Mayor Taylor, Dulio doesn’t think impeachment proceedings will have a significant impact in the state.

Both Dulio and Taylor say one of the key things that could affect Michigan’s vote, but which can’t be factored in yet, is who the Democrats end up nominating for the presidential run.

“I think what really matters to them is how candidates address issues that they care about,” says Dulio.


David Dulio, a political science professor at Oakland University, says whether Michigan swings Democrat or Republican has largely been determined by people who aren’t staunch Democrat or Republican voters. (CBC)

He calls those the “kitchen table” issues. They include things like the economy, the manufacturing sector and health care costs.

“Those kitchen table issues can vary from household to household. But I think it really is how are candidates planning to address the issues that those particular individuals care about?”

Dulio and Taylor say a candidate who is too left-leaning won’t play well in a state like Michigan.

Impeachment fallout

For now, voters in the state say the political divisions are unlikely to be any further split by the outcome of the impeachment hearing, whatever it turns out to be.

Meanwhile, Republican voter Nancy Landa says she avoids conversations about politics, even with her own family.

“My dad even becomes, like, so hostile — even the mention of politics,” she says.

With things so polarized, Landa added that she tries to stay out of the fray of the latest scandals, even if they are as high-profile as an impeachment hearing.

“I try to stay a little bit of an arm’s-distance-length from it, just because there’s so much bickering over details right now,” she says, adding that most people are pretty set in what they already think, regardless of what the outcome of this hearing will be. 

“I mean, if you’re a Republican, you kind of feel that there’s no value to it,” she says. “And if you’re a Democrat, you are 100 per cent thinking he’s guilty.”

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Anthony Bourdain Wins Posthumous Emmys for ‘Parts Unknown’

Anthony Bourdain Wins Posthumous Emmys for ‘Parts Unknown’ | Entertainment Tonight

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