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‘Right now, I’m scared,’ CDC head says as she warns of potential 4th pandemic surge in U.S.

This story is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians. 

What’s new

U.S. officials issued what was intended to be a sobering warning Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic could still get a whole lot worse.

Their unusually emotional message carried obvious international implications, especially given that the U.S. has already vaccinated its citizens at a rate triple Canada’s.

The theme of a White House briefing Monday was that this is a terrible time for the country to let down its guard and reopen as some states are doing.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control, Rochelle Walensky, said she plans to speak with state governors Tuesday to encourage continued mask-wearing and physical distancing.

She said U.S. case loads had risen 10 per cent in a week, and hospitalizations and deaths are ticking up again. She said the country is on the same trajectory as some European countries were a few weeks ago before they hurtled into their latest wave.

“We are not powerless; we can change this trajectory of the pandemic,” she said. “But it will take all of us recommitting to following public health-prevention strategies.”

Walensky said she was pleading with Americans as a physician who had seen the death and human suffering caused by COVID-19, and as a wife, mother and daughter.

“I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom,” she said as she went off script.

“We have so much to look forward to … so much reason for hope, but right now, I’m scared.”

When later asked to elaborate on her reference to “impending doom,” Wilensky said:

“We know that travel is up, and I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw in the summer and the winter again.”

Cases are still way down in the U.S. since January. What has the CDC worried is a 10 per cent uptick last week, along with more hospitalizations. It sees the coming days as a race between vaccinations and a new pandemic wave. (U.S. Centers For Disease Control)

It’s an abrupt change in tone after weeks of growing confidence in the U.S. The country is expecting to have vaccines for 90 per cent of its adults by the end of April and for all adults in May.

Numerous states have already dropped restrictions.

Yet the federal government is telling states it’s too soon to do that: only 15 per cent of the country is fully vaccinated, while the virus continued to kill 1,000 Americans per day last week as case numbers rose to 63,000 a day. 

Why it matters to Canada

Any U.S. setback would hold a series of cross-border consequences. Starting with the obvious point involving public health: that the virus and its new variants are outpacing vaccinations.

It’s especially true in places with a slower vaccination rollout.

It could also have repercussions on the economic recovery and on cross-border travel. Businesses and politicians have been urging governments, without success so far, to define a plan for reopening the border. 

Some of the states experiencing the worst surges happen to be near the Canadian border, including New York, and Michigan, which has seen its case totals more than triple in a single month. 

The virus is still infecting, and killing, a far higher proportion of Americans than Canadians, although the gap had been narrowing in recent weeks with cases growing faster in Canada.   

Lots of states have eased restrictions. However, Miami subsequently imposed a local curfew, for public health reasons, during spring break festivities seen here earlier this month. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a chief medical adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, said that if this recent spike turns into another wave, it’s because Americans let their guard down too soon. “We’re essentially pleading,” he said.

What’s the good news

At the same news conference, officials delivered encouraging details on a new CDC study showing vaccines performing extraordinarily well in limiting infection and transmission.  

This is atop clinical trials that, Fauci said, showed 100 per cent effectiveness in avoiding hospitalization and death from vaccines approved in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere.  

Another Biden adviser, Andy Slavitt, said Monday: “Hope is around the corner. But we’re not there yet… The worst thing we could do now would be to let up. We cannot get complacent. We cannot let our guard down.”

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CBC | World News

Canada hesitates to update guidance on AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine amid potential link to blood clots

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.

Scientists in Europe have reportedly found a link between the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine and extremely rare but potentially fatal blood clots, but Canadian public health officials have so far provided no update on guidance for the shot.

News broke on Friday that researchers in Germany and Norway said they had found a mechanism that could cause the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to create the blood clots in very rare circumstances, in addition to identifying a possible treatment for it.

The finding comes after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) investigated 25 cases of the rare blood clots out of about 20 million AstraZeneca shots given and concluded on Thursday that the benefits from the vaccine far outweigh its possible risks, although a definitive link could not be ruled out.

The EMA said there was no increased risk from blood clots and that because the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is effective in preventing COVID-19, which itself causes blood clots, the shot could actually reduce the risk of them overall.

But not all blood clots are the same, and 18 of the cases in Europe were of an extremely rare type called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) — where veins that drain blood from the brain are obstructed and can potentially cause fatal bleeding.

Most of the incidents occurred within 14 days of receiving the AstraZeneca shot, and the majority were in women under the age of 55. It’s worth noting that this type of blood clot is much more common in women, particularly during and after pregnancy and while on birth control.

WATCH | Tam says benefits of AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh risks:

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the benefits of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the rare risks. 1:53

Three of the seven patients in Germany who were recently vaccinated with the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot that had this rare brain blood clot have died.

In its investigative document, the EMA said it would expect to see just 1.35 cases of CVST in the time period it looked at — but instead its researchers saw 12.

Germany and Italy resumed vaccinations with the shot on Friday, but France opted to vaccinate only those over 55 with the AstraZeneca vaccine after discovering three cases of CVST. Denmark, Sweden and Norway decided to hold off on using the vaccine until at least next week, citing the need for more time to investigate.

Findings ‘need to be investigated’

“You cannot brush adverse effects under the rug. They always need to be investigated, and I think we have to look at this in a careful and critical manner,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force.

“We don’t have all the information yet and we’ll learn more about this — and I imagine we’ll see some updated guidance on who should get this vaccine and perhaps who shouldn’t be getting this vaccine.”

Health Canada released a statement on Thursday saying the benefits of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine outweighed the risks and that the vaccine does not increase the “overall risk of blood clots,” but it provided no update on Friday when pressed for more comment on the evolving situation.

“As the vaccine rollout continues in Canada, Health Canada will continue to monitor the use of all COVID-19 vaccines closely,” the statement read.

“Health Canada will examine and assess any new safety concerns, and should a safety signal be confirmed, the department will take appropriate action.”

Researchers in Norway reported identifying the mechanism early Friday, saying it was due to a “powerful immune response” from the vaccine.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is prepared at the local vaccination centre in Hagen, Germany. Germany and Italy resumed vaccinations with the shot on Friday, the day after the European Medicines Agency found there was no increased risk of blood clots from the vaccine. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

German researchers corroborated that finding, adding they had found a typical intravenous immunoglobulin treatment that can be offered to patients in hospitals if this rare type of blood clot occurs, but they said it wouldn’t work as a preventive measure.

“Of course you can’t completely undo a complication,” Dr. Andreas Greinacher, a professor of transfusion medicine at the Greifswald University Clinic, said during a news conference in Germany.

“But at least now we can offer the right treatment to be able to help as quickly as possible and as efficiently as possible.”

Potential blood clot link could alter rollout in Canada

The potential link could have massive implications on the rollout of the vaccine in Canada and other countries, after use of the shot was halted in parts of Europe over safety concerns in connection with the adverse events last week.

Health officials now face the unenviable task of either adjusting the rollout or trying to restore confidence in the shot, at a time when a variant-driven third wave is unfolding and many vulnerable Canadians are vastly underprotected from COVID-19.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended earlier this month that Canadians over 65 not receive the shot, despite emerging evidence from around the world demonstrating its ability to prevent severe COVID-19 in older adults.

But that guidance changed on Tuesday after more real-world data on the vaccine’s effectiveness was reviewed by NACI, and CBC News broke the story revealing documents on the federal government’s plans to allow those 65 and older to receive it.

Experts say that while the guidelines for the vaccine could further change and it may not be recommended for certain age groups in the future, the protection against COVID-19 provided by the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot vastly outweighs the risk of rare adverse events.

That being said, we still don’t have all of the answers, and Canadians need to be aware of potential risks moving forward — however small they may be.

Medical experts in Canada divided over findings

Dr. Michael Hill, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, said on Friday that while the finding out of Europe is interesting, he remains skeptical of the potential link.

“For now, the case prevalence is such that it could still be a coincidence,” he said. “We just do not know.”

Hill said that as new data emerges, new questions will arise until there is enough evidence to meet the criteria to either confirm or deny a causal link to the vaccine.

WATCH | WHO finds AstraZeneca vaccine safe and effective:

The World Organization’s advisory committee on vaccine saftey says the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risks and the shot saves lives. 1:09

“The data will evolve further over time,” he said. “Meanwhile, a very large set of randomized trial data has shown no increased major adverse events with the AstraZeneca vaccine compared to placebo.”

Dr. David Fisman, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said German data offered a “compelling picture” that the rare blood clots were potentially linked to the vaccine in rare cases.

“I find myself in disagreement with Health Canada’s guidance on the use of AstraZeneca,” Fisman said.

“I do think that the use of this vaccine should be suspended in Canada until we have more data. At a minimum, I do not think it should be used in women aged 20 to 50 until we know more.”

Fisman said while the messaging around the AstraZeneca shot would be “challenging,” the continued use of the vaccine in the face of the issue that he believes will become “more apparent” as surveillance increases could erode trust in COVID-19 vaccines.

“I appreciate that this is a sunk cost and is politically difficult. I appreciate that vaccines have become a political football,” he said.

“That said, I think suspension of use of [AstraZeneca-Oxford] will create short-term discomfort but is the right thing to do in the longer term.”

In a statement on Thursday, Health Canada said it ‘will continue to monitor the use of all COVID-19 vaccines closely,’ noting that the benefits of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine outweigh the risks. (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters)

Dr. David Juurlink, head of clinical pharmacology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, said the rare events may signal a causal link with the vaccine but need to be put in context even if they are confirmed.

“If people are foregoing vaccination — AstraZeneca or otherwise — because of fear of some infinitesimally rare adverse effect, they run the risk of dying,” he said.

“I think it’s probably fair to make the claim that the countries in Europe that went against the advice of their regulator and suspended the use — that may cost some of their citizens in those countries their lives.”

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

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CBC | Health News

Moderna begins studying potential COVID-19 vaccine booster targetting variant first detected in South Africa

Drug manufacturer Moderna says it will begin testing a variant-specific version of its COVID-19 vaccine that would target the B1351 variant first detected in South Africa.  

The company has previously reported that its original two-dose vaccine — already approved for use in Canada — appears to provide protection against the B117 variant first detected in the U.K., as well as the B1351 variant, though its own research suggests it may be less effective against the latter

The company says it will study the B1351 variant-specific vaccine both as a potential booster to the original COVID-19 vaccine and as a standalone for people who have not yet received a vaccine at all. 

It will study the outcomes of three different scenarios:

  • A single shot of the B1351 variant-specific vaccine. 
  • A shot combining both the original vaccine and the B1351 variant-specific booster. 
  • A booster of the original vaccine, added to the original two-dose version. 

The B1351-specific vaccine will undergo clinical trials at the National Institutes for Health in the U.S.

“As we seek to defeat COVID-19, we must be vigilant and proactive as new variants of SARS-CoV-2 emerge,” said Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna in a statement. 

“Leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are moving quickly to test updates to the vaccines that address emerging variants of the virus in the clinic.”

Moderna reported last month that its vaccine was essentially as effective against the B117 variant as it was to prior variants.

But it found there was a reduction in its neutralizing ability against the B1351 variant. 

Neutralizing antibodies are one of the body’s immune responses to control viral infections.

South Africa paused its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after data from a small trial suggested the vaccine did not protect against mild to moderate illness from the B1351 variant now dominant in the country.

Johnson & Johnson, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Novavax have all looked at how their vaccines perform against the B1351 variant.

WATCH | Doctor calls for aggressive action to target COVID-19 variants:

In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live, Dr. Brooks Fallis speaks out against reopening plans in several provinces as officials study potential implications of the spread of new COVID-19 variants. 8:46

Variants confirmed around the world

The B1351 variant has been detected in at least 40 countries while the B117, first detected in the U.K., has now been identified in 80. Both have been found in Canada. 

Health Canada would need to approve any booster or new vaccine against the B1351 variant before it could be administered here.

The prime minister confirmed Wednesday that Moderna will deliver the two million doses of COVID-19 vaccine it is contracted to provide Canada by the end of March. 

Justin Trudeau said Canada expects to receive 460,000 doses the week of March 8 and 840,000 doses beginning  March 22.

That’s in addition to the 518,000 Moderna shots that have been administered in this country already and the 168,000 doses that are set to arrive this week.

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CBC | Health News

FIFA threatens World Cup, Champions League bans to squash potential breakaway super league

Plans by Europe’s richest soccer clubs to launch a new competition worth nearly $ 5 billion US annually jolted FIFA and Champions League organizer UEFA into warning players on Thursday that they would be banned from the World Cup if they take part in such a breakaway league.

FIFA and all six continental confederations issued a statement saying they would not endorse a new so-called European Super League, and that players who participate in such a competition would be banned from playing in major international tournaments — such as the World Cup or continental championships.

The statement was a clear response to proposals that are circulating in European soccer, and which have been seen by The Associated Press, for the creation of a 20-team annual competition that would include 15 top clubs as permanent members. The five other teams would vary each season, although the qualification method has not been determined.

Each of the 15 founding members would get a share of at least $ 4.2 billion in initial infrastructure grants. The money would be split among four tiers of clubs, with the top six each getting $ 420 million.

Larger share of the pie

The Times of London, which first reported on the details of the proposal, identified Real Madrid, Manchester United and Liverpool as being among the driving forces for the proposal. The competition would begin with two groups of 10 teams, with the top four from each group advancing to the quarter-finals. That would guarantee every team between 18 and 23 annual Super League matches, compared to a minimum of six games in the Champions League group stage.

The games — apart from the final — would be played in midweek like the current Champions League, allowing them to still play in domestic competitions.

Real Madrid and Barcelona were linked last year with planning a breakaway competition inviting famous clubs to enter and increase their own wealth from global broadcasting deals by playing each other more often.

Outgoing Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu said in October a Super League plan had been “put forward by the biggest clubs in Europe.”

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin denounced a “selfish and egotistical scheme” after Madrid president Florentino Perez was reportedly seeking financiers to back the project.

This latest Super League proposal hopes to generate $ 4.86 billion US annually from broadcasters. In comparison, UEFA most recently reported making a combined 3.25 billion euros from selling the rights to the Champions League, Europa League and UEFA Super Cup.

The 15 founding clubs of the new competition would take the greatest slice of the broadcasting revenue.

Madrid and Perez were previously linked in 2018 to preparing an invitational breakaway league. That project was revealed in leaks of hacked clubs documents to German magazine Der Spiegel.

‘Deeper reforms’

The influential European Club Association, whose vice chairman is Real Madrid official Pedro Lopez, has a working agreement with UEFA for its members to play in European club competitions and co-operate to develop them “in a strategic and holistic perspective.” The working deal expires in July 2024.

Asked for comment Thursday, the ECA said it was working with UEFA on “deeper reforms” in competitions and financial regulations to take account of the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on the soccer industry.

The FIFPRO group of players’ unions declined comment on a potential threat to its members’ right to play in recognized national team competitions.

The 30-nation European Leagues group said Thursday that breakaway plans were “for a limited number of clubs similar to those franchise models operating in North America.”

FIFA and UEFA reaffirmed Thursday the importance of promotion and relegation giving access to all clubs as a key principle of soccer.

“Participation in global and continental competitions should always be won on the pitch,” the FIFA-led statement said.

UEFA is expected to announce proposals in the coming weeks for modifying its club competitions’ entry paths and playing formats taking effect in 2024.

The group stage of the Champions League is likely to be changed to give clubs who qualify 10 guaranteed games instead of the current six.

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CBC | Soccer News

COVID-19 vaccine’s protection against virus outweighs potential allergy risk, expert says

Health Canada on Saturday advised people with allergies to any of the ingredients in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine not to get it, but one doctor said the news shouldn’t discourage those who are eligible from getting inoculated.

“I don’t think Canadians should be too worried,” Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, told CBC News on Saturday.

The announcement from Health Canada comes after two people in the U.K. had severe allergic reactions to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The agency said both individuals recovered and had histories of severe allergic reactions.

Health Canada said it is monitoring the situation with British health authorities and the vaccine’s manufacturer, and will take any new action if more issues come up.

Chagla said the likelihood of an allergic reaction is “not common at all,” but commended health authorities on being transparent about the risk and sharing the components of the vaccine that could trigger a reaction.

“You do have to communicate out that there may be risks, and rightfully so, and also communicate about the magnitude of that risk and get people to really understand what that means,” he said. “The risk of an allergy happening is probably beyond winning the lottery — that’s not to say it’s not going to happen, but it’s something we need to watch for, it’s something we’re equipped for.

“At the end of the day, it’s probably not going to happen.”

‘COVID-19 is not a benign diagnosis’

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only COVID-19 vaccine approved for use so far by Health Canada, although the federal government has also ordered millions of doses of other manufacturers’ vaccines. Canada’s mass inoculation campaign is expected to begin in a few days.

Chagla also stressed that health officials will be monitoring for other reactions to COVID-19 vaccines that may show up over time. He said communication and transparency are the best ways to assuage vaccine hesitancy — as well as clearly stating to those who are eligible the risks of not getting the vaccine.

“COVID-19 is not a benign diagnosis,” Chagla said. “As much as people fixate on the adverse reactions — which are rare — there is an adverse effect of getting COVID-19.”

Britain began its inoculation program earlier this week. After the reports of the allergic reactions, the country’s medicine regulator advised that anyone with a history of anaphylaxis to a medicine or food should not get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

WATCH | U.K. warns those with severe allergies should avoid COVID-19 vaccine for now:

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine caused an allergic reaction in two health-care workers in the U.K. prompting warnings from health officials there for people with severe allergies to hold off taking the vaccine. 3:23

In the U.S., top Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulators said on Saturday that only people who have previously had severe allergic reactions to vaccines or ingredients in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine should avoid getting the shot. But, they said most Americans with allergies should be safe to receive this particular vaccine. 

“We’re telling people that unless they’ve had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine, or one of its components, they can receive it,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA division that authorized the vaccine, said at a press conference.

Pfizer executives said on Friday that there had been no cases of severe allergic reactions to the vaccine during its nearly 44,000 volunteer late-stage clinical trial. That trial excluded people with a history of severe allergic reactions to any vaccine or to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s ingredients.

They said there were no anaphylactic episodes related to the vaccine in the trial, which did include about 6,000 participants respectively in both the vaccine and placebo groups with a range of allergic conditions such as pollen allergies and food allergies. Those participants had a history of symptoms including anaphylaxis.

The following are the ingredients in the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine:

Medicinal ingredient:

Non-medicinal ingredients:

  • ALC-0315 = ((4-hydroxybutyl)azanediyl)bis(hexane-6,1-diyl)bis(2-hexyldecanoate).
  • ALC-0159 = 2-[(polyethylene glycol)-2000]-N,N-ditetradecylacetamide.
  • 1,2-Distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine.
  • Cholesterol.
  • Dibasic sodium phosphate dihydrate.
  • Monobasic potassium phosphate.
  • Potassium chloride.
  • Sodium chloride.
  • Sucrose.
  • Water for injection.

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CBC | Health News

PS5 Temperature Measurements Reveal Potential Trouble Spot

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There’s some evidence that the PlayStation 5 may get very hot in one specific place while gaming, and while this seems to be causing no problems at the moment, gamers who live in hot climates and/or lack air conditioning should pay attention.

According to the PS5 device teardown at Gamers Nexus, most of the device temperatures are excellent in all cases, though temperatures drop moderately if you remove both plates from the device. This is scarcely surprising, as even well-ventilated PCs will typically also show slightly improved temperatures if you run them case-open. None of the temperatures GamersNexus recorded at any point on the PS5 raised any eyebrows, with one noteworthy exception:

The RAM temperature at the bottom of the machine is positively scorching, and this only improves modestly with the panels removed. The problem here is that the bottom module isn’t in contact with the PS5 heatsink. This explains the thermal differential between the bottom VRAM and the rest of the system.

Is This a Problem?

Unknown. Maximum operating temperature of the relevant GDDR6 module, according to Micron, is 105C. At the very least, we’d say that the PlayStation 5 is walking perilously close to the maximum safe operating temperature. Companies also do not necessarily guarantee that a product run at or near maximum safe operating temperature year after year will have exactly the same lifespan as products that are not run at these temperatures. High, sustained operating temperatures are harder on all electronic devices, not just the PlayStation 5. This is one of the reasons that PC gamers tend to pay a lot of attention to temperatures — dust build-up is a not-uncommon cause of gaming PC instability, especially if there are no signs of hardware failure or driver conflict.

The ambient temperature of GamerNexus’ test room was 21.9 – 23.2 Celsius. At 30C (about 86F) you’d be as close to the operational limit of Micron’s GDDR6 as you ever really want to get without specific assurances that a given chip is intended to operate for long periods of time at the temperature in question.

It’s worth being aware of this if you are forced to set your PlayStation 5 in an area with poor ventilation or higher-than-ambient temperatures, possibly due to sharing the space with other electronics. Any device will destabilize if it exceeds its safe operating temperature, and the bottom RAM chip on the PS5 is close enough to its safe operating range that it’s conceivable for room configuration to create a problem, particularly once we start considering the long-term impact of dust.

I don’t want to make it sound like PlayStation 5’s are going to start dying. But I have no idea if Sony was aware of this and found no problems with the configuration, or if the company made a mistake. It’s the kind of problem that might be correctable (or at least ameliorated) with a very small heatsink mounted to the VRAM chip itself, but I do not know if that kind of aftermarket modification will even be possible given the construction of the system chassis and its internal clearances. It seems odd for Sony to bother cooling one RAM module and not the other, but the company may have found that both ICs were actually running at safe tolerances and only cooled one of them because there was no practical way not to, given where it was placed relative to the other PS5 components.

I can tell you that I would not be happy to discover that my PC’s RAM or components ran this close to their manufacturer-defined safe temperatures, but not whether this represents a material flaw that will impact the longevity of the console.

Hat tip to NoteBookCheck for surfacing this.

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ExtremeTechExtreme – ExtremeTech

B.C. warned of potential for ‘explosive growth’ as 102 new COVID-19 cases from over the weekend announced

B.C. has seen a surge in new COVID-19 infections over the weekend, and officials are warning that the province is at a tipping point.

On Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presented the latest numbers on the toll the novel coronavirus has taken in British Columbia, along with new modelling that offers a warning about the dangers of slipping up on measures to prevent transmission.

That includes a big spike in new infections over the weekend, with 102 new confirmed cases since Friday afternoon. There have now been 3,300 cases in B.C. since the beginning of the pandemic, of which 253 are still active.

The latest modelling suggests that the numbers of new cases reported daily are rising and could continue to rise over the summer.

“We do have the possibility of having explosive growth here in our outbreak, if we’re not careful,” Henry said.

WATCH: B.C.’s top doctor says we are experiencing a ‘concerning upward bending of our curve’ and are ‘on the edge that might go up but is in our hands to control’

B.C.’s top doctor says an increase of over 100 cases of COVID-19 over the weekend is ‘concerning’ and should serve as a warning. 1:40

While B.C. has done a good job of flattening the curve of infection so far, she said the province is currently “on the edge” and could see that work undone in the coming weeks.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix noted that while 102 new infections might not be large in comparison with numbers reported in other parts of North America, “it is a lot more than we are comfortable with.”

He said that while there have been no deaths since Friday and the hospitalization rate has remained steady, deaths and hospitalizations tend to lag behind new infections.

Dix urged British Columbians to recommit to measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly keeping groups small and meeting outside whenever possible.

Dix said the number of new cases should serve as “a sobering reminder of how fleeting success can be.”

Sixteen people are now in hospital, including four in intensive care. There have been no new deaths recorded since Friday, leaving B.C.’s total at 189 to date.

60 cases now connected to Kelowna exposures

Henry said she’s particularly concerned about the number of new cases that appear to have resulted from parties and larger public gatherings.

That includes 60 cases that have now been linked to multiple exposure events in Kelowna at downtown and waterfront bars and private gatherings around the Canada Day long weekend. Most new cases confirmed this weekend were people in their 20s and 30s, according to Henry.

“We are starting to see people who are testing positive in the last few days having a large number of contacts again,” she said. 

“We are no longer having safe interactions.”

Henry said that in the spring, most new COVID-19 patients only had close contact with three or four people, but public health officials are now having to trace 20 or 30 contacts for every person with a confirmed case of the disease.

The modelling presented Monday suggests that everyone needs to be cautious about how many other people they are interacting with — if the average person’s number of contacts increases to 70 or 80 per cent of normal, the number of infections could rise dramatically.

Currently, the average person’s contacts are at about 65 to 70 per cent of normal, which Henry described as concerning.

“We run the risk of a rapid rise,” she said.

She said young people need to remember to keep groups small and focus as much as possible on spending time with family. When visiting restaurants, don’t try to bend the rules by bringing groups larger than six people or by hopping between tables, Henry added.

Meanwhile, she said public health workers are looking into potential measures that could prevent transmission in situations like get-togethers in vacation home rentals or on houseboats.

Death rate high among patients in long-term care

New statistics presented Monday show that 20 per cent of COVID-19 patients in long-term care and 22 per cent in acute care units of hospitals have died of their illness. The death rate drops dramatically to 0.5 per cent in the remaining COVID-19 patients.

As British Columbians expand their social circles and more businesses open up in Phase 3 of the province’s pandemic response, the modelling suggests that each new infection is generating an increasing number of additional infections.

In April and May, when the strictest measures were in place, each new COVID-19 patient infected less than one other person. That measure has now risen to more than one new infection from each patient.

Serology tests suggest that fewer than one in 100 people in B.C. have been infected to date, which means the vast majority are still susceptible to infection.

Mental health and financial burdens for young people

Henry and Dix also presented results from an online survey completed by 394,382 people about the impact of COVID-19.

The results suggest that most people have followed public health advice to wash hands regularly and avoid gatherings, but staying home when sick is still a bit of a sticking point. While 79 per cent of those who responded said they can stay home when they’re feeling unwell, only about 67 per cent said they actually stay home.

The biggest problems caused by COVID-19, according to those who answered the survey, include loss of work, concern for vulnerable family members and mental health struggles.

Those between the ages of 18 and 29 were most likely to say their mental health and financial situation have suffered as a result of the pandemic.

Impromptu update

Monday’s briefing is the first since Henry called an unplanned news conference Friday to announce 28 new cases of the virus, including a baby in neonatal intensive care at St. Paul’s Hospital.

Henry said fewer than 10 people were exposed to the virus in the NICU, and the baby was not showing signs of illness. Health-care workers were also exposed, but she said she didn’t know how many were involved.

The infants who were exposed at St. Paul’s are isolating with their families, according to Henry.

Also on Friday, an alert was issued for potential exposure to COVID-19 at the Sandman hotel on Davie Street in Vancouver between July 7 and July 16.

Another case was discovered in a worker from Alberta at the Site C dam project and a list of potential exposures on flights coming and going from B.C. continues to expand.

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Edmonton CFL team heeds sponsors’ calls, accelerates review of potential name change

The Edmonton Eskimos said Wednesday they would be “accelerating our ongoing process of review” of the club’s nickname following recent calls by sponsors to do so and provide an update by the end of July.

Longtime sponsor Belair Direct, a car and home insurance company and one of the team’s 13 premier partners, on Tuesday called for a change of the team’s name that has been in place since the late 19th century, saying its use is no longer appropriate.

“We acknowledge and appreciate the feedback and input regarding our name,” Rose Mary Phillip, the Edmonton team’s vice-president of marketing and communications, said in a email to CBC Sports. “We take this issue seriously, as has been demonstrated by the three years we’ve spent engaging in Canada’s North and conducting research related to our name.

“We recognize that a lot has occurred since this information was gathered, and as a result, we are accelerating our ongoing process of review. We will be seeking further input from the Inuit, our partners and other stakeholders to inform our decisions moving forward.”

The organization will “continue to listen carefully and with an open mind.”

Call for ‘concrete action’

Belair Direct, in a statement to CBC News on Tuesday, said in order for the company to continue its partnership with the football organization “we will need to see concrete action in the near future, including a commitment to a name change.”

Edmonton’s team has seen repeated calls for a name change in the past, and faces renewed criticism as sports teams in Canada, the United States and elsewhere are urged to remove outdated and sometimes racist names and images.

However, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation — which represents Inuit who live in Canada’s western Arctic region — said it does not take exception to the term “Eskimo” and said it supports the use of the word “as long as it is used in a respectful manner.”

“It was developed by a First Nations group to describe a group of Inuit they were aware of,” IRC chair Duane Smith said in an email to CBC News last week. 

“As it pertains to the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League, they do use the term out of respect and have been reaching to the Inuit organizations and communities to develop collaborative approaches within those communities to promote education, awareness, respect, healthy recreational pursuits and reconciliation.”

He acknowledged that not all Inuit will agree, but said “education and awareness amongst Inuit about this term will further understanding and respect for it.”

Study found ‘no consensus’ to support name change

Five years ago, Canada’s national Inuit organization said it was time for a change.

“It isn’t right for any team to be named after an ethnic group,” said Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, which represents Canada’s 60,000 Inuit.

Last Friday, the team reiterated that it would not change its name, but promised to increase its engagement with Inuit communities to evaluate their views on it.

In February, the Edmonton organization announced it would keep the name, saying it had conducted a yearlong research process that involved Inuit leaders and community members across Canada. That study, the team said, found “no consensus … to support a name change.”

Coca-Cola Canada Bottling Ltd., which has a product partnership with the team, said it has spoken with Edmonton team management and shared its concerns about the name.

“We have asked them to strive for consensus about their name in their community engagement activities with Inuit communities as soon as possible,” spokesperson Kathy Murphy said in an email.

A Jiffy Lube location in Edmonton supports the further engagement, wrote Kelly McClung, vice-president of marketing and operations for Lube-X and Jiffy Lube operator in Canada.

“We look forward to hearing feedback from their ongoing discussions,” she said.

Fellow sponsor Fisherman’s Friend also expressed support for the re-engagement.

Blackhawks keeping name

The threat from Belair Direct comes days after the Washington NFL team’s stadium sponsor FedEx, along with other sponsors, asked the team to change its name.

The Washington Redskins, whose name contains a racial slur, responded Friday, saying it would undertake a review. Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, who retired their racist caricature “Chief Wahoo” logo in 2018 but kept their name, also said Friday they would review their name.

WATCH | Washington NFL team reviewing team name:

The NFL’s Washington Redskins say they will undergo a “thorough review” of the team’s Indigenous-slur name, after pressure from sponsors and an international focus on racism. 2:06

On Tuesday, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks said they will continue to use their team name because it honours a Native American leader who has been an inspiration to generations.

“The Chicago Blackhawks name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac and Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public,” the team said in a statement Tuesday. 

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Potential COVID-19 vaccine has re-energized anti-vaccination groups, health experts warn

As Canadians yearn for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic and a time they can once again hug their elderly loved ones or gather in large groups without fear of infection, many are pinning their hopes on unprecedented global efforts to develop a vaccine against the virus.

But even though most infectious disease experts say the earliest possible timeframe would be at least a year or two away, anti-vaccination groups are already well into online and social media campaigns stoking doubts about the safety — and even questioning the necessity — of a coronavirus vaccine. 

“I just am astonished at how early the anti-vaccine narrative has started,” Dr. Natasha Crowcroft, a vaccine expert at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said in an interview with CBC’s The Dose health podcast. 

“We are really facing a major, major challenge,” Crowcroft told podcast host Dr. Brian Goldman. 

“And unless our public health leaders can generate a lot of trust, it’s going to be very, very difficult.”

That’s because anti-vaccination groups have become extremely savvy communicators and “seem to be much better” than public health experts at reaching out to a variety of people with different ideologies — from those who distrust pharmaceutical companies to those protesting public health lockdowns aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus, Crowcroft said. 

The global focus on developing a coronavirus vaccine is unlike anything ever seen before, says Dr. Natasha Crowcroft, a vaccine expert at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and a senior technical adviser with the World Health Organization. (Claude Martel)

Anti-vaccination groups in both Canada and the U.S. are positioning themselves as advocates for what they call “personal freedoms” and “medical choice” in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic — posting content online and on social media that not only targets vaccination, but also protests the closure of businesses, physical distancing requirements and the wearing of masks.   

Vaccine Choice Canada — one of the most high-profile anti-vaccination organizations in this country, announced in a letter posted to its website on May 13 that it was “launching legal action against the Government of Canada and others for violating our rights and freedoms during the COVID-19 outbreak.” 

In a June 18 episode of Digi-Debates posted on YouTube, the president of Vaccine Choice Canada, Ted Kuntz, claimed that COVID-19 was no more deadly than influenza — and argued that a vaccine was unnecessary. 

But infectious disease and public health experts widely agree that COVID-19 is far more lethal than the flu. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 8,500 deaths in Canada have been related to COVID-19. Based on the agency’s most recent available data, deaths from influenza were far fewer. The 2018-19 flu season claimed the lives of 224 people, while just over 300 people died of influenza in the 2017-18 season. 

CBC reached out to Vaccine Choice Canada via its media relations email address and also sent a Facebook message to Kuntz inviting him to comment further but did not receive a response before deadline.  

LISTEN | How close are we to an effective vaccine for COVID-19?

As we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are anxious to return to normal life, when we can hug our elderly parents or grandparents and once again gather in large groups. Many experts say that can’t happen safely until a coronavirus vaccine is developed. In this unprecedented time, researchers around the world are working toward that goal, but it has to be done safely and follow a careful scientific process. Dr. Natasha Crowcroft, a vaccine expert at the the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, joins host Dr. Brian Goldman to help explain how close we are to an effective vaccine against COVID-19, the barriers we must overcome to get there, and what we need to do in the meantime. 20:40

Part of the strategy used by anti-vaccination groups has been to take legitimate cautions by some well-recognized physicians in the U.S. that the quest to find a coronavirus vaccine must not be rushed and that it must go through all of the necessary steps to ensure it is safe and effective — and then misrepresent those comments as arguments against a vaccine, said Jonathan Jarry, a science communicator in the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal, which has a mandate to debunk misinformation for the public. 

“We have the beginnings of a perfect storm on our hands [to fuel vaccine misinformation],” Jarry said. 

In the midst of a worldwide pandemic and an unprecedented effort to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible, many people have questions and anxiety about the process, he said.

At the same time, Jarry said, the anti-vaccination movement is “seemingly re-energized and … pushing a lot of misinformation and disinformation and lies and fuelling that anxiety.”

Seniors have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus, with many deaths occurring in long-term care homes. Physical distancing measures, like this see-through barrier at a B.C. retirement home, is an effort to keep seniors safe during the pandemic. Some infectious disease experts say it may not be fully safe to hug elderly loved ones until an effective vaccine or treatment is developed. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

To combat that, both Crowcroft and Jarry agree, it’s essential that public health officials, physicians and community leaders talk openly and transparently with Canadians about the vaccine development process and directly answer their questions and concerns — and they need to start now. 

“There’s a small sliver of the population that is ferociously anti-vaccination. And it’s very difficult to reason with these people,” Jarry said. 

“But there’s a larger segment of the population that is vaccine-hesitant. And that is where our efforts need to be invested.”

‘The current situation is so different’

One of the key concerns that needs to be directly addressed is how a coronavirus vaccine can be developed more quickly than any vaccine before it and still be safe, Jarry said. 

The answer, Crowcroft said, is that “the current situation is so different that it is possible to get through the development steps faster without cutting any corners that might compromise safety.”

It normally takes “years and years and years” to develop a vaccine, she said. “I mean 10 years would not be unusual.”

A big part of the reason for that, Crowcroft said, is that scientists often come up with a vaccine candidate but have a difficult time getting funding to move it to the next phase of clinical trials, because every trial stage is expensive and pharmaceutical companies are hesitant to risk spending enormous amounts of money on a product that could fail at the next stage. Plus, there’s often no guarantee there will be a market for the vaccine even if it does work. 

But in the midst of a pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry is confident that the demand for a vaccine exists, she said. In addition, governments around the world are providing funding for vaccine development, which removes the potential for a huge financial loss if a company invests in a vaccine candidate that doesn’t succeed in the end. 

“Governments are helping to speed things up by funding the trials so they can go on in parallel and/or the gaps between each step are shorter, without the long delays for decision-making about whether the company wants to take the [financial] risk of moving forward,” said Crowcroft, who was recently appointed a senior technical adviser for the World Health Organization’s measles, mumps and rubella program. 

Because of that, there are more than 100 different vaccine candidates in various phases of research at the same time around the world, increasing the odds that at least one, possibly more, will prove to be safe and effective, she said. 

WATCH | States brace for impact of COVID-19 surge in U.S.:

Some parts of the U.S. are bracing for the impact on hospitals as cases of COVID-19 surge amid a lack of political will to respond. 2:01

Because of advances in genetic sequencing, scientists’ ability to learn about a new virus is also more advanced than it has ever been in the past, giving researchers a head start in figuring out what part of it to target with a vaccine. 

“Nothing in the history of humankind has ever been seen like this before,” Crowcroft said. 

Finally, she said, amid all the hype as companies put out news releases boasting about their progress in vaccine development,  it’s “important to remember that the press release does not determine whether a vaccine will eventually be used.”

It’s up to each country’s regulatory agency, such as Health Canada, to determine whether a vaccine can be used and be independent of any industry influence.

“Safety cannot be compromised,” Crowcroft said. “Health Canada will see to that. It is their statutory responsibility.”

In an emailed statement to CBC, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said that before any vaccine is approved for use in this country, “Health Canada conducts rigorous scientific reviews and testing of the vaccine to assess the quality, safety and effectiveness.”

“Once a vaccine is in use, health authorities continue to monitor the vaccine to ensure ongoing highest standards of safety.”

‘Empathy’ and ‘building trust’

But if these kinds of questions about safety, as well as other concerns, aren’t dealt with directly by public health officials — or if the public doesn’t trust them —  anti-vaccination voices will fill that void with misinformation, Jarry warns. 

The most effective way to talk to people who are vaccine-hesitant, he said, “all boils down to empathy and to listening and to building trust.” 

It’s important not to criticize people for expressing concerns, even if they are based on misinformation that has long ago been debunked, he said. 

“If we ignore them because we don’t have time or if we ignore them because we think they’re silly, the anti-vaccination movement will end up polarizing the vaccine-hesitant segment of the population against vaccination,” Jarry said. “And then vaccine uptake is going to keep going down.”

We’ve already seen the toll that vaccine refusal can take with the re-emergence of measles, he said. 

Crowcroft estimates that for a coronavirus vaccine to be effective at protecting the population, between 60 and 70 per cent of people need to be immunized. 

“I’m not sure we’re doing everything we can yet to prepare,” she said. “We really do need to start, you know, having those discussions with communities and building relationships so that they do trust in their [public health] leaders.”

An ad from the Ontario Medical Association aimed at combating overall vaccine hesitancy is pictured in a bus shelter. (Paul Smith/CBC)

In her statement to CBC, Tam said she recognized that “vaccine hesitancy is still very much an ongoing issue within Canada and worldwide.”

“In collaboration with my provincial and territorial colleagues and other stakeholders, foundational work has already begun to prepare for the possible release of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine in Canada, if and when it becomes available,” Tam said. 

That work, she said, would include “developing strategies and resources to inform and educate to build vaccine confidence as well as combat stigma, misinformation and fear around the release of a new vaccine.” 

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which Tam heads, said in a separate statement to CBC that “efforts to inform and educate to build vaccine confidence are part of the agency’s regular business” and that it would use similar information and social media campaigns “when a new COVID-19 vaccine is released to ensure that Canadians have the proper information to inform their choice to receive the vaccine when available.”

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