As the GPU shortage continues, what constitutes “success” is being rapidly recast. Several publications have recently run stories claiming that an uptick in Ampere GPU deployments according to the Steam Hardware Survey constitutes evidence that these cards are making their way to gamers and that miners aren’t soaking up all the demand. This is factually true, inasmuch as cryptocurrency mining isn’t literally consuming every single GPU. When evaluated in a historical context, however, the current SHS doesn’t support an optimistic narrative about Ampere availability.
The RTX 3070 gained 0.17 percent market share from February 2021 to March 2021. That’s the most market share any GPU gained last month. But according to past Steam data, a single GPU topping out at 0.17 percent adoption isn’t very good at all.
I’ve surveyed several multiple data points in the SHS over the past two years. In November 2019, no fewer than nine GPUs gained more than 0.17 percent market share. The RTX 2060 picked up 0.42 percent that month, for example. In February 2020, before the pandemic hit, the GTX 1660 Ti and GTX 1650 gained 0.34 percent and 0.51 percent share, respectively, with other cards above 0.17 percent. Even in March 2020, with the pandemic gearing up, cards like the RTX 2060 (0.51 percent), RTX 2070 (0.31 percent), and RTX 2070 Super (0.28 percent) saw stronger growth than what’s being reported for Ampere today.
Steam has only included data on the RTX 3070 for two months, but the RTX 3080 has been included for longer. The trend is not encouraging:
Market share data above is for the period November 2020 – March 2021. Look at what happened to the RTX 3080’s adoption rate after December. We see gaming market share more than double in a single month. Thereafter, the growth rate falls off a cliff. It took the RTX 3080 a single month to grow by 2.08x, then a further three months to grow by 1.77x. In an ordinary year, this might reflect nothing more than seasonality, but this isn’t an ordinary year. There are still a lot of would-be Ampere gamers waiting for prices to fall.
This is reflected in how the numbers for all the other cards stop moving. Anyone with a GTX 1070 Ti, RTX 2080 Super, or RTX 2080 is a potential RTX 3070 customer (the 2080 Ti is a bit too high to really see the RTX 3070 as a replacement card). In November and December, the percent of users with each of these cards bounces around. From January forward, the percentages have been nearly static. RTX 2080 Ti customers aren’t upgrading to RTX 3090’s. RTX 2080 and 2080 Super owners clearly aren’t upgrading to Ampere. The Pascal gamers that Nvidia said it was explicitly targeting with this launch remain largely wedded to their hardware. The GTX 1060 has dropped 1.14 percent since November and the 1050 Ti has dropped about 0.5 percent. The RTX 1070 is 0.36 percent less common now than in November 2020. The GTX 1080 has dropped even less.
One reason why the RTX 3070 looks good is Steam didn’t add the GPU to its tracking until it had hit 1.12 percent. If we actually had the month-by-month report, however, I’m betting we’d see exactly the same thing as with the RTX 3080 — an initial jolt, followed by slow growth for such an attractively positioned high-end part. The RTX 3060 Ti entered the SHS at 0.27 percent in January and has risen to just 0.38 percent three months later.
In aggregate, the RTX 3080 and RTX 3070’s market share is growing on par with how the RTX 2080 and 2070 performed back in 2019. At MSRP, Ampere is everything Turing wasn’t. It offers ray tracing performance we feel more comfortable recommending and much stronger AI and gaming performance. It’s also much less expensive (theoretically) than the RTX 2070 and RTX 2080 were at launch back in 2018. In this context, a 0.17 percent rise in the number of RTX 3070 GPUs in-market isn’t a ray of hope. It’s a demonstration of how bad the market continues to be.
As of this writing, anyone who needs a replacement GPU should consider AMD’s R9 290 and R9 290X the best options for a reasonably priced card. We continue to keep an eye on this situation and it continues to offer the best price/performance ratio outside of getting lucky. RDNA2 GPUs are not contemplated in the story above because Steam has not yet added these cards to its database. It can take Valve months to update the database with new cards, however, and it does not add them at a consistent market share level. By all accounts, however, AMD availability is poor.
It is not clear if these shortages are being driven mostly by cryptocurrency-related demand, by low yields, or by a mixture of both. We may get some better data on that point when Nvidia eventually gives Q1 results, but that won’t happen for another couple of months. Several GPU manufacturers have implied they can’t get sufficient GPU inventory, but cryptocurrency demand is also a known impact right now.
We don’t typically refer to the SHS for hardware information because of doubts about its accuracy. But to the extent we can rely on this data to show us anything, what it shows is not positive. Four to five cards with a >0.17 percent rise might constitute some positive sign that we’re headed back towards normal. A single GPU just illustrates how far we’ve got to go.
Humanity has come a long way in understanding the universe. We’ve got a physical framework that mostly matches our observations, and new technologies have allowed us to analyze the Big Bang and take photos of black holes. But the hypothetical EmDrive rocket engine threatened to upend what we knew about physics… if it worked. After the latest round of testing, we can say with a high degree of certainty that it doesn’t.
If you have memories from the 90s, you probably remember the interest in cold fusion, a supposed chemical process that could produce energy from fusion at room temperature instead of millions of degrees (pick your favorite scale, the numbers are all huge). The EmDrive is basically cold fusion for the 21st century. First proposed in 2001, the EmDrive uses an asymmetrical resonator cavity inside which electromagnetic energy can bounce around. There’s no exhaust, but proponents claim the EmDrive generates thrust.
The idea behind the EmDrive is that the tapered shape of the cavity would reflect radiation in such a way that there was a larger net force exerted on the resonator at one end. Thus, an object could use this “engine” for hyper-efficient propulsion. That would be a direct violation of the conservation of momentum. Interest in the EmDrive was scattered until 2016 when NASA’s Eagelworks lab built a prototype and tested it. According to the team, they detected a small but measurable net force, and that got people interested.
There was plenty of skepticism about the Eagelworks results, and other teams haven’t been able to duplicate the results. A team from the Dresden University of Technology has completed a comprehensive new test, attempting to replicate the results from Eagelworks. And they found nothing — zero thrust was generated by the Dresden EmDrive as electromagnetic radiation bounced around inside the resonator.
The Dresden EmDrive is an exact copy of the NASA Eagelworks setup.
The team also sought to explain the Eagelworks results, which they did by varying the experimental design. The Dresden researchers used better measurement techniques to show that the EmDrive doesn’t produce thrust, but by tweaking the measurement scale and changing resonator suspension points, they got the same small apparent thrust as NASA. That confirms the Eagelworks thrust was actually just a thermal effect. The researchers also speculate Eagelworks cherry-picked the data by reporting random fluctuations in a way that didn’t represent the full data set.
This really does feel like the end of the road for the EmDrive. Unless someone can identify some huge element of physics we have missed, there’s no way this engine can function as described. EmDrive proponents will have to pack it in unless they want to end up like cold fusion cranks from the 90s. That’s just science in action, but it’s also a bit of a bummer because the EmDrive would have changed the world if it wasn’t a fantasy.
A new briefing note from a panel of science experts advising the Ontario government on COVID-19 shows a province at a tipping point.
Variants that are more deadly are circulating widely, new daily infections have reached the same number at the height of the second wave, and the number of people hospitalized is now more than 20 per cent higher than at the start of the last provincewide lockdown, states an analysis from Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table published on Monday night.
“Right now in Ontario, the pandemic is completely out of control,” Dr. Peter Juni, the table’s scientific director and a professor of medicine and epidemiology with the University of Toronto, said in an interview prior to the briefing note’s publication.
Juni said for Ontario, there is now “no way out” of the dire scenario that’s set to unfold over the next few weeks without a widespread lockdown as well — coupled with other measures, including the province providing paid sick leave to essential workers, encouraging Ontarians to avoid movement between regions, and ensuring residents have access to lower-risk outdoor activities.
“There is no such thing as winning this race with just vaccinations,” Juni stressed. “That’s impossible.”
WATCH | 60% higher risk of death from coronavirus variants, new Ont. data says:
Coronavirus variants double the risk of someone being admitted to intensive care — and increase the risk of death by roughly 60 per cent, according to a new analysis of recent Ontario data. 2:36
Compared with the early strain that circulated, the variants — which are primarily B117, the variant first identified in the U.K. — are proving to cause more severe illness.
The briefing note outlines that the variants are associated with a more than 60 per cent increased risk of hospitalization, a doubled risk of admission to intensive care, and a 56 per cent increased risk of death.
By March 28, the daily number of new SARS-CoV-2 infections in Ontario also “reached the daily number of cases observed near the height of the second wave, at the start of the province-wide lockdown,” on Dec. 26, 2020, the note reads.
Toronto-based geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall, a member of the science table, said Ontario is “repeating the same mistakes over and over and over again.”
“We continually fail to protect the most vulnerable,” he continued. “First it was long-term care, now it’s community-dwelling older adults [and] essential workers.”
The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is now 21 per cent higher than at the start of the province-wide lockdown, while ICU occupancy is 28 per cent higher. The percentage of COVID-19 patients in ICUs who are younger than 60 is about 50 per cent higher.
“We’re seeing this shift of who’s in the hospital and who’s in the ICU right now … that’s worrying,” said University of Toronto epidemiologist and researcher Ashleigh Tuite, the lead author on the briefing note.
Emergency and critical care physicians have also highlighted that trend, noting anecdotally in recent weeks that patients appeared to be showing up to hospitals both younger and more seriously ill than during the first two waves of the pandemic in Ontario.
The good news, according to Stall, is that the once-raging fire in long-term care has been nearly extinguished. But he warned younger, unvaccinated adults remain at risk of falling ill.
“There are a lot of susceptible individuals,” he said.
Ontario boosting hospital capacity
Stall said the analysis should be sobering, for both decision-makers in the Ontario government and the public — though he acknowledged the mixture of pandemic fatigue and vaccine euphoria facing many residents may make it hard to comprehend what’s in store in the weeks ahead.
So will Ontario follow B.C.’s lead and implement a large-scale lockdown? Or a stay-at-home order like the province was under after cases kept spiking following the heightened restrictions put in place last December?
Alexandra Hilkene, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, said health officials will continue to “review the data and trends” but did not share any plans for future restrictions.
She also noted the province’s hospital investments, including up to $ 125 million to expand critical care capacity. Work is happening to add over 500 critical care and high intensity medicine beds to hospitals in areas with high rates of transmission, she said, plus two potential field hospitals, one that could be available in early April at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, with early site work happening in Hamilton as well.
“Ontario Health and the Ontario Critical Care COVID Command Table continue to work with our hospitals to transfer patients from hospitals who are at capacity to others sites to ensure no capacity goes untapped,” she continued.
Experts who are ringing alarms warn boosting capacity and shuffling patients around won’t stop people from falling ill in the first place.
“We should not hope for miracles,” Juni said. “They’re not coming … vaccines will work much better when we start to control the growth we have now, otherwise the force of infection will be too high.”
‘Significant delays’ until impact is clear
According to the briefing note, “there will be significant delays until the full burden to the health-care system becomes apparent,” because the increased risk of COVID-19 hospitalization, ICU admission and death after infection is most pronounced 14 to 28 days after diagnosis.
Other non-COVID-19 procedures and appointments could be delayed, Stall noted, adding to a sky-high backlog that’s been prompting concerns over delayed treatments and missed diagnoses for the last year.
Now, much of what’s to come is already set-in-stone, Juni warned. But he stressed a light at the end of the tunnel does remain — and there’s still a chance to prevent future deaths through a combination of policy and individual action.
For the government, he said, that should mean a complete lockdown of all indoor spaces, given the higher transmission risk. For Ontarians, he stressed the need for strict adherence to public health precautions while relying on the warming weather to spend time outside, where the risks of getting infected are lower.
“It’s important now that everybody just wakes up and comes out of denial,” Juni said.
AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine provided strong protection against disease and complete protection against hospitalization and death across all age groups in a late-stage U.S. study, the company announced Monday.
AstraZeneca said its experts also identified no safety concerns related to the vaccine, including a rare blood clot that was identified in Europe. Scientists found no increased risk of clots among the more than 20,000 people who got at least one dose of the shot, which was developed with Oxford University.
Although AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been authorized for use in more than 50 countries, including Canada, it has not yet been given the green light in the U.S. The U.S. study comprised more than 30,000 volunteers, of whom two-thirds were given the vaccine while the rest got dummy shots.
In a statement, AstraZeneca said its COVID-19 vaccine had a 79 per cent efficacy rate at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 and was 100 per cent effective in stopping severe disease and hospitalization. Investigators said the vaccine was effective across adults of all ages, including older people — which previous studies in other countries had failed to establish.
“These findings reconfirm previous results observed,” said Ann Falsey of the University of Rochester School of Medicine, who helped lead the trial. “It’s exciting to see similar efficacy results in people over 65 for the first time.”
Julian Tang, a virologist at the university of Leicester who was unconnected to the study, described it as “good news” for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The earlier U.K., Brazil, South Africa trials had a more variable and inconsistent design and it was thought that the U.S. FDA would never approve the use of the AZ vaccine on this basis, but now the U.S. clinical trial has confirmed the efficacy of this vaccine in their own clinical trials,” he said.
The early findings from the U.S. study are just one set of information AstraZeneca must submit to the Food and Drug Administration. An FDA advisory committee will publicly debate the evidence behind the shots before the agency decides whether to allow emergency use of the vaccine.
Study may clear up questions about product
Scientists have been awaiting results of the U.S. study in hopes it will clear up some of the confusion about just how well the shots really work.
Britain first authorized the vaccine based on partial results from testing in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa that suggested the shots were about 70 per cent effective. But those results were clouded by a manufacturing mistake that led some participants to get just a half dose in their first shot — an error the researchers didn’t immediately acknowledge.
Then came more questions about how well the vaccine protected older adults and how long to wait before the second dose. Some European countries including Germany, France and Belgium initially withheld the shot from older adults and only reversed their decisions after new data suggested it is offering seniors protection.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine development was rocky in the U.S., too. Last fall, the Food and Drug Administration suspended the company’s study in 30,000 Americans for an unusual six weeks, as frustrated regulators sought information about some neurologic complaints reported in Britain; ultimately, there was no evidence the vaccine was to blame.
Last week, more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, temporarily suspended their use of the AstraZeneca shot after reports it was linked to blood clots. On Thursday, the European Medicines Agency concluded after an investigation that the vaccine did not raise the overall risk of blood clots, but could not rule out that it was connected to two very rare types of clots.
France, Germany, Italy and other countries subsequently resumed their use of the shot on Friday, with senior politicians rolling up their sleeves to show the vaccine was safe.
WATCH | Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the benefits of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the rare 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
French Prime MInister Jean Castex, 55, received his first dose of the AstraZeneca jab last week live on TV, as did 56-year-old British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. In Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dubé, 64, also got a dose of the vaccine last week.
Health Canada said in a release last week that based on an assessment of the available data, it believed that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.
“As the vaccine rollout continues in Canada, Health Canada will continue to monitor the use of all COVID-19 vaccines closely,” the agency said.
1 of 3 ‘viral vector’ vaccines
The U.S recently agreed to send 1.5 million doses to Canada and another 2.5 million doses to Mexico. When those vaccines will arrive in Canada wasn’t immediately clear, but it could be this week, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said.
AstraZeneca said Monday it would continue to analyze the U.S. data in preparation for submitting it to the FDA in the coming weeks. It said the data would also soon be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is what scientists call a “viral vector” vaccine. The shots are made with a harmless virus, a cold virus that normally infects chimpanzees. It acts like a Trojan horse to carry the spike protein’s genetic material into the body, which in turn produces some harmless protein. That primes the immune system to fight if the real virus comes along.
Two other companies, Johnson & Johnson and China’s CanSino Biologics, make COVID-19 vaccines using the same technology but using different cold viruses.
The AstraZeneca shot has become a key tool in European countries’ efforts to boost their sluggish vaccine rollouts. It is also a pillar of a UN-backed project known as COVAX that aims to get COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chairman of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, is detailing revised COVID-19 projections beginning at 3 p.m. ET.
CBC News is carrying the news conference live.
A COVID-19 variant spreading in Ontario is a “significant threat” to controlling the pandemic, but maintaining existing public health interventions will likely help encourage a downward trend in cases, even with a return to school factored in.
That’s the takeaway of updated modelling data by the province’s COVID-19 advisory table, released Thursday.
The modelling indicates that cases and positivity are down in much of the province, that testing volumes are slightly down too.
“Sustained high testing volumes will be important to control of the pandemic,” the report says.
At the moment, COVID-19 cases are expected to drop between 1,000-2,000 by the end of February, but that could change as the new variant of concern takes hold, Dr. Adalsteinn Brown said at a news conference.
A more grim finding: While cases are declining across long-term care homes, deaths continue to rise, with just 215 in the last seven days.
ICU capacity also continues to be strained in most regions with only one or two beds free at about half of all hospitals in the province.
Essential work is still “strongly associated” with the risk of infection. Communities with the highest proportion of essential workers continue to have the highest case numbers.
“We are still likely to surpass total deaths from the first wave,” the report says.
See the modelling for yourself at the bottom of this story.
Ontario has been over reporting completed vaccinations
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health said Thursday that Ontario has been over reporting the number of people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in the province.
The error means that the number of people who have received both doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines is only half of what the province has been logging.
“Rather than provide data on the number of people who have been fully vaccinated … officials inadvertently provided data on the number of doses administered to achieve full vaccination,” a spokesperson for the ministry said in a statement sent to media.
Data on the total number of doses administered was not affected, the spokesperson said.
The province reported yesterday that 96,549 people had received both doses of either vaccine so far. In reality, only 48,239 had. That is up to 55,286 this morning.
The vaccine data page has since been updated to accurately reflect the current figures, the spokesperson said.
The news comes as Ontario reported another 2,093 cases of COVID-19 and 56 more deaths of people with the illness.
It’s the first time since Sunday that the province recorded more than 2,000 additional infections. The seven-day average of daily cases, however, continued to steadily decline down to 2,128.
The new cases in today’s update include 700 in Toronto, 311 in Peel, 228 in York Region and 123 in Niagara Region.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:
Halton Region: 64.
Waterloo Region: 56.
Eastern Ontario: 30.
Thunder Bay: 14.
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.)
There are currently 21,478 confirmed, active infections provincewide, down from a peak of 30,632 on Jan. 11. That figure has been trending downward as resolved cases consistently outpace new ones.
Ontario’s labs processed 64,664 test samples for the virus and reported a test positivity rate of 3.3 per cent — the lowest in five days.
According to the Ministry of Health, there were 1,338 people with COVID-19 in hospitals, down 44 from the day before. The number of people that were being treated in intensive care fell by 19 to 358, while the number that required ventilator decreased by 15, down to 276.
The 56 additional deaths push Ontario’s total COVID-19-linked death toll to 6,014.
It has been two weeks since the provincial government implemented a stay-at-home order in a bid to halt surging transmission of the virus.
The province’s chief medical officer of health said earlier this week that it looks as though a provincewide “lockdown,” which began on Dec. 26, 2020, has contributed to a recent reduction in daily cases.
The last modelling update, outlined earlier this month, suggested that patients with COVID-19 in need of critical care could overwhelm Ontario’s health-care system if community transmission of the virus continued on pace.
Students in 4 more health units return to school next week
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education said today that students in four more public health units have a green light to return to schools for in-person classes next week.
That’s about 280,000 students in the following health units:
In a release, Education Minister Stephen Lecce wrote that the government agrees with the “growing consensus in the medical community” that returning to school is “essential to the wellbeing, development and mental health of children.”
The government has introduced some new safety measures in schools this winter — including masking for grades 1 to 3 — though debate continues about whether the measures are adequate.
The next wave of students, from Toronto, Peel, York Region, Windsor-Essex and Hamilton, are currently scheduled to return on Feb. 10.
Students in eleven other health units, including Halton and Durham regions and Simcoe-Muskoka, have not yet been told to expect when they’ll be able to return to schools.
As the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hit many parts of the country, provinces that were quick to act with strict containment measures have been more successful in limiting the spread, a CBC News analysis has found.
Using data from Oxford University that tracks provincial government responses to the contagion, we see within Canada a trend that has been observed in other countries: when authorities are slower to respond to a rise in new cases, it becomes more difficult to bring the spread under control.
“It’s not just about the public health measures. It’s also the timing of implementation of those measures. The timing is one of the most crucial factors,” said Saverio Stranges, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Western University in London, Ont.
The Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker evaluates governments based on several measures, including containment policies (travel restrictions, school closures), health policies (mask usage, testing programs), and economic policies (wage subsidies, debt relief).
After nearly 10 months of pandemic and two waves of infection, the data tells a clear story. Provinces that remained vigilant, particularly those in Atlantic Canada, avoided major outbreaks, while some that dropped their guards have struggled to contain surging case rates.
The ‘false self-confidence’ of the Prairies
Take, for example, the approaches and outcomes of Alberta and Manitoba, both of which have been hit by strong second waves of COVID-19.
The animation below compares the provinces’ COVID-19 containment measures with their weekly case rates since September. Alberta waited to impose strict measures as its cases rose, spiking to the highest per-capita case rate in Canada so far.
Manitoba, on the other hand, was quicker to react, and its COVID-19 case numbers plateaued sooner.
A note about Nunavut: because of its small population (less than 40,000 people), even small numbers of new COVID-19 cases appear as dramatic spikes when compared to other provinces.
“Alberta and Manitoba didn’t struggle in the first wave so much, and that set them up with a little bit of false self-confidence that they had it well in hand with very limited measures,” said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.
“They should have been terrified about what happened in Quebec during the first wave. That’s what the Atlantic provinces did. They looked at it and they said, ‘Good God, we could be just like that.'”
In July, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I., and Newfoundland and Labrador created a bubble around the region that restricted travel from outside provinces. Those who lived within the Atlantic bubble could travel relatively freely, but outsiders were screened when entering and had to quarantine for 14 days. The agreement was suspended in late November as COVID-19 cases increased in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The Atlantic bubble’s success was part luck
Experts interviewed by CBC News cautioned that there are significant limitations to making any direct comparisons between provinces, partly because there can be vast differences between factors such as health systems and population traits.
For example, outbreaks were more common in more populated areas, so provinces with smaller population centres had an easier task, Furness said.
“It’s not a level playing field,” he said.
Although COVID-19 can spread in rural areas, it needs a superspreader event to really take off, he said.
And there are other differences between provinces that make direct comparisons tricky, Stranges said, including mobility, geography, access to public health facilities, demographics, and the standards within long-term care facilities.
Tighter measures in 1st wave despite higher numbers in 2nd
The Oxford data also reveals a curious pattern: across all provinces, measures to control the spread of COVID-19 were more stringent in the first wave, even if case loads were lower.
Because it was a new coronavirus whose severity was not fully understood, it made sense to slam the brakes, Furness said.
“In Ontario, we were fining people for sitting by themselves on park benches in March. That’s ludicrous,” he said. “We didn’t know much about how it spreads. We knew that it was potentially massively deadly and we were frightened. What was driving the restrictive measures in March was an abundance of caution.”
But, as the pandemic wore on, provinces also needed to deal with a frustrated public and increasing pressures from the economic sector, Stranges said.
“So, you need to also compromise what is acceptable, because we know that people get tired, especially in our Western societies where people care about their individual freedoms,” he said.
Some provinces tried targeted approaches as cases cropped up in certain settings. Manitoba, for example, restricted travel to vulnerable northern communities for periods in April and September, and barred visitors from care homes in March. But the window for using such approaches effectively can close pretty quickly, said Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist and founder of EPI Research in Winnipeg, a firm that provides COVID-19 planning services.
“The problem is, with a highly interconnected and interactive society, those targeted approaches became less and less effective as community spread continued,” she said.
Malgorzata Gasperowicz, a developmental biologist and general associate in the faculty of nursing at the University of Calgary, described provincial preparations for the second wave as “flirting with the virus,” as some regions across Canada slowly implemented measures piece by piece instead of using the swift lockdown approach seen in response to the first wave.
Ontario, for example, started with targeted restrictions in certain cities at the beginning of October. But the case numbers continued to grow, and by Oct. 25, the province reported more than 1,000 new cases in a single day.
The government then introduced a new rating system and corresponding set of restrictions for municipalities. Toronto and Peel Region were placed in the lockdown stage on Nov. 23. They were eventually joined by York Region, Windsor-Essex and Hamilton, but cases continued to climb. The Ontario government eventually announced a provincewide lockdown starting on Dec. 26.
Gasperowicz said another factor that contributed to the severity of the second wave in many parts of the country was how quickly some governments lifted restrictions when the numbers started to improve following the first wave.
“The lifting of restrictions is really an essential thing, and it’s why we are in a second wave,” she said, citing the success of the Atlantic bubble and similar efforts in Australia, where restrictions remained in place until daily case counts were down to zero and community transmission was eliminated.
“We know that Atlantic Canada did the best job. Their most stringent measures weren’t lifted before they reached zero new daily cases.… Everybody else opened too early, and then you started to grow again. Slowly, but the growth was everywhere.”
New data further illustrates COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on the poor.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) says residents of Canada’s least affluent neighbourhoods had the greatest number and percentage of COVID-19 hospitalizations and emergency department visits as of Aug. 31.
Researchers looked at COVID-19 hospitalizations in Canada excluding Quebec between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2020.
They found 29.2 per cent involved those living in the country’s least affluent neighbourhoods, while 12.9 per cent involved those living in the most affluent neighbourhoods.
The in-hospital death rate was 21 per cent for patients who lived in poorer areas, compared with 18 per cent for those in the most well-off areas.
Patients who died in hospital had a median age of 81.
CIHI says there were more than 8,100 hospital stays for patients diagnosed with COVID-19 from January to August 2020.
During the same period, there were more than 48,600 ER visits and 21 per cent of those patients were admitted to the hospital.
The in-hospital death rate was 19 per cent for females and 21 per cent for males.
Public health officials have said the novel coronavirus has hit lower-income groups and minorities harder than the rest of the population.
Emergency and operating rooms across the country were historically empty during the first months of the pandemic, according to national data compiled by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).
The biggest dips were seen in Quebec and Ontario. Between March and June, Ontario reported seeing about half the usual number of ER patients on 19 days. In Quebec, that significant drop happened 15 times.
In Quebec, there were 3,100 fewer emergency room visits per day between March and June, compared to the same period in 2019, according to a CBC News analysis of CIHI figures. In Ontario, that’s the equivalent of 5,400 fewer daily visits.
Even provinces with few or no cases of COVID-19 reported their emergency departments were emptier than usual around mid-March.
“The most unexpected finding for us was the consistency,” said Tracy Johnson, director of Health System Analysis and Emerging Issues with CIHI.
“A bit surprising and a bit concerning … there was anecdotal evidence through physicians that said that they felt people weren’t showing up with some urgent problems and we do see a 20 per cent decrease in some of those urgent problems.”
Sicker patients still not showing up, says ER doctor
These figures depict exactly what Dr. Frederic Dankoff, emergency physician and medical co-ordinator at Montreal’s McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), experienced in the first wave.
“It was very abnormal. We have seen a very significant reduction. I would call it too significant,” said Dankoff.
“We have all seen a reduction in patients presenting with chest pains. If that patient did visit an emergency department after the first wave, that’s fine. But if that person hasn’t, they might have had their heart attack and still haven’t been examined.”
Dankoff, who still works full-time in emergency medicine, said he has seen sicker patients come back to hospital, but not nearly in numbers high enough to make up for what he normally would treat in the four-month period that the first wave lasted.
One Toronto cardiologist also told CBC he was initially worried that some patients were hesitant to come to the hospital after the first wave, but he said that isn’t the case now.
“As we restarted, our patients were sicker than what they would be in our steady state a year ago,” said Dr. Harindra Wijeysundera, spokesperson for the Canadian Cardiovascular Society and cardiologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.
That’s an experience that now seems to be backed by CIHI’s new data: their analysis found that ER visits related to heart disease and trauma have fallen by more than 20 per cent across the country.
Emergency room deaths have also increased by six per cent — more than 5,700 patients have died there this year, compared to 5,400 deaths recorded for the same period last year.
Dramatic drop in ER visits for children
Although Canadians over 65 were the ones told to be more cautious in early months, the biggest drop in ER attendance was actually recorded for newborns, children and teenagers.
Emergency personnel treated up to 74 per cent fewer cases of viral and respiratory infections, including colds and flu, allergic reactions, accidental injury visits and mild trauma, CIHI’s new data shows.
This drop is not unusual, according to Dr. Caroline Quach, pediatrician and microbiologist-infectious disease specialist at Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital.
“In the vast majority of cities, schools were closed from March to June. If there is no one at school, there is no transmission of viruses,” she said.
“People were also wearing masks, which we know work, and parents were more aware that they can’t just give their sick kid some Tylenol and send them to daycare.”
Quach also said that many group sports were cancelled, which might have contributed to a drop in ER visits related to accidents, trauma and fractures in children.
Decrease in ER wait times
According to Dankoff, Canada’s all-time low in ER attendance had a silver lining for hospital personnel and some patients.
First, he said the drop in attendance gave emergency personnel time to adjust to the new public health measures introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It also meant that patients who did decide to go to the ER were treated in record time. Between March and June, the median wait time for a first consultation with an ER doctor dropped by 20 minutes in some provinces and territories and by as much as an hour in others.
As a result of these shorter wait times, CIHI figures suggest that the number of people with urgent problems who left ERs before they could be diagnosed by a doctor dropped considerably.
“This is a good thing. It means that fewer people have left without being seen,” Dankoff explained. “We think the people who took the time to think about it, but came despite their fear, were determined to wait.”
Hundreds of thousands of surgeries cancelled or postponed
In Canada, about 382,000 surgeries were performed between March and June 2020 compared to about 718,000 during the same period in 2019, according to CIHI — that’s about 335,000 fewer surgeries, or a 46 per cent decrease.
That number is an estimate that will likely rise sharply in coming months, as Quebec has yet to release its own data on surgeries. The province has said that at least 90,000 surgeries were postponed during the first wave of COVID-19, but it wasn’t able to provide comparable data to CIHI at this time.
Again, this downward trend can be observed across the country, even in provinces where COVID-19 cases were very low during the first wave.
According to CIHI, the dramatic decrease in the number of surgeries nationwide may partly explain why hospital admissions fell by 36 per cent and critical care admissions fell by more than 20 per cent in the spring.
CIHI’s Johnson said these significant and rapid declines in surgical procedures demonstrate how quickly provinces and hospitals have had to respond to the emergence of COVID-19 and ensure that the health system is not overwhelmed.
“We had no idea what the first wave was going to look like. And if it looked like Wuhan or like Italy, we were going to be in big trouble,” Johnson said. “So the reaction was immediately to make sure that we had space in hospitals and space in ICU for anybody who might need it.”
Many hospital workers in Canada were dispatched to long-term care homes to help with large outbreaks. As well, a shortage of certain sedatives commonly used during surgery prompted hospitals to cancel some non-urgent surgical procedures, said Quach, the Montreal pediatrician.
However, CIHI’s data shows that just before starting these cancellations, hospitals did one last operating blitz. “They tried to be proactive and operate on the most urgent patients,” said Johnson.
Surgery drop ‘deeply concerning’ to cancer care advocates
When looking at surgeries by type, CIHI’s analysis found decreases in 84 per cent of day surgeries, 69 per cent of planned surgeries, 38 per cent of surgeries for heart problems and 29 per cent of cancer surgeries.
“It is deeply concerning to us that there are people with cancer who need surgery, but have had their treatment postponed or delayed due to the pandemic,” the Canadian Cancer Society said in a written statement to CBC News.
“We know that the earlier the cancer is treated, the more successful the outcome.”
When looking at the drop in surgeries he’s seen, Toronto cardiologist Wijeysundera said it is always a concern when patients who need help don’t come to the hospital.
“They just got really sick and had adverse events outside a hospital,” he said. “And we don’t have that information yet. Time will tell if that’s the case.”
However, he said hospitals have learned many lessons from the first wave and are now better prepared for subsequent waves — and data like this is very helpful to plan for future crises.
“We are very vigilant and we know that at some point it will be necessary to slow down the number of surgeries,” Wijeysundera said. “Everyone wonders what’s the best time to do it, because you don’t want to act too quickly, but you don’t want to intervene too late.”
Magnetars are some of the most extreme objects in the universe, and that’s saying something. These stellar remnants are neutron stars, but whereas most neutron stars are quiet and keep to themselves, magnetars have magnetic fields billions of times more powerful than Earth’s, and they may be the source of the mysterious Fast Radio Bursts astronomers have been tracking in recent years. We’ve never seen a magnetar come into being, but a new high-energy event several billion light-years away might be the first — a kilonova that signals the merging of two neutron stars.
Neutron stars, white dwarfs, and black holes are all stellar remnants that we hear about on a regular basis. The fate of a main-sequence star to become one of these objects is primarily a function of its mass. The largest stars become black holes, while slightly smaller ones become neutron stars. A star like the sun will eventually collapse into a white dwarf. A neutron star can also end up as a pulsar or magnetar, depending on its properties. Other neutron stars can merge with each other to become magnetars, and that’s what astronomers think they’ve spotted.
Scientists believe magnetars produce their ultra-strong magnetic field thanks to superconducting material sloshing around inside. The effects of magnetic fields this powerful are almost unfathomable, so naturally, the formation of such an object is a highly energetic event. The leading theories claim magnetars can come into being when two small-ish neutron stars collide. If they’re too large, the resulting object is a black hole, but with just the right mass, you end up with a magnetar.
Last May, astronomers detected a gamma-ray beacon from an object over 5.5 billion light years away. This matched the theoretical signature of a magnetar formation, so teams around the world turned their most powerful instruments toward the source, including NASA’s Swift Observatory in space, the Very Large Array in New Mexico, and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The best data came from none other than the always-reliable Hubble Space Telescope.
Hubble successfully detected the infrared emission (see above) from the formation of heavy elements like gold, platinum, and uranium. That’s another thing astronomers expect to see in a neutron star collision, sometimes known as a kilonova. The team notes that the IR signal was much brighter than anyone expected — 10 times brighter, in fact. For some, this could be confirmation of magnetar formation. If the neutron stars had formed a black hole, the IR emission would have been within expected ranges.
This research still needs to be vetted by other teams, but it’s available on the preprint arXiv.org server. If confirmed, this would be the first time we’ve seen a magnetar born, and the massive energy output recorded by Hubble could reveal a great deal about how these bizarre objects work.
When Von took his mother out of his home and placed her in Craiglee Nursing Home in Scarborough, Ont., he and his wife, Mary, thought they were doing what was best for her.
But instead of loving care, Von’s mother, Kostadinka, was met with physical and emotional abuse at the hands of at least four different care workers, caught on a camera they had hidden in her room.
“It was like a horror film,” said Mary. “I will never be able to unsee those things.”
What they didn’t know at the time was that the home had a long and repeated history of staff physically abusing the residents. They didn’t know — but the government did.
WATCH | Son says he ‘couldn’t believe’ what hidden camera caught workers doing to his mother:
This man installed a hidden camera in his mother’s room at a long-term care home in Scarborough, Ont. The videos showed different employees physically and verbally abusing the 82-year-old. She was “holding onto the bed rails for dear life,” her son said. 5:00
A data analysis of the most serious breaches of Ontario’s long-term care home safety legislation reveals that six in seven care homes are repeat offenders, and there are virtually no consequences for homes that break that law repeatedly.
CBC Marketplace reviewed 10,000 inspection reports and found over 30,000 “written notices,” or violations of the Long-Term Care Homes Act and Regulations (LTCHA), between 2015 and 2019 inclusive. The LTCHA sets out minimum safety standards that every care home in Ontario must meet.
Marketplace isolated 21 violation codes for some of the most serious or dangerous offences, including abuse, inadequate infection control, unsafe medication storage, inadequate hydration, and poor skin and wound care, among others. The analysis found that of the 632 homes in the Ontario database, 538 — or 85 per cent — were repeat offenders.
Jane Meadus, a lawyer with the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, said the high number of repeated incidents shows that non-compliance with the law has been normalized within care homes.
Meadus said lack of proper care can lead to bedsores, for example, which residents can die from.
“If that person was in your home, if you were caring for your parent and they had these giant bedsores, you would likely be charged criminally for that,” she said.
“A home has never been charged criminally for what I think is criminal behaviour.”
‘We couldn’t believe what we saw’
Craiglee Nursing Home was one of at least 248 homes that have been written up twice or more for abuse and 101 homes that have repeatedly failed to report abuse.
Craiglee also had repeated violations for neglect, lack of infection control, medication errors, and poor skin and wound care.
Unaware of the home’s history, Von and Mary entrusted the home with Kostadinka’s care in 2017 when her needs became more than a two person job.
Marketplace has agreed to tell their story using only their first names because they fear retaliation against them and their business.
When they saw Kostadinka’s health declining, the couple put a camera in Von’s mother’s room as a precautionary measure in April of 2019, not expecting to see any problems. The camera ran for weeks before they were able to see what it had captured.
“We couldn’t believe what we saw,” said Von. “Abuse, torture, her holding onto the bed rails for dear life.”
The videos showed several employees yanking on Kostadinka’s arms, swatting her hands, or rubbing spilled food in her face. Although the videos have no audio, employees could be seen yelling at Kostadinka as she lay in bed, unable to move without their help.
More residents abused after videos submitted to ministry
After Von and Mary saw the extent of the abuse, they decided to call police. A personal support worker was arrested and ultimately entered into a three-year peace bond, agreeing not to work with vulnerable people. Kostadinka was moved to a different care home, where she died late last year.
The home would not agree to an interview with CBC. But Candace Chartier with Southbridge Care Homes, Craiglee’s parent company, offered a statement.
“We strongly condemn the actions of the individuals involved,” Chartier said in the statement. She said the home investigated Kostadinka’s abuse in July of 2019 and reported it to police, after which one staff member was criminally charged and “several others were terminated.”
Chartier said they also “re-educated all staff in the home on [the] zero-tolerance policy” for abuse, and enhanced their training.
The Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care’s inspection report from September 2019 that detailed Kostadinka’s abuse revealed a lack of staff training on abuse policies. Yet, four months later, another report revealed 9.2 per cent of actively working staff had still not completed the mandatory training. Six months later, another incident of staff-to-resident abuse was documented in yet another report. There have also been incidents of financial abuse and resident-on-resident abuse.
Von said he was “disgusted” to learn that even after he sent video evidence of his mother’s abuse to the ministry, there have been more written notices at Craiglee for abuse.
“What does it take?” said Von. “We brought it to the ministry’s attention, brought it to the director of care’s attention, we brought it to the authorities, to the police.”
“Everything my mom endured was all for naught.”
Family fights for criminal charges for nursing homes
While physical abuse is fairly clear, neglect can take on many forms such as lack of hydration or failure to provide baths. Two hundred and twenty-six homes had repeat offences for failing to “ensure that residents are not neglected by the licensee or staff,” but many more incidents were filed under different codes for specific acts of neglect, like improper skin and wound care — 278 homes had repeat offences.
Beverley Haines died in February of this year, only six weeks after she moved into Hope Street Terrace in Port Hope, Ont., because of large bedsores she sustained at the home. Sparky Johnson and Sherry Schernitzki, Haines’s niece, are fighting to have the home’s administration held criminally responsible for her death.
The partners, now separated, said that on the day Haines moved from a hospital into the home in January 2020, the staff identified a “hot spot,” or patch of red skin. These spots must be monitored or treated so they don’t get worse, and the pair left with confidence that it would be taken care of.
But the pair weren’t informed that the hot spot had become an open bedsore until 23 days later. At that point, it had already progressed to a wound the size of a saucer with bone exposed.
“If the treatment had started when this bedsore was small, it should never ever have gotten to that,” said Schernitzki.
“It’s horrific. It’s criminal,” said Johnson.
The home had been written up for lack of proper wound care before. Reports from 2016 and 2018 both found the home was not following proper protocols for caring for “altered skin integrity.”
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGE
Johnson called the ministry to report the bedsore, but was told an inspection would take some time. She made another call to police, and an investigation was launched.
She began documenting problems at the home, including multiple instances where Haines was left in bed all day, lying on her back on the open bedsore.
The ministry published a report in June finding the home’s records didn’t show proper monitoring of the bedsore, which should have included repositioning every one to two hours to ensure she wasn’t lying on the wound.
“It was an excellent report, but what happens now? Who follows up?” said Schernitzki. “There are no consequences.”
By the time that report was released, it was too late to address the issues within it. Haines died on Feb. 29. The family says they were told by the investigating coroner that she died of sepsis from the bedsore.
The couple felt strongly that the home was criminally negligent, but the police investigation was closed after Haines died without charges being laid. They continue to fight, filing a complaint with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, a civilian body that oversees complaints about police in Ontario. The case has since been reopened.
The home said it is “deeply saddened about the passing of this resident” and that its “utmost priorities are the safety and well-being of our residents.”
‘No tolerance’ for abuse, says minister
Most homes have not faced any punishment for failure to comply with the law. Only two Ontario homes have been shut down in the last decade for repeatedly failing to meet safety standards. Other sanctions available to the ministry appear to be ineffective in preventing future repeat offences.
Marketplace host David Common called into a press conference with Minister of Long-Term Care Merrilee Fullerton earlier this week to ask her to speak to the fact that despite orders that are available to inspectors, homes still appear to make the same behaviours repeatedly.
“There’s no tolerance whatsoever for negligence or abuse,” she said, noting that she feels her government is prioritizing serious offences in their inspections.
“They must be dealt with in a fulsome way.”
‘No consequence,’ says former inspector
But a former inspector said that in her experience, issues weren’t dealt with in a fulsome way, and that’s part of the reason why she left the job.
Rebecca de Witte, who worked as an inspector for three years up until March of 2017, said she felt identifying problems in the homes wasn’t helping get rid of them.
“When you arrive, everything looks really good. And then as time goes by, old habits crop up again,” she said.
She said she would often inspect a home and find the same problems that she saw when she had last been there.
“There is no consequence if the homes completely ignore everything you find,” she said.
Federal government proposing new rules
In its speech from the throne in October, the federal government promised to work with the provinces and territories to set out a national standard of care for long-term care, and would amend the Criminal Code in order to “explicitly penalize those who neglect seniors under their care.”
For de Witte, governments need to focus on the big picture instead of what she calls “band-aid” fixes.
“Funding for air conditioning isn’t going to help long-term care, but changing the buildings will,” she said. “Pandemic pay isn’t going to help long-term care, but changing the funding model will.”
Meadus wants to see criminal charges for negligence and monetary penalties for repeat offenders.
“If the home is not able to provide safe care they shouldn’t be in business,” she said.
Click here to see the methodology of our investigation and statements from those featured in our story.