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Canucks’ COVID-19 situation sends chill through NHL’s North Division

The Vancouver Canucks being brought to a standstill by the COVID-19 virus makes players and coaches elsewhere in the all-Canadian North Division uneasy for that team and their own.

Sixteen of the 22 players on the Canucks’ active roster were officially on the NHL’s protocol list with Sunday’s addition of forward Marc Michaelis and defenceman Jalen Chatfield. A member of the coaching staff had also been affected.

The Canucks are off the ice at least until Tuesday and have had four games postponed because of the virus.

“It’s something that we’ve talked about all season long, is keeping it [COVID] out,” Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said Sunday. “It’s a huge part of the season, unfortunately.

“What’s happening in Vancouver is a lot more than hockey. We’re obviously hoping everyone is doing all right and families and everyone are OK, and they get healthy as quickly as possible.”

A player on the COVID-19 protocol list has not necessarily tested positive. The league requires individuals with positive tests to self-isolate for 10 days, and for close contacts to self-isolate for two weeks.

“On behalf of our entire team, I want to thank fans everywhere for their support this past week,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said in a statement released Sunday. “Our players, coaches and their families are grateful for the messages and we all hope for a return to full health as soon as possible.”

Vancouver’s situation brings home for the rest of Canada’s NHL clubs the pitfalls of operating in a pandemic.

“It just reinforces you’ve got to do things right,” Oilers head coach Dave Tippett said.

“Try to give yourself the best chance to keep it out as you can. I think all the players are trying to do a good job, but sometimes that virus, it finds its way.

“You feel for those guys out there. Hopefully they can get through it, but it’s certainly concerning.”

The Montreal Canadiens had four games postponed, including three against the Oilers, when a pair of forwards were subject to pandemic protocols in March.

“It wasn’t our team, but it affected us a lot,” McDavid said. “It was kind of a reminder, and obviously with what’s happening with Vancouver just to how important it is to keep this thing out.”

WATCH | Rob Pizzo recaps week 11 in the NHL’s North Division:

In our weekly segment, Rob Pizzo catches you up on the week that was in the all-Canadian division in the NHL. 3:54

Habs forward Tyler Toffoli, who spent the back end of last season with the Canucks, says he’s reached out to former teammates in Vancouver.

“Just making sure they’re OK,” Toffoli said Saturday. “It’s definitely a scary situation and hopefully it doesn’t get any worse than what it is.”

Each team in the NHL is scheduled to play 56 regular-season games. The start of the 2020-21 season was delayed until January and shortened because of the pandemic.

Vancouver’s postponed game against Winnipeg on Tuesday will be the 45th pushed back by COVID-19, with the first 37 in the NHL’s three divisions in the United States.

Former teammates show concern

Winnipeg forward Adam Lowry says he’s checked up on former Jets teammate Tyler Myers, who is one of the Canucks on that team’s protocol list.

“First and foremost, we’re worried about their safety, their health and wellness,” Lowry said. “That’s the thing at the forefront. Hockey is second.

“We were all hopeful and tried to do our best to limit the possibility of this becoming a thing or this running through a team like this.

“Obviously it was a risk. Seeing how contagious the virus is and things like that, we’re just hoping that they’re near the end of the positive tests and everyone that’s kind of contracted the virus, and their family members and things like that, they make a full recovery.”

Former Canucks forward Tyler Toffoli, right, said he recently reached out to his old teammates. Vancouver defenceman Jalen Chatfield, left, was added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list on Sunday. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Chris Tanev, who played 10 seasons in Vancouver before signing with the Calgary Flames in the off-season, says he’s also been in touch with former teammates.

“You hope everyone is OK and no one has any serious side effects or anything from testing positive or catching COVID,” Tanev said Sunday.

The Canucks were scheduled to be in Calgary on both Thursday and Saturday, but those games are in question given the scale of Vancouver’s situation.

“The league’s going to make the calls on all that, how long they shut down and if we’re going to play make up games,” Tanev said. “I think everyone is still waiting to see what happens with that.

“Thus far, the Canadian division had been pretty good. Obviously Montreal two weeks ago had their positives and now Vancouver. The restrictions are there and are in place for a reason.”

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CBC | Sports News

Suez Canal backlog officially over as last stranded ships pass through

The last ships stranded by the grounding of a giant container vessel in the Suez Canal passed through the waterway on Saturday, according to the canal authority, which said an investigation into the incident would report its findings soon.

The Suez Canal Authority said the last of 422 ships stranded by the grounding of the giant container ship Ever Given made their way through the canal by Saturday, ending the backlog caused by the blockage.

International supply chains were thrown into disarray when the 400-metre-long Ever Given ran aground in the vital trade artery on March 23, with specialist rescue teams taking almost a week to free her after extensive dredging and repeated tugging operations.

The massive container vessel was finally dislodged on Monday, thus ending the backlog of shipping that built up during the crisis.

An SCA investigation began on Wednesday into what caused the vessel to run aground in the Suez Canal and block the waterway for six days, Rabie told the MBC Masr private TV late on Friday.

“The investigation is going well and will take two more days, then we will announce the results,” he added.

WATCH | High tide, tugboats help free ship stuck in Suez Canal:

The gigantic container ship Ever Given has been freed from a sandy bank in Egypt’s Suez Canal after a team of tugboats helped pull its heavy bow from the shore and send it on its way. 0:56

The Ever Given had crashed into a bank of a single-lane stretch of the canal about six kilometres north of the southern entrance, near the city of Suez.

That forced some ships to take the long, alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip — a 5,000-kilometre detour that costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs. Others waited in place for the blockage to be over.

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CBC | World News

Traffic through Suez Canal starts up again as stranded ship finally freed

Ship traffic through the Suez Canal has slowly resumed after salvage teams managed to move the 200,000-tonne container ship that had blocked all passage through the crucial waterway for nearly a week.

Helped by the peak of high tide, a flotilla of tugboats managed to wrench the bow of the skyscraper-sized Ever Given from the sandy bank of the canal, where it has been lodged since last Tuesday.

“We pulled it off!” said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the salvage firm hired to extract the Ever Given, in a statement. “I am excited to announce that our team of experts, working in close collaboration with the Suez Canal Authority, successfully refloated the Ever Given, thereby making free passage through the Suez Canal possible again.”

Flanked by tugboats, the ship made its way cautiously to the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south end of the canal, where it was undergoing a technical examination to see if it was damaged and whether or not it is safe to proceed to its original destination of Rotterdam.

Billions of dollars worth of goods delayed

About $ 9 billion US ($ 11.3 billion Cdn) worth of goods normally pass through the canal every day, and the backlog of ships numbered nearly 400 when Ever Given was finally moved on Monday.

Dozens more had already left the canal’s entrance and are making their way along the lengthy alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip — a detour that costs ships hundreds of thousands of dollars in fuel and other costs.

With canal transits stopped, Egypt already has lost over $ 95 million in revenue, according to the data firm Refinitiv. If the ship is freed in the next few days, clearing the backlog of ships waiting to pass through the canal would take over 10 days, Refinitiv said.

Even before the ship was fully freed, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi portrayed the development as a victory in his first comments on the stranded vessel.

“Egyptians have succeeded in ending the crisis,” he wrote on Facebook.

In the village of Amer, which overlooks the canal, residents cheered as the vessel moved along. Many scrambled to get a closer look while others mockingly waved goodbye to the departing ship from their fields of clover

The situation on the Suez Canal strained supply chains and forced some ships to take a longer route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

“Mission accomplished,” one villager Abdalla Ramadan said. “The whole world is relieved.”

The price of international benchmark Brent crude dropped some two per cent to just over $ 63 US on the news.

WATCH: Hundreds of ships are lined up behind the Ever Given, trying to get through:

Ships sit idle waiting to pass through one of the world’s busiest trade routes, which has been blocked by the Ever Given since Tuesday. 0:39

The unprecedented shutdown has threatened to disrupt oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East and raised fears of extended delays, goods shortages and rising costs for consumers.

It has also prompted new questions about the shipping industry, an on-demand supplier for a world now under pressure from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve gone to this fragile, just-in-time shipping that we saw absolutely break down in the beginning of COVID,” said Capt. John Konrad, the founder and CEO of the shipping news website gcaptain.com. “We used to have big, fat warehouses in all the countries where the factories pulled supplies — Now these floating ships are the warehouse.”

The high tide on Monday helped rescue teams get the ship, bearing 20,000 truck-sized shipping containers, moving again. (Maxar Technologies/The Associated Press)

Although the exact cause of the grounding are still unknown, the Ever Given lost power in the middle of a sandstorm last Monday, while it was about six kilometres north of the entrance to the canal. It rammed into the eastern bank of the canal, while the stern of the ship drifted west and also got stuck in the sand.

Dredgers, tugs and other equipment had very little luck in moving the colossal ship bearing 20,000 truck-sized shipping containers, until high tide on Monday proved to be the boost that rescue teams needed.

As a window for a breakthrough narrows with high tide receding this week, fears have grown that authorities would be forced to lighten the vessel by removing the ship’s 20,000 containers — a complex operation requiring specialized equipment not found in Egypt that could take days or weeks.

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CBC | World News

Star Citizen Devs Angry, Forced to Work Through Life-Threatening Texas Storm

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The devastating snowstorm that hit Texas in mid-February killed at least 70 people and set record cold temperatures all across the state. Insufficiently winterized power infrastructure failed, plunging millions of people into darkness. Houses burned as homeowners attempted to light fires in dirty chimneys. A number of video game companies reached out to help their employees through the rocky time, including EA, Aspyr, Owlchemy, Certain Affinity, and Activision-Blizzard. Cloud Imperium Games also made public claims about helping to support its employees through a difficult time, but multiple people who work at the company have claimed this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Kotaku spoke with six employees at the company. As the storm moved in, a CIG office manager told employees to plan on working extra-long hours to make up for the shutdown, with “this week/weekend as a first option.” The manager continued, “Assuming roads are clear we also can manage a few people in the studio. If all else fails then enter PTO for whatever time you cannot make up.”

If you asked me to pick a game developer I trusted to understand the difficulty of any given task, Cloud Imperium Games would be at the bottom of my list. Image is of Austin following the February storm, from the ESA. CC BY-SA 2.0

CIG employees report organizing among themselves to share tips on surviving the Texas storm even as the head office made no attempt to do so. The company made no effort to distribute aid or information about where to go and what to do if you found yourself in a precarious and previously uncontemplated survival situation. CIG had no response for what employees who could not take PTO were supposed to do.

“I still felt obligated to check in on teams every couple hours,” said one source. “I just felt like I had to do it, even though most people weren’t talking those days. Everyone was just focusing on surviving.”

“I was talking to some other people in the [Austin] office, and apparently, some of the blowback from the other offices is that they were like ‘Oh, they just want a snow day. Why should we give them a snow day?’” another source told Kotaku.

An Amazing Explanation

CIG’s explanation for why its executives had so completely failed to respond to what was happening in Texas arrived in employee inboxes on Feb. 21, after the storm was over. According to management, the reason executives expected business as usual all week is that none of them had been paying attention to the news coming out of Texas.

This is incompetence or gaslighting in its purest form. It was literally impossible to glance at the news and not see something about the catastrophe in Texas that week. Any given individual might be utterly head-down in a project and working like crazy, but the idea that not a single person in the C-suites or their various assistants had the tiniest idea about the size of a disaster affecting one of its development studios implies either complete disengagement from the day-to-day business of running the company or an equally unacceptable inability to prioritize literal employee survival over the need to get a new spaceship texture turned in by Friday. Chris Roberts eventually sent out an email to the entire company stating that no employee pay would be affected by the storm.

Star Citizen has raised $ 31.3 million dollars since November from crowdfunding.

Star Citizen broke its own fundraising records for 2020. Last June, it announced it had raised over $ 300M. Currently, it’s raised over $ 350M. Here’s their funding graph, showing a monthly intake of between $ 3M and $ 16M per month going back to last August. That’s not everything CIG has ever raised; private investment has accounted for at least an additional $ 62M being pumped into the company over time. One estimate puts the total amount raised by CIG between $ 450M and $ 470M to-date. Star Citizen claims 604 developers and the median wage for a game programmer in Austin according to Glassdoor is $ 50,432 and $ 64,355 according to Salary.com. Giving its employees a week of unexpected time off to deal with an incredibly rare emergency was never going to break the corporate bank. Nor was it going to matter to Star Citizen’s release date, given that neither the single-player nor multi-player version of the game have one.

“While I think the company ultimately came to the right decision…CIG’s slow and hesitant response and general lack of communication hit hard for employees that are already low on morale and feel this company doesn’t care about them,” one source told Kotaku. “With all those things on top of a game that feels like it’s coming closer and closer to a gacha for expensive ships and no actual gameplay, useless features being constantly shoved in and removed, where marketing holds absolute power over any other department, employees start to feel disheartened after awhile.”

Feature image by CIG. 

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Vaccine wars: Nations race to win friends and influence through vaccine distribution

It all seems so long ago now, but as 2019 drew to a close there was a lot of talk about a new “space race.”

In November 2019, a Japanese spacecraft headed back to Earth after a successful landing on a moving asteroid. The following month, President Donald Trump created the new U.S. Space Force with a $ 20 billion (Cdn) budget. Two weeks after that, on January 4, 2020, China made history by landing an unmanned spacecraft on the dark side of the moon. 

But news on that same day about a “mysterious and growing cluster of unexplained pneumonia cases in the Chinese city of Wuhan” would soon consign the space race to second billing.

Sputnik flies again

Perhaps the Russians were thinking of the space race analogy when they decided to name their COVID vaccine Sputnik V, in honour of the launch of the first artificial satellite in 1957. Russia approached the vaccine race much as the former Soviet Union approached the space race — by forging ahead, cutting corners on safety and gambling on the outcome.

Although Sputnik V was deployed without going through full human trials, it has since turned out to be a triumph of Russian science. This week, The Lancet published the results of a full placebo-controlled study with more than 20,000 participants and found “a consistent strong protective effect across all participant age groups.”

Better yet, the Lancet reported “the lessening of disease severity after one dose is particularly encouraging for current dose-sparing strategies.”

Vindication in Argentina

That means two other countries that also gambled on Sputnik — Argentina and Iran — have something to celebrate after a brutal year. Argentina’s vice-president Cristina Kirchner, whose personal relationship with Vladimir Putin was instrumental in obtaining the vaccine, celebrated the result with a one-word tweet:

Sputnik’s adherents in Argentina may feel vindicated after weathering considerable resistance from the medical community and ridicule on social media, where satirical memes warned of Sputnik side effects such as involuntary Cossack dancing.

Doubts, then relief

Victor Ingrassia is a scientific journalist in Buenos Aires who has covered the country’s pandemic and clinical trials extensively.

“It generated a lot of doubts and uncertainty,” Ingrassia told CBC News. “Sputnik’s approval here in Argentina coincided with the approval of Pfizer and AstraZeneca by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency, the two biggest regulators in the world.

“But those vaccines had presented clinical data, while in Argentina we had a Russian vaccine that hadn’t presented any data in a peer-reviewed international journal. Argentina’s drug regulator ANEMAT had never before approved a drug that hadn’t already passed muster with either the FDA or the EMA. So there was a lot of concern in the Argentine medical establishment.

“Then, overnight, we learned that the Ministry of Health had approved the drug without waiting even for approval from ANEMAT.”

Doses of the Sputnik V vaccine are prepared for loading into a truck at Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina, January 16, 2021. (Agustin Marcarian/Reuters)

Ingrassia said public consternation only increased when neighbouring Chile began to receive the Pfizer vaccine, even though more than 4,000 Argentines had taken part in Pfizer’s Stage 3 clinical trials during summer 2020. Many Argentines felt that the government’s choice of Sputnik had more to do with the political ties between their government and the Kremlin than with science.

But since The Lancet gave Sputnik a solid thumbs-up, he said, Argentine doctors’ reticence about the vaccine has mostly evaporated and the government is now planning to re-open schools on February 17, with teachers vaccinated.

Score a win for Russia.

Bad bet in Brazil

Authorities next door in Brazil, meanwhile, have fewer reasons to be thrilled with their bet on CoronaVac, made by China’s Sinovac.

The vaccine, which was promoted by its maker as having 78 per cent efficacy, was found to have only 50.38 per cent efficacy in clinical trials in Brazil, barely meeting the minimum 50 per cent WHO threshold for use. Given that efficacy tends to drop when vaccines are confronted with some of the new COVID variants, CoronaVac may fall under the efficacy threshold in the future.

That’s a headache for Joao Doria, the governor who ordered mandatory vaccination of all 46 million residents of Sao Paulo state with CoronaVac — against the advice of the World Health Organization, which says vaccination should be voluntary.

Politically, it’s good news for his main rival and the man he hopes to replace — President Jair Bolsonaro, who has long questioned the Chinese vaccine and has said mandatory vaccination “should only be for dogs.”

While Bolsonaro and Doria jockey for position ahead of next year’s elections, the geopolitical loser in Brazil’s vaccine infighting is China.

Health workers check the documents of seniors getting vaccinated with China’s CoronaVac during a priority COVID-19 vaccination drive for the elderly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. (Silvia Izquierdo/The Associated Press)

The trust deficit

China claims 79 per cent efficacy for the vaccine it’s using domestically, made by state-owned Sinopharm. But Sinovac’s performance in the Brazilian clinical trials now calls any Chinese efficacy claims into question, said China-watcher Lynette Ong of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

“I think the biggest issue is the trust deficit,” she said. “When Pfizer or AstraZeneca put out a number, we have no a priori reason to question that number. But when Chinese authorities or Chinese companies give you a number, you need justification to trust that number, because of what happened in the last 12 months.

“I think that is what I see as the major implication of the pandemic — that they have to take the extra step to convince people that they could be trusted.”

Sinovac’s vaccine has been sent to many more countries than has Sputnik. World leaders have received the Sinovac shot, among them Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Indonesia’s Joko Widodo. China has set aside $ 2 billion to fund vaccinations in Africa and has made available another $ 1 billion for Latin American governments to buy its vaccines on credit.

But since the Brazilian study poured cold water on China’s vaccine claims, Malaysia and Singapore have put their plans to use CoronaVac on hold while they wait for more testing results.

Media outlets in the Philippines have been suggesting that President Rodrigo Duterte doesn’t want to take the CoronaVac shot himself — and also doesn’t want to admit that he’s saddled his country with 25 million mediocre doses. Duterte has announced that he’s chosen to get his shot in the buttocks, rather than the arm.

“Let’s respect that,” Francisco Duque, the country’s health minister, told reporters recently — adding that Duterte’s choice means he’ll be getting his shot in private.

India the vaccine superpower

“What we see is that the countries that prefer Chinese vaccines are the ones that have supported the Belt-and-Road Initiative, meaning that as a whole, they’re favourable to growing Chinese influence,” said Ong, referring to Beijing’s ambitious global trade infrastructure strategy.

“Quite a number of countries in the regions are quite receptive to Chinese vaccines, as they are to Chinese investment.”

But some Asian countries have preferred to deal with a different giant: India.

India can’t compete with China militarily or economically — but India produces more than half of the world’s vaccine output.

Not only is India producing vast quantities of AstraZeneca’s vaccine under license, it also has its own Covaxin — which, like Sputnik V, was rushed to market under a somewhat dubious process but still seems to work.

And India is giving its vaccine away to neighbouring countries free of charge. It gifted millions of doses in January to Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Mauritius and the Seychelles, among others — a gesture of generosity so far unique in the world.

India began this giveaway within days of starting to vaccinate its own people. India “shared even before meeting [its] own needs,” said Bhutan’s PM Lotay Tshering. 

In this Jan. 29, 2021, file photo, Sri Lankan nursing staff administer COVID-19 vaccines to front line health workers in Colombo, Sri Lanka. India has gifted its neighbours with more than 5 million doses. (Eranga Jayawardena/The Associated Press)

Indian officials have made no secret of the fact that they hope to burnish their nation’s image at China’s expense. Relations between the two countries are at a low point following deadly clashes on the Himalayan border last June.

That might explain why, as January ended, India also sent two million doses to Brazil and plans on shipping more. It’s a gesture calculated to highlight the contrast with CoronaVac — which is not only of doubtful efficacy but is also surprisingly expensive.

Split image

But despite its failures in vaccine diplomacy, China’s Communist Party can console itself with its performance at home. 

“In spite of the early hiccups, Chinese authorities have handled the pandemic way better, domestically, than the Indian authorities,” said Ong. “Domestically, they have been able to manipulate the narrative and turn the image around.

“It’s like there was a war with suffering at the beginning, but then the government has fought very hard and won the war. So I think competence has boosted confidence in the government domestically.”

Outside of China, she said, “it’s been the opposite, especially in countries with a free press that don’t rely very heavily on Chinese aid.” 

Ong said that while China was the only country with a surplus of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s now in competition with other vaccine-producers that have produced better vaccines.

Not over yet

While China flounders and Russia and India gain ground, the West seems curiously absent from the field of vaccine diplomacy.

That’s partly because western vaccines are produced by private corporations, rather than state-affiliated organizations like the Serum Institute of India or Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute.

But countries such as Canada have ordered a vast number of doses — many more than they need for their own citizens. And that suggests that they will soon find themselves in a position to play the bountiful ally with developing countries that are likely to still have billions of unvaccinated citizens when 2022 rolls around.

The great game of pandemic diplomacy is far from over.

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Investigators poring through tips, threats and leads ahead of inauguration

Potential threats and leads are pouring in to law enforcement agencies across the U.S. after the insurrection at the Capitol last week. The challenge is now figuring out what’s real and what’s just noise.

Investigators are combing through a mountain of online posts, street surveillance and other intelligence, including information that suggests mobs could try to storm the Capitol again and threats to kill some members of Congress.

Security is being tightened from coast to coast. Thousands of National Guard troops are guarding the Capitol ahead of president-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. Governors and lawmakers are stepping up protections at statehouses after an FBI bulletin this week warned of threats to legislative sessions and other inaugural ceremonies.

A primary concern is the safety of members of Congress, particularly when they are travelling through airports, according to two U.S. officials briefed on the matter.

The FBI and other federal authorities are using their substantial resources to prepare. But smaller local police departments lack the staff to hunt down every tip. They must rely heavily on state and federal assessments to inform their work, and that information sometimes slips through the cracks — which apparently happened last week.

The siege on the U.S. Capitol, seen here in the glow of police munitions, has led to the second impeachment of Donald Trump. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Schools ‘better protected than the Capitol’

A day before the deadly attack on the Capitol, the FBI sent an intelligence bulletin warning of potential violence to other agencies, including the Capitol Police. But officials either did not receive it or ignored it — and instead prepared for a free-speech protest, not a riot. It took nearly two hours for reinforcements to arrive to help disperse the mob. Five people died, including a Capitol officer.

“There are some grammar schools that are better protected than the Capitol,” said Brian Higgins, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York and the former chief of a northern New Jersey police force.

Since last week, the FBI has opened 170 case files and received more than 100,000 pieces of digital media. The threats have ranged in specificity and complexity, according to officials briefed on them, making it difficult for authorities to determine which could be credible.

Combing through intelligence isn’t the same as shoe-leather detective work. Large departments like New York and Los Angeles have dedicated intelligence units — the NYPD even disseminated its own bulletin ahead of the riot. But smaller police forces rely on joint terrorism task forces and so-called “fusion centres” that were set up around the country after the 2001 attacks to improve communication between agencies.

National Guard members walk near the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Norton, Kan., Police Chief Gerald Cullumber leads a seven-member department in the northwestern part of the state. He said he relies on larger agencies like the Kansas Highway Patrol because his agency is too small to do its own intelligence work. But Cullumber said he stays up to date on the latest information and briefs his officers.

“It doesn’t mean that we rest on our laurels,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that we ignore things.”

Once they receive intelligence reports, it’s up to local agencies to plan and take action to keep their communities safe, said Rich Stanek, the former sheriff of Hennepin County in Minnesota who now works in consulting and started the Public Safety Strategies Group.

“If I was the sheriff today, I would be taking it very seriously,” he said. “If they told me Jan. 17 is the date, yeah, I think it’s reasonable to plan for one week ahead and one week behind.”

Mike Koval, who retired in 2019 as the police chief in Madison, Wis., said his state’s two fusion centres have technology and resources that go far beyond those of a single local police department.

Staying on top of all the potential intelligence on the internet is like “going to a water fountain to get a drink of water, and it’s coming out with the strength of a fire hydrant and it will take your jaw off,” Koval said.

The National Guard and state troopers protect the Capitol grounds in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman via The Associated Press)

Meanwhile, elected officials nationwide, including President Donald Trump, have started to urge calm amid the threats. Trump egged on the riots during a speech at the Washington Monument, beseeching his loyalists to go to the Capitol as Congress was certifying Biden’s victory. He took no responsibility for the riot.

“In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” Trump said in a statement Wednesday. “That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers.”

Experts say explicit or implicit bias likely helped downplay last week’s threat because the protesters were white, and that must change, said Eric K. Ward, a senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center and an expert on authoritarian movements and hate groups.

That could be why Capitol police were so unprepared, compared with the much more aggressive law enforcement response to last summer’s protests following the death of George Floyd and other Black men killed by law enforcement.

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

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

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

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

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

The room empties. Everyone has work to do.

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

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

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

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

(scroll up to view the video)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The unit is not short of business.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So when there is good news, it is celebrated.

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

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

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

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

“Your tears say a lot,” Boissonnault says.

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

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

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

They applaud as he is wheeled out of view.

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How Russia’s famed Bolshoi is dancing its way through the COVID-19 pandemic

The performers at Russia’s majestic Bolshoi Theatre have danced their way through the Bolshevik revolution, bombing by the Nazis in the Second World War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, but surviving the COVID-19 pandemic may be their greatest challenge yet.

The historic Moscow landmark closed for six months over the spring and summer as the city went into a lockdown to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but it reopened this fall for a 245th season and is attempting to stage a busy schedule of Christmas season events.

“It’s incredibly difficult,” said prima ballerina Yekaterina Shipulina, 41, during a recent break in rehearsal where she was dancing Preludes to Bach as part of a tribute to Russian ballet great Maya Plisetskaya.

“We are in this … dilemma where we actually can’t social distance. We have to take our masks off to perform and be shoulder to shoulder with our dance partners,”  she told CBC News backstage at the Bolshoi.

“But there’s this term, ‘stage therapy’ and that’s what’s happening now,” she said of the intensive group effort that’s been required to rehearse and perform despite the restrictions.

“We take energy from [the audience] and we give energy.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, prima ballerina Yekaterina Shipulina has been wearing a mask whenever she dances, except during the final performances for the Bolshoi Ballet. (Dmitry Kozlov/CBC)

Within days of the theatre reopening this fall, 30 performers and workers out of more than 3,300 tested positive for COVID-19. 

The number is even higher now, with more than 100 employees off work.    

It’s unclear how many of those are dancers, but for the Plisetskaya tribute, three dancers had to be replaced at the last minute because either they or a close family member had contracted the virus.   

In normal circumstances, the ballet would also be hosting guest dancers from around the world in prominent roles, but not now. 

Costly closure

The financial implications for the Bolshoi have been dire.    

The six-month shutdown cost the theatre roughly $ 15 million Cdn, prompting director Vladimir Urin to warn the venue’s future was at risk.

Right now, tickets, which can range up to $ 200 US each, are being sold for just 25 per cent of the seats in an auditorium that usually seats more than 2,000. Until mid-November, half the seats at the ballet performances were full but capacity was further reduced as infection rates in Moscow soared.

WATCH | How a gala ballet production comes together in a pandemic:

Andris Liepa heads a gala ballet production despite a pandemic. 2:11

Russia is the fifth most-infected country in the world, and has been consistently registering more than 25,000 new cases a day for the past 10 days. Moscow has been seeing from 6,000 to 7,000 new cases a day and the city’s mayor has acknowledged the hospital system is “under great pressure.”

In Canada, the National Ballet of Canada has cancelled the remainder of its 2020/2021 season and it is unclear when performances will again.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet cancelled its 80th season in March and this Christmas for the first time in 20 years there will not be a production of The Nutcracker.

The Bolshoi hosts the world’s largest ballet company, with more than 200 dancers. The interior walls of the building’s ornate, gold-leafed rooms are adorned with photographs of world figures and celebrities who have visited over the decades.

The Bolshoi theatre sits in the heart of Moscow. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC News)

The director of the Plisetskaya tribute insisted it would be a catastrophe if the dancing were to stop for the pandemic.

“It’s in our nature,” said Andris Liepa, who as a dancer, choreographer and director has had a long association with the Bolshoi Ballet.

He heads a ballet troupe in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, but travelled to Moscow for the Plisetskaya production.

Personal risk

“People should feel that life is going on, and if you close the theatres and close the concerts, then people feel more suffering just by not having the chance to be part of that … culture.”

He said everyone who performs has to accept some risk.

“You cannot perform without being close to each other. The pas de deux [duet] has to be done as close as possible — sometimes we roll over each other, going over and over the bodies getting very close,” he said, using his hands to illustrate two dancers weaving their bodies together.

His own personal risk now, however, may be lower than others as he contracted the coronavirus a few months back and spent weeks at home in bed with a high fever.

“We are more careful now because we are wearing masks, we are always doing tests,” he said referring to the precautions at the theatre for cast, crew and spectators.

Shipulina practises and does dress rehearsals wearing a mask. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC)

In fact, very few of the dancers or performers that the CBC News crew saw during the dress rehearsal were  wearing masks.  

Shipulina, the prima ballerina, was the notable exception.

“I’m always in a mask. I only take it off for the real performance,” she said.

Most members of the orchestra, who were crammed together tightly beneath the front of the stage, were not wearing masks. Bolshoi officials told CBC News that rules on wearing masks are up to individuals but it didn’t appear the conductor or many of the other musicians were covering their faces.

Social beings

On the performance night, patrons were getting their temperatures checked at the door but once inside the theatre, many wore their masks low underneath their noses.   

“We are social beings, we can’t be without this,” ballet goer Tatiana Telokova said on continuing with the performances during a pandemic.

“This is the main theatre of the country so the government has to think about this if there are hard times.”

WATCH | A young Russian ballet star keeps dancing during COVID-19:

A Bolshoi ballet dancer hopes the curtain won’t close because of COVID-19. 1:43

One of the Bolshoi’s rising stars, 22-year-old ballet dancer Alyona Kovaleva, told CBC News she is strongly in favour of keeping the Bolshoi open despite the significant risk of infection, but she personally finds wearing a mask while dancing during rehearsals too uncomfortable. 

“It’s really hard. I tried it once — but I can’t,” she said.

Kovaleva missed out on dancing a new lead role because of the summer shutdown and said it was very hard to practise and stay prepared. 

“It was a disappointment. We all stopped and were thrown from our usual world, from our lives and how we used to see them,” said Kovaleva.

Gold leaf adorns the interior of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. (Dmitry Kozlov/CBC News)

“This was the biggest thing we missed during the quarantine and the time away from the theatre — this feeling of entering the stage, of giving your emotions and then receiving the energy back from the audience.

“I think we have to dance and perform as long as we are able to.”

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Breakaway Republican strategists work against Trump’s campaign through blistering Lincoln Project ads

The Republican Never-Trump movement has become an active part of the U.S. political conversation, with several conservative groups saying they fear what would happen to the country if the president were re-elected. One of the most significant is the Lincoln Project, named for the party of Lincoln by its founders, most of them longtime Republican strategists.

These Republican campaign experts and consultants who have specialized in attacking the Democratic Party with their thirst for the jugular are now targeting a Republican president.

“We believe this election is about Trump,” said Steve Schmidt, a co-founder of the group who worked in the George W. Bush White House, and ran John McCain’s presidential campaign. “We believe the second issue in the election is Trump, and the next 455 issues. After that, it’s about Trump.”

After making their careers in Republican campaigns over decades, Schmidt and other members of the Lincoln Project are now working to elect a Democratic nominee through an aggressive campaign of buzz-worthy political ads, blistering attacks on President Donald Trump that are widely shared on social media.

Among those ads, “Trump Is Not Well” mocks the Republican presidential candidate’s difficulty descending a ramp at a military academy, and a brief moment where he needed both hands to raise a glass of water. Another is called “Evil,” attacking his son-in-law Jared Kushner. And “Covita,” inspired by the musical Evita, is a cutting take on Trump’s return to the White House after contracting the virus.

The Lincoln Project is based in Park City, Utah, far from Washington, D.C. Almost the entire staff has spent the pandemic working and living together in home offices, committing every week to a COVID-19 test.

In the final weeks of the campaign, the group allowed a camera crew with CBC’s The National to capture them at work for a day, beginning with their morning meeting hosted by Schmidt. It is an unvarnished look at how they engage each other, a foul-mouthed and jocular approach to work once used to fight Democrats.

Schmidt’s fury for Trump appears to drive the meeting and his team.

Seated around the table with him are an impressive group of political strategists who have played a part in many Republican campaigns. Rick Wilson worked for Rudolph Giuliani and Dick Cheney. Stuart Stevens was top strategist for Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012, and spent decades helping other Republican senators and local officials get elected. Reed Galen worked for George W. Bush and John McCain, and oversaw the re-election campaign of California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

WATCH | The Republican strategists working against Trump:

The Lincoln Project is made up of long-time Republican strategists who now fear what could happen to the U.S if President Donald Trump is re-elected and are now working against him and promoting Democratic candidate Joe Biden. 7:38

On this day there are reports claiming that Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul and co-chair of Fox News seen by Trump as a pillar of support, has predicted a Trump loss in November. This has to be discouraging for the president, and the team senses an opportunity to torture Trump’s psyche.

“The first of the Rupert stories has come out today. It’s basically, you know, ‘Trump is a F****ing idiot, he’s losing, I can’t deal with this. It’s time for Joe,'” says Wilson. “Even the head of Fox News, Rupert Murdoch, is now saying ‘Trump is done. It’s cooked. It’s over.’ So [let’s] drive into their psychological space.”

“It’s a mistake for us not to have them under pressure as they are losing. The other one basically is to say Rupert Murdoch never wakes up with a loser, he cuts him loose,” Schmidt adds. “I think we just want to create doom in D.C. in the last two weeks.”

“We want him depressed and angry,” Wilson says.

The Lincoln Project’s Rick Wilson previously worked on campaigns for Rudolph Giuliani and Dick Cheney. He says a goal of the project’s ads is to demoralize Donald Trump. (CBC)

Negative ads

In an interview with The National co-host Adrienne Arsenault after the meeting, Schmidt and Wilson were asked about the intensely negative ad strategy and whether it is effective. Particularly for people who consider the meanness of Trump a turn-off.

Schmidt responds without hesitation. “Our ads aren’t mean, our ads are truthful. And this is the process by which we get to communicate to the American people and advocate the removal of this unfit man from the most important elected office in the world.”

Their “go low” strategy is a source of debate.

Amanda Becker is Washington correspondent for The 19th, an online publication focusing on politics, policy and gender. She has reported on the Lincoln Project and is one of those who sees potential weakness in its approach, specifically with women voters.

“I sit in on these panels of undecided women in swing areas who voted for Trump last time and say he’s doing a bad job, and [who] are having second thoughts. Their No. 1 complaint about him almost always is that they don’t like his tone. They don’t like that he’s mean,” Becker told CBC News.

“They don’t like the stuff that he says about people, about women, about minority populations, about disabled people, about old people. They don’t like any of it. And they just are really viscerally reacting in a negative way to that tone that’s coming from the president. So I don’t know if they’re going to find an ad that mimics that compelling.”

Amanda Becker is Washington correspondent for The 19th, an online publication with a focus on politics and gender. She has reported on The Lincoln Project and sees potential weakness in its strategy of negative political attack ads. 0:56

Becker says she reached out recently and asked the Lincoln Project if they’d done focus groups with women. “If you have, what are you hearing from them about what they need to know headed into this election? How do you plan to use that to create ads that speak to them, since they’re the ones more likely to change their minds?”

While the Lincoln Project sent an email statement, she said many of her questions were unanswered.

Asked why the Lincoln Project did not reply to Becker’s questions about research tactics and other matters, Schmidt replied in a disapproving tone: “Because it’s none of her business.

“You know what the election is about? It’s Donald Trump, right? It’s not about the Lincoln Project. We’re the tip of a spear in focusing attention on the unfitness of Donald Trump. That’s what the story is. So we participate in stories that we want to participate in and we don’t in others. But nobody should make any broad sweeping judgments on the basis of her dissatisfaction with answers to questions that she didn’t like.”

Steve Schmidt, a co-founder of the Lincoln Project group, worked in the George W. Bush White House and ran John McCain’s presidential campaign. (CBC)

As for questions about the effectiveness of their anti-Trump ad campaign, Wilson tackles them head-on.

“This world is full of folks who’ve never been in a campaign before, who are experts on what ads work and don’t work, and there are a lot of people who don’t understand our advertising strategy. We actually know what the tool box needs to look like,” he said.

“And there’s an illusion about negative ads out there in the minds of a lot of people that, ‘Oh, it turns them off, it turns them away.’ Yes, in some cases it does. And it’s meant to. In some cases it is meant to evoke powerful emotions. We help them make those choices, even if it’s like tearing off the Band-Aid. It may sting for a minute, but those pushes actually work.”

That said, by their own admission the Lincoln Project’s ad strategy is essentially meant for an audience of one: Trump.

It is an organized effort to get inside the President’s head, to throw him and his campaign off course.

And on occasion, it has proven to work — Trump recently took to Twitter addressing Schmidt, Wilson, and Galen by name and calling them “losers.” In that, the group says it sees a validation of their approach.

No one considered out of bounds

Back in the staff meeting, in the last days of the campaign Trump continues to be the target, along with those closest to him. No one is considered out of bounds, including Trump’s daughter and son-in-law.

“Since they are making such a play on Hunter Biden right now, ‘He’s trying to make deals in China,’ it’s time for us to … go after Ivanka one last time,” proposes Wilson.

Schmidt adds, “What if you said Jared and Ivanka, say they are the most corrupt White House staffers in American history.”

“Totally true,” responds Wilson.

Stevens adds, “I love making that charge.”

The co-founders of The Lincoln Project are based in Park City, Utah, and they hold a daily morning meeting to discuss their ad strategy for the coming days. Seen here, they look ahead to the final days of the campaign and consider how The Lincoln Project can target President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law. 0:34

In the days following these moments captured by The National, disparaging billboards appeared in New York’s Times Square aimed at Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Their lawyers threatened to sue the Lincoln Project unless the ads were removed.

The group’s members come by their sense of tough political gamesmanship honestly. Back in 2008, Wilson worked on an anti-Obama ad so fierce, John McCain refused to air it. Schmidt had a hand in the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s vice-president in 2008, awakening that brand of populism in the party.

Rick Wilson, left, and Steve Schmidt discuss strategy at a Lincoln Project meeting. The meetings are a foul-mouthed and jocular approach to work once that used to be aimed at Democrats, but is now countering Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. (CBC)

Their critics point to this past work as being responsible for opening the door to the Republican Party’s dark side.

“I know there are some people out on the left who think that we owe some sort of apology because of our affiliation with the Republican Party, or having worked for Mitt Romney or John McCain or George Bush. And they’re going to have to wait a little longer for the apology,” Schmidt said.

“That’s never coming, because the level of sanctimony involved in someone demanding that you apologize for your beliefs is not something I think that any of us are particularly into. You know, I was publicly supportive of gay marriage three years before Barack Obama was. All of us were involved on the side of the Republican Party that sought to outreach to the Hispanic community, to the Black community — I spent my entire career on that side of the Republican Party. And you know what, we lost. We lost. The party’s been taken over.”

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Paralympian Brittany Hudak helping others through social work during pandemic

Brittany Hudak woke up with jangled nerves and gold in her sights on the first day of the 2020 World Para-Nordic Ski Championships.

Then came the knock at her hotel room door that changed everything.

In the middle of the night, organizers had cancelled the event. The Canadian team needed to fly home immediately due to the rising threat of COVID-19 in Europe.

“I thought it was a joke,” says Hudak, a bronze medallist in biathlon at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “I was super excited and felt so confident in my fitness. We train all season long to be at our best on that day in March. I couldn’t believe that it came to such a disappointing end.”

On the flight home, a despondent Hudak took stock and pledged to find her own silver lining in the midst of the pandemic.

One year earlier, she had finished her degree in social work at the University of Regina, but dedicated herself to competing instead of working in her chosen field.

So she dusted off her resume and set out to find work as a helper.

Helping others triumph

These days, she splits her time between training at the winter paradise that is the Canmore Nordic Centre and her job at a Calgary-area residential group home for teenagers.

Some of the clients are battling addictions. Some are in trouble with the law. Some are dealing with crippling financial insecurity.

“I knew social work was not going to be easy,” she says. “You see a lot in a day, and you hear a lot in a day.

“It’s about meeting the individual where they’re at and understanding their situation. I really love learning about people’s struggles and trying to help them triumph over those adversities.”

WATCH | Hudak wins bronze at the 2018 Winter Paralympics:

24-year-old Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native Brittany Hudak won bronze, her first-career Paralympic medal, in the women’s biathlon 12.5 km standing race. 6:28

Hudak, 27, understands what it’s like to struggle.

“Growing up missing part of my arm, I always knew I was in a minority group,” she says. “I know certain groups in society are oppressed and have things go against them. My background with a disability I think really helps me in social work.”

The Prince Albert, Sask., product discovered biathlon at age 18 thanks to a chance encounter with Colette Bourgonje, a 10-time Paralympic medallist.

Hudak was working at a Canadian Tire store in Prince Albert, and Bourgonje struck up a conversation, urging her to try out cross-country skiing.

“We have Colette to thank for finding Brittany,” says Robin McKeever, head coach of the Canadian para-Nordic team. “Our focus is on Beijing in 2022 and I’m hoping for Brittany to repeat the medal she won in Pyeongchang or go for a couple more medals. We have a great team around her, and she’s getting to the perfect age as a skier and an endurance sport athlete.”

Brittany Hudak waves after winning bronze in biathlon at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang. (Submitted by Brittany Hudak)

Like most elite winter athletes, Hudak has no idea when she’ll race again on the World Cup circuit. She hopes the Beijing Olympics will happen, but realizes there’s no guarantee given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.

“It would be so easy to spend a lot of focus and energy wondering what is going to happen,” she says. “I’m trying to reserve my energy and focus on what’s in my control.”

To that end, she is building her fitness to be in the best shape of her life for 2022.

And, at the same time, she’s trying to help a group of teenagers in crisis find their way through their own personal storms.

“I think it’s really important to have balance,” she says. “If I didn’t ski as well as I would have liked to in an interval session, it can seem like such a big deal when I’m only focused on sports.

“When I leave and go to work, sometimes it’s a refreshing thing for me to have the mental switch. I realize a bad day for someone else is 1,000 times worse than a bad day for me on skis.”

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