Tag Archives: winter

Why winter exercise can be especially hard on the lungs

Canadian Olympic hopeful Katherine Stewart-Jones can’t remember when she first started experiencing a cough she and other cross-country skiers call “race hack,” but she said it was probably when she started competing in her early teen years.

“Sometimes, it goes like all the way into your back … it’s just this burning sensation,” she said. “I’ll lean over and just don’t want to get up for a while because it hurts.

“Generally, I’ll get a race hack pretty much every race I do, but for sure, if it’s cold out, it’s affected me a bit more.”

The 25-year-old skier from Chelsea, Que., says she slows down on cold days when she’s training but on race days, she pushes herself hard, sometimes so hard it can take weeks for the post-race coughing to subside.

“It would be interesting to do some more research on it … Like, are we ruining our lungs for the rest of our lives?”

Katherine Stewart-Jones, a 25-year-old elite cross-country skier, skis along a winter trail. The Olympic hopeful says she first began experiencing symptoms of what she and her fellow skiiers call ‘race hack’ in her early teens. (Nordic Focus)

Michael Kennedy, an associate professor in kinesiology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, has been interested in the effects of cold weather on lungs for more than a decade.

His curiosity comes from working as a wax technician for Canadian elite cross-country skiers in the early- to mid-2000s while he was still getting his PhD. He travelled with teams for months and noticed how breathing issues would worsen as the ski season wore on.

“By the time you got to national or the spring season races in March, they were hacking all the time, so they basically had chronic cough,” he said. “It’s not healthy to have chronic cough.”

A graphic representation of Stewart-Jones shows the airways in her lungs and how they appear like tree branches. (Sködt McNalty/CBC Graphics )

The condition for some can lead to problems such as interrupted sleep or speech, and yet, a chronic cough is sometimes normalized in Canadian cross-country ski culture, he said. 

Kennedy’s last study on cold-weather exercise, published in 2019 in the journal Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology, looked at the effects of running a five-kilometre race outdoors in –15 C weather on 16 physically fit men and women compared to a lab-controlled test. All the participants exercised regularly in the cold, whether it was running outside, cross-country skiing or ski mountaineering.

All participants reported having some type of respiratory symptom after running in the cold (most said they had a cough), and breathing tests revealed that nine out of the 16 showed symptoms of bronchoconstriction, or narrowing of the airways, consistent with levels that would be considered exercise-induced asthma.

As the winter athlete begins to heavily inhale cold, dry air, the bronchioles can begin to constrict as if they are under threat. (Sködt McNalty/CBC Graphics)

What happens to lungs in the cold

A main issue with exercising in the cold, especially in temperatures –15 C and colder, is the lack of moisture in the air. 

When dry air hits the lungs, especially when someone is breathing heavily, it can provoke the lungs to react as if they were under threat. The airways essentially constrict to protect themselves.

Kennedy has compared the effects of room temperature dry air against cold dry air, and his findings suggest that dry air that’s also cold can provoke even more of a reaction, which may explain why chronic cough is so common among winter athletes, he said. 

Some research from around the world is beginning to suggest people who spend years exercising in cold, dry conditions might become more sensitive to lung irritants over time, according to Kennedy, although he cautions more data in this area is still needed. 

“Over time, if you repeat that irritation or that provocation, the lung just becomes less capable of healing itself,” said Kennedy.

A cross section of a bronchiole shows how muscles constrict to make the airway more narrow. It is the same process that takes place in people experiencing asthma symptoms. (Sködt McNalty/CBC Graphics)

Ways to protect your lungs

Gordon Giesbrecht, the director of the Laboratory for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, agrees the cold, dry air can be an issue for anyone who engages in heavy cardiovascular activity on a regular basis in the winter. He likens the experience of lung constriction to trying to take a deep breath through an ever-narrowing straw.

“You can’t freeze your lungs,” he said. “You’re not going to cause any damage although it is possible that continuous long-term training in the cold actually does make you more susceptible to this (bronchoconstriction).”

Both Giesbrecht and Kennedy say a simple face covering, such as a fabric mask, neck warmer or scarf, can go a long way to protecting the lungs from being irritated.

“If you cover your mouth, you’re essentially warming the air and humidifying the air in a very productive manner,” said Kennedy. “So essentially, your lung has to deal with less cold, dry air.”

A simple face covering, such as a mask, scarf or neck warmer, can help humidify and warm air before it hits the lungs. (Brian Morris/CBC)

He also suggests that athletes take time to warm up before they exercise and take it easy on very cold days by slowing down their pace. 

He hopes his work helps to change the culture of winter sport in Canada so that athletes take steps to prevent symptoms such as chronic cough, lung pain and wheezing.

“One of the things I want to do in the next 10 years is try to prevent some of this acute disfunction from happening by improving the behaviours of younger skiers or winter sports athletes,” Kennedy said.

Later this month, he plans to begin his next study — a survey of cross-country skiers and biathlon athletes asking them to elaborate on any respiratory symptoms they have so researchers have a better sense of the scope of the issue. He plans to expand the study to winter runners and other recreational athletes as well.

For now, Stewart-Jones brushes off the concerns about cold-weather exercise on her breathing. No serious athlete, including herself, would turn down a race because it’s –18C, she said. As far as face coverings go, she wears them if her skin is at risk of freezing but she avoids them otherwise — neck warmers, like masks, can make it slightly more difficult to breathe. 

“I guess it’s so normal and common for people to have irritated lungs that it’s not something I think about,” she said between a couple, short bursts of coughing after competing in Oberstdorf, Germany, at the World Championships in late February.

“For sure it feels like it’s probably not great for my lungs long term.”

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CBC | Health News

DeBues-Stafford donates track winnings to help homeless Texans after winter storm

Gabriela DeBues-Stafford was joking Saturday night about losing a bet and having to buy Bowerman Track Club teammate Sinclaire Johnson drinks after winning a women’s 1,500-metre race at the Texas Qualifier. It didn’t take long for the generous runner to make use of $ 750 US in prize money — but not at a local watering hole.

On her way back to the hotel, DeBues-Stafford decided during a phone call with husband Rowan to donate the winnings to Austin Mutual Aid, a citizen volunteer group that provides direct relief and housing to those on the streets.

Two weeks earlier, failing electrical infrastructure led to many Texans losing power, heat, clean water and having little access to food during below-freezing temperatures from Winter Storm Uri. DeBues-Stafford, who had previously donated to AMA, liked the fact the group offered a variety of services and support to the community.

Austin Mutual Aid was launched last March to assist Texans experiencing homelessness in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following Winter Storm Uri, it accepted monetary donations to help the city’s unhoused population while volunteers also collected donations of blankets, coats and non-perishable foods.

“I wasn’t looking at this race as a pay-day,” the Toronto native told CBC Sports, noting Beer Mile Media came in late to sponsor Saturday’s 1,500. “It didn’t feel right to fly in [from Portland, Ore.], make [money] off the hospitality of Austinites devastated by a storm and fly out.

“I thought about Texas and the devastation of the storm a lot in the weeks leading up to the race and feel very lucky the running community was still able to host us at a meet. I’m happy the money will go to rehabilitating the community.”

In an Instagram post, DeBues-Stafford provided details to her followers for a chance to win a pair of Nike shoes, or another Nike item, along with a signed card. The first requirement is to donate any amount to a charity in Texas focused on rehabilitating and uplifting the community.

DeBues-Stafford has set a March 8 deadline after receiving 30 entries in the first 24 hours.

During her short stay in Austin, DeBues-Stafford didn’t have the opportunity to speak with anyone who is unhoused.

“I did see several groups of tents [homeless camps] during drives and runs,” she said, “which unfortunately isn’t uncommon in any city I’ve visited, especially since the start of the pandemic.”

Serious Olympic medal contender

Fortunately, DeBues-Stafford added, she has been in a financial position since 2019 to donate more regularly to organizations. In the past, she has supported the Red Cross Society during the Australian wildfires, Black Legal Action Centre and Black Health Alliance in Toronto, TAIBU Community Health Centre in the Greater Toronto Area, and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada.

On the track, world No. 4 DeBues-Stafford will be a serious medal contender at her second Olympics this summer in Tokyo.

Surprised by the slow pace of Saturday’s race, she clocked a time of 4:10.09 in her first outdoor 1,500 since the world championship final on Oct. 5, 2019 in Doha, Qatar, where the 25-year-old lowered her Canadian record to 3:56.12.

WATCH | DeBues-Stafford runs 3:56.12 PB at 2019 worlds:

Canada’s Gabriela DeBues-Stafford places 6th with a time 3:56.12, Sifan Hassan claims gold. 7:02

DeBues-Stafford pointed out her two previous 1,500s — each indoors in Scotland (4:05.89) and Liévin, France (4:05.27) in February 2020 — were huge disappointments.

She recalled being “burned out emotionally and broken physically” following an [altitude] training camp, too much travel in [2019] and after the Feb. 8 Millrose Games in New York City, where she set Canadian indoor marks in the 1,500 and women’s mile.

“I could barely walk, let alone run, without a limp,” said DeBues-Stafford, who joined the Bowerman group last summer. “I felt so weak and powerless in those races [and it] really hung over my psyche. On top of that, a relapse of Graves’ disease — an autoimmune condition causing the thyroid to become hyperactive — [in the summer of 2020] left me very weak going into the fall.

“Questions like, ‘Will I ever be the same athlete as I was in 2019 [when I set eight national records and 11 personal-best times]’? fuelled anxiety.

“The biggest takeaway [on Saturday] was the relief of feeling strong and in control in a race again,” DeBues-Stafford continued. “I feel like my old self and that is huge for my confidence.”

And when will she get around to buying Johnson drinks?

“Likely sometime after [Johnson’s] race this weekend,” DeBues-Stafford said. “The weather has been very nice in Portland lately, so we’re hoping for an outdoor drink.”

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CBC | Sports News

Canada’s Pfizer vaccine shipment delayed by winter weather in the U.S.

Harsh winter weather in the U.S. will delay a planned shipment of Pfizer vaccine doses to Canada by at least one day this week, a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical giant told CBC News.

Global shipping company United Parcel Service (UPS) has temporarily shuttered its massive air shipping hub, WorldPort, at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport in Kentucky because of a significant buildup of snow and ice.

Pfizer ships vaccine doses from its Puurs, Belgium facility through Louisville on to Canadian destinations by air.

“Unfortunately, the inclement weather in the U.S. has caused a short delay of today’s planned delivery,” Pfizer spokesperson Christina Antoniou said in an email. “As a result, our delivery scheduled for today will be delayed by one day.”

Antoniou said deliveries for Wednesday and Thursday “remain on schedule.”

“We are doing everything we can to try and reduce the delay as much as possible and sincerely regret any inconvenience this may have caused,” Antoniou said.

A spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It is not yet known how the shipping delay might disrupt the nationwide distribution of vaccine doses.

A spokesperson for Ontario’s health ministry said deliveries of the Pfizer product will be punted to later in the week because of “a major storm developing in northern U.S./central Canada.”

“Pfizer shipments for the week of Feb. 15 will experience a one-day delay from the planned delivery dates. Shipments are now planned to arrive on Wednesday, Feb. 17 and Thursday, Feb. 18,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada, has warned that unpredictable weather events could disrupt vaccine deliveries but insists the country has prepared for all such scenarios.

Anand has said that, after weeks of delays and cancellations, more than 400,000 Pfizer shots will arrive this week to help jump-start Canada’s stalled vaccination campaign, and that hundreds of thousands more doses are to be delivered each week for the foreseeable future.

In this Nov. 20, 2015 picture, a UPS airplane is unloaded at the company’s WorldPort hub in Louisville, Ky. UPS has temporary shuttered its air terminal due to winter weather, disrupting Pfizer vaccine shipments to Canada. (Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)

This is the first time UPS has ever closed its cargo terminal, which handles more than 400,000 packages every hour.

A blast of wintry weather has plunged large swaths of the U.S. into a deep freeze, producing some of the lowest temperatures ever reported in central and southern states.

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CBC | Health News

It’s world championships season for winter Olympic sports

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Quick note before we get started: no newsletter tomorrow or on the holiday Monday. Back Tuesday.

It’s winter world championships season

Several winter Olympic sports are holding their world championships right now. Here’s what’s going on:

Speed skating

The worlds opened today at the same oval in the Netherlands where Canadians won 11 medals in the two meets that made up the pandemic-shortened World Cup season. Canada got off to a slow start — its best result today was a fifth by Isabelle Weidemann in the women’s 3,000 metres.

But tomorrow could be a huge day with strong Canadian medal contenders in three of the four events. Canada won both World Cup races in the women’s team pursuit and finished second and third in the two men’s team pursuits. Laurent Dubreuil reached the podium in three of the four men’s 500-metre races this season. Watch Friday’s races live from 9 a.m. to noon ET here.

Alpine skiing

Rough weather in northern Italy forced the start of the worlds to be delayed by three days. But they finally got going today and Canada’s Brodie Seger had the race of his life. The 25-year-old, who had never finished in the top 12 of a World Cup or world championship race, came just four hundredths of a second — shorter than a blink of an eye — from winning a medal. He finished fourth in the men’s super-G, which was won by Vincent Kriechmayr for the Austrian’s first world title.

The women’s super-G also went to a first-time world champ from Switzerland: Lara Gut-Behrami, who had previously won five medals at the worlds and another at the Olympics, but none of them gold. Defending champion Mikaela Shiffrin took bronze in her first speed race (super-G or downhill) in more than a year. Marie-Michele Gagnon was the top Canadian, finishing sixth.

The next events are the downhills. Watch the women’s Saturday at 5 a.m. ET and the men’s Sunday at 5 a.m. ET here.

Snowboard and ski cross

Canadian teenager Eliot Grondin won his first world-championship medal today by taking bronze in the men’s snowboard cross event. No Canadians advanced past the quarter-finals in the women’s competition.

The snowboard cross team event goes tomorrow. Watch it live at 6:30 a.m. ET here.

The ski cross world championships are Saturday. Canada’s Reece Howden has won three of the last four men’s World Cup races and leads the season standings. Marielle Thompson ranks second in the women’s chase and has reached the podium in five of the last six events. Watch the world championship races Saturday starting at 6:30 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

Bobsleigh and skeleton

They opened last week with the great German pilot Francesco Friedrich winning his seventh consecutive world title in the two-man event and Kaillie Humphries grabbing her record fourth women’s gold. Her first two (in 2012 and ’13) came while competing for Canada, but she’s won the last two women’s world titles for the U.S. after a bitter falling out with the Canadian program led to her departure.

The skeleton competitions opened today with the first two runs of the men’s and women’s events. The top Canadian was Jane Channell, who’s seventh heading into the final two legs tomorrow.

Canada will have a better shot at a medal in the four-man bobsleigh event, where pilot Justin Kripps’ sled ranks third in the World Cup standings. That race begins Saturday and finishes Sunday. Same for the women’s monobob — an event that’s being added to the Olympics next year. Watch all the bobsleigh and skeleton world championship races live here.

Sainte-Marie, Quebec’s Eliot Grondin captured a world championship bronze medal in snowboard cross Thursday in Idre Fjäll, Sweden. 4:59


The head of the Tokyo Olympics is reportedly stepping down. Organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori got himself in trouble last week when he complained that meetings with a lot of women in them “take so much time” and that “if their speaking time isn’t restricted to a certain extent, they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying.” The 83-year-old later issued a ham-fisted apology, but calls for his resignation were still trending on Japanese Twitter today and female politicians wore white to a House of Representatives session to protest Mori’s sexist remarks. Also — and this is probably what really did Mori in — some big Olympic sponsors criticized him after being threatened with boycotts. According to several reports in Japan, Mori will resign tomorrow. Read more about the controversy here.

The Raptors are staying in Tampa for the rest of the season. They’d hoped to return to Toronto for the second half, but ongoing border restrictions and the general pandemic situation forced them to give up on that. Playing out of Tampa’s Amalie Arena, the Raptors started the season 2-8 but have improved since. At 12-13 they sit fifth in the Eastern Conference and can get to .500 with a win at Boston tonight. Maybe some of the “Champa Bay” vibes are rubbing off. Tampa is now home to the reigning Super Bowl and Stanley Cup champions and, by the looks of things, everyone there is living their best life.

Someone in Australia really dislikes Rafael Nadal. A woman was thrown out of his Australian Open match today for heckling Nadal and giving him the finger. It didn’t throw him off: the gentlemanly Spaniard seemed genuinely amused (“Maybe she took too much gin or tequila,” he said later) and cruised to a straight-sets win. Meanwhile, defending women’s champion Sofia Kenin found herself on the wrong side of a blowout, falling in just 64 minutes to 65th-ranked Kaia Kanepi. Tonight, Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime face each other in the men’s third round at 3 a.m. ET. The only other Canadian singles player remaining, Milos Raonic, plays at 1 a.m. ET. Watch video of Nadal’s strange encounter and read more about all the notable Day 4 action here.

And finally…

Remember The Rick Nash Goal? It happened in a Blue Jackets-Coyotes game in the dog days of the 2007-08 season, so there’s no real historical significance to it. But, for pure aesthetics, it’s tough to top Nash’s video-game-like moves to undress a pair of Coyotes defencemen before beating goalie Mikael Tellqvist. For a fresh perspective on one of the prettiest goals ever scored, check out the latest episode of Rob Pizzo’s terrific I was in net for… series. Tellqvist explains how the “sick” play unfolded from his point of view, and how he almost foiled it at the last second. Watch the video here:

In episode 12, Rob Pizzo speaks to goalie Mikael Tellqvist about the time the Blue Jackets star turned the Coyotes inside out. 5:55

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CBC | Sports News

It’s winter. It’s cold. How do I deal with a mask that freezes?

There is a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon. But first, winter. 

We’ve been hearing the warnings for weeks. It’s going to be a long, hard few months. 

People who live in Canada fashion themselves as cold weather warriors — able to withstand -20 C temperatures. This year, that could be an especially good thing. 

The advice from medical experts is to resist retreating indoors where COVID-19 is much more easily transmitted. Bundle up, mask up if necessary, and get outside as much as possible.   

“You know, if you’ve ever wanted to learn broomball, this is your chance,” said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases specialist at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital and an assistant professor at McGill University. 

But what about masks in winter? Do they still work if they get wet? Do you really need to wear them outside anyway? 

Here’s some advice for how best to tackle the coming winter pandemic months.

Will my mask work if it gets wet and/or freezes?

The short answer is probably not. Oughton, officials from Health Canada and the Centers for Disease Control in the United States pretty much agree that once a mask gets wet, it’s no longer fully effective. 

And that’s why you should always have back-up masks.

There is no concrete, scientific data on mask efficacy in cold weather. However, when you breathe through a mask in cold conditions, the moisture from your warm breath collects on the mask. It tends to stay warm enough on the inside due to your body temperature to remain liquid, but will freeze on the outside. 

WATCH | Why health experts recommend three-layer masks: 

Doctors answer viewer questions about COVID-19 including why three-layer masks are now being recommended to protect against the virus. 5:22

That leads to two mask issues Oughton said: they become harder to breathe through; and become less effective at “capturing respiratory droplets and preventing them from leaving the proximity of someone’s mouth and nose.”

But that doesn’t mean they are completely useless, according to Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University. 

“Masks offer a little bit more [protection], particularly in those settings where people are bunched up outdoors, where there may be a bit more risk of transmission.”

Oughton said if you are going to wear a mask outdoors in the cold for a long period of time, you should have two or three back-ups, so you can keep a dry one on.

And most important: make sure the mask is cloth. The paper kind — the surgical style ones — degrade and tear far more easily when they get wet, said Oughton. 

All in a Day9:44Anti-fogging tips and tricks

Tired of contending with foggy glasses while wearing masks? Help is on the way. 9:44

Do you really need a mask out in the cold? 

It depends on the circumstances. 

Being outdoors while observing proper distancing measures is “really, really protective” on its own, according to Chagla. He said the documented cases of outdoor transmission of COVID-19 have involved situations like barbecues or people watching a sports event, gathered together for longer periods of time.

For activities like going for a walk in your neighbourhood or skating on a not-too-crowded rink, he said the risk of transmission is very low. But he does advise that if you are going in and out of stores, or getting on and off transit while doing errands, it is best to just keep the mask on the whole time to minimize touching the mask and potential contamination.  

The advice is the same if you are planning to gather with others over the holidays for an outdoor gift exchange or short visit. If you can maintain distance, you should be fine as long as there is no eating and drinking or singing, all of which create more droplets in the air. If you’re going to be closer, exchanging gifts perhaps, best to put on a mask. 

Wearing a mask in the cold can make is less effective. (Mathieu Theriault/CBC/Radio-Canada)

Is a scarf a good alternative to a mask?

No. Medical experts point out that there is too much variation in scarves and neck gaiters for them to be used as masks. Stitching can be too loose and the material too thin to be an effective barrier to potentially infected droplets — both going out or coming in.

But both physicians agree it might keep your mask from freezing and therefore be more comfortable for the wearer to put a scarf up over it.

Cold temps bring runny noses. Here’s how to deal with that joy when you’re wearing a mask. 

Unfortunately, people tend to pull their mask aside or off when they sneeze or cough, which kind of defeats the purpose of it, Chagla said. 

“It is horrible to sneeze in a mask,” he said. “I give you that.” But he urges people to make sure they are in an area away from people if they are going to pull it off to sneeze, or even to blow their nose, as that is one of the best ways to spread infection. 

And be careful when you pull your mask aside to blow your nose. Don’t let it get snotty, both doctors say, and after blowing your nose, sanitize your hands before you replace your mask. 

So with all the issues with masks, is it best just to stay indoors this winter?

The resounding answer to this one is no. On the contrary.  

“The indoor stuff is like a hundred times more worrisome than the outdoor stuff,” Chagla said.  

He cites factors including poor ventilation, crowded rooms, people being together for prolonged periods of time, eating and drinking together. 

He said this year, people are going to have to change the way they think about socializing if they don’t want to just get stuck for months with the people they live with or having nothing but virtual get-togethers. 

“I think we have to start changing our attitudes and saying the outdoors is going to be the way. We just have to make it appropriate for people to do it.”

Municipalities across the country are coming up with guidelines for outdoor activities, such as skating, to make sure they don’t get too crowded. Many are restricting the number of people allowed on the ice at any given time in order to better maintain a safe distance between skaters, with some bringing in online pre-registration to book ice time.

If you go, change your skates in the car or out on a bench, rather than in a public hut, Oughton said.

It’s best to put your skates on outside, or in your own vehicle, rather than in a public hut. (Evan Mitsui/CBC News)

Among other outdoor measures, Toronto is also adding an additional 60 kilometres of paved recreational trails and pathways with snow maintenance and is encouraging communities to apply for permits to build and maintain new rinks. 

The City of Calgary is also adding to its outdoor options with the North Glenmore Ice Trail,  where people can skate 730 metres of connected track and the installation of fire pits in key spots around the city.

Todd Reichardt, a Calgary parks manager, said the plans should enable people to maintain social distance and make the most of the season. 

“There’s something about being outside when it’s cold and you smell like wood smoke,” he said. “It just puts a smile on people’s faces.” 

In Manitoba, ski resorts have been working on plans to make skiing a safe pandemic activity, while Montreal is setting up cross-country ski trails at each of the city’s large parks, as well as trails for snowshoeing and walking. 

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CBC | Health News

Winter is already a trying time for some seniors. COVID-19 will make it worse

Georgiana Del Casino has spent most of the past eight months alone inside her one-bedroom apartment in New Westminster, B.C., but the 82-year-old feels even more isolated now because a COVID-19 outbreak in her complex means she can’t even visit with people down the hallway. 

“It’s depressing,” she said.

“I have one friend, and he is 94 years old. He doesn’t want to come here now and he doesn’t want to be in contact with me, so that is really difficult.”

Even before COVID-19 forced people to spend more time apart from family and friends, social isolation was a major problem among seniors.

WATCH: Georgiana Del Casino describes how COVID-19 and restrictions have made her feel more isolated:

Georgiana Del Casino, 82, describes how COVID-19 and restrictions have made her feel more isolated. 0:56

2014 report by the National Seniors Council concluded that 50 per cent of people over the age of 80 felt lonely. 

With the pandemic grinding on, researchers say those feelings have been heightened, which is why advocates and social service agencies are trying to find additional ways to connect with those who feel cut off. 

A sign saying “No Visitors Allowed” is pictured on the door of the Dunwood complex in New Westminster, B.C. A case of COVID-19 was detected in the seniors’ housing, and Del Casino says residents were instructed not to gather with their neighbours in common rooms or the hallway. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard, chair of the National Seniors Council and director of the Research Centre on Aging at the University of Moncton, said winter is already a stressful time as outings are limited. 

This year, the cold weather will arrive after many have already spent months isolating. 

As part of her research through the university, Dupuis-Blanchard has been surveying seniors who live in the community and says many feel they’ve been forgotten. 

Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard, who is with the University of Moncton and the National Seniors Council, said it is hard to measure how many seniors are suffering from isolation and what kind impact it is having on their mental health, as many are hesitant to share how they are feeling. (University of Moncton)

Health effects of isolation

“A lot of attention has been put on seniors in long-term care, with reason, but there are also these groups of seniors in the community who are dependent on formal and informal care for which the pandemic has had quite an impact as well,” she said. 

She said seniors who are living alone and socially disconnected are particularly vulnerable to having their mental and physical health decline. 

They are less likely to be physically active and more likely to have a poor diet, which Dupuis-Blanchard said can lead to cardiovascular problems or a higher risk of falling. 

Del Casino used to enjoy daily outings, including swimming. 

Now if the weather and her arthritis aren’t too bad, she will go for a walk around the neighbourhood. She spends the rest of her time knitting and watching more television than she ever has before.

With her family living on Vancouver Island, Del Casino signed up to receive a daily telephone call from the Seniors Services Society of B.C. and the occasional grocery delivery.

She said the conversations are a bright spot in her morning, but aren’t the same as meeting up with someone in person. 

Experts say winter is typically a very stressful time for seniors because poor weather means there are fewer outings. This year, seniors also have to contend with a rising number of COVID-19 cases. (Charles Contant/Radio-Canada)

Volunteer drive 

At the beginning of the pandemic, social service agencies across Canada put out a plea for volunteers to help people who were isolating by delivering food and prescription drugs, or by checking in with a phone call or a video chat. 

As the first wave began, B.C. launched the Safe Seniors, Strong Communities program that is being run through the United Way and its network of community agencies. 

More than 15,000 seniors were referred to the program between March and the end of September. 

“We know that there are a fair number of hidden seniors who are extremely isolated and vulnerable,” said Kahir Lalji, provincial director of healthy aging for the United Way. 

He said some of the “ultra-isolated” have been identified through contact with paramedics, police officers and religious organizations.

Kahir Lalji, provincial director of the United Way’s healthy aging program, says the most requests the agency received from seniors throughout the pandemic was for grocery and meal delivery, as well as phone calls and virtual check-ins. (United Way)

Nearly 2000 new volunteers have been deployed through the B.C. program so far, and Lalji said in the first six months they delivered twice as many services to seniors as they normally do in a year.

The average age of the new volunteers is 36, which is significant: traditionally more than half of those helping out with the United Way’s senior program are seniors themselves. 

Seniors disconnected

In a church basement in Chilliwack, B.C., Kelly Velonis packs food hampers for low income seniors. She is executive director of the Chilliwack and District Seniors’ Resources Society.

Before the pandemic, about 85 per cent of its volunteers were seniors, but most of them have now stepped aside.

“They were unable to volunteer due to their own health and they aren’t really feeling safe,” said Velonis. 

Not only does it mean the society is now short a driver to drop off food hampers, it also means seniors who volunteered as a way to spend time with others are now more isolated, she said. 

Kelly Velonis with the Chilliwack and District Seniors’ Resource Society said the organization just received a grant so they can now deliver food hampers to low-income seniors every week, instead of twice a month. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

Nearly all of the other programs that were offered at the seniors centre, like Zumba and chair yoga, have been shut down.

Even a class to teach seniors how to use Skype and Zoom had to be cancelled because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases and provincial restrictions. 

They are trying to provide that tech help now over the phone, and put programming online for seniors who are already comfortable using the internet. 

“A lot of our seniors are widowed and a lot of them live alone,” said Velonis.

Staff and volunteers are also reaching out by phone and email just to check in to see how people are doing. 

“We have to try to connect in different ways, making sure that people [who] are alone don’t feel alone.”

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CBC | Health News

How businesses and schools are dealing with airborne COVID-19 and preparing for a winter indoors

On a sunny Friday in October, the 9Round fitness club in midtown Toronto was as busy as it could be, according to local rules.

Masked clients kicked, punched and jabbed at nine individual boxing-style workout stations, each spaced apart by more than 2 metres. The stations were wiped down with disinfectant after each use. Guests who arrived at the open door were asked to wait outside until a station opened up and an employee was able to screen them for COVID-19.

“Where I’m coming from, as a business owner, it’s in our best interest to do everything we can,” said Brian Castillo, who heads up the gym. “We have to bet our livelihoods on the precautions that we take to ensure that we can operate.”

It’s a complicated dance, and one made more so by concerns that COVID-19 could spread more easily indoors, especially in places where people might be singing, shouting or exercising.

Scientists initially believed the virus spreads primarily through heavy droplets from a sneeze or a cough, which quickly fall to the ground, but newer research shows airborne transmission also exists.

Bioaerosols researcher Caroline Duchaine of Université Laval talks about the importance of good building ventilation to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 0:35

After the interview with Castillo, most of Toronto’s fitness centres were closed as the city returned to Ontario’s Stage 2 pandemic regulations. Castillo’s club is a provincial sports organization training facility, and as a result it has remained open in a limited way under the organization’s guidance.

  • THE NATIONAL | Watch the feature about concerns over indoor air quality, Sunday Nov. 8 on The National at 9 p.m. ET on CBC News Network and 10 p.m. local time on your CBC television station. You can also catch The National online on CBC Gem.

Concerns about airborne transmission of COVID-19 have been on Castillo’s mind for months. As studies emerged showing how the virus could spread in poorly ventilated spaces, Castillo upgraded his HVAC system and had a UVA filter added to help clean the air inside the gym. He said the changes cost him several hundred dollars.

Exactly how well such measures help protect against COVID-19 transmission is still unknown. But Castillo says he must make the effort.

“I’d rather go above and beyond and ensure that we’re doing the appropriate things, than [feel] overconfident [and] maybe slacking a bit,” he said.

According to bioaerosols researcher Caroline Duchaine of Université Laval, in indoor spaces, “ventilation has to be addressed as a major part of the infection control [measures].”

Caroline Duchaine, who studies bioaerosols at the Institut universitaire de cardiologie et de pneumologie de Québec, said viral particles can ‘accumulate in the surrounding environment of the infected person’ in poorly ventilated spaces and could potentially infect someone else. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

Duchaine and her team in Quebec City have taken air samples in the hospital rooms of COVID-19 patients in order to study how the coronavirus spreads in the air. In poorly ventilated spaces, Duchaine said, viral particles can “accumulate in the surrounding environment of the infected person” and could potentially infect someone else, even beyond a distance of 2 metres.

She said there is “more and more evidence that says that the major outbreaks and the super-spreading events that happened so far happened indoors in poorly ventilated spaces.”

Duchaine was part of an international group of 239 scientists who wrote to the World Health Organization (WHO) in July, urging the agency to recognize that the virus can spread through the air. Since then, the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have acknowledged that airborne transmission of COVID-19 is possible.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) followed suit this week, saying COVID-19 spreads through large droplets as well as “smaller droplets, sometimes called aerosols, which linger in the air under some circumstances.”

Even before the update, PHAC’s official guidelines encouraged people to avoid poorly ventilated environments.

Schools, where interactions inside enclosed spaces are necessary, have spent months trying to sort out indoor air quality issues.

St. Michael’s College School, a boys’ private school in Toronto, has taken precautions such as masks, screening measures, physical distancing, and new hand washing stations. It has also updated its ventilation system.

St. Michael’s College School principal James McKinnon outlines why his institution has invested in HEPA filters, as well as ultraviolet light units for every classroom and workspace in the building, to address concerns around COVID-19. 0:22

“We’ve added units that are HEPA filters, as well as ultraviolet light units that have been added to every classroom and workspace in the building,” said principal James McKinnon.

“My understanding of the units is that there’s a 99 per cent kill rate for bacteria and viruses, including COVID-19. So the standard is quite high,” he added.

McKinnon didn’t provide a total cost for the upgrade, but said the measures were necessary in today’s environment.

“We know the value of trying to keep schools open. So, we’ll do what we can to make that happen,” he said.

The Toronto Public School Board was given $ 6.9 million by the province to improve air quality in its schools this year. For some older facilities without mechanical ventilation systems that could be updated, the board has looked to air purification systems, like HEPA filters, as a supplement.

Donated air purification units were delivered to older public schools in Toronto on Oct. 13 to help improve classroom air quality. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

In October, hundreds of air purifying units were donated to the board and distributed to 37 older schools in communities that are most at risk of COVID-19 spread.

Canada’s updated public health guidelines suggest people, “maximize ventilation by ensuring that heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are in good working order.”

HVAC consultant Matt MacAvelia, of Advantage Airtech in Pickering, Ont., said there is a range of actions building managers can consider taking to improve their indoor air quality, from small upgrades that don’t cost much, to full overhauls that can cost thousands of dollars.

The most cost-effective plan, he said, is to look at existing systems and see “if you can do something there to improve what you already have.”

Matt MacAvelia of Advantage Airtech in Pickering, Ont., said improving air quality in a building can range from small upgrades that don’t cost much, to full overhauls that can cost thousands of dollars. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

Indoor air quality, he said, was an issue on the “back burner” pre-pandemic, with more people concerned about the efficiency and cost effectiveness of their systems. But “with everything going on, I do kind of feel like the tide may be changing,” he said.

He added that he has been contacted by a lot of facilities — from condos, to schools, to a call centre — looking for more information about how to best update their HVAC systems in light of COVID-19. Though there is a lot of interest, MacAvelia said businesses he has spoken to are sometimes hesitant to act on big overhauls without any official guidance from a governing body.

“We need some clarity there, because that’s going to help people manage their buildings properly.”

In the meantime, according to Duchaine, there is a simple solution for buildings with poorer ventilation that can’t easily make upgrades. Similar to the latest advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada, she suggests building managers consider cracking open some windows — even in winter, when possible.

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CBC | Health News

U Sports cancels winter national championships due to ongoing coronavirus pandemic

There will be no Canadian university winter national championships this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

U Sports announced Thursday the cancellation of the 2021 winter national championships in men’s and women’s basketball, hockey, swimming, track and field, volleyball and wrestling. 

The news follows June’s decision to cancel six fall national championships, including the flagship Vanier Cup. Curling Canada previously announced the suspension of the 2021 university championships. The decision came with unanimous support of U Sports’ board of directors and the four university sports conferences: Atlantic University Sport, Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec, Ontario University Athletics and Canada West. 

“Following consultations with the four conferences, we agreed that student-athlete safety remains our top priority,” said Dick White, the interim chief executive officer of U Sports. “It is not logistically possible for teams to be travelling across the country at this time.” 

The chief medical officer for U Sports, Dr. Taryn Taylor, added that with the number of cases rising during the second wave of COVID-19 and without an available vaccine, it’s recommended that on-going sports restrictions stay in place for the health and safety of student athletes. 

No championship awarded

It’s the first time in the modern history of U Sports since 1961, that no Canadian university national championships will be awarded. 

The only previous cancellations — outside of last March’s cancellation of the men’s and women’s hockey and volleyball championships — came during the war years of 1915-19 and 1940-45 when the Queen’s Cup (men’s hockey) and Wilson Cup (men’s basketball) were not contested. At that time, only universities in Ontario and Quebec were part of the organization.

It’s heartbreaking news for the nearly 20,000 student athletes and coaches from 56 schools coast-to-coast-to-coast. Outside of making a national or Olympic team, the U Sports national championships are the highest level of sport in this country. 

“We wanted to take things one step at a time. This is an unprecedented situation. We hoped that things would change, that a vaccine would be found or there was some way we could still hold them,” said Lisette Johnson Stapley, chief sport officer for U Sports. 

“We offer nine winter championships in nine different parts of the country. Our host committees are facing a variety of challenges due to COVID-19, including travel restrictions and limits on public indoor gatherings that impact planning.” 

There have been many layers for U Sports to contend with during this pandemic. Geography is one of the biggest. Canada West, which covers B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and AUS, which covers the Atlantic provinces, have four provincial boundaries to consider, not to mention evolving public health restrictions around COVID-19. For instance, individuals travelling into the Atlantic bubble or Manitoba must self-isolate for 14 days. The conferences in Ontario and Quebec have schools in the centre of rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. 

UNB Reds captain Marcus McIvor, centre, celebrates a hockey title with his teammates on March 17, 2019. (Rob Olson/Canadian Press)

Virtual courses

There’s also been the academic piece to consider. Many universities are conducting their courses virtually, while others are offering a blended model of on-campus and remote learning. 

“Timing was important for us with this decision,” Johnson Stapley said. “Some student athletes want to know if they should stay for the term or not. It’s different across the country. You’ve got some schools where all the athletes are back and you’ve got some that aren’t. You got some universities that haven’t even opened recreation facilities.” 

There is a silver lining in that student athletes will not lose a year of their five years of playing eligibility, even if they are able to train or play games within their conference. Athlete eligibility is at the forefront of all of U Sports decision making, Johnson Stapley said. 

“It’s the biggest impact. Our board approved a recommendation this summer that if there’s no pathway or national championship, then we wouldn’t be charging eligibility. That’s standard across the board.” 

Earlier this summer, U Sports also granted a one-year exception to its age rule for football. Previously, players who turned 25 before Sept. 1 would be ineligible to play. 

Conferences weighing return-to-play options

Though there will be no national championship to play for this season, some of the individual conferences are looking at options for a return-to-play in the winter semester.

For example, AUS, given the success of the Atlantic bubble, will release its return-to-play recommendations in mid-November. OUA has announced the cancellation of all regular and post-season competition for the winter, but exhibition play might be possible depending on public health guidelines. RSEQ has suspended all play until at least Jan. 15, 2021. Canada West shuttered all regular season and playoffs for team sports in the winter semester, but is putting off a decision on individual sports to a later date.

U Sports will announce its updated event hosting rotation before the end of the year.

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CBC | Sports News

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