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Ontario issues emergency orders to allow hospitals to transfer patients without consent

The Ontario government’s health agency has issued two emergency orders to help hospitals cope with a surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations and intensive care admissions that is threatening the province’s critical care capacity, the Ministry of Health said in a news release Friday. 

One order allows hospitals to transfer patients without their consent if those facilities are in danger of being overwhelmed. This is the first time such an order has been made during the pandemic

The other allows the redeployment of health-care professionals and other staff who work for the province’s community care agencies to work in hospitals.

“With Ontario’s hospitals facing unprecedented critical care capacity pressures during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, our government is taking immediate action to ensure no capacity nor resource in Ontario’s hospitals goes untapped,” Minister of Health Christine Elliott said in the release.

In an exclusive interview with CBC News on Friday evening, Elliott said the province is concerned about the increasing number of COVID-19 cases driven by the variants of concern, which are deadlier and result in more hospitalizations and ICU admissions. 

The province reached a record number of 552 people with COVID-19 in ICUs on Friday. 

Boosting capacity

Effective immediately, health-care professionals and other staff with Ontario Health and Home and Community Care Support Services organizations will be provided the authority to voluntarily deploy staff, such as care co-ordinators, nurses, and others, to work in hospitals that are experiencing significant capacity pressures due to COVID-19.

Elliott said these staff members would work primarily as ward nurses to allow nurses currently in those hospitals who have intensive care experience to move to those units. 

She didn’t have an exact number of workers who could be redeployed, saying: “We’re not looking at huge numbers of people but any assistance that we can get will be most welcome.” 

The organizations will also be authorized to deploy staff to backfill redeployed staff within and to another Home and Community Care Support Service organization.

During surges when the demand for critical care threatens to overwhelm a hospital, hospitals will be allowed to transfer patients without obtaining their consent or, when the patient is incapable, their substitute decision maker’s consent. 

The attending physician must be satisfied the patient will receive the care they require at the other site, and that the transfer won’t compromise the patient’s condition. 

After the surge, the other hospital would be required to make reasonable efforts to transfer the patient back to the original site, or to another suitable location, with the proper consent, as soon as possible, the government says. 

Elliott says the non-consenting transfers will only be done in extreme circumstances, adding that no hospital in the province has neared this capacity level yet. However, she noted that it’s a waiting game as numbers are expected to increase in the next short while. 

These orders are expected to increase ICU capacity in Ontario by up to 1,000 beds, the news release reads. The orders will remain valid for 14 days unless revoked or extended, the government said. 

Over the last year, the government has created over 3,100 more hospital beds. 

“Now we know that we need to take more steps and increase capacity again,” Eliott said. 

She added that these measures will help to ensure that hospitals continue having adequate staffing and resources to care for patients. 

Hospitals have also been told to ramp down all elective surgeries and non-urgent activities in order to preserve critical care and human resource capacity, effective Monday.

“We understand that deferring scheduled surgeries and other procedures will have an impact on patients, their families and on caregivers. We are monitoring the situation and will work to resume as soon and as safely as possible these deferred services and procedures,” said Matt Anderson, CEO of Ontario Health.

Elliott said this order will create between 700 to 1,000 more spaces in hospitals that will be used for COVID-19 patients.

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CBC | Health News

Michael Spavor’s trial in China ends without a verdict

The court hearing for Canadian citizen Michael Spavor, detained by China since late 2018 on suspicion of espionage, ended on Friday after around two hours.

Jim Nickel, Charge d’affaires of the Canadian Embassy in China, told reporters the court did not issue a verdict on the case, and it was not immediately clear whether there will be another hearing or when a verdict may be issued.

Chinese courts have a conviction rate of over 99 per cent.

Spavor was present for the hearing, Nickel said, citing confirmation from his lawyer, but Spavor was not seen outside the closed court and there was no word on his condition.

Earlier, Canada said its consular officials were not given permission to attend the proceedings despite several requests. They have been notified that a court hearing for Spavor would be held Friday, and one for Michael Kovrig would follow on Monday.

China has not publicly confirmed the court dates. Calls to the court in Dandong, the northeastern city where Spavor was charged, went unanswered.

Diplomats refused entry

Sidewalks were roped off with police tape and journalists were kept at a distance as police cars and vans with lights flashing entered the the court complex, located beside the Yalu River that divides China from North Korea.

Nickel knocked on a door to the court seeking entry but was refused. He was told the trial would begin at 10 a.m. but was given no word on how long it would last or when a verdict would be announced.

“We are disappointed in the lack of access and the lack of transparency,” Nickel told reporters before the trial was scheduled to begin.

WATCH | Michael Spavor’s trial starts amid new U.S.-China talks:

As new talks between Washington and Beijing got underway, the trial for Michael Spavor, one of two Canadian men detained in China for more than two years, started. He is charged with spying, but the federal government sees the charges against him and Michael Kovrig as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. 4:30

“The reason that has been given is it’s a so-called national security case and their belief is that the domestic law overrides international law, which in fact is not the case. China does have international obligations to allow consular access,” he said.

Trial coincides with U.S-China talks

Canadian officials last saw Spavor on Feb. 3 and had made multiple requests to see him ahead of the trial, Nickel said, but those requests were denied.

On the street opposite the courthouse, another 10 diplomats from eight countries, including the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, stood in a show of support.

Observers have said the likely convictions of the two men could ultimately facilitate a diplomatic agreement whereby the two men are released and sent back to Canada.

The trial dates were announced by Canada just as the United States and China were preparing to hold high-level talks in Alaska, the first since U.S. President Joe Biden took office, which have proven to be contentious.

China on Thursday denied a link to those talks.

International and bilateral treaties required that China provide Canadian diplomats access to the trial, but the court said Chinese law regarding trials on state security charges overrode such obligations, Nickel said.

In this file image made from a March 2, 2017, video, Michael Spavor, director of Paektu Cultural Exchange, talks during a Skype interview in Yanji, China. (File photo/The Associated Press)

Prior to the trial, the U.S. expressed its support for the two Canadians.

“The United States is deeply alarmed by reports that People’s Republic of China (PRC) authorities are commencing trials for Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig on March 19 and 22, respectively,” Katherine Brucker, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Ottawa, said in a statement. 

“We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Canada in calling for their immediate release and continue to condemn the lack of minimum procedural protections during their two-year arbitrary detention.”

Jim Nickel, Charge d’affaires of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, speaks to the media outside the Intermediate People’s Court where Michael Spavor stood trial on Friday. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

Spavor and Kovrig were detained in December 2018, days after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested at the request of the U.S. at the airport in Vancouver. The U.S. is seeking her extradition to face fraud charges related to her company’s dealings with Iran.

Details of charges not released

The two Canadians have been held ever since, while Meng has been released on bail. They were charged in June 2020 with spying under China’s national security laws.

Spavor, an entrepreneur with North Korea-related business, was charged with spying for a foreign entity and illegally providing state secrets. Kovrig, an analyst and former diplomat, was charged with spying for state secrets and intelligence in collaboration with Spavor.

Prosecutors have not released details of the charges and trial proceedings in national security cases are generally held behind closed doors. The state-owned Global Times newspaper said Kovrig was accused of having used an ordinary passport and business visa to enter China to steal sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017, while Spavor was accused of being a key source of intelligence for Kovrig.

Extradition hearing in Vancouver for Meng

In Vancouver on Thursday, Meng’s lawyers told an extradition hearing Canadian officials abused their power when they conspired with the U.S. to arrest her. Defence lawyer Tony Paisana said Canadian Border Services Agency officers took Meng’s phones, obtained their passwords, then handed to them to Canadian police so the data could be shared with the FBI.

Paisana said Meng was never told during questioning that she faced an arrest warrant in the U.S. and would have immediately asked for a lawyer if so informed. British Columbia Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes suggested border officers would have questioned Meng more rigorously if their exam was actually a covert criminal investigation, as her lawyers said.

Diplomats from eight countries, including the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, stood on the street opposite the Intermediate People’s Court, in a show of support. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

China has demanded Meng’s immediate and unconditional release, saying the U.S. engineered her detention as part of a drive to contain China’s growing rise. Canadian authorities say Kovrig and Spavor were arbitrarily arrested to put pressure on Ottawa and say they should be released without charge.

China has also restricted various Canadian exports, including canola oil seed, and handed death sentences to another four Canadians convicted of drug smuggling.

Kevin Garratt, another Canadian who detailed in China for almost two years on accusations of spying, offered some insight into the court process to which Spavor might be subjected.

“The problem was I couldn’t really talk to my lawyer … I was never given permission to talk to him,” Garratt, who was released in 2016, said on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics Thursday. “I could never really defend myself.”

WATCH | Garratt says it’s time for Canada to rethink its relationship with China:

Kevin Garratt, who was detained in China for more than two years, says that he thinks the Canadian government needs to “disengage to some extent” with China: “I think they really need to reconsider the relationship with China.” 6:43

Garratt, who was held in the same prison as Spavor, said he entered his own court process with hope, but got the feeling the trial didn’t matter.

“I don’t think it will be any different for him,” Garratt said of Spavor. “And it’s just a horrible, horrible feeling. And the whole prison system and judicial system in China is made to make you feel hopeless.”

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CBC | World News

Canadian swimmer Maggie Mac Neil facing prospect of competing at Olympics without family

When Maggie Mac Neil won the 100-metre butterfly at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, her mother, father and younger sister were in the stands cheering.

“My parents have done a great job throughout my career always trying to come to as many meets as they can,” said the 20-year-old London, Ont., native who is now attending the University of Michigan. “It was definitely nice to have them there in Korea.”

When Mac Neil competes for Olympic gold this summer in Tokyo, it’s unlikely any family members will be there to watch. Concerns about COVID-19 and restrictions due to the virus are convincing friends and family of many Olympic athletes to rethink travelling to the Games.

Susan McNair, Mac Neil’s mother, said staying home won’t be easy.

“I didn’t grow up anticipating I would have a child in the Olympics,” McNair said. “I didn’t anticipate if she did make the Olympics that we would ever not be there.”

WATCH | Maggie Mac Neil posts Canadian-record time at aquatic worlds:

Canadian teen Maggie MacNeil posts a Canadian-record time of 55.83 seconds at the world aquatics championships. 2:56

Last March, Nathan Hirayama celebrated with his family in the stands at BC Place Stadium after Canada defeated South Africa to win the bronze medal at the HSBC Canada Sevens Rugby tournament. He had hoped to repeat the experience in Tokyo — his parents had already booked flights — but now doubts it will happen.

“Our families have been on this journey with us for so long, supporting us and travelling and staying up in the middle of the night watching,” said the 32-year-old from Richmond, B.C. “They invested in what we’re doing. I think the whole experience would be fantastic to share with our loved ones.

“I think what we’re coming to understand now is, if these Olympics do happen, they’ll look a lot different than what we all dreamed about or foreseen for so long.”

Fears over COVID-19 forced the Tokyo Olympics to be delayed one year. With the Games now scheduled to begin July 23, some of the playbooks that instruct athletes, officials and members of the media of the protocols to be followed have been released, but many questions remain.

“If you have been to the Games before, we know this experience will be different in a number of ways,” reads the playbook for international federations. “For all Games participants, there will be some conditions and constraints that will require your flexibility and understanding.”

WATCH | Breaking down the IOC playbook:

With less than six months to go to the Tokyo Olympics, organizers have said the Games will go on no matter what. Now, they’ve released some preliminary guidelines explaining how that will happen. 1:37

Organizers have said they will wait until the spring to decide if fans will be permitted to travel to Tokyo or attend any events.

Dick Pound, a Canadian member of the International Olympic Committee, believes a limited number of fans will be allowed.

“I would see some, but certainly not full stadiums,” he said.

The Canadian Olympic Committee is waiting for more information before advising families and friends about travelling to Tokyo.

“We continue in our preparation to participate at Tokyo 2020 with a focus on the health and safety of our athletes, their families, and their communities,” Eric Myles, the COC’s chief sport officer, said in a statement.

“We are planning based on the assumptions that the COVID-19 virus will still be present internationally and that Team Canada may not be vaccinated. We expect the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee to update their playbooks in April, at which point we hope to provide a more thorough update for athletes to help inform their family and friends’ decisions.”

WATCH | Mac Neil overcomes nerves to claim gold at acquatic worlds in 2019:

Canadian Maggie MacNeil discusses her victory in the 100m butterfly at aquatics worlds. 0:50

McNair, who is a family physician, had originally planned on her brother and his family to join them at the Olympics. Now, with tight restrictions expected on access to athletes, she questions the point of going.

“There’s a lot of factors kind of against going at this point,” she said. “Even if we didn’t have access to her there [but] we could see her swim, I think I’d be the first one on the plane.

“But there’s a lot of cons against it right now. I want the joy of watching her swim, but I also want to do what’s right, in terms of our safety and the safety of others.”

Another deterrent could be recently-introduced rules that travellers returning to Canada are required to take a COVID-19 test upon landing and spend the first three days of their quarantine, at their own expense, at a supervised hotel while awaiting their results.

For Hirayama, whose great grandparents came to Canada from Japan, Tokyo has special significance. His parents had planned to meet up with old friends while in Japan.

He hopes conditions will change and his parents can make the trip.

“It’s hard to plan for anything that’s not a week away,” he said. “Things change so quickly. It would be awesome for them to book a last minute ticket, but I don’t think they’re planning on it now.”

In some ways, not having her parents make the journey would be a relief for Mac Neil.

“My parents are getting older,” she said. “It’s definitely better for them to just stay home safe and healthy.

“I think no matter where I am in the world, no matter where they are, I can always feel their support.”

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CBC | Sports News

MIT Creates Zoomable Lens Without Any Moving Parts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now read:

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ExtremeTechExtreme – ExtremeTech

COVID-19 variants will drive resurgence without stronger health measures, modelling warns

New modelling released by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) warns that COVID-19 variants could drive a resurgence in coronavirus cases across the country without stronger public health measures to prevent their spread.

National data show the pandemic has been coming under control recently, with numerous key indicators such as case counts, deaths, hospitalizations and long-term care outbreaks declining over the past few weeks. But the modelling suggests the spread of more contagious virus variants could swiftly reverse that progress.

“With the emergence and spread of new variants of concern, we are cautioned that unless we maintain and abide by stringent public health measures, we may not be able to avert a re-acceleration of the epidemic in Canada,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam during a virtual news conference on Friday.

“These variants have been smouldering in the background and now threaten to flare up.”

WATCH | Tam releases COVID-19 modelling with virus variants:

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam releases new modelling that includes the impact of COVID-19 variants. 1:54

The average number of daily cases reported over the past seven days is roughly 3,000 — down from a January peak of over 8,000 per day.

Tam said there are now fewer than 33,000 active cases in Canada — a 60 per cent drop compared to a month ago — and the number of people dying each day from the virus is also down by 58 per cent.

At the same time, over 700 cases have been linked to three variants of concern — the B117 variant first identified in the U.K., the B1351 variant first identified in South Africa, and the P1 variant first traced to travellers from Brazil. Variant cases have been detected in 10 provinces and there is evidence of community spread in at least five.

Scientists believe these variants could be up to 50 per cent more transmissible. Recent modelling from Quebec and Ontario suggests they could become the dominant strains in the coming weeks. 

Cases could rise to 20,000 per day if restrictions relaxed

Short- and long-term forecasts that exclude the spread of COVID-19 variants show infection rates flattening and declining in the coming weeks, even if people maintain their current numbers of daily contacts.

But when the more contagious variants are included, projections show a dramatic spike in cases to 10,000 per day by the end of March if current restrictions are maintained. 

The modelling shows the epidemic curve taking an almost vertical path to 20,000 cases per day by mid-March if public health restrictions are relaxed even further.

“Further lifting of the public health measures would cause the epidemic to re-surge rapidly and strongly,” Tam said. “And current community-based public health measures will be insufficient to control rapid growth and resurgence as forecast.”

(Public Health Agency of Canada)

The dire prediction comes even as some provinces plan to reopen their economies in response to declining case counts. Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba have all decided to relax restrictions in recent days, allowing many non-essential businesses such as restaurants and gyms to reopen.

Newfoundland and Labrador, meanwhile, went into a snap lockdown last week in response to an outbreak driven by the B.1.1.7 variant.

Tam said that kind of swift response is necessary.

“A rapid, decisive public health response by the province is what is needed to stop a variant of concern in its tracks,” said Tam.

Provinces that consider reopening should do so carefully and slowly, and make sure that proper surveillance testing is in place so that public health authorities can monitor the spread and respond accordingly, Tam said.

“Why would you ease your measures? Only if you’ve got the sequencing in place, you’ve got your testing to a good level, you know that when you’ve got a case you can contact their contacts,” Tam said. “If those things are not well in place, one shouldn’t be easing those measures.”

Tam said Canada has not yet vaccinated enough people to provide widespread protection, adding that even countries that have vaccinated more people have had to maintain strict rules to keep variants under control.

WATCH | Tam says COVID-19 resurgence likely if people ease off public health measures:

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam warns that a resurgence of COVID-19 is likely if people ease off public health measures. 2:18

At a press conference today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged provincial and territorial leaders not to relax public health measures too quickly.

“We need to make sure that — even as provinces look at loosening up certain restrictions — that other restrictions are kept in, and there is an ability to both respond quickly when variants appear and also an ability to use rapid tests as a way of screening the population much more regularly,” he said.

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CBC | Health News

At least 30 dead, several million still without power in U.S. after days of extreme weather

Utility crews raced Wednesday to restore power to nearly 3.4 million customers around the U.S. who were still without electricity or heat in the aftermath of a deadly winter storm, and another blast of ice and snow threatened to sow more chaos.

The latest storm front was expected to bring more hardship, especially to states that are unaccustomed to such frigid weather — parts of Texas, Arkansas and the Lower Mississippi Valley.

“There’s really no letup to some of the misery people are feeling across that area,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the U.S. National Weather Service, referring to Texas.

The system was forecast to move into the Northeast on Thursday. More than 100 million people live in areas covered by some type of winter weather warning, watch or advisory, the weather service said.

At least 30 people have died in the extreme weather this week, some while struggling to find warmth inside their homes. In the Houston area, one family succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning from car exhaust in their garage. Another perished as they used a fireplace to keep warm.

Record low temperatures were reported in city after city. Scientists say the polar vortex, a weather pattern that usually keeps to the Arctic, is increasingly spilling into lower latitudes and staying there longer, and global warming is partly responsible.

Rolling blackouts

Utilities from Minnesota to Texas and Mississippi have implemented rolling blackouts to ease the burden on power grids straining to meet extreme demand for heat and electricity. In Mexico, rolling blackouts Tuesday covered more than one-third of the country after the storms in Texas cut the supply of imported natural gas.

WATCH | Millions without power as much of U.S. recovers from major winter storm:

There is a scramble in Texas to stay warm and restore power to millions after a major winter storm hit. Several other states are also cleaning up after flooding and a tornado. 1:59

The worst U.S. power outages by far have been in Texas, where three million homes and businesses remained without power as of midday Wednesday. The state’s power grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said electricity had been restored to 600,000 homes and businesses by Tuesday night. Officials did not know when power would be restored, but council president Bill Magness said he hoped many customers would see at least partial service restored by later Wednesday or Thursday.

Magness also defended the decision to force outages “to prevent an event that would have been even more catastrophic than the terrible events we’ve seen this week.” 

Dashawn Walker, 33, was thrilled to find the power back on in his Dallas apartment Wednesday. He stayed at a suburban hotel Tuesday night after being without power since Sunday but said he was charged $ 474 US for one night.

“It’s crazy,” Walker said. “I mean why would y’all go up on the hotels in the middle of a crisis?”

Widespread power loss

More than 200,000 additional customers were in the dark in four Appalachian states, and nearly that many in the Pacific Northwest, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility outage reports.

Oklahoma’s largest electric utility reported no outages Wednesday, a day after rolling blackouts in and around Oklahoma City stopped electric-powered space heaters, furnaces and lights in –8 C weather. But Oklahoma Gas & Electric warned customers of the potential for more short-term service interruptions due to the extreme cold and high demand for natural gas.

People wait in line to fill propane tanks Wednesday in Houston. Customers had to wait over an hour in the freezing rain to fill their tanks. Millions in Texas still had no power after a historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state’s power grid and causing widespread blackouts. (David J. Phillip/The Associated Press)

Nebraska also avoided another round of rolling power outages as subzero temperatures started to ease.

Entergy imposed rolling blackouts Tuesday night in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Southeast Texas at the direction of its grid manager, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, according to a statement from the New Orleans-based utility.

The Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities covering 14 states, said the blackouts were “a last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole.”

The weather also caused major disruptions to water systems in several southern U.S. cities, including in Shreveport, Louisiana, where city fire trucks delivered water to several hospitals, and bottled water was being brought in for patients and staff, Shreveport television station KSLA reported.

Carbon monoxide poisoning incidents

In Austin, Houston and other cities, residents were asked to stop letting water drip from pipes, a practice to prevent freezing, because of a major drop in water pressure. Houston residents also were told to boil their water — if they had power — because the pressure drop was allowing bacteria to seep into the pipes.

In the southwest Louisiana city of Lake Charles, Mayor Nic Hunter said Wednesday that water reserves remained low even after power was restored, and that local hospitals were faced with the possibility they might have to transfer patients to other areas because of low water pressure.

Ehsan M. rides a snowboard behind a friend’s SUV in a parking lot in Texas after a heavy snow on Monday. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/The Associated Press)

Travel remains ill-advised in much of the United States, with roadways treacherous and thousands of flights cancelled. Many school systems delayed or cancelled face-to-face classes.

But even staying home can be hazardous in places without power.

Authorities said a fire that killed three young children and their grandmother in the Houston area likely was caused by the fireplace they were using to keep warm. In Oregon, authorities confirmed Tuesday that four people died in the Portland area of carbon monoxide poisoning.

At least 13 children were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth and one parent died of the toxic fumes, hospital officials said.

Fears of more snow

Stories of kindness emerged from the crisis.

In Clinton, Mississippi, Army veteran Evelyn Fletcher has been cooking and delivering meals to sidelined truck drivers, travelers and people staying at hotels after losing power at home.

“They’re stranded, they’re isolated — people are in need of support right now,” Fletcher said.

Lia Ubidia, right, and her son, Andrew Velarde, carry groceries as they walk home through the snow Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Houston. (David J. Phillip/The Associated Press)

On Monday, Fletcher made 85 meals. On Tuesday, she made 30 plates, while a local restaurant, T’Beaux’s Crawfish and Catering, cooked 75 plates of shrimp and gumbo that she and other volunteers delivered. And on Wednesday, Fletcher was cooking a pot of turkey noodle soup, hoping to deliver another 70 meals.

“People are worried about more snow,” she said. “We are going to keep people fed and keep them feeling hopeful.”

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CBC | World News

Several million without power in Texas as temperatures plunge as low as -20 C

A rare deep freeze in Texas that raised demand for power forced the U.S. state’s electric grid operator on Monday to impose rotating blackouts that left nearly three million customers without electricity.

The cold snap sweeping Texas reached the northern part of neighbouring Mexico as well, where authorities said 4.7 million users lost power early on Monday.  Around midday, service had been restored to almost 2.6 million of them.

The PowerOutage.us website, which tracks power outages, said 2,820,764 Texas customers were experiencing outages around 2 p.m. CT

U.S. President Joe Biden approved the state’s emergency declaration, unlocking federal assistance to tackle the rare deep freeze, where temperatures ranged from – 2 to -22 C.

WATCH | Winter storm hits Texas:

With Texas under a disaster declaration, a winter storm blanketed much of the state in snow and wind chill warnings were issued, possibly for the first time ever in some parts. 0:58

Apart from Texas, much of the United States from the Pacific Northwest through the Great Plains and into the mid-Atlantic states has been in the grip of bone-chilling weather over the weekend, featuring snow, sleet and freezing rain.

“The Texas power grid has not been compromised. The ability of some companies that generate the power has been frozen,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote on Twitter on Monday. “They are working to get generation back on line.”

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) sought to cut power use in response to a winter record of 69,150 megawatts (MW) on Sunday evening, more than 3,200 MW higher than the previous winter peak in January 2018.

About 10,500 MW of customer load was shed at the highest point, enough power to serve approximately two million homes, it said, adding that extreme weather caused many generating units across fuel types to trip offline and become unavailable.

“Controlled outages will continue through today and into early tomorrow, possibly all of tomorrow,” Dan Woodfin, director of systems operations at ERCOT, said at a Monday briefing.

Heavy snow blanketed highways in Austin, Texas, Feb 15. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via The Associated Press)

The freeze also took a toll on the energy industry in Texas, by far the country’s largest crude producer, shutting oil refineries and forcing restrictions from natural gas pipeline operators.

The National Weather Service said that an Arctic air mass had spread southwards, well beyond areas accustomed to freezing weather, with winter storm warnings posted for most of the Gulf Coast region, Oklahoma and Missouri.

The storms knocked out nearly half the wind power generation capacity of Texas on Sunday.

Of the 25,000-plus megawatts of wind power capacity normally available in Texas, 12,000 megawatts was out of service on Sunday morning, an ERCOT spokesperson said.

A young girl creates a snow angel in Austin, Texas, on Monday, Feb. 15, 2021. Much of the state was experiencing snow and freezing temperatures over the Presidents Day weekend. (Bronte Wittpenn /Austin American-Statesman via The Associated Press)

The spot price of electricity on the Texas power grid spiked more than 10,000 per cent on Monday, according to data on the grid operator’s website.

Real-time market prices on the power grid operated by the ERCOT have climbed as high as $ 11,000 Cdn per megawatt hour. A typical price on the grid, which supplies most of the electricity for Texas, is less than $ 100 per megawatt hour.

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CBC | World News

Pandemic practices: How 2 U of T women’s basketball coaches are navigating a season without games

It’s been an on-and-off season for the University of Toronto women’s basketball team.

Players were on the court in September practising mostly in groups of five — with the exception of one full team practice — until Thanksgiving, when lockdown in Ontario forced them off.

“Practices” from home lasted four more weeks until the team was cleared to return to the court for another seven days. That’s when the latest provincial lockdown took effect, forcing the team back off the court.

Now, as coronavirus cases surge across the province, and specifically in Toronto, a return to the hardwood is nowhere in sight.

“It’s been a tough time, obviously not being on the court as much, really trying to make your team essentially become a team — not necessarily on the court. That’s been tough. But there are a lot of things that you can do off the court, [where] I find are there are opportunities to really make themselves better not just as a basketball player, but as a person,” said interim head coach and two-time Olympian Tamara Tatham.

Tatham took over the role July 1 after the retirement of Michele Belanger, who spent 41 seasons guiding the Varsity Blues.

But Tatham has yet to call a timeout or set a starting lineup. She retired as a player in 2017 before becoming an assistant on Belanger’s bench. In September, the 35-year-old brought on Rio Olympic teammate and current national team player Miah-Marie Langlois, 29, to the staff.

One month later, USports announced all winter championships, including women’s basketball, would be called off due to the pandemic. The team has not and will not play a single game.

“We’re just making sure they’re still staying connected somehow. We did a lot during the summer, but we kind of dialed it down since the school year started by because they’re in school 24/7 online,” said Tatham.

Zoom practices

The team is meeting regularly over Zoom, though basketball is often not the main focus. Instead, Tatham and Langlois choose to zero in on social activity.

“It’s really important to not get on the girls or expect a lot from them when they’re going through a bigger problem than being denied just basketball. We still have to worry about them, especially their mental health. So we’re just trying to be very conscious about everyone’s screen time and just try to support the girls as much as we can to get through this,” said Langlois.

There’s been sessions built for the players to just get to know each other. Another meeting had a Christmas theme, and a pair of Zoom workout calls even had ’80s and Halloween dress codes.

Three times a week, the strength and conditioning coach sends out a program and the players lift together over video. Langlois managed to put together a ball-handling session when it was warmer out, too.

“Basketball is a team sport. I think girls like [that part of] sports, the whole connection and bonding. So we want to keep that aspect of basketball in it and try to use the same sessions to allow the girls to connect with each other, even if they can’t physically,” said Langlois.

While practices are fine, everyone is itching to get back on the court. (Submitted by Tamara Tatham)

Tatham and Langlois said it’s still been tough for the players riding the roller-coaster of the non-existent season.

“But it’s also been a bit of a blessing because you’re getting to realize what basketball is and how important it is to you personally,” said Tatham.

The pandemic hasn’t eased the new coaches’ transition to the bench either. There are no game plans to prepare, no rotations to manage, no progression to see over the eight-month season.

Instead, the lack of competition has helped Tatham and Langlois learn the behind-the-scenes of coaching, like recruiting, fundraising and off-court team-building.

Learning curve for coaches

Tatham said the biggest things she learned about coaching was how it can be like a CEO’s role, with the need to marry all the non-basketball stuff with on-court activity.

But that hasn’t stopped the head coach from watching the NBA — specifically Nick Nurse’s Toronto Raptors and Erik Spoelstra’s Miami Heat — to pick up new strategy every single night. 

“The way they manage, not necessarily whether they manage timeouts, it’s more so what they’re doing at the timeout, why they’re taking timeouts. … And just some of the way that they’re running different offences, how is it slowing? What’s your transition look like? What does your defensive transition like?”

Langlois, still more used to being coached as opposed to coaching, relished the opportunity to improve her relationships with players, like knowing when to push and when to hold back.

Seven months out of the Tokyo Olympics, Langlois also has her playing career to worry about. She’s currently rehabbing a sciatic nerve injury with an eye on full recovery for July, though that process is made even harder with gyms shut down.

But the task at hand remains the Varsity Blues. While Zoom practices are fine, everyone is itching to get back on the court.

“We get told a date and then it comes near and then it gets pushed back again. So we are not in the know just like everyone else,” she said.

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Ontario could hit 6,500 new COVID-19 cases daily by mid-December without further action, modelling suggests

Ontario could see 6,500 daily new cases of COVID-19 by mid-December if no further action is taken to curb the fast-rising curve, new modelling shows. 

New projections by Ontario’s science advisory table show the pandemic is worsening across the province overall. Long-term care residents’ deaths are increasing each week and case numbers likely exceeding those of European cities currently in some form of lockdown, if case counts grow by five per cent.

But a five per cent growth rate is an “optimistic” scenario, according to Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table.

The province’s seven-day growth average right now is already about four per cent, Brown said at a news conference Thursday. Over the last three days, the growth rate has been about six per cent.

Asked if further restrictions are needed to curb the rising curve, Brown offered this response without elaborating:

“If the goal is to reduce the number of cases and the goal is to reduce the impact to the health system, then yes,” he said just before the news conference ended. 

Without it, he said, “You’ll continue to see growth in cases, you’ll see more ICU cases, more deaths in long term care homes, even with new restrictions if they were implemented today, you’d still see growth in mortality as it takes some times to filter through the system.”

“I do not believe there’s a way that the cases will change without action.”

WATCH | Public health official on the need for tighter restrictions: 

“If the goal is to reduce the number of cases and the goal is to reduce the impact to the health system then yes,” Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table replied. 0:32

Meanwhile, Ontario’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams emphasized the importance of individual behaviour.

“If everybody did what they were supposed to do, we can bring these numbers down,” said Williams.

Asked whether he would consider further lockdowns, Williams said the province’s health table has yet to answer key questions about what such a scenario might look like, whether it would be provincewide, what the trigger might be and whether schools should also be closed.

No answers were provided to any of those questions, with Williams instead saying those questions need to be answered soon.

Over the past seven days alone, Ontario has seen 71 deaths in long-term care homes, a number health officials expect to quickly rise as case counts grow. 

The modelling also shows the number of people in intensive care will surpass the 150-bed mark within two weeks, a critical point when experts say the province will have to cancel many surgeries. Under the worst-case scenarios, ICU occupancy will exceed 400 beds within six weeks. 

“Access to non-COVID ICU gear will become rationed,” Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of the intensive care unit (ICU) at Michael Garron Hospital.

“It will force significant cancellations of surgeries, diagnostic tests, just about all non-COVID-related activity.”

As for the apparent disconnect between today’s modelling and the province’s response, Warner said:

“I’m really at a loss for words. I feel like Premier Ford and Dr. David Williams are on an island by themselves making decisions independently. Because the decisions they’re making make absolutely no sense.

“Unless something changes, our future is extremely grim,” he said. 

“We need new leadership and pandemic response immediately.”

The updated modelling comes as the province blew through its earlier projection of 1,200 new daily cases by mid-November, with 1,575 new cases of the virus announced Thursday — its third straight record-high day.

At a news conference earlier in the day, Premier Doug Ford defended the province’s plan, saying that while the numbers are “concerning” and “alarming,” widespread shutdowns are not the answer.

WATCH | Ford says province taking a ‘balanced approach’ to the COVID-19 pandemic:

Premier Doug Ford responds to a report by the Toronto Star that suggests Public Health Ontario recommended setting several key thresholds for the red “control” tier — the most stringent set of restrictions before a full lockdown — at levels four times lower than those the government ultimately chose.   1:35

“The easiest thing to do, folks, is to sit back and say let’s just shut down the whole province. How do you deal with the mental health of people? It’s easy for people to say just shut everything down.”

The first 22 minutes of that news conference were spent almost exclusively focusing on Ontario’s economic picture, with Ford announcing what he called a “historic” new partnership for a Hamilton shipbuilding company to build steel ship parts.

Asked Thursday evening if the premier would comment on the projections, Ford’s press secretary Ivana Yelich sent a copy of his comments from earlier in the day, adding that he has repeatedly said he won’t hesitate to take action when it is recommended by Dr. Williams. 

WATCH | Modelling shows pandemic worsening in Ontario:

Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said resident deaths in long-term care homes are increasing each week and case numbers across the province will likely exceed European cities currently in some form of lockdown if growth continues at five per cent. 2:01

Based on the growth rate of new cases in early November, Ontario is on track for 2,000 cases a day around Dec. 1, according to recent projections by the COVID-19 Modelling Collaborative. Work by this group — which includes scientists and physicians from the University of Toronto, University Health Network and Sunnybrook Hospital — has fed into the province’s own modelling forecasts. 

The last time Ontario released modelling, at the end of October, Premier Doug Ford hinted that it would show good news.

“We see the curve going down,” he said one day before the modelling was released publicly.

The modelling suggested the rate of increase in new COVID-19 cases was slower than it had been in previous weeks, but infections were still on the rise.

Read a copy of the government’s latest modelling report:

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Biden gains ground in key states as Trump accuses Democrats, without evidence, of trying to ‘steal’ election

The latest:

  • Electoral college vote stands at 253 for Biden, 214 for Trump.
  • Election observer says no evidence for Trump’s fraud claims.
  • Michigan, Georgia judges dismiss Trump campaign lawsuits.
  • Get all the U.S. election results as they come in.
  • How the electoral college determines who wins the U.S. presidency.
  • What do you want to know about the U.S. election? Email us at Ask@cbc.ca.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden gained more ground on U.S. President Donald Trump in the battleground states of Georgia and Pennsylvania on Friday, edging closer to the White House hours after Trump falsely claimed the election was being “stolen” from him.

Biden had a 253 to 214 lead in the state-by-state electoral college vote that determines the winner and was inching toward securing the 270 votes needed in the remaining undecided swing states.

In Georgia, which has 16 electoral votes, Biden edged into the lead more than 900 votes early Friday morning. In Pennsylvania, which has 20 electoral votes, Biden cut Trump’s lead to just over 18,000.

The numbers in Georgia and Pennsylvania were expected to continue to move in Biden’s favour, with many of the outstanding ballots being from areas that typically vote Democratic, including the cities of Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Biden did see his lead in Arizona shrink to around 47,000 earlier, and was still ahead in Nevada by only 12,000 votes. The Associated Press and Fox News have called Arizona for Biden, but CBC News still considers it too close to call and is waiting to make the determination.

Biden would become the next president by winning Pennsylvania, or by winning two out of the trio of Georgia, Nevada and Arizona. Trump’s likeliest path appeared narrower — he needed to hang onto both Pennsylvania and Georgia and also to overtake Biden in either Nevada or Arizona.

As the country held its breath three days after Tuesday’s election day, Georgia and Pennsylvania officials expressed optimism they would finish counting on Friday, while Arizona and Nevada were still expected to take days to finalize their vote totals.

WATCH | Trump makes unfounded allegations about ‘illegal’ votes:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said Thursday that Democrats could ‘try to steal the election from us’ if ‘illegal votes’ cast after election day were counted. There is no evidence that ballots were cast after Nov. 3. 0:40

Trump has sought to portray as fraudulent the slow counting of mail-in ballots, which surged in popularity due to fears of exposure to the coronavirus through in-person voting. As counts from those ballots have been tallied, they have eroded the initial strong leads the president had in states like Georgia and Pennsylvania.

States have historically taken time after election day to tally all votes.

Trump continues baseless allegations

In an extraordinary assault on the democratic process, Trump appeared in the White House briefing room on Thursday evening and without basis alleged the election was being “stolen” from him.

Offering no evidence, Trump lambasted election workers and sharply criticized polling before the election that he said was designed to suppress the vote because it favoured Biden.

“They’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen,” said Trump, who spoke for about 15 minutes in the White House briefing room before leaving without taking questions. Several TV networks cut away during his remarks, with anchors saying they needed to correct his statements.

Biden, who earlier in the day urged patience as votes were counted, responded on Twitter: “No one is going to take our democracy away from us. Not now, not ever.”

With ballots still to be tabulated, Biden already had received more than 73 million votes, the most in U.S. history, while Trump had more than 69 million, about seven million more than in 2016. “Democracy is sometimes messy,” Biden said from Wilmington, Del. “It sometimes requires a bit of patience, too.”

WATCH | ‘Democracy is sometimes messy,’ Biden says: 

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden calls on Americans to be patient and calm as the final ballots are counted in crucial swing states. 1:14

And he reiterated that he feels good about where things stand and is confident he will be the winner when the count is complete. 

On Thursday, a Michigan judge dismissed a Trump campaign lawsuit in a dispute over whether Republican challengers had access to the handling of absentee ballots. The lawsuit claimed Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, was allowing absentee ballots to be counted without teams of bipartisan observers as well as challengers. 

Michigan First District Court of Appeals Judge Cynthia Stephens said that the lawsuit was filed late Wednesday afternoon, just hours before the last ballots were counted. She also said Benson was the wrong person to sue because she doesn’t control the logistics of local ballot counting even if she is the state’s chief election officer.

Much of the dispute centred on the TCF Center in Detroit where pro-Trump protesters gathered while absentee ballots were being counted.

WATCH | Trump supporters angry as race tightens in Georgia:

Donald Trump supporters protested in Georgia as the lead he initially had over Joe Biden dwindled as more ballots were counted, with some making claims about fraudulent ballots. 2:09

A judge in Georgia, where Trump and Biden were neck and neck Thursday night with 98 per cent of votes reported, also dismissed a lawsuit over the vote in that state late Wednesday. 

It was unclear if any of the Trump campaign’s legal manoeuvring over ballot counting would succeed in shifting the race in his favour. Late Thursday afternoon, the campaign said it had launched yet another lawsuit, this time against the Philadelphia board of electors, seeking an injunction to bar ballot counting unless Republican observers are present. 

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said on Thursday afternoon that she was unaware of any allegations of voter fraud in her state as the final votes were being counted. 

WATCH | Pennsylvania’s secretary of state says it’s not yet clear who the winner is:

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar told reporters Thursday that several hundred thousand ballots remain to be counted in the state where results are highly anticipated amid a tight national electoral race. 0:54

What do you want to know about the U.S. election? Email us at Ask@cbc.ca.

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