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Referee banned from working NHL games after being caught on live mic wanting to call penalty on Predators

Referee Tim Peel has been banned from officiating future NHL games after he was caught saying he wanted to call a penalty against the Nashville Predators during a game on Tuesday.

Peel was wearing a microphone for the Detroit-Nashville game Tuesday night and was heard making the comment over the TV broadcast.

“It wasn’t much, but I wanted to get a [expletive] penalty against Nashville early in the,” Peel was heard saying before his microphone was cut off after Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson was called for a tripping penalty at 4:56 of the second period.

Peel worked the game with referee Kelly Sutherland. The Predators were called for four penalties and the Red Wings three in Nashville’s 2-0 win.

WARNING: Clip contains profane language

“Nothing is more important than ensuring the integrity of our game,” Colin Campbell, the league’s senior executive vice-president of hockey operations, said in a statement issued by the NHL Wednesday. 

“Tim Peel’s conduct is in direct contradiction to the adherence to that cornerstone principle that we demand of our officials and that our fans, players, coaches and all those associated with our game expect and deserve,” he said in the statement. “There is no justification for his comments, no matter the context or his intention, and the National Hockey League will take any and all steps necessary to protect the integrity our game.”

The NHL’s statement was unclear on whether Peel had been fired, but TSN reported Wednesday he planned to retire following this season.

NHL players weigh in

Nashville’s Matt Duchene on a local radio appearance Wednesday wondered aloud what would have happened if Detroit scored on the power play, won the game and the Predators missed the playoffs by a point.

“The crazy part is he was talking to [teammate Filip] Forsberg in that clip, and he told our bench that,” Duchene said. “Really bizarre. I don’t think there’s a place in hockey for that.

“You’ve got to call the game. I’ve always been frustrated when I’ve seen even-up calls or stuff like that. If one team is earning power plays, you can’t punish them because the other team is not.”

Even-up — or make-up — calls are when referees will penalize one team to compensate for what they perceive to be an incorrect penalty imposed on the opposing team. 

Duchene and other players around the league cast doubt on “make-up calls” being a regular part of hockey, though he acknowledged “there’s definitely nights where you’re skeptical of it.”

“Some of the good refs definitely have a feel for the game and they know the ebbs and flows, and they know to try to keep the game as even as possible unless the play dictates otherwise,” New York Rangers forward Ryan Strome said. “But as players, all you can ask for is that they try to call it as fair as possible.”

‘The league had to do what they had to do’

Washington centre Nicklas Backstrom, a 14-year veteran, said the incident was a first for him.

“I’ve never heard anything like that,” Backstrom said. “I think it’s maybe unfortunate that it happened and came out that way. But at the same time, the league had to do what they had to do.”

Predators coach John Hynes said it probably doesn’t matter how he feels about what the official said.

“But the referees are employees of the league and rather than me comment on it, it’s an issue that I think the league will have to take care of,” Hynes said.

Most players and coaches expressed respect for on-ice officials and lamented how difficult their jobs are in keeping track of the fast-paced game. Buffalo interim coach Don Granato said he has “full faith” in the people who work for the NHL.

“[Peel] made a mistake, but unfortunately you don’t want make-up calls to be part of the game,” Edmonton’s Adam Larsson said. “I don’t think it’s right. I think if it’s an obvious one I don’t think it should be made up for.”

Peel, 54, from Hampton, N.B., has been an NHL referee since 1999.

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CBC | Sports News

Why side-effects from COVID-19 vaccines are a sign they may be working

A sore arm, fatigue, muscle pain and fever are some of the side-effects being reported in those receiving COVID-19 vaccines, and experts say that’s mostly a good thing.

Vaccines are supposed to trigger an immune response, they say. That’s how you know they’re working.

“If you have a vaccine that doesn’t produce a reaction in people, the resulting immune response is weaker,” said Earl Brown, a microbiologist at the University of Ottawa.

Brown said vaccines work by stimulating our immune cells to grow and communicate with each other, giving directions on where to set up for an impending attack by the virus. That results in inflammation, with some of those cells travelling to lymph nodes and causing swelling.

The mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna give immune cells instructions to make the COVID spike protein and produce antibodies. Viral vector vaccines such as those produced by AstraZeneca-Oxford and Johnson & Johnson, meanwhile, force an immune response from the harmless version of the virus that’s injected with those jabs.

Earl Brown, a microbiologist at the University of Ottawa, says inflammation from vaccines strengthen the immune system. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

“The vaccines get your immune cells to start recruiting more of their buddies, saying, ‘We’re making a new response. We need all you guys here,”‘ Brown said. “So the inflammation is good. It makes the immune system stronger.”

The World Health Organization says side-effects to COVID vaccines have been mostly “mild to moderate and short-lasting” and include fever, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, diarrhea and pain at the injection site.

How often do side-effects happen?

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, said cases of adverse effects are increasing because so many people are now getting vaccinated. The percentage of those that develop these mild to moderate side-effects is still quite low compared with the number of people being immunized.

She said that while more severe effects are possible — a small number have experienced serious allergic reactions — those events are rare.

Fever was common after the first dose of Pfizer and “very common” — defined as present in 10 per cent of participants or more — after the second dose. It was uncommon after the first dose of Moderna but very common after the second.

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta, says cases of adverse effects are increasing because so many people are now getting vaccinated. (CBC)

Brown said effects are generally more apparent following second doses because the body has built up a stronger immune response from the initial jab.

While Saxinger said a fever is a “strong reaction” to a vaccine, it shouldn’t last more than a few days. She also said that taking anti-inflammatories before a vaccine to lessen possible effects isn’t advised, since you want to illicit that immune response.

“It looks like mRNA vaccines are particularly talented at mimicking infection,” she said. “That very targeted and strong immune response is what we ultimately want.”

WATCH | COVID-19 vaccine booking is a patchwork of provincial plans:

Each province is using different systems for people to book COVID-19 vaccinations. Ontario’s online booking system will go live Monday morning, while in B.C. only one health authority currently offers online booking. 2:48

Data from Health Canada shows 0.085 per cent of doses administered in the country from mid-December to March 5 resulted in an adverse reaction, with 0.009 per cent considered serious. Pain, redness and swelling at the vaccination site were the most common effects.

Most of those doses would have been mRNA vaccines, which are generally eliciting stronger reactions than the viral vector jabs.

Saxinger said that could be related to the initial efficacy of the vaccines. Whereas Pfizer and Moderna offer higher levels of effectiveness right away, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson build up over time.

“It’s more of a slow-and-steady profile versus the hot-off-the-presses, quick response from the mRNA,” she said. “So there’s a parallel there with the vigorousness of the initial immune reaction.”

Why do some experience side-effects and other don’t?

Brown said age is perhaps the biggest determining factor, noting older people, who tend to have less robust immune systems, report fewer reactions. Canada’s vaccine supply to date has mostly been administered to older populations.

The absence of side-effects doesn’t mean the vaccine isn’t working, Brown added. Some people simply won’t show outward reactions.

News out of Europe last week caused concern over AstraZeneca’s product after some adverse events, including blood clots, were reported following vaccination. That spurred nearly a dozen countries to pause their use of the product while experts investigate a possible link.

WATCH | Several EU states suspend use of AstraZeneca vaccine:

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a member of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, tells Power and Politics the vaccine is still safe to use in Canada. 2:02

Canadian health authorities said they were keeping a watchful eye on the European investigations but added there is no evidence the clots were caused by the vaccine.

AstraZeneca released a statement on Sunday saying a review of 17 million patients who received the shot in Europe and the U.K. showed no elevated risk of blood clotting.

Ann Taylor, the company’s chief medical officer, said there’s no increased risk of either pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia in any age group, gender, batch of vaccines or country.

A nurse holds a vile of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Senftenberg, Germany, on March 3. Germany is among several countries suspending use of the vaccine due to blood clot concerns. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The company said there are reports of 15 patients experiencing deep vein thrombosis and 22 pulmonary embolisms as of March 8, which is much lower than what would occur naturally in a population of more than 17 million people.

Blood clots are fairly common, Saxinger said, so investigators will look at overall numbers of people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine compared with those who reported the condition.

“There’s so many people receiving vaccines daily that any health event that happens to anyone around the time they get their shot may or may not be related,” Saxinger said.

Brown said news of possible side-effects shouldn’t dissuade people from getting vaccinated.

“Look at it as short-term, manageable discomfort without damage, compared to a real disease that could be life-altering or life-ending.”

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CBC | Health News

Why people working snowy slopes may be at greater risk of catching COVID than skiers

Fresh air, blazing speed and spacious alpine terrain makes skiing and snowboarding low-risk activities for COVID-19 transmission, infectious disease doctors say.

But the threat is never zero during a global pandemic, they add. And people working on those snowy slopes may be at greater risk of catching the virus than those dashing down them.

Most ski hills in Ontario were permitted to reopen Tuesday, joining other mountainous resorts across the country that have remained operational through the winter.

Many have implemented extra safety precautions and operate under local restrictions, including:

  • Asking patrons to wear face coverings on lifts.
  • Cancelling classes.
  • Limiting access to indoor spaces.

While the activity of skiing is relatively safe from a transmission standpoint, experts say spread can still happen, and COVID outbreaks have been reported at larger resorts over the last couple months, mostly affecting staff members.

One outbreak in Kelowna, B.C., in December began with workers living on site before it sprawled to include more than 130 cases. Popular Lake Louise and Nakiska resorts in Alberta also reported outbreaks among staff.

‘Tale of two pandemics’

Dr. Andrew Boozary, the executive director of population health and social medicine at the University Health Network, says it’s clusters of cases like those that make ski hills concerning.

“I have no anti-skiing bias — it’s an activity that makes a whole lot of sense in Canada — but there’s a lot of people who take on risk to ensure a ski hill is operational,” he said.

“A lot of the time we rely on people who are in temporary work or who’ve been underpaid, without living wages and without paid sick leave, to take on risk so some of us can have that pleasure and leisure activity.” 

Boozary likened the recent emphasis on ski hills to that of golf courses over the summer, or to policy around cottages and seasonal vacation homes that were tailored to higher-income populations.

Skiing, like golf, isn’t affordable to everyone, he says.

And while Boozary agrees that skiing and snowboarding can provide mental health benefits of exercise in a low-risk setting, he’d like to see more emphasis on ensuring lower-income populations have safe, outdoor spaces, too.

WATCH | Ont. ski resorts welcome people back to the slopes:

Jim Hemlin, chief operating officer of Calabogie Peaks Resort, says skiers and snowboarders are excited to be back on the hill after the extended shutdown. 0:45

“We’ve seen this dichotomy, this tale of two pandemics. And we’re seeing it now with skiing,” Boozary said. “There’s an income divide on who gets access to these spaces.”

Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease expert with the University of Alberta, says staff members at ski resorts are more likely than visitors to become infected because of the close proximity workers tend to be in.

Sometimes they share indoor spaces like lunchrooms, which aren’t conducive to mask-wearing when people are eating, Schwartz says, and “transmission thrives” in those settings.

“The likelihood of infection is going to be a function of physical proximity, the amount of time they’re in that proximity, the activities they’re doing and whether there are precautions taken to minimize transmission.”

Precautions for skiers

While skiers will generally be safe, those who wish to hit the slopes still need to be mindful of safety precautions, Schwartz says.

He added that spread is more likely to happen before or after people glide down the mountains, like when they put on ski boots in a crowded indoor area. Those spots should be avoided when possible, Schwartz says, and masks should be worn when distance can’t be maintained.

Skiers and snowboarders hit the slopes as Mount Pakenham in Eastern Ontario reopens after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Pakenham, Ont., on Feb. 11. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Other factors could make trips to snowy resorts more dangerous, he added, including guests travelling from COVID hot spots and potentially bringing the virus with them into small ski towns.

The rise of new variants of concern might require more stringent restrictions on skiers as well, says Parisa Ariya, a chemistry professor at McGill University who specializes in aerosol transmission.

Ariya says while outdoor settings are far safer than indoors, spread “actually does happen outside” in some instances, and she recommends wearing a mask while skiing or snowboarding.

Winters in Quebec and Ontario make air more dense, Ariya adds, which could have an impact on how long viral particles stay in the atmosphere.

WATCH | Ski resorts walk a fine line during pandemic: 

The ski industry in the Canadian Rockies is struggling during the pandemic, with operators trying to balance COVID-19 safety and industry survival. 2:00

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease expert in Mississauga, Ont., says that while cold air may cause physical changes to aerosols “it does not translate to increased risk of disease transmission.”

He says risk of outdoor spread remains “quite low,” except for situations with large crowds in close contact, like during concerts or sporting events.

“From a public health standpoint I would much rather see 50 people skiing outdoors than a group of 10 watching TV together indoors,” he said.

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CBC | Health News

‘Our plan is working,’ Trudeau says amid new vaccine delays

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that he understands why there is a “tremendous amount of anxiety” among Canadians with the constant flow of bad news about the inoculation campaign, but he doubled down on his promise to deliver six million shots by the end of March.

Trudeau asked Canadians to tune out the “noise” from some circles about the sorry state of the country’s vaccine efforts, saying the temporary “ups and downs” may be frustrating to “some people,” but they’re just that — temporary.

Speaking to reporters outside Rideau Cottage, Trudeau said he has been in regular contact with executives at three of the pharmaceutical companies that are supplying Canada with shots.

The two principal suppliers, Moderna and Pfizer, have assured him that they will still meet their contractual obligations to send six million shots, combined, despite dramatic declines in shipments over the last month, Trudeau said.

“I want to reassure Canadians that we’re on track,” he said, adding that as many as 20 million more doses will start to arrive in the spring as the federal government keeps its sights on vaccinating all people who want a shot by the end of September.

Asked if Canada had any legal recourse if the companies don’t meet their contractual obligations, Trudeau didn’t answer. Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos also declined to comment Friday on the government’s legal options if the companies fail to meet delivery targets for the first quarter of this year.

The two companies are grappling with manufacturing issues at their plants in Europe that have severely disrupted deliveries to markets outside the U.S. Inside the U.S. both companies are producing vaccines exclusively for the American market. 

While Canada’s Moderna supply will be curtailed this month — public health officials have conceded that they have no idea just how much product will arrive.

Meanwhile shipments in the U.S. have increased by about 35 per cent in the last week as Moderna looks to fulfil its obligations to a government that partially funded vaccine development.

AstraZeneca awaits green light

Trudeau said the pending approval of other promising vaccine candidates will be a much-needed jolt to the stalled vaccination campaign — Canada now ranks 33rd worldwide for shots administered per capita — and he spoke with the CEO of AstraZeneca this week, who told him vaccines would follow shortly after Health Canada’s green light.

Canada passed on the domestic manufacturing rights to that product, so the shipments will come from the company’s factories abroad. Canada has ordered up to 20 million doses of that product, which is already in use in Europe and the United Kingdom.

More than 1.2 million shots have already been delivered in Canada so far, with an estimated 1.3 million more shots slated to arrive this month.

That means more than 3.5 million shots have to be delivered in the month of March alone — some 885,000 a week — to meet the prime minister’s promised vaccination target, a daunting task for the country’s public health system. Trudeau said the country is now preparing for the onslaught of hundreds of thousands of shots.

“Our plan is working,” Trudeau said in French. “Temporary shipment delays are a hurdle but one that we were ready for.”

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CBC | Health News

White House staffers working close to Trump, Pence to be offered early COVID-19 vaccine access

Senior U.S. government officials, including some White House officials who work in close proximity to President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence, will be offered coronavirus vaccines as soon as this week, while its public distribution is limited to front-line health workers and people in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Doses of the newly approved vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech will be made available to those who work in close quarters with the country’s top leaders, two people familiar with the matter confirmed. They said the move was meant to prevent more COVID-19 spread in the White House, which has already suffered from several outbreaks of the virus that infected Trump and other top officials, and other critical facilities.

It was not immediately clear how many officials would be offered the vaccine initially and whether Trump or Pence would get it.

The Trump administration is undertaking the vaccination program under federal continuity of government plans, officials said.

“Senior officials across all three branches of government will receive vaccinations pursuant to continuity of government protocols established in executive policy,” said National Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot. “The American people should have confidence that they are receiving the same safe and effective vaccine as senior officials of the United States government on the advice of public health professionals and national security leadership.”

A nurse administers the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in London, U.K., on Tuesday. (Frank Augstein/AP)

The two people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The New York Times first reported the news.

The move to vaccinate top U.S. officials would be consistent with the rollout of rapid testing machines for the coronavirus, which were similarly controlled by the federal government with kits reserved to protect the White House complex and other critical facilities.

According to guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is not yet enough information to determine whether those who have had COVID-19 should also get the vaccine. Pence has not come down with the virus, and his aides have been discussing when and how he should receive the vaccine as the administration looks to boost public confidence in the shot.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses administered three weeks apart, meaning Trump administration officials would receive the final shot just weeks before leaving office.

WATCH | Small players will play big roles in ‘cold chain’ of vaccine delivery:

On both sides of the border, small companies are taking on a big role in helping perfect the cold chain to keep the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine cold enough for safe delivery. And one key component is making sure there’s enough dry ice to keep the vaccine cold enough. 2:06

The Trump administration’s vaccination plan could prove to be a boon for his successor, as aides to President-elect Joe Biden have been discussing when and how he should receive the vaccine and working to establish plans to boost virus safeguards in the West Wing to keep the 78-year-old Democrat healthy.

The White House vaccinations come as Trump and his aides have consistently flouted the COVID-19 guidelines issued by his own administration, including hosting large holiday parties with maskless attendees this December.

According to a Capitol Hill official, lawmakers have not been informed how many doses would be made available to them, adding it would be premature to speculate who might receive them. The official was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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CBC | World News

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians could get a tax break for working from home during pandemic

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians could be eligible for a lucrative tax deduction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But just how many get to claim that deduction could depend on their employers, and on how the Canada Revenue Agency deals with a series of questions raised by the sudden changes that have compelled millions of Canadians to work from home.

Armando Minicucci, a partner with the accounting firm Grant Thornton, said he expects a big increase in the number of Canadians able to claim a deduction for turning part of their home into an office.

“I would say the number would have to be in the hundreds of thousands,” he said.

It’s called the “work-space-in-the-home” deduction and you can claim it if you work from home more than 50 per cent of the time, or if you have a separate home office and use it to meet clients.

Either way, your employer has to certify that working from home is a condition of your employment. According to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), 174,210 Canadians took advantage of the deduction on their 2018 tax returns, claiming an average per person of $ 1,561.

The deduction allows those who qualify for it to reduce their tax bills by claiming a portion of their household expenses — such as utilities, cleaning and rent.

Normally, the number of people who can claim the deduction is limited. To qualify, you either have to spend more than 50 per cent of your time working from home, or you have to use a home office exclusively for work and regularly meet clients there.

How the pandemic changed things

The current rules require anyone claiming the deduction to get their employer to fill out a form — T2200 — certifying that working from home is a condition of employment. Without that form, the claim would be rejected, said the CRA.

But that was before the pandemic hit.

In March, as COVID-19 began to spread in Canada, public health authorities urged Canadians to stay home. Governments issued orders closing non-essential businesses and employers across the country began telling employees who could do their jobs remotely to work from home.

By mid-April, 3.3 million Canadians had moved out of their regular workplaces and were working from home, according to Statistics Canada’s June Labour Force Survey. While that number dropped by 400,000 in June, millions of Canadians are still working from home.

Some employers, like Ottawa-based Shopify, have told employees they can work from home indefinitely.

By September, those sent home to work in March will have worked at least half the year at home — potentially putting them in a position to qualify for the deduction.

“We’re getting further and further along in this pandemic where a lot of employees are going to have exceeded the six-month mark, and in that situation they should qualify,” said Minicucci.

“But for those employees that have not worked the full six months or more at home, there’s a question with respect to whether or not they meet the eligibility criteria.”

Whether those who haven’t worked a full six months from home will be allowed to claim the deduction is one of the questions Canada’s tax experts have asked the CRA to clarify, said Minicucci.

Keep those receipts

Even if some of those working from home end up falling short of the six-month benchmark, they can still deduct the cost of many of the supplies they have had to consume to get the job done, he said.

“You’re looking at things like pens, paper, ink cartridges for your printer at home,” he said. “Those are items that are consumed. Capital items, unfortunately, are not deductible. So if you buy a printer, not deductible. If you buy a laptop, not deductible. Those are capital items.

“But if you buy items that are being consumed during the course of performing your employment duties, they are deductible. The 50 per cent criteria is not a condition in order to claim expenses for items that you consumed while performing your duties at home.”

An employee works from home over the Zoom platform. Accountants are asking the federal government to clarify the rules on claiming the home office deduction. (Gabby Jones/Bloomberg)

Minicucci said now is a good time to talk with your employer about updating your employment contract, and to keep track of your receipts.

The pandemic has raised a number of questions that Canada’s tax experts have asked the CRA to clarify, he added.

For example, will the CRA require each person to have a formal employment contract? Given the stay at home orders, should meeting clients through videoconference or teleconference platforms from home count as “meeting clients at home”? Should the CRA relax the rule that says you can’t claim internet as a work-from-home expense because it’s considered a fixed cost?

A lot of paperwork for employers

The Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA Canada) also anticipates an increase in the number of Canadians claiming the home workspace deduction for the first time, and is also calling for the CRA to clarify several questions.

For example — should the CRA still require employers to fill out a T2200 form for every employee they asked to work at home?

“Employers will now be required to complete a great number of T2200s,” CPA Canada said in a background paper. “This will add a significant administrative burden for employers. To alleviate the burden, consideration should be given to using an alternative method to simplify the process for the pandemic.”

CPA Canada said it would like the CRA to clarify whether the “more than 50 per cent of the time” benchmark is calculated for the tax year, or for the period the employee was required to work from home. It also said the CRA should consider simplifying the process by allowing taxpayers to claim a per diem deduction for costs related to working from home.

No rule changes planned, says Finance

However, officials from the CRA and the Finance Department told CBC News there are no plans currently to change the rules on the home workspace deduction.

Conservative revenue critic Marty Morantz is calling on the government to clarify its plans for the deduction, and has put questions about the deduction on the House of Commons’ order paper. He said those who have been working from home should be allowed to claim the deduction.

“I think it would be very reasonable for the government to say to folks who were doing their best to comply during the crisis by working at home, and incurring expenses, that they should have the opportunity to claim the deduction,” he said.

Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, agreed.

“The deduction exists for a reason — to defray work-related costs that just happen to be home-related and if that reason now applies to a broader class of people, they should be able to make use of it,” he said.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

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CBC | Health News

COVID-19 test to be offered to anyone in Sask. working outside the home starting Monday

Beginning Monday, Saskatchewan is expanding COVID-19 testing to include anyone working outside the home who desires a test, no symptoms necessary.

The broadened criteria will make Saskatchewan’s testing program the most expansive in Canada, with other provinces still requiring people in the general population to feel sick or show symptoms before they qualify for a test.

Thus far, health officials have reserved widespread testing of asymptomatic people to outbreak locations, such as long-term care homes and meat-processing plants.

Saskatchewan’s testing capacity is relatively high, at about 1,500 tests a day, but the demand has dropped significantly in recent weeks to roughly 300 a day.

On Wednesday, the government of Saskatchewan announced additional details on how expanded COVID-19 testing will work and who will be able to access a test. Residents must still call 811 HealthLine to make arrangements.

Expanded testing availability will now include: 

  • Anyone working outside the home currently or returning as part of the province’s reopening plan.
  • All patients upon admission, or in advance of a planned admission, to an acute care hospital for a stay expected to be longer than 24 hours. This includes all expectant mothers entering a health facility to give birth.
  • Immunocompromised asymptomatic individuals, including cancer patients in advance of undergoing immunosuppressive procedures such as chemotherapy. 
  • All health staff working with immunocompromised patients.
  • Increased testing for the homeless or those living in vulnerable situations.
  • Mobile (work site) testing in high-volume work settings (such as factories, industrial settings, etc.).

“I think testing is important not just for yourself and your family’s health but … for all of us. It helps all of us reopen in a safe manner,” Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said  on Tuesday.

“We have fairly low COVID activity and that’s where we want to keep it. I think is important just to maintain that testing level and that kind of reassurance that we are maintaining COVID-19 circulation in the community at a very low level,” Shahab said.

Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said the expanded testing was set for Monday because those operating the 811 line need time to prepare for the “extensive” list of people testing will be offered to.

“Until that’s in place it would be essentially a free-for-all,” Livingstone said.

He said Saskatchewan already has “one of the broadest” testing programs in all of Canada in its list of symptoms which can qualify a person for a test.

“If you have the sniffles, you can go in for COVID testing.”

Livingstone said the testing criteria will continue to evolve and will be evaluated to see how it is working, and where infections are occurring that may have been missed.

“We don’t have an idea of how many folks will come in. We do expect to see expanded numbers.”

As of May 20, a total of 41,951 COVID-19 tests had been performed in Saskatchewan. As of May 18, Saskatchewan’s per capita testing rate was 32,410 people tested per million population, while the national rate was 35,570 people tested per million population, according to the province.

Infection control specialist applauds approach

University of Toronto associate professor Colin Furness, an infection control specialist, said Saskatchewan’s plan is “proactive.”

“That sounds quite responsible. It sounds wise, it sounds like the population is being well taken care of,” he said.

“I think Saskatchewan’s approach is good. I think they have managed the pandemic very well.”

Furness suggested Saskatchewan and other provinces should be even more aggressive and undertake “sentinel surveillance.”

“You don’t wait at the hospital for people to show up [looking] desperately ill, but you go with your testing equipment and you go to people who have known occupational risk.”

He said examples of workers at risk include grocery store employees, taxi and bus drivers, and front-line health workers.

“They are the canaries in the coal mine. They’re the ones who are going to get sick and not necessarily know it, but they’ll be among the first to get sick,” Furness said.

“If we can test all the grocery store workers in the province and we come up … negative, that would be an excellent sign.”

He said that would allow for tracking community spread in a way that may not have been noticed before.

“We did the lockdown to stop occupational exposure. We know occupational exposure is risky. We know where to find grocery store workers,” he said.

“There’s no mystery here. It’s really just a question of having the resolve to say we’re going to actually go where the risk is.”

Widespread testing needed to ‘quash’ COVID-19

An epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa said it is “good news” that Saskatchewan is expanding its testing criteria as it reopens its economy.

“That has to be done. Ultimately, we should have testing on demand for everyone and even those who don’t want it,” said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa. 

“That is how we’re going to get out of this, is to identify the cases in real-time and quash them.”

Deonandan said a lack of access to rapid test results is among the many barriers to mass testing. Currently, patients who go into a hospital have to wait to find out if they are positive.

“We would like to have our results back in minutes, not days.” 

A nurse in personal protective equipment walks with a patient into a Saskatchewan Health Authority assessment centre. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Provinces should be seeking out the virus, and not waiting, he said.

“We’re not actively hunting the disease yet. We should be.”

Another issue with the current tests, he said, is false negatives.

“Some have high false positive rates. High false negative rates are more distressing because people think they haven’t got it and they’re walking around behaving as if they don’t have it.”

British Columbia’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, warned in April of the danger of false negatives in mass testing.

“The testing, unfortunately, doesn’t tell us the whole story. People can be negative one minute and positive within an hour,” she said.

“The false negative rate can be as high as 30 per cent early on in infection.”

Testing criteria varies across Canada

Saskatchewan would be the first province to offer a test to workers regardless of symptoms. However, people will still require a referral.

In other western provinces, referrals are not required.

Alberta recently offered testing to asymptomatic people in the Calgary zone. About 3,400 people with no symptoms got tested, and more than a hundred were found to have the virus. 

Both B.C. and Alberta have proactively tested in outbreak situations, such as meat plants and prisons.

Ontario just recently expanded testing for people with mild or moderate symptoms. It had previously required multiple symptoms, travel or contact with a positive person.

Both Quebec and Ontario have proactively tested in long-term care homes.

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Could Nintendo Be Working on a Dual-Screen Switch Hybrid?

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The writing was on the wall for the 3DS as soon as the Nintendo Switch proved such a hit. While the smaller, cheaper console had a respectable run at 75.17 million units sold, sales fell off a cliff once the Switch proved it had staying power and popularity. It’s been clear for a while now that the Switch was the future of Nintendo’s efforts, which is what makes this latest rumor rather interesting.

According to Mike Heskin, a vulnerability researcher and reverse-engineering enthusiast, the latest Switch firmware, 10.0.0, contains some interesting clues about future operating modes, including a new hardware model “nx-abcd.” The original Switch was codenamed “NX” and used the code “ABCB,” so a new model tracks this idea. The other interesting tidbit is that there are also references to “a secondary display of sorts:”

Theories about what that second screen might do include 3DS/DS emulation or a new streaming mode in which content is streamed from the Switch to the TV (think of this as a Wii U in reverse).
In theory, either of these is possible. First off, consider the 3DS. The original packed a dual-core ARM11 CPU clocked at 268MHz, with a single-core ARM9 CPU at 134MHz. The ARM11 CPU core is rated at 1.25 DMIPS/MHz, while the Cortex-A57 is rated at between 4.1 – 4.76 DMIPS/MHz. The New 3DS had a quad-core ARM11 CPU at 804MHz and the same ARM9 core at 134MHz. Both versions use the same PICA 200 GPU core, at just 268MHz.

The Switch should have little trouble emulating the 3DS in either original or “new” flavors. The fact that the New 3DS has a much faster CPU but uses an identical GPU says something about just how limited the original hardware is, and the PICA200 is a 2005-era embedded graphics processor. The Maxwell-era GPU inside the Switch isn’t just faster, it’s insultingly faster. DS games would also be no problem to support.

The question of using the Switch as a sort-of reverse Wii U is also interesting, though it might require buffing a very different section of the hardware. If the goal is for the Switch to wirelessly broadcast to the TV, we’d be looking at wireless networking improvements and the need to handle increased power consumption due to streaming rather than a second screen being added to a new device SKU. Ordinarily, I’d think this was unlikely because wirelessly streaming from the Switch would likely consume a great deal of power, but it’s possible Nintendo wants to spend its increased power budget on this feature. If you recall, the last Switch refresh made very few changes to the device except for significantly improving its battery life.

The idea of a hybrid VR device has been floated by some, but seems much less likely without a substantial hardware refresh and doesn’t necessarily fulfill the second screen concept. The VR concept found in the Switch used the console’s own hardware. The reference to a second screen “of sorts” could be a reference to VR capabilities, and the additional battery power in the refreshed Switch could make it possible, but Nintendo would still be splitting its hardware into two families: Switch owners who could play VR games, and Switch owners who couldn’t. It would make more sense to offer a model that supported emulation for interested customers than to bet on a mid-cycle add-on upgrade. Console add-ons, historically, do not sell well and Nintendo is well aware of it.

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ExtremeTechGaming – ExtremeTech

Meet the public health detectives working around-the-clock to stop the spread of COVID-19

Behind every known case of COVID-19 is a public health investigator working meticulously to figure out its origin and track its spread. Known as contact tracers, these specially trained sleuths make up the crucial intelligence arm of the battle to contain the virus.

But are there enough of them?

With more than 14,000 known coronavirus cases in Canada, some public health departments are concerned the workload could become too much. And in the search for ways to find and train more individuals to do the work, some are looking to Alberta.

There are now 70 contact tracers working at any given time in the province — a six-fold increase to the usual staff, who in normal times track the spread of other diseases, such as measles.

Working in call centre-style offices and spaced apart by the two metres advised by health authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the new recruits include medical students from the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.

While contact tracing is usually done by public health nurses, medical students have similar clinical experience, making them easy to train. In the past few weeks, more than 300 new staff have been taught the basics on how to work the phones by Richelle Schindler of Alberta Health Services.

Contact tracing is “one of the best ways to contain this virus,” she says.

“South Korea, Japan, Singapore — they’ve all been able to contain the spread of this virus through aggressive contact tracing.”

In Calgary, newly trained medical students are helping public health professionals connect with COVID-19 patients and track down anyone they may have inadvertently exposed to the virus. (University of Calgary)

Indeed Singapore, which has been lauded for its COVID-19 containment efforts, has teams of contact tracers working alongside the police department to enforce the isolation of anyone who has had contact with an infected person. Though the city-state of around 6 million people confirmed its first coronavirus case in late January, it has so far seen fewer deaths than Canada, and some commerce remains open due in large part to those measures.

Here in Canada, where such strict surveillance by authorities would likely prove controversial, the tracing process is designed to track down and alert those who may have contracted the virus, and ask them to self-isolate.

It begins when someone tests positive for COVID-19. A contact tracer will call the patient and ask them a series of questions in order to piece together their recent movements — from interactions with family members, to doctor visits, rideshares, and of course, air travel.

“It’s very difficult, nuanced work, but very important,” says Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist with Johns Hopkins University.

Though contact tracers are trained to suss out personal details, the 14-day incubation period for COVID-19 means infected patients have to recall their schedules and interactions from days or even weeks before.

“If you can imagine in your own life — or at least in your pre-lockdown life — how many people you may have come in contact with, that could potentially be a lot,” Nuzzo says.

Sometimes, she adds, people may just not be willing to provide information to someone they don’t know. Occasionally, that means making calls elsewhere to find out more.

For the team in Alberta, Schindler says the biggest hurdle is that people don’t always answer the phone. But even facing these challenges, her team is currently managing to get through the province’s entire caseload of COVID-19 patients — around 60 cases a day, at the time of writing.

“We are definitely not maxed out. We can do more,” Schindler says.

Richelle Schindler of Alberta Health Services tells CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault that the province has found a way to boost its contact tracing capabilities to keep pace with demand. 0:32

But even places that have lots of contact tracers can run into problems.

In Toronto, where cases of COVID-19 have increased by more than 500 per cent in the past two weeks, an office where Toronto Public Health contact tracers work was forced to evacuate after eight people there contracted the virus. Staff then had to perform contact tracing for the cases in their own building.

Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto’s Associate Medical Officer of Health, said in an email that most of the city’s 100 contact tracers are now working from home. Going forward, she wrote, the city will consider adding medical students or volunteers to their ranks, if necessary.

Ontario announced Friday that it is scaling up the contact tracing ability of public health agencies across the province, in part by hiring medical students.

In a press conference earlier this week, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the federal government has heard from public health agencies in some parts of the country that are concerned they may soon become overwhelmed, should the spread of the virus outpace their ability to track it. Citing the successful program in Alberta, Dr. Tam said they are also recruiting students at the federal level in order to help provinces fill any needed contact-tracing positions.

Nuzzo says the need for contact tracers is likely to continue to increase, even as overall COVID-19 cases eventually start to level off. She says physical distancing measures alone aren’t going to be enough to stop the spread of the virus.

Contact tracers help, she says, because “if you know that you’re a known contact of a COVID-19 case, then you might be much more hesitant to go out until you know for sure that you’re not ill.

“I think it sends a really important message about the need to isolate when one is ill.”

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Rihanna Reassures Fans She’s Working on New Music

Rihanna Reassures Fans She’s Working on New Music | Entertainment Tonight

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