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The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Feb. 16

  • Coronavirus tracker: Follow the pace of COVID-19 cases, vaccinations in Canada.
  • Ontario public health officials near Toronto to monitor the effect of school reopenings closely.
  • Call centre, web portal to book vaccine appointments coming soon to Ontario, Gen. Rick Hillier says.
  • None of Ottawa’s new travel rules apply to the largest group of people entering Canada — truckers.
  • Read more: Alberta slaughterhouse closes temporarily over mushrooming, now-fatal COVID-19 outbreak; the B117 coronavirus variant has been detected in two First Nations communities in Manitoba.

A family dressed in Carnival costumes walks through the streets Venice on Tuesday. The festival was called off for a second consecutive year due to continuing restrictions on public gatherings, though some Italians still ventured out. (Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

Strain on health-care resources ‘challenging’: N.L. public health official

Newfoundland and Labrador has reported seven new cases of COVID-19, as hundreds more get tested in an effort by public health to track and minimize the outbreak of a variant that caused a sudden spike last week and forced the cancellation of in-person voting in the provincial election.

The province’s active caseload is now 297, with one person hospitalized. There are also 25 new presumptive cases, all in the Eastern Health region.

The province tested a new daily record of 2,070 in the last 24 hours, according to Tuesday’s update.

The fast-developing situation has put a strain on health-care staffing in the province. Resources have been redirected to the response of the outbreak of coronavirus variant B117, including “well over” 200 staff members now assigned to testing clinics in the region, Eastern Health CEO David Diamond told CBC News.

There are about 500 health-care workers in the Eastern Health region who are in isolation, Diamond said. As of Monday afternoon, nine had been confirmed positive for COVID-19.

“We’ve seen it in individual units and departments where staff are not able to attend because of self-isolation, and obviously we have to try and fill those gaps, which means temporary staff and casual staff and regular staff are working on overtime,” he told CBC’s St. John’s Morning Show on Tuesday.

“We haven’t seen a scenario where we haven’t been able to provide care, but logistically it’s been very challenging because it means drawing on every possible resource that we can find to fill the gaps,” he said. “We’ve been able to do that and we will be able to do that, I think, going forward because we’ve reduced our services.”

Follow the latest N.L. pandemic developments

From The National

Israel is leading the world with its COVID-19 vaccine rollout and it’s already seeing results, but the campaign has been met with some hesitant demographics and criticism for not vaccinating Palestinians. 6:05

IN BRIEF

As schools reopen in Ontario’s hardest-hit regions, experts urge province not to lift other COVID restrictions

While many students stayed home Tuesday due to wintry weather, weeks of online learning are coming to an end for thousands of students and parents as schools in Toronto and neighbouring Peel and York regions reopen.

As they watch the alarming rise of more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus, some public health officials and epidemiologists are warning that in areas with high community transmission, schools should be the only places to reopen in the immediate future.

The return to school means students, parents, teachers and staff are leaving their homes and moving about in the community more than they were before, said Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Region’s medical officer of health.

“When you make a change like that in the community, you usually want to wait at least one or two [virus] incubation periods to see what impact it has on case numbers,” said Loh.

“I feel for our small businesses,” he added. “[But] if we just hold on for another couple of weeks, another few weeks, we may be able to avoid a third wave altogether with the vaccines coming in.

If case numbers rise after schools open Loh and other experts said it will be much easier to track the source of infection and identify variants of concern if other potential community sources aren’t thrown into the mix at the same time.

“We have this tendency to try and move too many levers at once … and then we struggle to know what it is that’s causing an increase in cases — if and when we see an increase in cases,” said Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Read more about the expert concerns

Call centre, web portal to book vaccine appointments coming soon to Ontario

The head of Ontario’s vaccine distribution plan says a call centre and online reservation system will be up and running in the next few weeks to help co-ordinate appointments as the province moves to inoculate those next in line to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’ll roll out in the next week-and-a-half or so a call centre where people who are not used to going online can call and reserve an appointment in a place close to them based on their OHIP card and their postal code,” retired Gen. Rick Hillier told CBC’s Power & Politics on Monday.

The online reservation system will start around March 1.

With increased doses of the Pfizer vaccine expected this week, Hillier said Ontario hopes to finish giving residents of long-term care homes and high-risk retirement homes in the province their second dose — clearing the way to then start vaccinating those deemed the “next priority.”

The target is for that over-80 group to begin receiving vaccinations the first week of March, he said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said it expects to receive weekly shipments of more than 400,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine beginning this week, with 156,780 destined for Ontario.

But, as with some locations in the U.S., wintry weather there might delay deliveries to Canada, it was learned on Tuesday.

Hear more from Gen. Hillier about Ontario’s plans

None of Ottawa’s new travel rules apply to truckers

Of the 10 million entries into Canada since March 21, 2020, close to half — 4.6 million — were made by commercial truck drivers crossing by land, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

Despite those figures, the federal government’s recently announced new travel measures — which include COVID-19 testing upon arrival — do not yet apply to commercial truckers.

Even though the drivers are exempt from quarantine, they must follow other protective measures such as wearing masks, physical distancing and answering health questions at the border.

Despite following all the rules, truck driver Luis Franco from Calgary said he still feels unsafe because he encounters many people at U.S. rest stops who don’t take precautions.

“A lot of the Americans like in the southern states, or in the western states, they don’t believe in COVID,” he said. “You walk into a truck stop or fuel up, or to do whatever you got to do and [it appears as though] 80 per cent of the people, they’re not wearing masks, they’re not social distancing.”

Franco wants the government to test truckers for COVID-19 each time they cross into Canada.

More than 100 Canadian science and health experts have signed a petition calling for the federal government to implement strict border measures, including COVID-19 tests for everyone entering Canada — including essential workers.

“A lot of us could very well be asymptomatic,” said Franco.

While rapid tests could be employed, Ontario-based truck driver Leanne Steeves warns: “The wait at the border would be insane.”

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in an interview Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live on CBC News Network that the government is also exploring the introduction of COVID-19 tests for essential workers crossing the border.

Read more about the issue 

(CBC News)

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.

THE SCIENCE

Why it might be best to avoid painkillers before your COVID-19 vaccine

The jury is out on what happens to a person’s immune system after a COVID-19 vaccine if the person has taken medications such as Advil and Tylenol, but based on research on other vaccines like for the flu, there may be a blunting effect on immune response from the pills, writes Amina Zafar of CBC News.

Mahyar Etminan, an associate professor of ophthalmology, pharmacology and medicine at the University of British Columbia, looked at data on taking medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) before or close to the time of vaccination.

In a preprint to be published in the journal CHEST, Etimanan and his colleagues noted that a randomized trial looking at infants given acetaminophen immediately following vaccination showed lowered antibody levels compared with other infants who had not been given acetaminophen. Another study in adults did not find their antibody levels fell after being vaccinated and taking acetaminophen. Immune responses can differ between children and adults.

The aforementioned medications may supress fever symptoms that boost all the components needed for a protective immune response, says Dr. Sharon Evans, a professor of oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, N.Y.

Fever “literally mobilizes the cells, it moves them in the body into the right place at the right time,” Evans said.

The side-effects of vaccination such as a sore arm at the site of injection or wider effects like headache, fatigue, fever, muscle and joint soreness, while uncomfortable, are generally mild.

“All those side-effects are like a bell ringer telling you that your body is ramping up immune response,” Evans said. “It’s what you want. It’s sometimes disappointing if you didn’t get that response.”

The advice from federal health officials with the National Advisory Committee on Immunization?

“NACI recommends that prophylactic oral analgesics or antipyretics (e.g., acetaminophen or ibuprofen) should not be routinely used before or at the time of vaccination, but their use is not a contraindication to vaccination,” the advisory committee said. “Oral analgesics or antipyretics may be considered for the management of adverse events (e.g., pain or fever, respectively), if they occur after vaccination.”

AND FINALLY…

Teaching Urdu to her granddaughters has given this Ontario woman a pandemic purpose

Marium Vahed and Laila Vahed, both pictured on a computer monitor, began taking virtual lessons from their grandmother Zahida Murtaza last summer. So did their two cousins, Sakeena Syed and Manaal Syed, who live with Murtaza. (Submitted by Hasan Murtaza)

Zahida Murtaza, a widowed, retired teacher from Mississauga, Ont., was struggling like many other Canadians in the first months of the pandemic.

Then her 20-year-old granddaughter, Marium Vahed, reached out last summer and asked Murtaza, who came to Canada from Pakistan in 1971, to teach her how to speak some Urdu.

“I wanted to be able to access the world of Urdu and the world of Pakistan through its beautiful poetry,” said Marium. “I had the idea to have daily lessons over FaceTime, and we dove right in.”

Vahed and her 17-year-old sister, Laila, began taking virtual lessons with their grandmother from their Brampton, Ont., residence. Their two teen cousins Sakeena and Manaal Syed also decided to join in and have enjoyed enhanced access — they live in the same house as Murtaza.

Even without the current lockdown-like conditions in place in Mississauga, Murtaza was not getting out much earlier in the pandemic due to an autoimmune disorder.

The grandmother of six quickly discovered that teaching her grandchildren and nieces Urdu has been about more than just educating them in a language.

“My mood completely turned around,” said Murtaza. “There was a direction to my life. This is generational stuff. This is something they’ll remember for life.”

Read more about the family affair

Find out more about COVID-19

For full coverage of how your province or territory is responding to COVID-19, visit your local CBC News site.

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bourbiza

Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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