Tuesday, November 24, 2020 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Although Americans are gearing up for Thanksgiving this week, here in Canada we’re already stressing out over the winter break. Many of us are heeding psychologists’ advice and stringing up our holiday lights early this year. (I took advantage of the one nice day this weekend to do so myself.)
Many fear the holidays will be ruined by COVID19 lockdowns and social distancing, but there’s also growing optimism that a vaccine could arrive as an early Christmas present to us all. Then again, some grinches urge us not to get our hopes up just yet, while pundits worry about the politicization of a public health “war on Christmas.”
And, we’ve got another overflowing house party, a popping Atlantic bubble, and a website for those wondering “how’s my flattening?”
Without fail, right after press time more developments appear. You may recall that yesterday I said the Atlantic Bubble was starting to “wobble” and “shudder.” Well, within hours, it popped…
Pop Goes the Bubble!
In response to rising cases and alert levels in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, 2 other provinces have popped the so-called “Atlantic Bubble.” Premier Andrew Furey announced yesterday that Newfoundland and Labrador would temporarily withdraw, and reimpose the 14-day self-isolation requirement on anyone entering NL, from within the Atlantic region or elsewhere. Prince Edward Island premier Dennis King has barred any non-essential travel to the province for the next 2 weeks. Globe & Mail
How’s My Flattening?
uToronto Public Health researchers have developed howsmyflattening.ca, an interactive open data source on COVID19 cases in Ontario. Users can filter data on new cases, positivity rates, testing turnaround times and risk levels. An “intuitive chatbot” can answer specific questions, or you can subscribe to a free daily or weekly email with specifics on COVID19 cases in your postal FSA. UT
House Party in Halifax
Halifax Regional Police issued a $1,000 fine last Friday night, after finding >60 students at a house party on Edward Street, near Dalhousie U. Many were unmasked. Global
Livingstone College (NC) lost a 23-yr-old senior, who died of COVID19 Thursday. She was scheduled to graduate next month. Livingstone
CdnPSE reported 3 new cases of COVID19 yesterday…
Loyalist College reports another student has tested positive for COVID19. (I think that makes 3 this fall.) Loyalist
Nipissing U reports that a second individual has tested positive for COVID19. The Crag & Canyon
uWaterloo reports another individual tested positive on Nov 22. (10 cases this fall.) UW
Yesterday I mentioned that Quebec’s premier is proposing a moral contract, to allow Quebecers to socialize for 4 days over Christmas if they isolate for the week before and afterwards. It proved controversial with infectious disease experts and minority religious leaders alike. But south of the border, Christmas is also shaping up to be controversial…
The “War on Christmas”?
As the US prepares for Thanksgiving, many are already worrying about the next holiday. “Partisan posturing” about the “war on Christmas” is likely to make things far worse. (Breitbart is already running headlines like “Be Prepared for Democrats to Cancel Christmas.”) As Rebecca Onion writes for Slate, “indoor gatherings are killing people, and Americans who have been primed for years to perceive the continuity of tradition around Thanksgiving and Christmas as a point of partisan pride are about to convene some big ones.”
Hope or False Hope?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau emphasized in a press conference Friday that a “normal” Christmas is “quite frankly, right out of the question,” but that “there might be ways we can gather” depending on how well we flatten the curve over the coming weeks. Colin Furness, a uToronto epidemiologist, says it’s irresponsible to suggest we will be able to relax public health restrictions for the holidays. He says we will have “pretty significant restrictions” in place until at least April 2021. Isaac Bogoch, also at uToronto, concurs. They recommend gathering on Zoom, outdoors, or doing “porch things.” Global
“It’s right to give people hope that there might be ways we can gather at Christmas but so much depends upon what we are doing right now, immediately to reduce our contacts and get through these next weeks and see the cases that are right now spiking almost out of control get back under control.” – Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
“I mean, I guess [Trudeau] wants to transmit hope, but I don’t think it’s responsible to get people looking forward to something that absolutely should not happen.” – Colin Furness, Epidemiologist, uToronto
All we really want for Christmas is our two front… runner vaccines, of course! In the past two weeks we’ve have mixed news, some encouraging interim results and some caveats…
On the bright side, the chief scientific advisor for “Operation Warp Speed” said Sunday that the first COVID19 immunizations could start Dec 11 or 12 in the US, and that “life could return to normal in May” if enough people get immunized. (Herd immunity would require 70% of the population to be vaccinated.) The FDA meets to decide on emergency use authorization for Pfizer’s vaccine Dec 10, and likely Dec 17 for Moderna’s vaccine. They likely won’t be approved for children until at least Q2 of 2021, and of course will start with front-line health workers and at-risk populations.
Dreams of Immunity
An Oxford U study of frontline healthcare workers from Apr-Nov has concluded that, despite some isolated cases of COVID19 reinfection, in general it appears that natural immunity offers protection against the virus for at least 6 months. “We found no new symptomatic infections in any of the [1,246] participants who had tested positive for antibodies.” Just 3 who had antibodies later tested positive for COVID19 without symptoms. (The study is ongoing, but it sounds like good news for the vaccine effort.) Huffington Post
Good News for Santa
Although many mall Santas have cancelled their appearances this year, or will be talking to children through plexiglas, Anthony Fauci assures us that Santa himself has “a lot of good innate immunity.” So despite his high risk lifestyle – “global travels, obesity issues and history of smoking” – apparently mask compliance at the North Pole is good. Futurism
But as I said, we shouldn’t get our hopes up too high just yet…
We Need to Wait for the Science
The interim data doesn’t mean that the vaccines protect 95% of people from COVID19 – it means those who are immunized have a 95% lower chance of contracting the disease. Phase 3 trials normally take 2-3 years, because adverse side effects sometimes take time to appear. And if Pfizer and Moderna receive emergency use authorization from the FDA, the ethics boards overseeing the trials could effectively stop the research immediately; everyone who received the placebo would then receive the vaccine, and it becomes impossible to compare results with a control group. CTV
“Everybody wants this over yesterday. But you can’t will away a pandemic and it would [be] foolish and imprudent to override our usual ways of thinking about safety and quality of vaccine.” – Ross Upshur, uToronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health
Research may get Sidetracked
Because the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine trials to date have only counted symptomatic cases, substantially more participants in the trials may have contracted COVID19 but exhibited few symptoms. “It’s going to hopefully prevent people from getting sick, but it’s not going to stop transmission. That’s not what they measured.” With dozens of other vaccines in development, some might be substantially better, easier to transport, safer for at-risk groups or children, or even effective after a single dose – but it may become more difficult to find out. Once the first vaccines are approved by regulators, it may become “ethically difficult” to conduct proper placebo trials of the dozens of other, potentially superior vaccines still in development. National Post
“I think that we’re going to have some degree of public health measures together with the vaccine for a considerable period of time. But we’ll start approaching normal — if the overwhelming majority of people take the vaccine — as we get into the third or fourth quarter [of 2021].” – Anthony Fauci, Top US infectious disease expert
We’ll be Masked through 2021
Public health experts are quick to emphasize that vaccines won’t bring about an immediate end to the pandemic. We’ll be wearing masks and staying 2m apart for quite some time yet. We don’t yet know whether immunization will prevent infection and spread, or simply prevents symptoms from arising. And if it takes until Q2 to start immunizing the general (not especially at-risk) public, it will take well into next year to achieve herd immunity. We’ll have to stay vigilant, too, that the coronavirus doesn’t somehow mutate to evade the protections offered by the vaccines. Time
Obesity Complicates Things
A new Yale meta-analysis of 75 studies concludes that obesity doubles the risk of hospitalization, and more than doubles the risk of death, due to COVID19. But obese patients also tend to have a constant, low-grade inflammation leading to an overactivity of immune regulating proteins – so the T cells responsible for attacking pathogens are generally more “exhausted.” Obese patients may require a larger dose of the vaccine, which needs to be determined in more extensive testing. Nature
There is a world of difference between getting a vaccine, and getting people vaccinated – and aside from manufacturing and distribution challenges, the biggest issue may be vaccine hesitancy…
Significant Vaccine Hesitancy
A recent study (Sep 1-15) found that only 34% of Latino Americans, and just 14% of Black Americans, trust that a COVID19 vaccine will be safe – the strongest predictor of willingness to be immunized. Only 48% of African Americans and 66% of Latino people would “definitely or probably” get the vaccine. Communities of colour have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus, and are also quite likely to be essential workers, who will be a priority group for vaccination. Memories of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment looms large in collective memory – and is correlated to distrust in a COVID19 vaccine. Washington Post
No More Tears?
Part of vaccine hesitancy is a fairly common fear of the injection itself. (I know a couple of people quite well who faint at the mere sight of a syringe.) Researchers at Australia’s uSydney are working on two alternatives to hypodermic syringes. Vaxxas has developed a “microarray patch” of >3,000 projections that deposit dry vaccine beneath the top layer of skin. (There is a “sensation” but not pain, say researchers.) The patch might be more efficient, too, using just 20% of the vaccine – but unfortunately it is not expected to get to market before 2022. Technovalia has developed a DNA-based “jet spray” device which uses an air stream to administer a vaccine to the skin. (Which sounds a lot like Dr McCoy’s hypospray from Star Trek to me!) The Age
In response to the lockdown in Toronto and Peel Region, and escalation to Red Zones in Durham and elsewhere in Ontario, institutions have been announcing changes to campus services…
Durham College advises that Durham Region’s move to a Red Zone means a campus restaurant will be closed, fitness facilities will be limited to 10 people per room indoors. DC
Ryerson U advises that Toronto’s move to lockdown means “any in-person course activities that can be moved to a virtual format will no longer be offered in person.” Work placements should also move to remote work. Communal student study spaces will only be available where essential. Athletic centre and in-person programs are closed. Ryerson
uToronto has closed all recreation facilities, and advises that indoor social gatherings should not be held, and outdoors should be limited to 10 people at most. UT
uWaterloo is now in a Red Zone, therefore capacity in dining areas and recreation facilities will be limited. Staff are advised “if you are responsible for operational safety plans, you should plan and prepare for an eventual move to the lockdown category.” UW
School of Natural Environment
Sault College, in Sault Ste Marie ON, has a number of programs in its School of Natural Environment, and the first 35 seconds of this video do a really nice job of selling the excitement and exhilaration of the great outdoors. “There is an ‘ah’ to where we live, to where we learn – home to the Canadian Shield and endless hectares of brilliant ecosystems.” Some beautiful cinematography, jazzy music bed, and nicely written copy. “Your perfect setting to be amazing.” (Unfortunately Ray’s sales pitch in the middle of this vid suffers from really poor audio – although if you stick it out, the final 45 sec is an alumni testimonial that works fairly well.) YouTube
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you tomorrow – meanwhile be safe and stay well!
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