Eduvation Blog

The COVID Tsunami Heads Ashore

Good morning, and Happy Monday!

I hope you had a restful weekend, and that you’re recharged for another challenging week of 2020. Some of us were nestled indoors as we watched the first major snowfall of the season outside; while sadly many in Toronto were racing around trying to compress their holiday shopping into the last weekend before lockdown. (Sigh.)

Today, we catch up again on the state of the pandemic, which is experiencing a storm surge in many parts of the world – particularly in the Americas, it would seem. Brazil relaxed a bit too much in the past few weeks, with devastating results. Between “psychic numbness” and “dumb asses,” the US situation is astonishing. And in Canada, 4 provinces hit record highs, the “Atlantic bubble” is starting to wobble, Quebec’s premier is trying to bargain for a “Christmas reprieve,” and Ontario is imposing restrictions too little, too late.

Plus 29 new cases in CdnPSE, compassionate grading options for this Fall and even Winter at 3 universities, and more institutions pivot to online…


Pandemic World

This is why we can’t pretend things are normal…

As the world surpasses 58.5M cases of COVID19, Brazil is passing 6M itself, as the world’s third-worst outbreak picks up speed once more. After a lockdown in February flattened the first wave, much of life in Brazil’s cities has returned to near-normal in the past month – fuelling an abrupt increase that will likely become a second wave. São Paulo has halted the dismantling of temporary ICUs in the face of an 18% rise in COVID19 hospitalizations this week alone.

China continues to model rapid, aggressive responses to outbreaks. With just 2 new cases in 24 hours, authorities in Inner Mongolia imposed a regional state of emergency, conducted mass testing and shut down schools and public venues. In Shanghai, authorities tested 15,416 people to find just 1 positive case.


Pandemic USA

At the other extreme, the most chaotic and disorganized response to the pandemic continues to unfold south of the border…

With >250,000 US deaths, “psychic numbing” is setting in, as the scale of the pandemic exceeds our cognitive grasp, and emotional capacity. COVID19 is now the 3rd leading cause of death in the US, after heart disease and cancer. The surge in the pandemic continues to accelerate, adding 1M new cases over just 6 days, surpassing 12M in total on Saturday. Texas and California have exceeded 1M cases each, closely followed by Florida at 930K. California imposed a curfew on Saturday for 41 out of 58 counties, until Dec 21. (Only 2 state governors have stubbornly refused to impose any business closures or mask requirements, in South Dakota and Arkansas.) New York City has reverted to at-home learning for all K-12 students.

Overall, US test positivity has hit 10% – and this Thursday is (US) Thanksgiving. The number of COVID19 patients in hospital has risen 50% in the past 2 weeks, leaving officials to plead with the public to avoid travel and family gatherings this week. Thankfully, 74% of Americans now tell pollsters they will be staying home for Thanksgiving – although we can assume that at least a third of people are lying about their choices. Earlier this fall, a commuter railway in Indiana implemented mask-optional “dumb ass” cars, to reduce conflict between pro- and anti-mask passengers.

The president’s son, Don Jr, and his lawyer’s son, Andrew Giuliani, both tested positive for COVID19 last week. So did Christopher Miller, the acting Secretary of Defense, and other senior Pentagon leaders have been exposed – but Miller is not quarantining.

Harvard reported 102 new cases of COVID19 in the first 16 days of November, a substantial upswing from just 35 cases in October. Undergrads in Harvard dorms moved out this weekend, heading home for the remainder of the fall semester. New York’s Columbia U banned 70 business students from campus until Dec 1 for violating travel policies, and taking an unauthorized trip to Turks & Caicos.


COVID in Canada

Canada’s COVID19 infection rates are surging to record highs in 4 provinces: New Brunswick, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Our top PHO, Theresa Tam, urges us to stay home except for essentials, and limit gatherings. In fact, since Hallowe’en we’ve been told to cancel Christmas and Hannukah plans. At the rate we’re going, our daily infection rate stands to quadruple to 20,000 daily new cases by Dec 31 – and if we “let loose with revelry for the holidays,” federal modelling says we could hit 60,000 new cases daily.

Although the “Atlantic Bubble” has lasted surprisingly long, it’s starting to “shudder.” Nova Scotia reported only 3 cases in September, but 21 in October and 45 so far in November. Newfoundland & Labrador reported 3 new cases Sunday, leading Memorial U to postpone plans to bring some staff back to work this week. The CMO likened the looming COVID19 wave to a tsunami.

“There’s a tsunami just out there off our shores and, I’m telling you, it’s just waiting to crash down on us. We cannot keep it at bay with travel restrictions or quarantines – it’s going to take all of us doing our part to keep things safe.”Janice Fitzgerald, Chief Medical Officer, Newfoundland & Labrador


New Brunswick set a new daily record with 23 new cases on Saturday, bringing the total to 71 active infections. Thanks to a single “superspreader event,” most of the new cases were in the Saint John region, where UNB-SJhas isolated 2 students for potential exposure. Premier Blaine Higgs says “We are now in our own bubble in New Brunswick, and that bubble is about to burst.” Provincial zones around Moncton and Saint John have moved to level Orange, requiring single-household bubbles.

Quebec has always been Canada’s COVID19 epicentre, with 40% of the country’s cases and 60% of the fatalities. It reported 1,154 new cases Sunday. It has also seen sharp political divisions, with premier François Legault and even teachers’ unions emphatic that schools must reopen, despite >417 active COVID19 outbreaks(27% of the total). Many regions of the province are now “red zones” in which all indoor gatherings are banned. Last Wednesday, the premier offered Quebecers a “moral contract” to raise gathering limits to 10 people, for 4 days Dec 24-27, as a “Christmas reprieve” – provided that the public would limit their contacts as much as possible for the weeks before and after. Family is “at the heart of our nation,” said the premier. Infectious disease experts are concerned that this compromise approach to harm reduction is too permissive, since people could conceivably attend 4, 8 or more gatherings of 10 people during that time. (“People were still going to do it,” seems to be the explanation.) Muslim, Jewish, and Sikh communities are outraged at the “double standard” in a supposedly secular province.

“You’re saying that you can rearrange the whole school calendar and put a society at risk so folks can celebrate Christmas, but you’re not going to let it teacher wear a hijab or a kippah? …I don’t know that the government’s following the science and the medical wisdom. That’s the piece that worries me.”Rabbi Lisa Grushcow, Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, Montreal


Ontario has reported 4-digit new case counts for 17 straight days, including 1,418 new cases Friday, 1,588 Saturday and 1,534 Sunday. With 150 COVID19 patients in Ontario ICUs, medical experts are “extremely concerned” and note that we have passed the threshold at which elective surgeries need to be cancelled.

In particular Peel Region, west of Toronto, is reporting a COVID19 test positivity rate of 11.8% – more than double the provincial average. One uToronto epidemiologist points out that Peel faces an uphill battle, with many large households and essential workers. One long-term care home in the region has >150 positive cases. “I’m running out of ammunition,” said the MOH. On Friday, premier Doug Ford announced a lockdown for Toronto and Peel Region, to commence this morning and run until at least Dec 21. Non-essential businesses, gyms and personal care service businesses are ordered closed, and indoor dining banned.

So, of course, last-minute Christmas shoppers “flooded” malls in the region this weekend. “Lineups at department stores stretched the length of city blocks in Toronto.” The malls extended their hours to accommodate the crush even more, and launched early “Black Friday” sales. Toronto mayor John Tory urgedshoppers in vain to stay home. (sigh)

Manitoba reported 437 new cases on Friday, still the highest per-capita infection rate in Canada, with 13.7% test positivity overall. But in Steinbach, a small town of 16,000, where anti-mask protesters were out in force last week, test positivity is an astonishing 40%. The province has ordered the local school district into remote learning.

Saskatchewan set a new record Saturday with 439 new cases, bringing the total active cases to 2,537 – 5x the cases one month ago. The SK Union of Nurses says their members are “horrified, scared, disappointed and frustrated.” New measures were imposed last week, but have yet to affect the curve, and doctors are urging tighter restrictions.

Alberta set more records for new cases this weekend, and had 5 days last week with 4-digit case counts. Although new restrictions were put in place Nov 13, case counts are still climbing. Contact tracing is clearly overwhelmed, as it is taking a median of 7-10 days to notify close contacts of a new case. (AB is also one of only 2 provinces who have not adopted the federal COVID Alert app.)

Cases in Nunavut are continuing to soar. They reported 18 new cases Sunday, bringing their total to 128, mostly concentrated in Arviat.

BC extended health restrictions on Friday from the Lower Mainland to the entire province, including mandatory masks in indoor public spaces (except schools), and bans on non-essential travel, religious services, group fitness, and social gatherings with anyone outside your immediate household until Dec 7.


COVID on Campus

It’s been a busy few days on CdnPSE campuses. Since Friday, 29 new cases have been confirmed, including a third residence outbreak at Western…

Bishop’s U reports 15 cases “within our community and in our residences” and has therefore suspended most in-person activities until Nov 25.  Bishop’s

Dalhousie U announced yesterday 2 students studying virtually have tested positive. (I think that makes 4 cases this fall.)  Dal

Durham College reported another case at its Whitby campus on Friday. (Now 26 cases this fall.)  DC

Loyalist College reported Friday a member of the community had tested positive. (Now 2 cases this fall.)  Twitter

uMoncton has reportedly had 1 case on campus this fall.  CBC

Mount Allison U has reportedly had 2 cases on campus this fall.  CBC

Royal U Hospital, adjacent to the uSask campus in Saskatoon, declared a COVID19 outbreak on Friday in their Orthopedic and Trauma unit. They have 38 patients being treated for COVID19, but it is unclear how many comprise the “outbreak.” (We’ll say 3 to be conservative.)  Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

UNB Saint John reports that “individuals” are in self-isolation and being monitored for a potential exposure to COVID19. So far there have been zero confirmed cases at UNBSJ.  CBC

uWaterloo learned Thursday of a new case on campus. (Now 9 cases this fall.)  uWaterloo

Western U has a third outbreak in residence, reported Saturday in Perth Hall. (The first, in London Hall, has largely resolved; the second, 8 cases in Saugeen-Maitland Hall, was reported Friday.) 3 students have tested positive and they, and their close contacts, have been moved into quarantine. ~320 other students in Perth Hall have been alerted. (That makes 93 cases this fall, including several at University Hospital – third in Canada behind uCalgary and uLaval.)  Global


Grading Compassion

Undergrad-friendly universities are starting to announce compassionate pass/fail grading options for the Fall and, in one case, the Winter terms…

Brandon U announced Thursday that it will extend pass/fail grading options to students in the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 terms. “This is a time for compassion.” (I predicted long ago that this would return as the pandemic continues to disrupt academic delivery plans. So far, just 3 announcements have crossed my desk: Carleton U announced similar measures for the Fall term last month, and Bishop’s U on Nov 3.)  Brandon

“This is a time for compassion. These options offer much-needed flexibility for students, recognizing that they continue to face ongoing disruption, unpredictable circumstances, and new challenges.”Andrea McDaniel, Registrar, Brandon U

Shifting Online

Most CdnPSEs are already delivering courses largely online, and with the heightened restrictions cascading across the country this month, more and more are closing campus facilities and shifting blended courses entirely online – although there are some outliers swimming upstream against the inevitable…

uToronto’s largest faculty, Arts & Science, announced Friday it would move all Winter 2021 “dual delivery” courses online, abandoning the hybrid delivery model. (FAS moved Fall 2020 courses online back on Oct 10.)  FAS enrols >32,000 students on UofT’s St George campus alone. On Friday, Toronto was placed under lockdown to begin today.  The Varsity

York U announced that effective today, indoor gatherings are prohibited, outdoor gatherings limited to 10, all indoor fitness facilities, dining areas, and study spaces are closed.  York

uSherbrooke announced late last week that rector Pierre Cossette intends to offer “even more” classroom teaching and social activities on campus during the upcoming Winter 2021 term, if the PHO permits. (Despite the fact that the Eastern Townships were elevated into a “Red Zone” last week.) UdeS has been offering a staggering 60% of classes F2F this Fall.  Le Devoir

“If you weigh a COVID19 infection at 25 or major depression at 25, objectively, major depression is much more serious. There are more after-effects, longer and more dangerous.”Pierre Cossette, Rector, uSherbrooke (translated)


Thanks for reading – I hope your week is relatively smooth sailing!


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