Eduvation Blog

Neanderthals vs the Vaccine Cavalry

Good morning!

As Canada’s snowpack starts to thaw, we also have an avalanche of CdnPSE announcements about plans for the fall term – which have doubled since yesterday. BC and Nova Scotia institutions have been consistently optimistic in the past few days, while New Brunswick schools are more cautious, Ontario institutions are much more variable, and Manitoba and Alberta institutions have been very quiet.

The promise of vaccines gives us more reason than ever before for optimism, but they’re in a tight race with the variant strains of COVID19. Meanwhile Ontario PSEs are coping with more outbreaks…


“It’s almost like a dystopian plot in a movie. On the horizon ahead you’ve got the vaccine cavalry… and on the other horizon you’ve got the mutants, all lined up, a motley bunch. It’s almost like the third act of a three-act play… it’s the crisis now. The future will be determined by this conflict, and it could go either way.”Tim Sly, Epidemiologist, Professor Emeritus, Ryerson U



Pandemic Précis

Tomorrow marks precisely a full year since the WHO declared COVID19 a pandemic. We’re all fed up (just as we usually are with Canadian winter by this time of year), and the prospect of vaccines trickling into the arms of the most vulnerable may inspire a false sense of victory…


Cases: The infection curve across Canada has plateaued since mid-February, stubbornly refusing to continue the progress earned since the post-holiday peak Jan 6. It’s hard to claim the second wave is over, when daily cases are still double the peak of the first wave. Current national hotspots include Thunder Bay, which is “in the worst situation we have ever experienced… so far in the pandemic,” and Saskatchewan, which has the highest per-capital rate – “almost double the rest of Canada.”


“Cases are at an all-time high in the Thunder Bay district, a significant and uncomfortable amount of cases are being reported every day… COVID19 is essentially everywhere, it is in many different places, and it is spreading.”Janet DeMille, Thunder Bay Medical Officer of Health



Opening Up: In the past few weeks, 5 US states have repealed their mask mandates, so now 17 states do not require face coverings. California may be reopening theme parks and stadiums as early as Apr 1. (What a terrible April Fool’s joke.) US president Joe Biden notably called the lifting of mask mandates “Neanderthal thinking.” (Of course, many people object that it’s an insult to Neanderthals.)


Premiers are pushing to lift PHO restrictions across Canada too, excited by the CDC’s announcement that fully-vaccinated Americans can gather without masks indoors, 2 weeks after their second dose. (The US has injected 93.7M doses so far.) Ontario eased the lockdowns in Toronto and Peel on Monday. Quebec lifted some restrictions on gyms and restaurants. Saskatchewan has raised the size of private gatherings to 10 people from 2 or 3 households, and will allow larger worship services just in time for Easter. (Sigh. Déjà vu.) Premier Mo is already talking about loosening restrictions on businesses and sports teams – while his CMOH says “we should not change anything.” Alberta is easing restrictions on retail stores and malls, banquet halls, hotels, school athletics and more. BC at least is holding steady, warning that more restrictions might be required should variant cases spike.


Variants: Authorities are concerned by the rapid spread of variants of concern, which increase the reproduction rate 50% and could spark a third wave within weeks. The UK (B.1.1.7) variant accounts for at least 25% of cases in some areas of Montreal, 40% in Toronto, and many in Saskatchewan, particularly Regina. In fact, the UK strain accounted for 28% of the world’s COVID19 as of Mar 1, and 60% of cases in France. The South African (B.1.351) variant is the biggest concern right now, and already 39 cases have been identified in Ontario. It definitely doesn’t help when jurisdictions like Manitoba withhold information about variants entirely. The best defense, of course, is to prevent spread: “viruses do not mutate unless you give them the opportunity to replicate,” explains Anthony Fauci.


“We will know pretty soon, I think, as to whether we are able to keep the variants at manageable proportions while vaccines are escalated… Now is not the time to sort of make too many shifts in the public health measures… but we will be able to do so based on what actually happens next.”Theresa Tam, Chief PHO, Canada



Vaccines: Health Canada has now approved 4 vaccines: Moderna and Pfizer (approved in Dec), AstraZeneca (approved in Feb), and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson (approved last Friday). Of course, within days PM Trudeau announced that the J&J vaccine was facing some production delays, and Canada does not yet have a date when shipments will start to arrive.


“Wave three, I believe, is upon us. ICU numbers are increased today. Case numbers are rising and a vaccination also buys people more freedom.” Michael Warner, Medical Director, Michael Garron Hospital (Toronto)



New Homegrown Vaccines: Edmonton-based Entos Pharmaceuticals, led by a uAlberta researcher, has a new vaccine entering first-stage clinical trials. A team of researchers at McMaster are developing “next-generation” inhaled vaccines, which may protect against a wider range of variant (and will be really popular with those who have needle phobias).


Vaccinations: So far ~2.5M doses have been administered, to ~3.3% of Canadians – and the decision to focus on first doses first, and delay boosters up to 4 months, means many timelines to partial immunity will be accelerated. While shipments have accelerated, chaos still reigns in most provinces as booking websites or phone lines are being swamped by demand. (What would happen to your campus phone system if it received 1.7M calls in 3 hours?) The federal government assures us that every Canadian who wants the vaccine will have it by the end of September – but Joe Biden is promising enough vaccine for every American adult by May 31! (How long before CdnPSE starts delaying the start of term until October?)


Vaccines aren’t everything: 82% of residents and 65% of staff at a Kelowna care home have been vaccinated, but nonetheless they are grappling with a new outbreak of 13 cases – including 8 people who were vaccinated. “While we are very confident that vaccine is very effective, and prevents particularly severe illness and death, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all transmission will be stopped.”


Vaccine Resistance: So far the UK (B.1.1.7) variant looks to be reasonably responsive to existing vaccines. Pfizer and AZ report their vaccines seem to be effective against the Brazil (P.1) variant. More worrisome is the SA (B.1.351) variant, which has been in North America since January. South Africa cancelled a rollout of the AZ vaccine because it was proving far less effective against the variant there. A Columbia study also suggests that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may lose efficacy against the SA strain.


Ultimately, it’s too early to call the race between COVID19 vaccines and variants. Most immunologists and PHOs are very concerned, and urging us to remain extremely vigilant until the vaccines have an opportunity to bring community spread down much, much further.



COVID on Campus

Since my update Monday, there have been 18 more cases of COVID19 reported by CdnPSEs. (See my master spreadsheet for a running tally of >1500 cases in CdnPSE since Sept 2020.)


Cambrian College reported 2 confirmed cases at the Barrydown campus on Monday and Tuesday. (They have recently changed to report only cases that were on campus with 14 days of diagnosis or the onset of symptoms.)


Mohawk College reports another confirmed case of COVID19 at its Stoney Creek campus. Toronto Star


Ontario Police College reports that their outbreak has now affected 102 people (up 8 from Monday), with 33 cases still active. Classes remain virtual for now.  Toronto Star


Peterborough’s Severn Court student residence complex now reports 51 cases of COVID19 resulting from a party Feb 20 (up 7 from last week). Students in the complex attend Trent U and Fleming College (mostly).  Global



Fall in Nova Scotia

I summarized 18 CdnPSE announcements about Fall 2021 yesterday, and am keeping a colour-coded summary in my master spreadsheet (see column AB). There have been 18 more in the past 24 hours, particularly from BC and Nova Scotia…


Acadia U president Peter Ricketts announced yesterday “a full return to campus for employees and students for the fall 2021 term,” while acknowledging that “we remain committed to following the protocols and practices that have kept us safe to date.” Like other institutions yesterday, Acadia says they “anticipate that some courses may start the term in a virtual or hybrid format and will pivot to fully in-person classes as the term progresses and the Province eases restrictions,” and that faculty will “expand successful online elements within our standard course delivery.” Acadia


“While the pandemic is not over, we are confident that we can plan for a more fully in-person model for the fall and 2021-22 academic year. We know that we have the ability and experience to pivot back to more online delivery should public health developments not pan out as currently predicted.”Peter Ricketts, President, Acadia U



NSCAD plans a “multi-modal” return to class this fall, including “carefully expanded studio access for students.”  CBC


NSCC says it is “optimistic” that the pandemic will improve to allow for more F2F learning this fall, and it plans to share a decision in May.  NSCC


St Francis Xavier U has “every intention of returning to full capacity” this fall, as it is one of the few CdnPSEs to successfully hold most 2020-21 classes in person.  CBC


Saint Mary’s U is “preparing for undergraduate courses with blended delivery depending on the class size and scheduling,” with as many in-person learning opportunities as possible. Online options will be available for students who cannot attend in person.  CBC



Fall in BC

After Monday’s directive from PHO Bonnie Henry and Minister of Advanced Ed and Skills Training Anne Kang, Quest U was the only BC institution to rush out an announcement by our press time – but quite a few have followed in quick succession…


UBC president Santa Ono wrote the community that “we look forward to seeing our UBC community return, making our campuses vibrant once more.”  Vancouver Sun


BCIT safety director Glen Magel acknowledged MAEST’s announcement and indicated BCIT will be working on updated Go-Forward plans “building on our success of safely returning activity to campus in a graduated manner.”  BCIT


Capilano U provost Laureen Styles announced yesterday that “initial planning has already started to welcome students back and see maximum in-person classes and activities on campuses and learning locations in September.”  CapU


College of the Rockies president Paul Vogt announced Monday night that it will be returning to on-campus learning this fall. “Through the COVID period, 40% of our students have had some face-to-face learning on campus.  We are now planning for a full return to campus in September.” Daily self-checks, mandatory masks, and quarantine requirements are expected to continue.  COTR


U Fraser Valley “has begun planning to make the transition to safe, broad-scale, face-to-face learning in our classrooms and activities on our campuses” this fall. “In the coming weeks, Go-Forward Guidelines released by the province will, as they have over the course of the last year, help provide an overview of how things will look for an anticipated return in September.”  UFV


Langara College president Lane Trotter wrote Monday that “we expect it will be possible to safely return to campus this fall,” and that “a thoughtful, safe, return to campus will help meet the social, emotional, mental health, and academic needs of our community.” He also notes that “we will not lose sight of those students who may have discovered an appreciation for the flexibility of online learning, or those who may not be able to arrive in Vancouver by September,” and notes Langara will be surveying students to help guide their planning.  Langara


UNBC interim president Geoff Payne says the PHO’s announcement “continues to solidify our concreteness around our plans for the fall… having more F2F opportunities for classes.”  CKPG Today


Selkirk College announced yesterday that it is preparing for a return to in-person education on campuses this September. (It is currently delivering 30% in person.) Selkirk will also “incorporate what has been learned over the last year with regards to providing delivery of programming that is available to a wider cohort of students.”  Selkirk


Simon Fraser U provost Catherine Dauvergne and vice-provost Wade Parkhouse wrote to staff and faculty Monday to share the good news. “We are well positioned to continue working toward a return to our campuses in September.” A student survey was launched in late February.  SFU


Thompson Rivers U announced that it is “thrilled” by the PHO’s announcement “that we are able to welcome students back to campus this coming fall.”  TRU


Trinity Western U actually beat the pack, announcing on Mar 5 that “with the BC government’s recently announced accelerated timeline for the distribution of COVID19 vaccines” they were “actively planning for a return to face-to-face instruction and activities in Fall 2021.”  TWU


Vancouver Island U president Deb Saucier announced yesterday that VIU “is now planning for a safe return to on-campus instruction for Fall 2021.” The timetable will be released Apr 26.  VIU


uVic has reportedly announced “a full return to in-person classes in September,” although details available are limited at this time. The Martlet






Dance Your PhD

Jakub Kubecka, a uHelsinki PhD student of Atmospheric and Earth System research, has won Ł2,750 for his team’s entry in the “Dance your PhD” contest. At 4:30 min, it’s a bit longer than the “3-minute thesis” entries, but so much more musical!   YouTube

You can check out 4 of the finalists at Times Higher Ed



NOW do you see why I procrastinate? No matter how hard I try, the “pandemic précis” always results in a LONG issue. Thanks for reading this far!


Stay safe and be well,


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