Eduvation Blog

Viral Whack-a-Mole, Midsummer Dreams

Good morning! Today is Canada’s 30th annual National Day of Mourning, to commemorate workers who have been killed, injured, or become ill due to their job – and this year there have sadly been far too many examples, thanks to the pandemic. (Just yesterday we saw the Ontario coroner’s report on the deaths of 3 migrant farm workers last summer, and you’ll see plenty of other examples below.)

On a lighter note, it’s also “Superhero Day,” “Blueberry Pie Day,” “Pay it Forward Day,” “Biological Clock Day,” and “Cubicle Day” (many people are wishing they could get back to the cube farm).



Pandemic Précis

The COVID19 pandemic still doesn’t fail to disappoint optimists at every turn…


Tragic Outcomes

The scale of a global pandemic that has claimed 3.1M lives worldwide, and 24,000 in Canada, is of course far more difficult to comprehend than a few striking examples.  Across Canada, 84,222 healthcare workers have contracted the virus, and at least 50 are known to have died. Most recently, Diana Law, a 57-year-old nurse in White Rock BC, has died after a 4-month battle with COVID19. We learned last week that a BC 2-year-old diedof the virus, this week that a BC baby died of COVID19 in January, and in Brampton Ontario, 13-year-old Emily Viegas died of COVID19 last week. Both are tragic reminders that youth are not immune to this virus. On the other hand, a 54-year-old Quebec woman has died of a cerebral thrombosis after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. “It puts a face on a statistic and for us, statistics are always people.”


“People don’t get vaccinated to die. It’s rare, and we can’t predict it. But for the population at large, vaccination remains beneficial.”Horacio Arruda, Quebec public health director



Hospitalizations in BC

Case counts in British Columbia remain high, but the third wave seems to be receding now that the 7-day average for new cases has declined 21% from the peak. COVID19 hospitalizations, on the other hand, are still at an all-time high and the province is now under strict travel restrictions between health regions. At least deaths due to COVID19 have declined substantially since the vaccine effort began in December.


Emergency in Ontario

Just days after refusing federal assistance, the government of Ontario is welcoming armed forces assistance on the front lines in its hospitals, and constructing field hospitals in parking lots as beds overflow. Case counts are gently dropping in Ontario and Quebec, but hospitalizations will continue to rise for a week or two yet – and it looks increasingly unlikely that Ontario children will return to school before summer. Education minister Stephen Lecce admits that the “priority in the immediate term is saving our health care system.”



Prairie Storm on the Horizon?

Meanwhile the pandemic curve may still be rising in the prairie provinces. Alberta has the highest infection rate per capita in the country right now (455 active cases per 100,000 people), and ICUs are nearing capacity. Fort McMurray is at the heart of a new state of emergency, as oilsands work camps report hundreds of active cases. (136 Alberta meat-processing plants are the focus of vaccination efforts, another example of essential workers at risk.)

Saskatchewan is coping with a surge in Regina, and a uSask epidemiologist warns that tighter restrictions are necessary to prevent the same in Saskatoon, where wastewater testing showed a 312% increase in coronavirus load this week. (The UK variant B.1.1.7 accounts for 86% of the virus detected.)

Despite hundreds of anti-maskers protesting in Winnipeg on the weekend, Manitoba is tightening restrictions starting today, banning indoor or outdoor visits at home for at least 4 weeks, capping outdoor gatherings and religious services at 10 people, and closing mall food courts.


Atlantic Outbreaks

Just weeks after the Atlantic bubble looked like a sure thing, Fredericton campuses of UNB, St Thomas U, and NBCC are in lockdown after an outbreak in residence at UNB. Yesterday, Nova Scotia announced a 2-week “circuit breaker” lockdown of the entire province, beginning at 8am this morning, thanks to a rising third wave and 181 cases in just 3 days. “These next 2 weeks are critical.” Schools and most retail businesses will be closed, while essential businesses operate at 25% capacity and childcare focuses on essential workers. Canada is sending armed forces personnel to assist at NS testing centres. NSCC has reported a third case this week, and has now paused all on-campus learning for the duration of the lockdown. St Francis Xavier U is pivoting to online classes, WFH, and essential services only – and abruptly announced the postponement of spring convocation, which had been planned for Sunday. Likewise, Cape Breton U is returning to a “modified level 1” of its Return to Campus plan. “If we all lock arms and stand together, we can roar back at this storm.”



“This is a wake-up call to our younger people. You are not invincible and you need to take this virus seriously.”Iain Rankin, premier of Nova Scotia



Bad News

You may ask, “Wow, isn’t that what Ken’s whole newsletter is full of?” Well, no, not always, but in this case…


Failed Immunity

The CDC reports that at least 5,800 Americans have tested positive for COVID19, despite being fullyimmunized (2 weeks or more after getting both doses of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines). With 95.9M Americans fully vaccinated, and a 90% efficacy rate, about 9.6M of these “breakthrough” infections would actually be expected. These “breakthrough” infections occur in all age groups, and 29% experienced no symptoms – but 7% were hospitalized and 1% died. The CDC also reports that “tens of thousands” have also been infected, after only one dose or within 2 weeks of their second. (Many of these cases could also be due to new variant strains, but the data is unavailable.)  Washington Post


Look Out Fluffy!

Wild cats and housecats around the world have tested positive for COVID19, but now scientists in the UK have documented 2 cases of human-to-cat transmission too. While one case (a 6-year-old Siamese) was mild, the other (a 4-month-old kitten) was sadly fatal. So far there is no evidence of cat-to-human transmission – but if you go into self-isolation, you might want to isolate your cat too!  CTV



Good News

You see? Sometimes I can find a little bit…


“Return of Freedom” in the US

The CDC announced yesterday that fully-vaccinated Americans can stop wearing masks outdoors, even within 6 feet, except in crowds, now that more than half of US adults have one dose, and one-third have both doses, of vaccine. “It’s the return of freedom!”


A Cure for all Coronaviruses?

Pfizer is in early-stage testing for a protease inhibitor pill that just might become a “cure” for COVID19 – and perhaps even the common cold! “PF-07321332” is formulated to attack the “spine” of the virus and stop it replicating in the nose, throat and lungs. In the lab, it reportedly was “potent” against SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses. “We have designed PF-07321332 as a potential oral therapy that could be prescribed at the first sign of infection, without requiring that patients are hospitalised or in critical care.” National Post


One Vaccine to Rule them All?

If a single vaccine could protect us against SARS, MERS, COVID19 and every other coronavirus disease – we could stop worrying about double mutants and VOCs and even the common cold. Currently labs are in early-stage animal trials with vaccines that could protect against multiple conceivable mutations of COVID19, with promising preliminary results. A CalTech bioengineer is working on a vaccine that carries several different versions of the coronavirus spike as “mosaic nanoparticles,” prompting the immune system to create antibodies against them all. At UNC Chapel Hill, researchers are attempting to weld together mRNA for many different spike proteins in a “chimeric spike” vaccine. Anthony Fauci believes that some kind of universal COVID19 vaccine might even be available in the next couple of years, before the pandemic is completely over. A truly universal coronavirus vaccine would require collaboration between cellular and systems biologists, immunologists, and experts in genetics, AI, and structural modelling – but it is at least “theoretically possible.”  The Atlantic


“Rather than playing whack-a-mole with each new problematic variant, it just makes sense to me to use all of our capabilities to really go for a universal SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.”AnthonyFauci, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases



Our Way Out

Whether this seems like good or bad news depends on how high your expectations were…




A Midsummer Dream

Based on the latest federal pandemic modelling, Theresa Tam forecasts that new cases of COVID19 could plateau in May, depending on the extent of PHO restrictions. But those restrictions shouldn’t start being lifteduntil at least 75% of Canadian adults have received a first dose of vaccine, and 20% their second. At that point, “restrictive measures could be gradually eased as long as adequate tests, trace [and] isolate capacity and individual precautions are maintained.” Tam estimates Canada will reach that target “by mid-summer.” (The summer solstice is Jun 20.) By late June, Canada is expected to have received 48-50M doses. uCalgary economist Trevor Tombe calculates that, at our current pace of vaccination, we should hit the 75/20 threshold on Jun 28 – just in time for Canada Day!  Maclean’s


So, cross your fingers: that is the upside scenario in which we can see more in-person classes and activities on our campuses this September!




Speaking of long, impatient waits…


Zoom Finally Gets Immersive

Microsoft Teams actually beat Zoom to the punch on this one, implementing “together mode” last July – although only for people working at the same company. (Which doesn’t help me with any of my sessions. Plus, with MS Teams’ service outages this week, I still feel pretty good about using Zoom.) If you’re a Zoomer too, you’ll want to upgrade to version 5.6.3 right away, because now “immersive view” lets you sit around a conference table or in a classroom together with 25 of your most distant friends. (Sadly, it won’t record the sessions that way yet, but give it time!) Then, if they could just combine some of the features of mmhmm (so slide presentations can be brought into the space) and of Kumospace (so spatial audio allows you to talk with others based on their proximity), Zoom would finally be a decent replacement for a real meeting!  Cnet



As always, thanks for reading! Please do drop me a line if you spot something interesting, thought-provoking or cool happening on your campus, or elsewhere in the world!

Stay safe and be well!


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