Monday, May 17, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, happy Monday, happy “Work From Home Day” and also “World Hypertension Day.” (Why does it somehow seem right that those two go together? And obviously, we’ve been celebrating both for about 14 months now.)
This is also the start of Canadian Innovation Week, which I’m sure will dominate CdnPSE news feeds for days. But it’s Monday, so time for another…
Since my last Pandemic Précis a week ago, things have improved in the US, worsened in Asia, and here in Canada we’re just holding our collective breaths…
Looking Up in the US
Almost half of Americans (46%) have received at least one dose of a COVID19 vaccine, and 35% are fully vaccinated, “paving the way for a full reopening of society.” Two weeks ago, the CDC was still recommending that even fully vaccinated Americans continue to wear masks indoors, and even in large crowds outdoors. But last Thursday, the CDC captured worldwide excitement with some revised guidance: those fully vaccinated against COVID19 no longer have to wear masks or practice social distancing, almost anywhere. (The exceptions remain inside crowded buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.) “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
“The idea that people who are fully vaccinated can take off their masks, can go outside, can go inside, be around people and not have to worry about covid anymore, that’s absolutely huge.” – Richard Besser, Former acting director, CDC
While the Biden Administration hopes that the incentive of ditching masks will encourage more Americans to get vaccinated, it also seems likely that plenty of unvaccinated people will relax their adherence to precautions prematurely. Since it’s impossible to tell who is and is not vaccinated from a distance, Apple plans to keep insisting on masks for everyone in its stores – while Walmart, Costco, Starbucks and others are ending their mask requirements. The United Food and Commercial Workers objects that members now have to go from playing “mask police” to “vaccination police.” (While it’s exciting to see a glimpse of post-pandemic freedom, we may also see some COVID chaos in the meantime.)
Canada Holds its Breath
On Friday, Canada’s PHO Theresa Tam unveiled a new framework for precautions during a one-dose summer and two-dose fall. Basically, we need to stay the course until 75% of all adults have a first dose, and 20% are fully vaccinated – then public health restrictions can start to be lifted. (Small outdoor gatherings and perhaps patio dining might be permitted.) Some provinces may get to 75/20 by Canada Day, but none before Victoria Day. Five provinces, from coast to coast, are backpedalling:
BC has pushed back the release of its “Restart 2.0” plan until after the May 24 weekend, and restrictions will be eased only gradually: “it is a dimmer switch.”
In Alberta, COVID19 hospitalizations have been declining for 4 days, although ICU cases hit a new peak yesterday, and oilsands workers near Fort McMurray “don’t feel safe” amid the province’s largest outbreak (1,361 cases).
Manitoba continues to grapple with 4,219 active cases, a third wave exceeding worst-case projections for ICU capacity, and announced 24+ more schools will pivot to remote learning starting tomorrow.
Although Ontario seems to be past its peak of new infections, the CMOH says health restrictions should not be relaxed until its daily case count drops “well below” 1,000 for a number of days – a third of its current level. (On Thursday, Ontario extended its emergency stay-at-home order until at least Jun 2. It began Apr 8.)
Nova Scotia still has 1,531 active cases, and reported 126 new cases yesterday alone. Police have been enforcing health restrictions, with 21 tickets and 5 arrests in Halifax over the weekend. (By comparison, NB has 116 active cases, NL 85, and PEI just 10.)
Messing with AstraZeneca
Over the past week, many Canadian provinces have stepped up vaccine eligibility for younger residents. Manitoba has extended eligibility to all adults 18+. But most provinces have now suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, except for second doses, out of an abundance of caution over potentially fatal blood clots. (Although many have cited supply problems instead.) An Oxford researcher who oversaw the development of the AZ vaccine is appalled that Canada is overreacting to the tiny risk of VITT when just 3.6% of our population is fully vaccinated: “All this messing around is going to cost lives.” (He also warns that mixing vaccines results in pretty severe side effects.) Meanwhile health experts are challenging Canada’s decision to accept 655,000 doses of AZ vaccine from the COVAX initiative, only to pause their use: “We should definitely not be keeping doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in freezers while thousands of people are dying every day in India, and other countries around the world and are desperate to receive a highly effective vaccine.”
“At my last look you guys are 3.6% vaccinated with two doses, so just wait for the [B.1.617 variant] to rip through the Canadian population, and then the problems you’ve had with these very rare clotting events will look pretty insignificant.” – Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine, Oxford U
India surpassed 24M confirmed cases of COVID19 on Friday (or perhaps 5x-10x that), and many scientists credit the surge in cases to the so-called “double-mutant” variant (B.1.617). Rural hospitals are overwhelmed, as are crematoria and cemeteries, as 70+ bodies have washed up in the Ganges River. Now, doctors are reporting a rare but deadly “black fungus” (mucormycosis) which infects the brain, sinuses and lungs of patients with severe COVID19, although it is not related to the coronavirus itself. (The mortality rate is 54%.)
A Fourth Variant of Concern
The WHO declared the Indian “double mutant” (B.1.617) the 4th variant of concern on a global level last Monday, due to its increased transmissibility. (It joins the variants from the UK, South Africa and Brazil.) B.1.617 has already been detected in 44 countries, and a preliminary study suggests that COVID19 antibodies might not be quite as effective against it. B.1.617 has actually splintered into 3 “sub-lineages,” including B.1.617.2, the strain spreading quickly in the UK. The existing mRNA vaccines still work “very well” at protecting against serious disease or death.
UK may Backpedal
On Friday, British PM Boris Johnson warned that the race between vaccines and variants is getting much tighter with the rise of the Indian (B.1.617) variant – even though the UK population has reached 70/36 inoculations (70% with a first shot, 36% with a second). 1,313 cases of B.1.617 have been reported in London and northern England in the past week, prompting scientists to urge the country’s reopening be delayed. England’s CMOH warns that the variant could disrupt reopening, and delay the final stage planned for June 21.
“I believe we should trust in our vaccines to protect the public whilst monitoring the situation very closely because the race between our vaccination program and the virus may be about to become a great deal tighter.” – Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister
Tracing in Australia
Australia has largely eliminated the coronavirus, with 79 days this year at zero locally acquired cases, thanks to strictly closed domestic and international borders since March 2020. But after a couple in Sydney tested positive earlier this month, New South Wales imposed health restrictions and authorities hunted for the “mystery cause” of the outbreak. Then last week, Victoria reported another “locally acquired” case for the first time in 2 months, in a man who returned from India in mid-April and completed his 2-week hotel quarantine. “We are going to need a strong border control and a strong quarantine control likely for years.” All 100+ passengers on his flight from Adelaide to Melbourne are self-isolating. The next few days will be critical for contact tracing to prevent an outbreak.
“What we’re seeing at the moment is the appreciation of the people that the pandemic isn’t going anywhere. We have to be careful not to exchange that way of life for what everyone else has.” – Scott Morrison, Prime Minister, Australia
Hurtling towards the Olympics
Japan declared a state of emergency in 3 more prefectures Friday, as case counts surge just 10 weeks before the Tokyo Olympics are supposed to start, Jul 23. About 70% of Japan’s population is now under stronger health restrictions, as just 3% of the population has been vaccinated. A petition for cancelling the summer Olympics has 368,000 signatures so far.
A New York Times survey of 723 epidemiologists this month found that they expect COVID19 to be reduced to an endemic disease, circulating annually – but not for 5 more years. 85% of epidemiologists think Americans will be able to gather outdoors on Jul 4, and that schools can reopen fully this fall – but they also warn that global vaccination is necessary to truly end the pandemic. They identify the potential obstacles ahead as vaccine hesitancy, the rise of new variants, the politicization of public health, and too hasty a return to pre-pandemic behaviours. And 80%+ say we should continue to wear masks when indoors with strangers for at least another year.
“We as epidemiologists are constantly dealing with uncertainty, and it’s pretty familiar to us. We need to create better ways to communicate this uncertainty to the public to avoid all the misinformation problems that we currently have.” – Kevin Martinez-Folgar, Epidemiology PhD Student, Drexel U
Since Wednesday, there have been 6 more cases of COVID19 reported by CdnPSEs. (See my master spreadsheet for a running tally of 2,600+ cases in CdnPSE since Sept 2020.)
Durham College reported a new case on its Whitby campus last Wednesday. DC
McMaster U reported a case on campus Friday. Mac
Without fail, I always come across a better example hours after I share one…
Western U neuroscientists star in this slick and catchy 3.5-min music video, “Vaccination” (to the tune of “Revolution” by the Beatles). “It’s time to get your vaccination – Who-o-ah! – and you know it’s gonna change the world.” It’s an upbeat mix of electric guitar, smiling kids and hugging friends to start your Monday off right. “You know it’s gonna feel – alright!” YouTube
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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