Wednesday, May 5, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and happy Cinco de Mayo! (A celebration of Mexican military supremacy ironically more celebrated in the US than Mexico.)
Although it’s small comfort for those in the Laurentian U midwifery program, today is also “International Midwives’ Day,” and for some Star Wars fans, “Revenge of the Fifth.” (Personally, I think one SW holiday is enough this month, and I’m NOT going to celebrate one of the prequels…)
Today, as promised, we catch up on the pandemic, a few more cases on campus, and some more mandatory vaccine news…
Since my summary last Wednesday (“Viral Whack-a-Mole”), most pandemic trends have intensified, particularly vaccine nationalism…
South of the border, pandemic and economic optimism is on the rise as more than 100M Americans are now fully vaccinated against COVID19 (39% of the population), and 55% of adults have received at least one dose. California’s Disneyland reopened on Friday (at 25% capacity), and cruise lines are preparing to start sailing in midsummer. New case numbers are dropping in the US (down 16% last week alone), daily deaths have plummeted (from 3,400 in Jan to just 670), and New York City expects to “fully reopen” by Jul 1. Huffington Post
Brazil surpassed 401,000 COVID19 deaths on Thursday, as the P.1 variant fuels the spread of the pandemic like wildfire throughout the population (only 13% of which has received even 1 dose of vaccine). Hospitals are at “the brink of their capacities,” but as the daily death toll stabilizes at about 2,000 many health experts fear the government will ease restrictions, “as if 2,000 deaths from a single disease in one day is normal.” Reuters
India in Crisis
In India, the pandemic hit new records of ~400,000 cases a day late last week, driven by several contagious new variants that are causing surges in neighbouring Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and has spread to 14 other countries worldwide. (In this part of the world, vaccination rates are a paltry 1%-7% of the population.) India’s healthcare system is beginning to collapse with a shortage of beds, oxygen, and even space for burials. Vaccination centres in Mumbai have had to close due to a vaccine shortage. Within the next 2 weeks, it is projected that India will need to triple its ICU beds and will need 14x the number of ventilators it has. “India is a cautionary tale for the world. It is proof that we cannot fight this pandemic country by country.” Washington Post
“If we do not heed this warning [in India] and work on vaccine equity, we risk a forever pandemic with long-term cycles of lockdowns, economic damage and constant fear.” – Madhukar Pai, prof of Epidemiology, McGill U & Manu Prakash, prof of Bioengineering, Stanford U
On the advice of the CDC, the White House announced Friday a ban on travellers from India (except US citizens and permanent residents) starting tomorrow. Ontario premier Doug Ford apparently urged restrictions on incoming international students too, according to PM Justin Trudeau, but MCU denies it: “we have not made a formal request to ban international students but look forward to the federal government providing solutions to reduce the importation of cases and introduction of variants into Canada.”
The Wild West
Nunavut’s capital Iqaluit declared a state of emergency yesterday with 85 active cases, and in the NWT Yellowknife closed its schools indefinitely after a school outbreak of 14 cases. (Iqaluit’s first case of COVID19 was detected Apr 14, and the city has been in lockdown since Apr 15.) Alberta is the epicentre of the pandemic in Canada right now, with 2,012 new cases yesterday including 1,900 VOCs (mostly the UK B.1.1.7 strain, but also 342 cases of the Brazil P.1 variant). That brings the total active cases in the province to 23,608, a record high, and COVID19 test positivity is 13.2% (also a record high). The Edmonton zone is experiencing a third wave that is still better than its second, but case counts in Calgary, central Alberta and the north (driven by the Fort McMurray region) are at record highs. Things are desperate enough that premier Jason Kenney imposed new restrictions on outdoor gatherings yesterday, closed patios effective Sunday, and moved K-12 schools and PSE online starting Friday – although Kenney worries about a “behavioural difference” in the province regarding adhering to health regulations. (Thousands attended a “No More Lockdowns Rodeo” outside Bowden this weekend, 100km north of Calgary.) Kenney is promising “tougher enforcement,” and maximum fines for serious offences remain $100,000. Kenney has suspended the spring sitting of legislature for 2 weeks.
“We’re not even in the worst of it yet because… people stay in hospital sometimes for a week, 2 weeks or longer… We can see it coming and there’s nothing that we can do about it.” – Lynora Saxinger, infectious disease specialist, uAlberta
Nova Scotia has locked down schools and non-essential retail for 2 weeks as case counts rise (even at NSCC – see below). On Monday there were 146 new cases in the province (most the UK B.1.1.7 variant), 943 active cases and 42 patients in hospital. Newfoundland & Labrador reported its first case of the Brazil (P.1) variant, a case of the Indian (B.1.167) variant, and several cases of the South African (B.1.351) variant. New Brunswickreported 142 active cases as of Monday. Canada’s Atlantic premiers have delayed the reopening of the “Atlantic Bubble” indefinitely, due to rising case counts and VOCs – although they hope to reopen it by summer.
“We are not anywhere close to being out of the woods… It’s not like COVID from a year ago. It’s almost a new virus. It’s COVID 2021.” – Robert Strang, Nova Scotia CMOH
Joe Biden’s new goal is to vaccinate 70% of adult Americans by July 4. Premier Doug Ford reported Friday that 40% of Ontario adults have received their first dose of vaccine, a week ahead of schedule. (The provincewide state of emergency remains in effect until at least May 20.) But neither can compare to the Yukon, where >70% of the population has already received at least one dose! The FDA is expected to approve the Pfizer vaccine for 12-15 year-olds next week, and the EU is doing likewise. Moderna committed yesterday to deliver up to 500M doses to the WHO’s Covax facility “starting late this year.” (Covax has been highly reliant on AstraZeneca doses so far, and hopes to reach 20% of the population in participating countries by year-end.) The US announced yesterday that it will share up to 60M doses of AstraZeneca (still not approved by the FDA) with other countries, particularly India. “We do not need to use AstraZeneca in our fight against COVID,” explained the White House.
Those frustrated by continuously changing PHO advice throughout the pandemic got another dose of change yesterday as Canada’s federal advisory council, NACI, abruptly changed its tune on vaccines. Now, Canadians “who can wait for an mRNA vaccine” (Pfizer or Moderna) are advised to wait for it, contradicting the long-standing message that we should accept the first shot we’re offered. “What we’ve said all along is that mRNA vaccines are the preferred vaccine,” due to efficacy rates and the reduced risk of serious side-effects like blood clots. (Hmm…) Many health experts disagree with the message. National Post
Forget Herd Immunity
Apparently, there is now consensus among scientists that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable in the US anytime soon, and perhaps not ever. Thanks to the exponential spread of more contagious variants, the threshold has now risen to at least 80% – and it could rise further. About 30% of Americans are vaccine hesitant, or rabid anti-vaxxers, and at-risk groups (the homeless, migrant workers, communities of colour) have limited access. A small outbreak in a region with low vaccination levels can spill over into areas where most people are protected, and until the entire planet achieves herd immunity, variants will continue to arise and spread. “Eradication is, I think, impossible at this stage, but you want local elimination.” The goal now is to transition, over a generation or two, so that COVID19 becomes endemic and more like its coronavirus cousins that cause the common cold. New York Times
“Eradication is, I think, impossible at this stage, but you want local elimination.” – Bary Pradelski, economist, National Centre for Scientific Research, France
Since Friday, there have been 22 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 at its Whitby campus Monday. DC
uManitoba has reported 11 cases of COVID19 since my last check on Jan 28. UM
UNB Fredericton’s Magee House residence outbreak has now been labelled “travel-related,” with 12 confirmed cases so far (up from 8 on Thursday). The PHO has confirmed the involvement of the India “double-mutant” variant. Residents and staff were to be tested for a 3rd time on Sunday and remained in isolation, although the rest of the UNB campus, STU and NBCC reopened yesterday after a week of shutdown. The PHO investigated the building’s ventilation system and determined “the risk is minimal,” but is now investigating the possibility that “surface contacts within the elevator” could be the source of transmission. CBC
NSCC reported a case on its Akerley campus Friday. (That’s 4 cases in the past 2 weeks, after just 2 cases in the entire academic year.) NSCC
Saint Mary’s U (Halifax) reports 2 confirmed, but unrelated, cases associated with Rice Residence yesterday. ~80 students in Rice and Loyola residences are in self-isolation until they test negative. CBC
uWaterloo reported a positive case on campus Monday. UW
I’ve been reporting on mandatory vaccine policies as they are announced at US campuses, and watching for developments in Canada. (Check out the new Insider Recap of Vaccination Policies, mandatory and otherwise, announced since March.) Since last Friday, here are a few updates…
209 US Colleges so Far
The Chronicle of Higher Ed now lists 209 American campuses which will be making vaccinations mandatory for all students, or at least those in residence, and 93 requiring vaccinations of employees as well. Notable new announcements include 10 public universities in Massachusetts, and uWashington. Announcements have been most widespread in California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington. A recent survey of 446 US employers found that 23% are planning or considering a vaccine mandate.
Meanwhile in Canada…
CdnPSEs are involved in vaccine research, provide infectious disease and epidemiological experts for media interviews, and are even hosting vaccination clinics on campus, but so far none have publicly entertained the idea of making vaccination mandatory for students returning to campus this Fall. Instead most are “encouraging” staff, faculty and students to get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, or even (like York U) trying to bring a mobile vaccination clinic to campus to immunize front-line workers.
uSask Faculty Call for a Mandate
The uSaskatchewan Faculty Association passed a motion last week calling for anyone returning to campus this year to be vaccinated against COVID19, unless medically exempt. With rising infections and anti-vax sentiment in SK, faculty are concerned about adequate ventilation on campus and the ability to physically distance. “It’s a perfect superspreader site if we don’t have that safety provided by full vaccination.” They urge the uSask administration to join their call, to be a leader in Canada. CBC
“We’re among the highest rates of COVID19 in the country. Vaccination rollout is lagging. There’s so many reasons why this return to campus is not really safe without having everyone vaccinated.” – Allison Muri, Chair, uSaskatchewan Faculty Association
uSask Admin says No
Well, not “no” exactly, but the uSaskatchewan administration says it will not make vaccinations mandatory for students returning to campus this Fall, even though 2 of its 9 labour unions have passed motions calling for it. uSask expects most of the campus community to be vaccinated by Sept, and those returned to campus are “expected” to take every precaution to protect the community, which includes “being fully vaccinated.” uSask will follow the direction of PHO, who have not yet made vaccines mandatory. It will also work with CdnPSEs, but so far no other university has implemented such a policy. CBC
uRegina is planning for blended delivery in a “transitional” semester this Fall, and while vaccinations won’t be mandatory for staff or students, the administration “strongly encourage[s] all members of the campus community to receive their COVID19 vaccination as they become eligible.” A vaccine mandate would present “many legal and logistical challenges.” One student interviewed by CBC thinks mandatory vaccination might make it possible for her classes to be held in-person instead of online. CBC
Nudges, not Mandates
A uOregon employment law prof recommends “5 Nudges that work better than a vaccine mandate,” even though it is “probably legal” to require vaccinations of employees in the US, particularly in healthcare settings. Elizabeth Tippett suggests 1) making it easy to get vaccinated, either by offering shots on-campus, providing paid time off or even free Lyft rides; 2) providing information on the benefits of immunization; 3) offering an incentive like raffle tickets, preferential scheduling, or an outdoor BBQ; 4) making it a “hassle” to be unvaccinated, whether with mandatory self-checks or automated reminders; and/or 5) scaring employees by requiring them to sign a form acknowledging the risks they are taking. Inc.
“It’s pretty clear that there is no scenario for most companies where employees are returning unvaccinated to the office in 2021. This is a conversation that HR leaders need to be having with their people now.” – Justin Holland, CEO, HealthJoy
It’s always surprising when I see universities internationally plagiarizing marketing slogans from CdnPSE. You may recall I shared the way uPhoenix ripped off Bow Valley College’s inspiring tagline, “We Rise,” in 2015. (See the Ten with Ken episode, “Bold New Brands.”) Sadly, Phoenix spoiled it for BVC. Now, it’s a university down under that’s being underhanded…
Swinburne U of Technology (Australia) just released a polished 30-sec commercial, “next gen_now,” that features an echoing female voice with Siri overtones, emphasizing industry partnerships, work experience, and plenty of dynamic digital transitions. “University as we know it is getting an upgrade.” YouTube
I would praise this ad, if it weren’t borrowing a CdnPSE slogan word for word. Concordia U (Montreal) has been running a slick campaign for months now, “Next-Gen. Now.” I don’t know if Swinburne’s agency checked for Australian copyright registration and then shamelessly stole it, saw it and was subliminally influenced by it, or honestly came up with the slogan completely independent of Concordia, but if the good folks in Montreal aren’t getting royalties on this, they should!
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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