Monday, June 21, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and happy summer solstice (at least, in the northern hemisphere). It’s Monday, so it’s time for my weekly pandemic précis – even though some of you may agree with Alberta premier Jason Kenney, that “we finally have the upper hand on this virus” and “the end of this terrible time is just 2 weeks away.” Naturally, I’m a bit more cautious, although without a doubt vaccination is our way back to normal. On that front, there’s even more momentum to report among Ontario institutions announcing that vaccination will be mandatory this Fall!
Today is also National Indigenous Peoples Day, and many CdnPSEs have already started acknowledging that in a variety of ways. It’s an official holiday in NT, but today is also known as “Discovery Day” in NL – which epitomizes the tension between celebrating the nation, and pursuing Indigenous reconciliation. From coast to coast, we’re grappling with the dissonance of national pride and Indigenous reconciliation, relocating statues of our first Prime Minister in Kingston and Charlottetown, and cancelling Canada Day celebrations entirely in Victoria and St Albert. (There would have been something profoundly disrespectful about setting off fireworks on the site of a former residential school, celebrating colonial confederation with gunpowder above a hill that “likely” contains unmarked graves of Indigenous children.) Three communities in northern SK are focusing on National Indigenous Peoples Day today, instead of July 1.
In many ways, we Canadians need to “stand on guard” against complacency regarding both the pandemic, and Indigenous reconciliation. (See more in #ICYMI, below.)
“The City of St. Albert encourages residents to spend this Canada Day considering both the opportunities and freedoms afforded to many within our country as well as the tragic history that our nation’s story has been built upon. With this in mind, we can reflect on our past while holding onto hope for an even better future for everyone.” – Cathy Heron, Mayor, St Albert AB
The summer solstice marks the northern hemisphere’s entry into the warmest days of the year, and traditionally the ebb tide of infectious disease waves. With rising vaccination levels and safer outdoor interactions, we can expect case counts of COVID19 to fall steadily for the next couple of months. I’ve been considering reducing the frequency of my “Pandemic Précis” to biweekly instead of weekly, but that could be a false sense of COVID complacency…
Canada Hits 75/20
On Saturday afternoon, we achieved that long-awaited milestone of partially vaccinating 75% of eligible Canadians with one dose, and fully vaccinating 20% with two doses of COVID19 vaccine. Since May, PHAC has touted the 75/20 target as the trigger point to start lifting health restrictions without risking our healthcare system, based on the experiences of other countries like the UK and US (but importantly, that was based on the much less contagious and virulent Alpha variant, not the increasingly dominant Delta). BC is planning to have all kids in K-12 classrooms full-time by September. Alberta is determined to fully reopen in time for the Calgary Stampede. Ontario is pushing for economic reopening, while keeping schools closed. The Atlantic provinces are planning to start reopening their travel bubble this week. As Noel Gibney, a uAlberta professor emeritus, puts it: some governments are “rolling the dice” with their aggressive summer reopening plans.
“We got ’er done… So one thumb up!” – Jennifer Russell, CMOH, New Brunswick
Delta Threat Grows
The Delta variant (B.1.617.2) arose in India last Fall, was identified as a VoC by the WHO in mid-May, and is now becoming the dominant strain globally, since it has evolved to thrive in a partially-vaccinated population. (Even 2 weeks after a second dose, the best COVID19 vaccines provide just 79% protection against Delta.) Rising cases in Britain resulted in a delay of their reopening plans. Moscow has hit record infections. New cases in nearly two dozen African countries have risen 20% in the past week. Cases in Afghanistan have risen 2,400% in the past month. Here in Canada, the Delta variant has made it to all 10 provinces and 1 territory, with ~1,187 cases so far (614 in BC), and new cases doubling every 8 days. It is blamed for a surge of cases in Waterloo, Halton/Peel, and Regina. (And its impact is likely underestimated, because no rapid screening test is available yet.)
Fourth Wave Possible
Many experts predict a 4th wave of COVID19, driven by the Delta variant, for Canada in late September or early October. (US models indicate that 83% must be fully vaccinated to prevent it. Currently they’re stuck at just 52%.) Many states are stuck at just 30% vaccinated, and hundreds of counties at less than 20%: “those are time bombs waiting to happen.” In fact, infection rates are already rising in those regions, particularly among students, and hospitalizations increasing (see graph). The biggest risk is complacency, with “the unvaccinated… behaving as though they’re vaccinated.” The CDC is starting to encourage those who are fully vaccinated to continue practicing precautions: “even if you’re wearing a Kevlar vest, it’s better to be careful.”
“The fact that you could get this variant circulating in those who are immunized puts those who haven’t been immunized at incredible risk. If, for example, we try to finish immunization of the 12 to 18-year-olds before we go back to over 80-year-olds for a second immunization, we could be playing with fire.” – Eric Arts, Microbiology and Immunology prof, Western U
It remains unclear exactly how a fourth wave would impact hospitalizations in Canada, but we should also be concerned about more subtle risks too…
About 23% of recovered COVID19 patients – of all ages – are experiencing 100+ long-term symptoms including fatigue, brain fog, migraines, nerve and muscle pain, cardiac and pulmonary function, sleep disorders, depression and anxiety. COVID19 “can affect nearly every organ system,” and can become “chronic conditions that will last a lifetime and will forever scar some individuals.” It also doesn’t seem to matter how serious a case of COVID19 was: long-term problems were reported by 27% of patients with mild or moderate cases of COVID19, and 19% of those who were completely asymptomatic. (A recent Yale study has identified 3 bloodstream proteins that may predict long-term lung impairment from COVID19.) Neurologists are concerned about perplexing symptoms like visual and auditory disturbances, vertigo, loss of smell and more, while autopsies reveal clotting in the brain and acute brain damage. (Some studies suggest COVID19 can penetrate the blood/brain barrier, making it tough to eradicate.) A new UK study confirms a “significant” post-COVID19 loss of gray matter in regions of the brain related to smell and taste, and the memory of experiences that evoke emotional reactions. Researchers at uSask’s Canada Light Source are investigating the potential of COVID19 to increase long-term risk for dementia, stroke and heart disease. (COVID19 seems to impact highly-vascularized organs in particular – leading as well to erectile dysfunction.) Clearly healthcare systems will need to develop additional capacity to cope with this post-pandemic pandemic: Ontario rehabilitation clinics already fear “a tsunami of patients” come September.
Stop Saying “Post-Pandemic”
As the WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, puts it: “Covid19 has already cost more than 3.3 million lives and we’re on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first.” Vaccine equity and distribution will be challenges in many parts of the world well into 2022, despite growing commitments to the COVAX initiative as developed countries achieve high levels of vaccination. A global vaccination effort will cost an estimated $50-$70B, and even then it will take time to ramp up vaccine manufacturing. The only short-term solution is for wealthy countries to divert their vaccine doses away from immunizing their children, and toward global hotspots where people face 3,200x the risk of death. “Our fire department needs more water, and should direct it to where the fire is burning, not to every house on the street.” New York Times
Since last Tuesday, there have been a few more cases of COVID19 reported by CdnPSEs. (See my master spreadsheet for a running tally of 2,600+ cases in CdnPSE since Sept 2020.)
Cambrian College reported a case of COVID19 on its Barrydowne campus on Friday. Cambrian
Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre (adjacent to the uCalgary campus) is still struggling with 2 major COVID19 outbreaks that have infected 21 patients and 9 healthcare workers. At least 20 cases were caused by the Delta variant, and all but the first was acquired in the hospital. Half of those affected were already fullyimmunized – including 1 of 2 individuals who have now died. CTV
“Until you’ve got two doses in you, you really don’t have a flak jacket and a helmet on, so to speak.” – Daniel Gregson, Infectious disease specialist, Cumming School of Medicine, uCalgary
I’ve been closely monitoring CdnPSE announcements of mandatory COVID19 vaccinations since late March (see the Insider Recap on Vaccination Policies), when momentum started building south of the border. Now, there are 522 US campuses where vaccines will be mandatory this Fall, usually for all students who wish to study on campus at all, and in many cases for staff and faculty too.
Canada has been slower to announce vaccine requirements, partly because our vaccine supply has been strained until recently – although Ontario has imposed a policy of mandatory vaccines or education programs on all staff in long-term care homes, and BC is reportedly rethinking its voluntary approach. Even the Calgary Stampede has announced that rodeo competitors must have at least one dose!
In CdnPSE, Western U started the ball rolling on May 27 (along with its affiliated colleges King’s, Brescia and Huron), and was soon followed by Fanshawe College, Trent U, uToronto, and Ryerson U. Now a third Toronto institution has announced that it will be following suit…
Mandatory for All at Seneca
On Friday, Seneca College president David Agnew announced that COVID19 vaccinations will be a “condition” for students and employees to come on campus this Fall, starting Sept 7. Medical exemptions will be made “upon presentation of appropriate documentation.” Agnew concludes with the analogy of other mass vaccination campaigns: “For most of us, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria and more are diseases of the past, thanks to vaccines.” Seneca
“To continue to protect the health of our community and stop the spread of infections, vaccinations will be a condition of participating in on-campus activities.” – David Agnew, President, Seneca College
Shots at Brock
Brock U has emphasized that it will not be requiring vaccinations on campus this Fall, but it will start offering the Moderna vaccine to all undergrad and grad students starting this Friday, at Student Health Services. “Being able to offer all Brock students direct access to the vaccine through this on-campus clinic is a very important step in the right direction.” Brock News
Still Debating Elsewhere
Although media reporters keep asking, many institutions across the country continue to indicate they currently have no intention of requiring COVID19 vaccinations this Fall. This includes Algonquin, Carleton, and uOttawa, which indicates that “the Council of Ontario Universities has sought a legal opinion on compulsory vaccination for students wishing to attend in-person courses. At this point, no decision has been made.”McMaster’s student newspaper editor, Andrew Mrozowski, says the university’s decision not to require vaccines leaves him concerned for reporters’ safety this Fall. Some students at UBC likewise are expressing concerns in the media about the university’s voluntary approach, particularly in residence.
Majority in Favour?
Two national polls by Nanos Research both seem to suggest that two-thirds of Canadians support the idea of making COVID19 vaccines mandatory. In January, just 35% of Canadians disagreed with the idea (almost half of them only “somewhat”). In June, just 35% of Canadians thought that unvaccinated students should be allowed to attend classes in person (and only 20% supported it more than “somewhat”). Regionally, support for the vaccine hesitant was stronger in Quebec (40%) and the prairies (39%) than in Atlantic Canada (32%), Ontario (30%), or BC (27%). Globe & Mail | Nanos
There will doubtless be plenty of videos released today to recognize National Indigenous Peoples Day, but yesterday the Students Association at Mount Royal U caught my eye with 7 videos on the topic. I found one particularly thought-provoking…
Acknowledging the Land
Linda Many Guns, Mount Royal U’s AVP Indigenization & Decolonization, recorded a thought-provoking 10-min greeting for Indigenous Peoples Day. She points out that it has been 529 years since contact between Indigenous peoples and colonists here in what we now call Canada, and 20 years since we started reciting land acknowledgements to recognize the historical commitments of our forebears, to live together as equal sovereign nations in this land. Indigenous worldviews emphasize our shared duty to preserve the natural environment for the next 7 generations, and to recognize that plants, animals and all living things have rights. European settlers considered it “uncivilized” to control human greed and to leave forests standing, regarding Indigenous respect for the natural world as a lack of goals or ambition. “We are an oral culture, and in the ceremony of repeating these land acknowledgements, the medicine and the power behind those words spreads across the land.” YouTube
As always, thanks for reading. I hope this Monday at work won’t feel like the longest day of the year!
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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