Eduvation Blog

COVID on Steroids, Athletes Not

Good morning!

Today is “All or Nothing” Day, which is how qualifying rounds and competitions must feel for Canada’s Olympic athletes as they prepare and perform in Tokyo. But they’re also living in a fragile “bubble” nestled amidst the epicentre of the global pandemic, while politicians and antivaxxers are gambling with lives…

Why yes – it’s Monday, so time for another weekly “Pandemic Précis” (Olympic edition).



Tokyo Olympics

As the Olympic Games begin in Tokyo, Asia is already a global COVID19 hotspot and it’s not just the athletes who are sweating…


Asian Epicentre

Cases of COVID19 continue to rise rapidly in Indonesia and India, where it is now estimated that the death toll could actually be 10x higher than the official 414,000. Indonesia extended lockdown restrictions last week. Vietnam is in the midst of a 2-week lockdown of its major cities. The Philippines is increasing travel restrictions from Malaysia and Thailand. South Korea is reporting record levels of new daily infections, and Myanmar record COVID19 deaths.


CdnPSE at the Olympics

The Summer Olympic Games are underway in Tokyo without spectators in the stands, but plenty of CdnPSEs are cheering on their students and alums. Doubtless this list is far from complete (my apologies!), but here are some I have noticed:


uCalgary is cheering on 4 Dinos: Erica Wiebe and Danielle Lappage (Wrestling), and Graham Vigrass and Jay Blankenau (Volleyball).


Concordia U student Tammara Thibeault will be competing in Middleweight Boxing.  Concordia


uManitoba is sending a contingent of 10 to Tokyo, including athletes Kelsey Wog (Swimming), Skylar Park (Taekwondo), Desiree Scott (Soccer), Tyler Mislawchuk (Triathlon), and TJ Sanders (Volleyball).  UM Today


McGill U reports 21 McGillians are headed to Tokyo, including 6 athletes: Gabrielle Smith (Rowing), Joelle Bekhazi (Water Polo), Alex Cai (Fencing), Shaul Gordon (Fencing), Maximilien Van Haaster (Fencing), and Gabriella Doueihy (Swimming – for Lebanon). Among the former McGill athletes officiating in Tokyo is Richard Pound.  McGill Athletics


NAIT is cheering on grad Kelsey Mitchell, a former national medalist in Soccer and Pan Am medalist in Cycling, who will be competing in Tokyo in Keirin and Sprint.  Tech Life Today


Seneca College grads Perdita Felicien and Andi Petrillo are part of CBC’s broadcast team for the Tokyo Olympics.  Seneca News


Sheridan College is celebrating 3 members of the IOC Refugee Olympic Team who will be sponsored to resettle in Canada via WUSC’s “Athletic Pathway” program, and have been admitted to Sheridan on IOC scholarships: Rose Nathike Likonyen, Paulo Amotun Lokoro and James Nyang Chiengjiek.  Sheridan


Simon Fraser U has at least 7 current and former students competing in Tokyo, including Gabriel Ho-Garcia (Field Hockey), Brian Malfesi (Kayaking), Jasmin Glaesser Duehring (Cycling), Danielle Lappage (Wrestling), Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe (Basketball), Natasha Wodak (10,000m Marathon), and Kristen Tsai (Badminton). SFU athletics staffer Lindsey Butterworth will be running the 800m.  SFU News


Trent U is celebrating 3 former student athletes who will be competing in Tokyo at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rowing: Trevor Jones, Joshua King, and Bayleigh Hooper.  Trent News


Western U has at least 4 current or former students in Tokyo, including Jen Martins and Jill Moffatt (Rowing), Conor Trainor (Rugby), and Samantha Roberts (Swimming). More than a dozen other grads are coaching, officiating, or reporting at the Tokyo Olympics, including Marnie McBean and David ShoemakerWestern News


York U is cheering on 9 former Lions, including Brandi Wilkerson (Volleyball), Melissa Humana-Parades (Volleyball), Shady El Nahas (Wrestling), Brittany Crew (Shotput), Pierce LePage (Decathlon), Bismark Boateng (Track), Khamica Bingham (Relay), and Arthur Szwarc (Volleyball).  York Lions



“Playing with Lives”

At the same time, it’s disturbing to see COVID19 case counts among the athletes rising to 87, while Tokyo remains under a state of emergency and the city’s case counts approach 2,000 per day. More than 15% of those living onsite in the Olympic Village are unvaccinated. Despite IOC assurances of “zero” risk to the surrounding community, observers say the isolation bubble system is “already broken.” To date, only 23% of Japanese are fully vaxxed, and 83% of the country is opposed to proceeding with the Olympics at the country faces its 5th, and worst, wave of the pandemic. The WHO gave the IOC its blessing, saying that “the Olympics have the power to bring the world together, to inspire, to show what’s possible.” As Western U prof MacIntosh Ross puts it, “The WHO and the IOC are playing with lives” by proceeding with the Games, which could become a superspreader event if Japanese athletes win lots of medals – which could fuel reckless celebrations and further spread across the country.


“When the IOC and WHO support a global mega-event held during a pandemic, it’s difficult to believe that the well-being of the host nation remains a priority.”MacIntosh Ross, Kinesiology prof, Western U



Testing Limits in Canada

Here in Canada, too, our political leaders are taking chances, perhaps counting on vaccines too much to protect us from the consequences of risky behaviour. Most provinces have already lifted pandemic restrictions, while New Brunswick will do so this Friday, and Yukon next Wednesday. Of course, it was entirely predictable that COVID19 case counts in Alberta would explode 2 weeks after the Calgary Stampede opened, centred in Calgary and driven by the Delta variant (now 81% of the province’s variant cases). But why oh why does the Quebec government think a $3M “supervised concert” for 20,000 people this September is a worthwhile risk to take? (Obviously, they hope to revitalize Quebec City tourism.) uLaval researchers have an “ambitious” research agenda, developed at the behest of the government. (I wouldn’t want to sit on the research ethics board for thatone…)



Pandemic Précis

Unlike the sportsmanship expected of Olympic athletes, the coronavirus is continually changing the game in order to win…


COVID on Steroids

The Delta variant of COVID19 (B.1.617.2, originally identified in India) is now the dominant strain in many countries, and accounts for 83% of sequenced cases in the US (up from 50% just 2 weeks earlier). “Think about the Delta variant as the 2020 version of COVID19 on steroids.” The CDC reports that people infected by Delta carry a viral load more than 1,000x greater than with earlier forms of COVID19, and Delta is “one of the most infectious respiratory viruses we know of.” It is “thriving on America’s immunity gap,” and now even Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Steve Doocy are encouraging viewers to get the shot. The variant has driven a quadrupling of US case counts in July, particularly in the South and Midwest, and a tripling of hospitalizations in Florida. Delta seems to be beating out the Lambda variant (C.37, identified in Peru last August), which is still considered a variant of interest, not concern. Delta is twice as infectious as the original strain of COVID19, and better at evading current vaccines: one recent study suggest Pfizer is only 64% effective against infection (although good at preventing serious illness or death). Another study found that Pfizer was 88% effective against symptomatic disease from Delta, while AstraZeneca was 67% effective. (A single dose, on the other hand, is only 30-36% effective.)


“If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero. These vaccines are saving lives.”Ron DeSantis, Republican Governor of Florida



Breakthrough Infections

As Anthony Fauci explains, “no vaccine is 100% effective,” so breakthrough infections can be expected among some fully-vaxxed people. The mRNA vaccines boasted 95% efficacy against the original strains of covid, so ~5% of people could expect to contract that virus despite vaccination. With efficacy rates against the Delta variant of as little as 64%, though, more than a third of people could be vulnerable, even if their symptoms are minor. There is already evidence that fully-vaxxed people can in fact spread the virus to others, too – prompting some health officials to urge even vaccinated people to wear masks and practice social distancing.


UK “Pingdemic”

Thanks to a successful vaccination rollout, Britain has officially reopened its economy – but now an epidemic of absenteeism is throwing the country into chaos. Workforce shortages in retail and logistics have been exacerbated by a new “pingdemic”: the NHS’s contact-tracing app alerted 618,000 people last week alone that they needed to self-isolate for 10 days due to exposure to COVID19 – including many who are fully-vaxxed. (PM Boris Johnson is himself still in isolation.) The result has been food shortages, delays in transit and emergency services, and shuttered restaurants, pubs, gas stations and retailers. Already, 10% of people who downloaded the app have deleted it.  Globe & Mail  |  AP


“The reason that so many people are receiving notifications is simple: We have a highly transmissible virus that is being allowed to spread throughout the country with the bare minimum of mitigation.”Stephen Griffin, Assoc Prof of Medicine, uLeeds



Covidiots Protest

On Saturday in Greece, police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse 4,000+ protesters outside the parliament in Athens. In France, despite some 20,000 daily new cases of COVID19, ~160,000 people protested against a vaccine passport for restaurants and mandatory vaxes for healthcare workers. InAustralia, thousands of “very selfish boofheads” gathered for violent protests, as more than half the country is in lockdown and case counts hit record highs in NSW. (So far just 15% of Australians are fully-vaxxed.) In Brazil at least, silly protests are on the right side of history, as residents mock president Jair Bolsonaro’s absurd claim that COVID19 vaccines can turn humans into crocodiles by wearing costumes to get their shots.


Blaming & Shaming

Worldwide, frustration is mounting over the antimask, antivax and vaccine-hesitant holdouts who are protesting health restrictions, bypassing quarantine, and refusing to get shots, even to save their own lives. Here in Canada, our outrage has focused primarily on illegal superspreader parties and hypocritical politicians. (See for instance “Hooligans & Hypocrites” from January, or “Hypocrites, Intellectuals and Deplorables” from last December.) In Australia, the “search for villains” results in public shaming of individuals tied to major outbreaks. One pizza worker remains in hiding after widespread calls to “drag him into the street and make an example of him.” A vaccine-hesitant limo driver is blamed for the current outbreak of 2,000 cases in Sydney. Tens of millions of Americans are refusing shots, 7 months after the vaccine rollout began, and leading to a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” The NFL is now threatening fines or forfeits for teams if unvaccinated players are linked to outbreaks. Former Republican speech writer David Frum laments vaccine resistance among conservative, evangelical, and rural Americans, and declares, “vaccinated America has had enough!” While some of the holdouts may face genuine obstacles to getting vaxxed, “some considerable number of the unvaccinated are also behaving willfully and spitefully,” manipulated by “garbage TV, toxic Facebook content, and craven or crazy politicians.” Even the Republican Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, says “it’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks.” Of course, there’s one outspoken populist who still won’t help the vaccination cause: Donald Trump told a rally in Phoenix on Saturday night that even though “I came up with the vaccine,” Americans are vaccine hesitant because they “don’t trust” president Joe Biden. (Sigh)


“It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down. These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain.”Kay Ivey, Republican Governor of Alabama



Vaccine Progress

Canada is in the home stretch of vaccination, but our momentum has been flagging as we run up against vaccine hesitancy and indifference. (And, of course, we don’t yet have a vaccine approved for children under age 12). So far we’re at 70/54 (percent of the total population with 1 or 2 doses), and since really it’s that 2-dose number that matters, we’re only halfway to the finish line. (OK, if you set the target at 90% as Theresa Tam has done, then we’re 60% of the way there.) Some of the northern territories are well ahead, like YK (76/71) and NWT (73/67). The leading provinces include ON (70/57), MB (68/56), NB (72/56), and NS (74/55). Not far behind are SK (64/53), AB (64/53), BC (72/52), QC (72/51) and NV (57/48). Although they have top achievement for first doses, 2 Atlantic provinces seem to be particularly far behind now: NL (77/44) and PEI (76/40).



Think You’re Fully Vaxxed?

While Canada considers you fully vaccinated against COVID19 if you have 2 doses of different vaccines (whether Pfizer + Moderna, or AstraZeneca + either), the same is not true elsewhere. The US FDA only sanctions “mix-and-match” vaccination in exceptional circumstances, so when the border finally reopens to Canadians, you might be in for a quarantine even if you’re fully vaxxed. Many European countries do not yet recognize AstraZeneca at all, and several cruise lines are refusing mixed-vax passengers. “Canadian or other international guests who received a combination of AstraZeneca and Pfizer are considered unvaccinated by the CDC.” Emerging research suggests that mixed-vax provides equal or better immunity against COVID19, and the Canadian government assures us that foreign health authorities will eventually catch up.  CTV  |   Global


Still Holding Our Breath

As so many politicians and journalists have noted recently, “we’re not out of the woods yet.” At current levels of vaccination, almost half of Canadians remain entirely unprotected against the Delta variant (the 46% without 2 vaccine shots), and up to a third of fully-vaxxed Canadians could still catch and transmit it (assuming 36% breakthrough infections), adding another 20%. In all, then, 66% of Canadians of all ages are still likely to catch the Delta variant if exposed, although the scope of illness, hospitalization and death will depend on vaccine status. In August, Canada plans to reopen its borders to US visitors, and to international visitors in September – just as schools reopen and shorter days start to drive us indoors more. Without even considering experimental concerts in Quebec or the potential rise of new COVID19 variants, “we should not be surprised if the Delta variant starts to increase quite substantially, and we should not be surprised if we have to go back to some level of travel and other restrictions.”


Back to Square One?

The WHO doesn’t expect the pandemic to end until mid-2022 at the earliest, by which time 70% of every country’s population might be vaccinated. (Currently, the goal is just 10% by September.) And the potential for vaccine-evading variants to arise in the meantime means that even fortunate countries have to start vaccinations all over again: “the more variants, the higher the likelihood that one of them will evade vaccines and take us all back to square one.” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus calls it a “moral outrage” and “epidemiologically and economically self-defeating” that wealthy countries are talking about booster shots when even frontline healthcare workers in many countries have yet to get their first dose. Those who think their own country’s reopening means the pandemic is over are “living in a fool’s paradise.”



Tomorrow: Vaccine Policies

Speaking of vaccinations, one of the fastest-moving fronts in CdnPSE’s pandemic battle right now is mandatory vaccine policies, primarily for students living in residence. So far, I’ve shared 14 announcements, mainly in Ontario (see the Insider Recap on Vaccination Policies) – and in the past few days there have been 5 more, at uGuelph, Laurier, uWaterloo, Conestoga College, and Mohawk College.


Some of these seem to represent about-faces from previous statements, and the growing momentum is sparking plenty of discussion across the country. More details tomorrow!




Since today seems to be my “Olympic” themed issue…



Loughborough U (England) looks like the gold medallist so far on YouTube, with 13 videos in the “LBORO2TOKYO” series, released over the weekend. Most are 2-3 min profiles of Loughborough student athletes, but some are informational – such as how the Tokyo heat may improve sprinters’ performance or how athletes can prepare for extreme heat, and how to overcome overthinking on the field. The longest are podcast episodes on athlete psychology under COVID19, preparing to compete under extreme heat, and maximizing sleep patterns in different time zones. So far, I haven’t seen any college or university (among the 700 I follow) pump out anything remotely like this kind of volume about the Olympics!  YouTube



As always, thanks for reading! I hope your week gets off to a smashing start, whether you’re hard at work, relaxing with a mango in your hammock (still!), or playing hooky to binge-watch the Olympics on TV…

Whatever you do, stay safe and be well!


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