Eduvation Blog

Wildfire in Dry Timber

Good morning!

You may be relieved to know that it’s “Get Out of the Doghouse Day,” depending on the kind of week you’ve been having – although around the world, even THAT level of shelter would be a big improvement, as extreme weather events threaten or destroy homes and entire communities. Last week, New York City subway stations were flooded by tropical storm Elsa. Western Europe experienced its worst floods in a century, leaving at least 120 dead and 1,300 missing across Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and the Netherlands. On Thursday, a tornado ripped through Barrie damaging 140 homes. By Friday, Saskatchewan was fighting 137 active wildfires and BC some 300.

Coincidentally, on Friday I attended a SCUP conference presentation on climate change by futurist Bryan Alexander, entitled “Universities on Fire.” If this year’s floods, fires, pestilence and winds aren’t enough to worry you, over the next 50 years we can expect rising sea levels to force a “Great Migration” of college campuses from the eastern seaboard to higher ground, and aridification to create food shortages and climate refugees around the world. We’ll be weighing the climate impacts of conference travel and international student mobility against the carbon footprints of the server farms that take them virtual. We can also expect pressure on our institutions to adopt green energy sources, to remove meat from cafeteria offerings, to reduce or eliminate parking lots, and to develop climate change strategies as part of our integrated strategic plans and campus master plans. Our institutions might even spend the next few decades on an emergency-response footing, rather like the past 15 months of pandemic. (If you missed it, check out my Insider Recap, “Climate >FFWD.”)

But for the next few months, at least, the COVID19 pandemic will remain the most urgent consideration for institutional planning, enrolment, pedagogy and student services. And of course, it just wouldn’t be Monday without my weekly Pandemic Précis…



Pandemic Précis

The world remains at a fragile point in the COVID19 pandemic. Once again, the US and UK serve as cautionary tales, showing Canada what to expect next. With about half their populations fully vaccinated and health restrictions lifting, the Delta variant is tearing through unvaccinated populations like wildfire in dry timber…


Global Resurgence

From a scaled-down Tokyo Olympics and Calgary Stampede, to the second pandemic Hajj in Mecca, much of the world has been reopening socially and economically – just as the virulent Delta variant of COVID19 is gaining momentum. The WHO reports that COVID19 cases and deaths are climbing again after a period of decline. The world saw 3M new infections last week, and 55,000+ deaths, while 75% of the world has yet to receive a single dose of vaccine. The “nightmare scenario of a never-ending pandemic” would be the recurrent rise of new, vaccine-evading strains among these largely unvaccinated countries, which spread and reinfect countries who think they have ended the pandemic.


Resurgence in the Sun Belt

The Delta COVID19 variant is sweeping across the US in a new resurgence that constitutes “a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” particularly in southern states where hot summer weather is driving people indoors. (There are 10 states forecast not to reach 70% vaccination for another full year, including ND, LA, WY, ID and MT.) Nationally, new cases are up 70% this week over last, to about 26,300 daily, hospitalizations are up 36% and deaths are up 26% (all among the unvaccinated). 49 out of 50 states saw case counts rise in the past week – 38 of them by 50% or more (see map above). States that have resisted vaccination are becoming hotspots, including Florida, Arkansas and Missouri. “Misinformation has cost us lives.” Mask mandates were reintroduced in Los Angeles on Saturday, regardless of vaccination status.  Washington Post


“[The CDC] made a recommendation based on biological science, but not any social science. Unfortunately, the policy of letting people self-sort into vaccinated and unvaccinated resulted in a sort of behavioral science problem.”Emily Landon, Chief Infectious-Disease Epidemiologist, uChicago Medicine



“It’s like we’ve been to this movie several times in the last year and a half, and it doesn’t end well. Somehow, we’re running the tape again. It’s all predictable.”Francis Collins, Director, US National Institutes of Health



UK “Freedom Day”?

Today England marks “freedom day,” as society undergoes the “big bang of reopenings” and all pandemic restrictions end – including mandatory face masks. (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are emerging from lockdown more cautiously.) The reopening of nightclubs is particularly contentious, since their core clientele (aged 18-25) have not yet had the opportunity to become fully vaccinated, and 83% of club owners have no intention of asking their patrons about vax status. The government fully expects an “exit wave” of 100,000+ new daily infections, but believes summertime, with schools closed, is the best time to take the risk: “if not now, then when?” Half of Britons surveyed believe the reopening is premature, as does the WHO and the public health community: 1,200 scientists have signed a public letter in the Lancet condemning the reopening as “unscientific and unethical.” UK daily case counts have been rising rapidly as restrictions ease, already topping 50,000, and hospitalizations have quadrupled in the past week (despite 68% of adults being fully vaccinated). Even worse, allowing the virus to “run amok” among the unvaccinated will allow new mutations to incubate, and may mean another “UK variant” will be unleashed on the world this Fall. In an ominous irony, health minister Sajid Javid announced this weekend that he tested positive for COVID19 – despite being double-vaxxed (presumably with AstraZeneca). Prime Minister Boris Johnson has bowed to public pressure and is now self-isolating himself.


Israel Backslides

One of the world’s most-vaccinated countries, Israel, reopened businesses and schools and lifted nearly all health restrictions about 4 weeks ago – but the Delta variant has driven a new surge in cases, and authorities have reimposed mandatory mask requirements, quarantines for arriving travellers, and a series of “soft suppressions.” Medical experts are concerned about the potential unknowns: “It’s possible that there won’t be a big rise in the severely ill, but the price of making such a mistake is what’s worrying us.”  Global


“Regions of the world where the delta variant has taken hold… [have] ICUs full of 30-year-olds… That’s what’s coming to the US. I think people have no clue what’s about to hit us.” James Lawlor, Global Center for Health Security, uNebraska Medical Center



Wuhan Lab Theory

Early in the pandemic, the suggestion that the COVID19 virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (accidentally or intentionally) was widely dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Now, however, authoritative medical experts around the world are encouraging a more thorough investigation of the possibility. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the WHO and an immunologist himself, says that there may have been a “premature push” to rule out the lab escape theory: “I have worked in the lab, and lab accidents happen.”



COVID in Canada

Canadians can feel some relief at finally gaining momentum in the vaccination effort, and the combination of summer weather and relaxing PHO restrictions may leave many feeling that life is finally “back to normal.” But if we want a decent Fall, we can’t afford to get complacent yet…



Vaccination Progress

This weekend, Canada achieved 70/49 vaccination of the entire population (or 80/57 of the eligible population), surpassing the US for the first time. Now, like our southern neighbours, the problem is not so much supply shortages as waning demand: Ottawa is holding back 2M doses because the provinces say they can’t use them yet, has committed to donate 17.7M doses to COVAX, and has allowed thousands of doses of AstraZeneca to expire in what many consider a “moral failure,” as the rest of the world scrambles for vaccines. (Then again, some ask why the federal government is exporting vaccines it does not recommend for Canadians.) Canada’s CMOH Theresa Tam remains vocally concerned that vaccination rates are still lowest among those under 40 – including the traditional PSE age cohort which will be returning to campus this Fall.


Ontario Expects a Surge

Although it’s still unclear whether the Canada-US border will reopen this week, provinces from coast to coast are lifting restrictions as vaccination rates hit their targets. Movie theatres are reopening in Ontario and Manitoba, while Ontario gyms and restaurants welcomed customers back on Friday. The Toronto Football Club finally played a home game Saturday at BMO Field with 7,000 fans in attendance, and plans to welcome 15,000 on Wednesday. Ontario’s CMOH Kieran Moore says he would “absolutely expect a rise” in COVID19 cases starting the 3rd week of September, when cooler weather arrives and students have returned to class, particularly among the unvaxxed. When Ontario entered stage 3 of reopening on Friday, it was also “the first day of the fourth wave,” says epidemiologist Colin Furness, setting up the province for an unpleasant fall. “Unvaccinated people should not be sharing air.” Ontario will move to stage 4 when it reaches 80/75 vaccination. (Currently it’s at 78/55.)


Complacent in Calgary?

As you may recall, Jason Kenney followed Boris Johnson’s example by pushing Alberta “Open for Summer” 2 weeks ago, even though the province lags others in vaccination (currently 75/58 of the eligible population). Even worse, as the province reopens, demand for second doses has “fallen sharply” (despite a multi-million-dollar lottery), and some 520,000 eligible Albertans haven’t yet booked their second dose. The reopening doubtless reduced the sense of urgency, and government messaging has emphasized that things are safe now, and that there will be no immunization passport. Inevitably, COVID19’s R-value is rising in the province (up from 0.75 to 0.84, and 0.97 in Edmonton). Also as expected, increasing contacts with anonymous people has meant an increase in new cases that cannot be traced (up to 39% since Jul 5, although nowhere near the peak of 85% last Nov). As interprovincial travel increases, this leads uCalgary prof Craig Jenne to urge adoption of the federal contact tracing app. Two weeks after reopening, Alberta is already seeing an uptick in new case counts, with a concentration of Delta variant cases in Calgary. The province will see any impact on hospitalizations sometime in August (remember the “mortality lag”). The country is crossing its fingers…


“The issue is whether or not we are going to see in Alberta what’s happening in the US and… UK. And that’s based on Delta variant causing infections predominantly, although not exclusively… in people that are unvaccinated. And therein lies the risk.”Chris Mody, Head of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases, uCalgary



The Vaccine “Hard Slog”

With more virulent variants of COVID19 in circulation, Canada needs to attain a higher level of vaccination than originally thought to avoid another wave this Fall. (Many epidemiologists are now discussing a 90% fully vaxxed target, instead of 80%.) Federal government modelling suggests that hospital capacity may again hit dangerous levels this Fall, as it is already doing in the UK. There are currently more than 6M eligible Canadians who have yet to receive a single shot – and at the current pace of vaccination, it would take months more to vaccinate those holdouts. Moreover, less than 30% of 18-29-year-olds have been fully vaccinated. “Getting more shots in arms could spell the difference between a 4th pandemic wave… and no wave at all.”  CBC



And of course, all of that brings us back to the question of making vaccination mandatory on PSE campuses this Fall. In the past week, uOttawa and Cape Breton U have joined 10 Ontario institutions – and 583 in the US – in announcing a vaccine requirement, at least for students coming to live in residence. Tomorrow, we’ll take an updated look at the matter!




But on a lighter note, I hope this continuing ed commercial can add a “splash” of fun to start your Monday!


Making a Splash

In this amusing 50-sec spot for Ryerson U’s Chang School of Continuing Education, an energetic spokesman splashes through a campus fountain while describing how you can “make a professional splash everywhere you go” by meeting the right people and advancing your skills to climb the corporate ladder. The visuals, from marching through knee-high water in business casual attire, to paddleboarding in a campus fountain, are sure to catch some attention in the crowded social media space.  YouTube



As always, thanks for reading! Hope your week gets off to a great start.

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 everybody!


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