Thursday, August 5, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Today we continue the pandemic round-up I began yesterday with “Delta Whiplash.” (ICYMI, we looked at the continuing rise of the 1,000x more virulent Delta variant, the pandemic crisis in the global south, the latest findings about reproduction values and vaccine breakthrough, and the CDC’s warning that “the war has changed.” The prognosis is sobering: the fourth wave of the pandemic has already begun in Canada and the US, the latter in particular is in for a grim year and a whole series of waves. Ultimately, we’re now in a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” and what really matters now is getting people vaccinated.)
The big challenge in the COVID fight for the past 18 months hasn’t changed: public and political denial, and our collective inability to pass the “marshmallow test.” Every summer we emerge into the sunlight outdoors, respiratory virus cases fall, and we delude ourselves into thinking that maybe – just maybe – the pandemic is over.
Around the world, developed nations with advanced vaccination efforts have been lifting all or most public health restrictions, in the hopes that rising COVID19 case counts won’t translate into a surge of hospitalizations. We humans need optimism to keep us going, of course, but in planning for Fall we should hang onto a healthy dose of pessimism too…
South of the border, the US is a nation divided along partisan lines. You can hardly blame Republicans for impatiently wishing the pandemic were over…
New York mayor Bill de Blasio has been praising the way the city’s vaccine rollout “literally changed the course of history, saved thousands of lives and stopped hundreds of thousands of COVID cases in their tracks” – while the Delta variant has been pushing case counts back up. Newsweek
COVID19 memorials are starting to be planned and erected in cities across the country, acknowledging 600,000 dead as though the global pandemic were already history. AP
County Fairs are “springing back to life” as rural North Americans gather in a “national Summer of Reentry” for pig races, machete juggling, zucchini festivals and fried bananas. Attendance is down somewhat, but crowds are eager “to rub shoulders heedlessly under a warm sky and rejoin life en masse.” Christian Science Monitor
Cruise Lines are making waves again too, trumpeting “pent-up demand.” In mid-July, a Genting Cruise Lines “cruise to nowhere” out of (and back to) Singapore left 3,000 passengers and crew confined to their quarters after a positive case. Carnival’s P&O sold out a 40-day Caribbean cruise in 6 hours, to depart in February.Regent Seven Seas sold out a 132-day “world cruise” in just 3 hours, even with ticket prices as high as $200,000 per person. (They depart Miami in Jan 2024.) Cruise ships will return to Canadian waters starting Nov 1, as the federal government lifts its ban.
Florida has banned cruise lines from requiring proof of vaccination from passengers, with a $5,000 fine each time they ask. Norwegian Cruise Line, which intends to restart cruises from Miami Aug 15, has filed a lawsuit in federal court contending that the law jeopardizes safe operations. They say they will not be able to sail from Florida without “a devastating, unrecoverable loss for everyone.” CTV
“Apparently Norwegian [Cruise Line] prefers the shackles of the CDC to the freedom offered by Florida.” – Christina Pushaw, press secretary to Florida governor Ron DeSantis
A recent Gallup poll found that almost 60% of Americans have returned to socializing with family and friends entirely, 52% say shopping is back to normal, and 49% say work and personal finances are back to normal. On the other hand, only a third say school is back to normal, and just 29% say the same of travel. Gallup
The “Delta swerve” has left many Americans “vaxxed, waxed, but definitely not relaxed” after “a few carefree weeks of letting our collective guard down.” Thanks to the 40% of eligible adults still unvaccinated, the US is seeing a rise in case counts again, and hospitals are starting to overflow in under-vaxxed states. Google and Apple employees who were preparing to return to the office have been told to wait another month. Disney World is back to requiring masks for guests. Brides are rescheduling their weddings for the 3rd and 4th time. Washington Post
Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson was among those republicans who signed a bill into law banning state and local authorities from implementing mask mandates, back when case counts were dropping. As of this week, he already regrets the decision. On Monday alone, the state reported 135,000 new COVID19 cases. Just 37% of residents are fully vaccinated. Newsweek
Vaccination is the “prisoner’s dilemma,” says Carnegie Mellon psychology prof Gretchen Chapman: there is a collective reward when everyone cooperates, but personal incentives not to – and when enough people don’t cooperate, “the people who did the right thing suffer the consequences.” Washington Post
In Canada’s most republican province, Alberta, premier Jason Kenney has pushed an “Open for Summer” agenda, despite having the country’s second-lowest vaccination rates. Medical experts fear a potential “Alberta variant” could be the ultimate result…
Forget Quarantine in AB
Alberta is shifting its treatment of COVID19 to align with the flu and other contagious illnesses over the next 2 weeks. (What Alberta law prof Ubaka Ogbogu calls “the stupidest public health response to the pandemic in the G7.”) Starting last Thursday, Albertans who test positive will still have to isolate, but their close contacts will no longer be contacted or required to quarantine, and even COVID19 testing will not be recommended unless they are symptomatic. Starting Aug 16, even Albertans who test positive will no longer need to isolate, and masks will no longer be mandated in taxis and public transit vehicles. In September, masks will not be required in schools, and COVID19 testing will only be available in serious cases where results are needed for patient care decisions. (Expect Alberta case counts to drop precipitously, when nobody can access a COVID19 test!) Currently AB is at 64/55. CBC | Globe & Mail
“I think you’re going to see very substantial activity in terms of COVID in [Alberta] schools. I think you’re going to see a lot more kids in hospital, and in ICU.” – Anand Kumar, Infectious disease specialist, uManitoba
“We are launching an experiment on a population level, first in the world to basically stop acting on COVID. This is an effort to hide the numbers, and achieve herd immunity, that will profoundly hurt us.” – Joe Vipond, Calgary physician, on Twitter
The Show Must Go On!
Alberta’s “open for summer” strategy always seemed aimed to ensure that the Calgary Stampede could proceed. Now, Alberta Health reports at least 84 cases of COVID19 were conclusively acquired at the “greatest outdoor show on earth,” not including less clear-cut cases, and the community spread they all may have caused. (The R-value in Calgary is currently 1.5, so it seems likely that at least 126 more cases, if not 250 or more, are likely linked – but Alberta also cut way back on contact tracing. There were 799 active cases in Calgary last week.) CBC
Blind & Defenceless
As you might expect, Alberta doctors are reacting with surprise and disappointment to the province’s plans to drop most COVID19 surveillance and management, from contact tracing to asymptomatic testing. “Dismantling our testing or surveillance infrastructure and depending on hospitalizations as only indicators — that leaves us blind and defenceless.” Disease modellers from UBC warn that, with cases doubling every 8-10 days, hospitalization rates could increase within weeks, and case counts hit a new high by Aug 30. The head of the Alberta Medical Association demanded the government release the data on which its decision was made. Healthcare providers staged protests in Edmonton and Calgary on Friday, and some called for the resignation of CMOH Deena Hinshaw. Ontario medical experts are sounding the alarm about the “ripple effect” of the move on other provinces. Even federal PHOs in Ottawa called on Albertans who test positive to self-isolate, and criticized the move at a time when the Delta variant demands more caution, not less: “this ‘unnecessary and risky gamble’ could worsen the spread of the virus and put children at risk.” Others, including Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, worry about the potential to “unleash an Alberta variant on the world.” Skeptics observe that Jason Kenney’s UCP government is trying to please its base, as the Alberta NDP is currently more popular and raising more funds.
“The medical community is being completely gaslighted right now. The idea that in 2 weeks’ time we can just be done with this, when we know we’re not, is so irresponsible.” – Neeja Bakshi, Royal Alexandra Hospital, Edmonton
Across the rest of the country, premiers are making similar decisions to reopen the economy, at least for a month or two. uToronto infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness observes “a bit of a political stampede” in NB, but the same can be said for most of the country…
As of today, Canada is at 71/60 vaccination (82/69 of the eligible population), putting us on par with the UK (70/57) and US (50/58) for second doses (which is what matters in the fight against the Delta variant). Despite the cautionary tales from those countries, our provincial premiers are continuing to push forward with lifting health restrictions from coast to coast.
Yukon officials lifted more health restrictions this week, to “strike a balance between individual rights and public safety” and shift its approach to COVID19 “from pandemic to endemic.” Starting yesterday, border controls have been lifted, masks are no longer mandatory in indoor public places, and bars and restaurants can return to full capacity – although restrictions on gatherings remain in place. (Yukon is currently at 77/72.) CBC | Globe & Mail
Nunavut released its path forward plan, “Living with COVID19,” on Tuesday, aiming to lift emergency measures gradually with vaccination milestones. “The virus is now a vaccine-preventable disease that no longer requires immediate community shutdowns, drastic public health measures, or a complete change to our way of life.” Until all Nunavummiut of all ages can be vaccinated, however, some public health measures will remain. Currently, masks are no longer mandatory in public places, although distancing is still required, and gathering sizes limited. (NU is at 58/49.) CBC
“The virus is now a vaccine-preventable disease that no longer requires immediate community shutdowns, drastic public health measures, or a complete change to our way of life.” – Nunavut’s Path: Living with COVID19
British Columbia has seen its 7-day case count triple in the past 2 weeks, with an outbreak in Central Okanagan accounting for more than half the province’s cases (particularly among people aged 20-40, who are unvaxxed or partially vaxxed). PHO Bonnie Henry has reimposed mask mandates in the region for all indoor public spaces, and is strongly discouraging travel to and from the region. While nightclubs remain open, “no dancing or mingling is allowed.” (BC is at 73/58.) CBC | Globe & Mail
Saskatchewan is bracing for a resurgence of the Delta variant in Saskatoon, as uSaskatchewan researchers found coronavirus in wastewater samples increased 253% from last week. National health boards are “pretty well sure we’re going to have a fourth wave in the fall,” since even vaccinated individuals can spread the Delta variant. Thankfully, high levels of vaccination may mean fewer hospitalizations and fatalities as a result. (SK is at 65/56.) Global
Manitoba announced changes to COVID19 restrictions this week, removing its mask mandate as the province hits 75% of eligible adults fully vaxxed – a target originally expected for Sep 6. All restrictions on private gatherings and businesses will be removed, and many requirements are becoming merely recommendations. “Thanks to the remarkable efforts of Manitobans, we are now in a position to reopen more, sooner, as we have achieved our highest vaccination rates yet.” (MB is at 70/62.) Globe & Mail
Ontario released new guidelines last week for the “exit step” of reopening, which will keep masks mandatoryeven as it drops most other health restrictions and capacity limits. Businesses will need to maintain safety plans and “passive screening” measures (such as signage), and restaurants will have to maintain 2m distancing and collect names and contact information. Moving into the next step of reopening requires all public health units to reach 70% full vaccination of eligible residents, and could occur as early as mid-August. (ON is at 71/62.) CTV | CBC
Quebec further loosened pandemic restrictions on Sunday, allowing bars and restaurants to serve alcohol until 1am, and outdoor venues to host up to 15,000 people for sports and festivals (just 7,500 indoors). “The evolution of new cases in Quebec is stable despite what is happening in the rest of the world.” (And yet, days later premier François Legault warned that new restrictions would be coming soon, as COVID19 cases continue to rise in Quebec.) QC is at 73/58.
New Brunswick lifted all pandemic restrictions last Friday, including mask mandates, gathering limits and border checks, even though the original target of 75% fully vaccinated had not been reached. A number of health experts emphasize that masks will be crucial indoors for NB to avoid a fourth wave this Fall. “There’s a bit of a political stampede here.” (NB is at 73/60.) CBC
“[The Delta variant] means that indoor dining is a problem, gyms are a problem and movie theatres with concession stands are a problem. That’s your fourth wave right there… New Brunswick is setting itself up for that.” – Colin Furness, uToronto infection control epidemiologist
Nova Scotia entered the fourth phase of its reopening plan last month, with retailers and restaurants/bars back to full capacity – with social distancing and masks. Mass vaccination clinics in NS will begin to wind down starting Aug 15. (NS is at 75/63.) The province also reports 22 cases of heart inflammation following mRNA vaccinations, mostly in males aged 20-30 getting their second doses. All responded well to treatment. Globe & Mail
Prince Edward Island now allows formal gatherings up to 100 people, but dancing in bars and nightclubshas been banned for more than a year, and remains forbidden until at least Sep 12. (PEI is at 77/47.)
Newfoundland & Labrador moved to its next step of reopening on Sunday, 15 days ahead of schedule. Formal gatherings up to 350 indoors or 500 outdoors are now permitted, provided that distancing can be maintained. Restaurants can reopen without capacity limits and dancing is permitted, although buffets are still banned. (NL is at 78/52.) CBC
As case counts drop and provinces lift mandatory mask rules, the Delta variant still lurks and poses a threat to the unvaccinated – and can be spread even by those who are double-dosed. Are we jumping the gun to ditch our masks?
With the Delta variant looming, many health experts are concerned that it’s too early to ditch facemasks. SFU infectious disease researcher Caroline Colijn emphasizes that 90-95% vaccination would give us a strong level of protection, but that community spread and potential variants are also key factors. uAlberta Hospital infectious disease physician Stephanie Smith worries that once mask restrictions are removed, “there will be a lot of resistance to going backwards.” Concordia U behavioural medicine prof Simon Bacon observes that “politicians are motivated by being re-elected, and people don’t like wearing masks.” uAlberta infectious disease expert Lynora Saxinger advises people to continue with distancing, ventilation and handwashing, “even if you do drop the mask.” CBC
The Worst Flu Season Ever
As mask mandates are lifted across the country (except, so far, in Ontario), we begin “an uncomfortable experiment” and not just with the transmissibility of the Delta variant: we could also see influenza “have its revenge” after an almost non-existent flu season last winter. Some will continue to be “willing to endure the temporary discomfort of wearing a piece of cloth on your face” in order to “err on the side of caution” and “take the health and safety of strangers and neighbours seriously.” National Observer
This Fall, CdnPSE campuses and schools “are going to be the front lines” in a pandemic of the unvaccinated. The growing realism about COVID19 in Ontario is also reflected in the groundswell of recent announcements of vaccine mandates there… more on that tomorrow!
Faculty and students are all too aware that current online platforms virtualize formal classroom learning better than the equally vital social interactions that motivate and support students. But our tools are continuing to evolve, sparked by the experience of the pandemic…
New AU Online Ecosystem
Athabasca U has announced “the most innovative digital transformation in [its] history,” and this 4-min video describes the development of a new cloud-based Integrated Learning Environment (ILE), which will “uniquely harmonize digital learning, teaching and support into one single seamless platform” starting in late 2022. The ILE will provide real-time learner information on demand, interactive course content, personalized service for learners on everything from registration to financial aid, all available, wherever you are, on any device, whenever you need it. YouTube | AU News
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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