Monday, September 27, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and happy Monday!
Today is UN “World Tourism Day,” although this year I think it’s a day “more honoured in the breach than the observance.” (If I’m quoting Hamlet, it’s only because I attended a performance of Romeo & Juliet at the Stratford Festival yesterday – yes, outdoors!) By coincidence, I spotted one of the first CdnPSE announcements this weekend that essential domestic travel can resume, on behalf of uWaterloo.
Of course, nationally all eyes were on Homecoming celebrations this weekend, with universities, health units and police forces warning young people to tone down the street parties – since we’re still in the midst of a pandemic.
On that front, another Monday roundup…
In the past few days across Canada, we’ve seen the inevitable come home to roost, the obvious proven beyond a doubt, the incorrigible make the pandemic worse, while the dream of herd immunity, or even the definition of “fully vaxxed,” has become ever more unattainable. (In fact, New Zealand’s director general of health seemed to admit last Thursday that the country may never get back to COVID zero.)
The Canadian provinces most reluctant to impose public health restrictions this summer are now facing the inevitable. (Since it’s harvest time, perhaps a “reap as ye sowed” metaphor belongs here.) Saskatchewan(which lifted restrictions on Jul 11) is reporting the highest infection rates in the country right now (279 new cases per 100K people, compared to 253 in Alberta and just 32 in Ontario), and hospitalizations have hit new record highs. Alberta (which lifted restrictions Jul 1, 10 days earlier than SK) has more than 20,000 active COVID19 cases, more than 1,000 of them in hospital, and the only reason there is any room in its ICUs is because patients are dying younger and faster than ever (including an 18-year-old). Premier Jason Kenney declared a state of emergency back on Sep 15. Emergency triage protocols have already begun, unofficially, at overwhelmed Alberta hospitals, who are treating almost double the usual ICU capacity. (The rise of cases among children 5-11 is “almost vertical.”) The Canadian Armed Forces are deploying aircraft and crews to transfer patients to other provinces. Physicians are urging premier Kenney to impose a hard lockdown, shutting schools and banning all mass gatherings, but he continues to resist, while facing threats of a leadership review from both extremes in his caucus. (Half resent the latest health measures, while the other half say he waited too long to impose them.) Across the country, New Brunswick reinstated its state of emergency on Friday, imposing mask mandates and distancing requirements on many settings and businesses. “The pace of this fourth wave is beyond what we had anticipated.”
“Alberta made the mistake, except they made it a month before us. Saskatchewan made the mistake. The US made the mistake. The UK made the mistake. There were a lot of mistakes made.” – Gordon Dow, New Brunswick lead epidemiologist
Epidemiologists (and even amateur observers like me) have predicted for months that back to school would inevitably spike the circulation of COVID19 among children, potentially closing K-12 schools. (Among many other examples, I quoted MB infectious disease physician Anand Kumar back in July, ON emergency physician Steve Flindall in August, and the Canadian Medical Association in early September.) Sure enough, just a couple of weeks into the school year, outbreaks have forced school closures from Charlottetown to Yellowknife. Youth cases of COVID19 are spiking in Ontario, where one-quarter of new cases are among those under age 18. Someschools across New Brunswick reverted to online learning on Friday due to outbreaks. New CDC data proves that K-12 schools without mask mandates are 3.5x more likely to experience an outbreak of COVID19. (The data comes from Arizona, a state where school boards have been forbidden from imposing mask mandates by executive order of the governor.) The CDC is urging schools maintain masking requirements, and at least a metre of physical distancing in classrooms.
“This is the worst it’s ever been. We’re seeing the rise in cases amongst the 5-11 group go up faster than any other age group. The curve is almost vertical.” – Tehseen Ladha, Edmonton pediatrician
The Mutating Threat
Yet another COVID19 variant, R.1, has been detected in 47 US states since the first outbreak in Kentucky in March. Originally identified in Japan, R.1 has infected 10,567 people in 31 countries worldwide, and has 5 mutations that can lead to “increased resistance to antibodies.” Newsweek
In many countries around the world, even a first dose of COVID19 vaccine is still unattainable. (Appallingly, even here in Canada, it appears some First Nations residents are being stuck with expired doses.) But now, evidence is mounting that a 3rd booster dose will be necessary for many people, as vaccine efficacy seems to wane after about 5 months. Israel started offering booster shots back in July, and has already reached about one-third of their population. The UK is offering boosters to everyone over age 50, and other vulnerable groups, 6 months or more after their second dose. (Similar booster campaigns have been announced in Panama, Romania, Sweden, France and Germany.) The US FDA authorized booster shots way back in August, and last week for vulnerable populations just 6 months after their second shot. (On Friday the CDC director extended booster eligibility to include healthcare workers too, which effectively makes boosters wide open for any American who wants one.) The WHO has called for a moratorium on boosters until at least 2022, so that more of the world can get partial protection first. The sad reality is that all our carefully crafted policies, requiring proof of “full vaccination” or “two doses,” will need to be reconsidered as 3rd doses move the goal posts. As one Atlantic writer puts it, “will some fully vaccinated people be more vaccinated than others?” How can movie theatres or restaurants determine whether some patrons are in a category that requires a third dose? The introduction of booster shot requirements could be a “sudden injection of nuance” in a politically charged pandemic. (Here in Canada, NACI recommended 3rd doses for some severely immune-compromised people on Friday. Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, PEI, Yukon, and New Brunswick are already offering them to at-risk individuals.)
“I will not stay silent when companies and countries that control the global supply of vaccines think the world’s poor should be satisfied with leftovers.” – Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General
“This is a moral indictment of the state of our world. It is an obscenity. We passed the science test. But we are getting an F in Ethics.” António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
While antivax protests outside hospitals have subsided (they’re now illegal in Quebec), and outspoken politicians have lost the spotlight of the federal election, there are (of course) still plenty of examples of misbehaving mobs and potential COVID19 superspreader events. 2 weeks ago, a “COVID party” was held in Edson AB, west of Edmonton, at which unvaxxed attendees deliberately tried to catch COVID19 to “build up natural immunity.” (Several have already landed in an Edmonton ICU.) More than 100 marched in an antimask protest outside the Manitoba legislature on Saturday afternoon. And then there are the student parties… Off-campus Labour Day parties in Kingston sparked an increase of youth cases in the University District. Hundreds of youth gathered a week ago at uGuelph (vandalizing a police cruiser and helping one escape custody), and again on Saturday Guelph police issued numerous tickets and fines for rowdy parties. Waterloo homecomings appeared to be “much more tame than usual” this weekend, with just 19 tickets issued and 2 large house parties broken up by police. Likewise at Western’s homecoming, cool and rainy weather (and a really sizeable police presence) kept things tame, although hundreds of students did turn out on Broughdale Ave Saturday afternoon. In Halifax, however, “thousands” of students attended street parties this weekend, and neighbours claim police enforcement was less effective than last year. “It was a mob of people in near riot conditions.” Dalhousie has condemned the “deplorable, reckless behaviour” of any students involved, and promised it is working to ensure they face consequences ranging from mandatory training to expulsion. “Dalhousie will apply its Code of Student Conduct to the greatest extent possible.”
Now that the federal election is over, Ontario premier Doug Ford has come out of hiding, and is back to making dangerous public health decisions again. Word came Friday that Ontario is relaxing restrictions on major sporting events, allowing 30,000 fans to attend Blue Jays games at the Rogers Centre in Toronto starting tomorrow. (It will be regarded as an “outdoor venue” even with the dome closed.) Outdoor venues “where people stand” can now increase to 75% capacity or 15,000 people. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors will play at ScotiaBank Arena before 50% capacity crowds.
Thankfully, higher ed leaders have pretty consistently proven themselves wiser than their political counterparts, announcing mandatory vaccine policies since March. Across North America, enforcement has been getting stricter over the past few weeks…
117 Suspended at Penn State
Penn State U has suspended 117 students for skipping at least 3 weeks of mandatory COVID19 testing, banning them from classes online or in person, and prohibiting them from stepping foot on campus. (Those living in residence will be “temporarily removed.”) New York Daily News
134 Unenrolled at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech says that 134 students (out of 37,000) are no longer enrolled because they failed to submit vaccination documentation or receive a medical or religious exemption. US News
Few Exemptions at Conestoga
Conestoga College clarified last week that there are only 2 acceptable medical exemptions to the vax mandate: a severe allergic reaction to a component of the vaccine (confirmed by an allergist or immunologist) or myocarditis. The Ontario Human Rights Commission notes on its FAQ page that “a singular belief or personal preference against vaccinations or masks does not appear to be protected on the ground of creed under the Code.” Conestoga continues: “Secular, socially based, or conscientiously held beliefs are not protected under the Code and will not be approved as an exemption to the College’s mandatory COVID19 vaccination requirement.” Conestoga
Mandatory for US Teens?
US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said last Thursday he “wholeheartedly supports” mandatory vaccination for older teens, and believes it should be state governors, not school board superintendents, who implement vax mandates. “It’s the best tool that we have to safely reopen schools and keep them open.” So far, only a handful of US school districts have mandated vaccinations for students (such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the country). The Education Dept is currently investigating several states (like Texas and Florida) for violating the rights of students with disabilities by banning mask mandates. Washington Post
Faculty Urge Mandates
Last week, 8 Alberta faculty associations wrote advanced ed minister Demetrios Nicolaides urging a province-wide vaccine mandate for all ABpses, to ensure a safe workplace. “Health decisions have been offloaded onto the institutions at great cost,” and institutions forced to “act almost like their own chief PHOs.” They are also urging the province to cover institutions’ costs for legal opinions, research, enforcement, contact tracing and testing. Global News
Students Prefer Mandates
According to a survey of 440 current and prospective US international students, 59% would be more likely to apply to an institution if a COVID19 vaccine passport was compulsory (44% “much more likely”). That’s about equal to the proportion already vaccinated (57%). Just 11% considered a campus vax mandate a turn-off. Unsurprisingly, 86% felt positive or very positive about the idea of fully in-person instruction. Times Higher Ed
Education is Different Here
Polytechnics Canada released this extended 2:30min video last week (should I call it a “music video”?) with plenty of rapid cuts combining stills, stock and recent footage (judging by the pandemic masks here and there) to illustrate hands-on and experiential learning across a range of programs, from graphic design and VR to nursing, auto mechanics, coding, paramedic, aviation flight, beekeeping, welding and so much else. (Perhaps they caught every program in the country?) I’m guessing the vid is intended to introduce a conference, or perhaps to appeal to politicians or parents. (Certainly “Shine Like Stars” by PinkZebra appeals to me, but I’m not the student target market. I was first introduced to PinkZebra by a Sault College spot back in 2015.) YouTube
Thanks for reading, and I hope your week is off to a safe and smooth start!
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