Monday, November 8, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and happy Monday!
If your campus flags are back at half-staff today, it’s because today is National Aboriginal Veterans Day (or Indigenous Veterans Day, depending on the government ministry), first established in Manitoba in 1994. “Even before Canada was a country, Indigenous peoples have fought to defend our country and our values,” from the War of 1812 to the present day. So far, I’ve noticed this thought-provoking story in the Ottawa Citizen, and this mention at Brock U, but I’m sure other CdnPSEs will pause for a moment of silence today. (I’ll turn to the subject of Remembrance Day again by Thursday.)
“We must never forget the sacrifices and accomplishments of Aboriginal Veterans, especially as we move forward in our journey of healing, reconciliation and a renewed relationship between Canada and its First Nations peoples.” – Canada Department of National Defence
Speaking of war zones, for some reason the Ivy League has received numerous bomb threats in the past few days, starting with Yale (CT) on Friday, followed by Ohio U and Miami U (OH) on Saturday, and then Cornell (NY), Columbia (NY), and Brown (RI) on Sunday. Threats against multiple buildings were variously called in to police, posted on Twitter, or reported to a student newspaper. (After evacuations, police ultimately dismissed several as not credible.)
My own schedule’s a bit hectic for the next couple of days, so I won’t promise a newsletter for tomorrow. (Hectic, but in a good way.) I’m looking forward to a CAUBO panel discussion this afternoon, considering some implications of pedagogical innovation on labour relations. Tomorrow morning, I’m delivering a keynote to COU Financial Officers on the uncertainties of our fluid future. And tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on some lasting impacts of the pandemic with the SEMM Forum.
If only there were more time in the day! Of course, yesterday most of us gained an hour by turning our clocks back. (Apologies to those of you in SK and YK, who are just a bit “ahead of your time,” so to speak.) And yet, one hour doesn’t feel like enough when we’ve run down the Doomsday Clock to one minute to midnight. But here it’s Monday, so time once again for another…
Since last Monday’s update (“Fourth Waves & Fourth Doses”) the pandemic has made only incremental progress – although a sobering new BMJ study calculated that humanity lost at least 28 million years of life in 2020 due to COVID19 (with life expectancies down most in Russia, the US, and Bulgaria). It’s also discouraging that COVID19 in spreading among white-tailed deer, and nobody’s laughing now that hyenas can also carry the virus. Generally, though, the good news on the pandemic front will also be taken as encouragement by anti-vaxxers and the vaccine hesitant…
COVID in Canada
Canada is making “good progress” slowing the spread of COVID19, although the improvement is slowing as provinces lift restrictions and crowds begin to mix indoors again. From coast to coast, there remain some hard-hit regions. 70-hour wait times for COVID testing in northern BC may be contributing to the spread there. The rate of 14-day COVID19 deaths in BC has been rising since August, and as of Nov 5 exceeded the rates of provinces like AB, SK, ON, and QC where it has been declining. The risk of catching COVID19 in Nunavik (QC) is the “highest it has ever been,” with communities at orange or red alert levels. Circuit breaker lockdowns have been extended in Moncton and Saint John NB. Overall, chief PHO Theresa Tam is “cautiously optimistic,” but warns Canada could still see some “bumps” ahead. “Now is not the time to let our guard down. We may still be in for a challenging winter.”
“Staffing shortages are a challenge… but we also know that outbreaks and hospitals disrupt health-care services significantly… It’s basically pay now or pay later.” – Lawrence Loh, Peel Region MOH
The World Exhales?
As the Americas successfully flatten the pandemic curve for a fourth time, COVID19 has fallen to third place among global worries, behind poverty, inequality and unemployment, according to an international poll by Ipsos. Since August, cases and deaths have been declining in almost all regions of the world, and a dozen leading disease experts expect the world to emerge from pandemic “between now and the end of 2022,” with the first countries to be those with high rates of vaccination and natural immunity (such as the US, UK, Portugal and India). The Delta wave, already waning, may be America’s last major surge of COVID19. “If there’s no major new variants, then COVID starts to really wind down in April,” becoming an endemic disease with seasonal recurrences. But “endemic does not mean benign.”
But the WHO is warning that Europe and Central Asia have seen 5 straight weeks of rising case counts, which have now hit record levels thanks to low vaccine uptake and relaxing health restrictions. COVID19 infections have hit record levels in Russia and eastern Europe, and hospitalizations have doubled in the past week. Russia has imposed a partial nationwide lockdown. Germany hit almost 34,000 new cases in a single day, a record high thanks to a public holiday. The Netherlands has reimposed mask mandates and tightened restrictions. New records were also set in France, Greece, and Latvia. Faced with its worst pandemic wave yet, Ukraine has launched an alarming awareness campaign targeting young people who think they’re invincible. “We’ve stopped being nice,” they explain, since antivax messages have been “more emotional and very blunt.” (Some claim Russia has attempted to destabilize Ukraine with misinformation campaigns that have kept the vaccination uptake below 25%.) China has a fresh domestic outbreak, just months ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Australia is seeing hundreds of younger and dozens of pregnant COVID19 patients admitted to ICUs, as the median age has fallen to 53. “We’re having younger deaths, which we never had in the first wave.”
The Kid Pandemic
Around the world, children are the fastest-growing demographic of COVID19 patients, since almost none have been eligible for vaccination. South Korea is seeing alarming increases among schoolchildren, just weeks before returning them to classrooms. Here in Canada, children under 12 are the most common cases of COVID19 for the first time, although less than 1% have developed serious illness. In what president Joe Biden hailed as a “turning point” in the pandemic, the US has begun rolling out 15M Pfizer vaccinations to children aged 5-11. (Moderna still hasn’t obtained FDA emergency use authorization.) Since pediatric doses are administered just 3 weeks apart, American parents now have the prospect of fully-vaxxed kids in time for Christmas Eve. Cuba, Chile, China and the UAE have already approved vaccines for young children. Health Canada’s review of pediatric use of the Pfizer vaccine will take several more weeks, although it has ordered 2.9M doses.
It’s one thing to ease up on capacity limits and distancing requirements when masks and full vaccination are required, but it’s quite another to back down on mandating vaccines, particularly in critical healthcare settings…
In response to positive epidemiological trends, Prince Edward Island eased some health restrictions last Tuesday, increasing personal gatherings from 20 to 50. For the past week, Quebec bars and restaurants have been permitted to reopen at higher capacity and last call has returned to 3am, offering owners hope that they will be able to attract more employees and start a return to profitability. Last Tuesday, it was announced that Quebec nightlife and dancing would return Nov 15 (with mandatory vaccination and masks). One McGill prof anticipates a shift in interest from big downtown nightclubs to smaller suburban brewpubs.
“I think there’s a huge part of the population that just is ready to go out and to dance and to see shows and to have a good time.” – Meyer Billurcu, Co-owner, Bar Le Ritz PDB, Montreal
Backing Down on Mandates
More disturbing than vaccinated crowds filling Quebec nightclubs again (or trampling Houston concertgoers) is the prospect of unvaxxed healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic. After weeks insisting a vax mandate for Quebec healthcare workers was non-negotiable (and a month after giving them a one-month extension), health minister Christian Dubé caved last Wednesday in the face of the 3% who remained staunchly antivax. Suspending those 8,000 unvaxxed workers would cause “devastating” disruption to services, he said, so the government will continue to pay for testing them at least 3x weekly instead. (Experts observe that years of understaffing has put the government “on the receiving end of their own budget cuts.”) Hours later, Ontario premier Doug Ford announced his province also would not mandate vaccination for hospital workers, “leaving human resourcing decisions up to individual hospitals.” His decision contradicted the recommendations of his own Science Advisory Table and the Ontario Hospital Association, and feedback he requested just 2 weeks earlier from health stakeholders across the province. The majority of Ontario hospitals have imposed their ownvax mandates, and are reporting staff losses of up to 3%. Predictably, doctors in both provinces were outraged by the decision, which “goes against science” and sends inconsistent messages to the public – while also risking absenteeism or hospitalization of those same essential workers anyway. The CMA and CNA say they are “disappointed,” calling the decisions “a mark of ongoing system failure,” and maintain that “health workers have an ethical responsibility to get vaccinated.” A survey of 36 hospitals in Ontario suggests that Ford is vastly overstating the potential disruption, and raises doubts about health minister Christine Elliott’s claims that “some hospitals” opposed a provincewide mandate. (Personally, I’m really not sure the healthcare system is better off for having anti-vaxxers working in it.) Montreal Gazette | Global | CBC | CTV | Globe & Mail | CP24
“When the impact of the potential departure of tens of thousands of healthcare workers is weighed against the small number of outbreaks that are currently active in Ontario’s hospitals, I am not prepared to jeopardize the delivery of care to millions of Ontarians.” – Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario
“I have a hard time understanding how someone who studied health sciences refuses to get themselves vaccinated even though experts around the world are unanimous, saying it’s the right thing to do.” – François Legault, Premier of Quebec
As major employers across Canada impose mandatory vax policies on their employees, thousands of antivax workers are being fired or placed on unpaid leave. (Employment minister Carla Qualtrough has argued that they shouldn’t receive EI either.) Justin Trudeau was re-elected PM on a platform that emphasized vax mandates, which have expanded to include federal employees, federally-regulated sectors, and many private sector companies. (20,000 unvaxxed federal employees will be put on unpaid leave Nov 15.) Labour lawyers are apparently fielding thousands of calls from people they say will simply not be successful in challenging their employers’ policies. “Feds for Freedom” is a group of federal employees who are protesting the infringement on their rights. CTV
“Civil Liberties” Mini-Caucus
35 Conservative MPs are being coy about their vax status, either because they are antivax themselves, or simply don’t want to offend antivax supporters – and internal divisions in the party may come to a head on Nov 22, when parliament resumes sitting in Ottawa under a vax mandate. Now, in what some call a direct challenge to Erin O’Toole’s party leadership, a group of “up to 30” Conservative MPs and Senators plans to form a “Civil Liberties Caucus” to examine issues about vaccinations and employment or travel, and to advocate on behalf of antivaxxers. Organizer Marilyn Gladu (MP for Sarnia-Lambton) says the “mini-caucus” could function like a parliamentary committee, or perhaps “a Facebook page.” Former Conservative cabinet minister James Moore dismissed it as “a voice for those who reject consensus medical science and block getting past COVID and saving lives.” Former PM Brian Mulroney said last week that O’Toole should throw unvaxxed MPs out of caucus. Globe & Mail | CTV | Maclean’s
“Who am I to argue with tens of thousands of brilliant scientists and doctors who urge the population desperately to get vaccinated?” – Brian Mulroney, former Prime Minister of Canada
Despite the stubborn anti-scientific positions being taken by far too many politicians and healthcare professionals, scientists are continuing to develop even more robust ways for us to defeat this pandemic…
The WHO has renewed its call for a global ban on booster shots for anyone not immunocompromised, and is asking vaccine manufacturers to prioritize COVAX instead of countries with more than 40% vax coverage. Nonetheless, Canada is following the lead of other nations in gradually expanding eligibility for third doses to high-risk groups, typically starting with the immunocompromised and elderly, those living in congregrate settings or remote communities, those who received the AZ or J&J vaccine, and front-line healthcare workers. PEI is now offering third doses to various high-risk groups. Ontario extended booster eligibility to anyone aged 70+ this weekend, 6-8 months after their second dose, and says they will expand eligibility to all Ontarians in early 2022.
New Novovax Vax
Although we already seem to have more vaccines than people are willing to take, US-based Novovax has submitted its protein-based COVID19 vaccine to Health Canada for approval. (Perhaps those who are vax-hesitant purely because of reservations about mRNA technology will find an alternative appealing.) By 2022, Novovax may be able to produce its vaccine in a new NRC facility in Montreal. CTV
Last Thursday, the UK approved a COVID19 antiviral pill, “Molnupiravir,” from Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, which clinical trials suggest can cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 50%, if prescribed within 5 days of symptom onset. (In the US, the FDA will review it on Nov 30.) Then on Friday, Pfizer announced that its own COVID19 antiviral pill, “Paxlovid,” reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% when prescribed within 3 days of symptom onset, and 85% within 5 days. (Pfizer says it will submit interim data to the FDA by Nov 25.) Both pills attack the virus’ ability to reproduce, but Merck’s acts as a nucleoside analog that introduces corruptions into the virus’ genetic code, while Pfizer’s is a protease inhibitor – with fewer safety concerns about birth defects or tumours. The US has secured 1.7M treatment courses of Molnupiravir, and is procuring 1.7M more of Paxlovid. (Health Canada says it is reviewing the data.) Health experts anticipate that various antiviral treatments will be used in combination against COVID19 as it continues to evolve. Washington Post | Reuters | Global | National Post
No huge surprises on CdnPSE campuses this week, although we see a trickle of cases and new measures announced…
COVID on Campus
Since last week’s update, I’ve spotted isolated on-campus cases announced at Cape Breton U, McMaster U, and RRC Polytech. Wilfrid Laurier U reported 5 student cases (2 of them in campus residences). uSaskatchewan reported 8 confirmed cases last week (on or off campus).
Tightening Campus Mandates
As we progress into November, more and more CdnPSEs are passing their deadlines for enforcing campus vaccine mandates, and are tightening requirements further. For example, a couple of recent announcements: Fanshawe College’s vax mandate came into effect Friday, uManitoba will require proof of vaccination by Nov 14, and Memorial U will no longer permit the option of rapid testing effective Jan 1. It’s hard to believe, but some CdnPSEs appear to be just getting around to announcing their vax mandates. For instance, I think Carlton Trail College (SK) announced just Friday that proof of vaccination (or a negative COVID19 test) will be required on campus starting Dec 3.
As campus communities become fully vaxxed and PHOs lift restrictions on physical distancing and gatherings, campus fitness facilities are getting back a little bit more toward normal. Ontario campuses (like say McMaster U) can now reopen recreation centres to increased capacity and walk-up traffic without appointments, provided members are fully-vaxxed and masked. Fully-vaxxed students and staff are now permitted as spectators (for instance, at Mohawk College).
ID Badges at Western
Western U announced this weekend that all students, staff, faculty and visitors will have to wear university ID in a branded lanyard while on the 1,200-acre campus, effective in January. (Lanyards are being distributed starting this week.) Hospital patients, emergency responders, and members of the public walking or biking through campus will be exempt. (Western says the pilot project is not connected to its vaccine mandate – but it might be a response to anxieties about sexual harassment and deadly violence on or near campus this year.)
Now that the Oxford English Dictionary has officially recognized the word “vax” as word of the year, I feel better about adding “vax” and “vaxxed” to my spell-check dictionary a year ago. Personally, I used the short-form just 10 times in this newsletter during 2020, but 608 times so far in 2021. It’s just too useful as an abbreviation, and a way to vary up my writing. (Although every time I feel some faint guilt over abusing the trademark of the DEC VAX minicomputer, which was my first portal to the internet as a grad student back in the 1980s…)
Speaking of “Science to the Rescue”…
[Here We Code]
Dalhousie U launched a new campaign last week to promote Computer Science and help “establish Nova Scotia as one of Canada’s top digital ecosystems” in the next 5 years. “Here We Code” is “much bigger than Dal,” and is “about building a movement,” explains president Deep Saini, along with interdisciplinary academic, research and industry partners. (Nova Scotia invested $16.8M to expand CompSci at its universities, largely at Dal.) This 1-min video includes some great shots, powerful metaphors, and distinctive graphics. YouTube | HereWeCode.ca
As always, thanks for reading, and I hope your week gets off to a smooth start!
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